Archive for September 2008

Ouch! By Mike

September 14, 2008

Well, it’s official.  To celebrate my 40th birthday (or, more likely to deal with my mid-life crisis), I have gotten inked.  

The yin yang is a reminder to keep my balance, and the dog yin yangs at the top and the bottom are there because the furry beasts help me to do that.  The celtic knot pattern represents the interconnectedness of all things and the the sun rays show the energy that comes when all is in order.  

I’ll be writing about the whole experience in a new men’s magazine to be launched here in Singapore called Frank, so I’ll post that in about a month or so.  In a nutshell, the whole process hurt as much as you would think getting repeatedly stabbed with a needle for 3 1/2 hours would.  Then there was the pain I felt in my back, butt and neck from sitting in a strange position for all that time.  Made me realize that I really am getting old!

Yet another Never B4 for me in a year full of ’em!

Let me know what you think …

Breeze, Trees and Sleaze By Mike

September 14, 2008

The ripe white moon bloomed against a pale blue evening sky.  The ocean water on which we were floating was as calm a lake on a still August day.  On the iPod, John Coltrane was belting out notes that took to the still air around us like tiny blue bats.  The whiskey was bracing, the fish – the freshest I’d ever eaten.

It was two nights before my 40th birthday and, partly inspired by my friend Cathy Boyle’s excellent Never B4 blog, I’d decided that I wanted to do something I’d never done before to mark the impending Big 4-uh-Oh.  So here we were — tied up to the floating home of a fish-raising family in the middle of a large bay off the coast of Phuket, Thailand.     

We’d boarded the flat-bottomed boat earlier that morning, carrying with us too much luggage and too-big heads from revelling at a restaurant in Singapore where we celebrated Diane’s birthday the night before. 

After a bit of recovery time, and some cold coconut water, the trip had truly begun.  And as me, Diane, the captain and his Thai girlfriend enjoyed the fish that just been plucked out of the sea and cooked over a small wood fire, all was truly well.  Our hosts not only lived in the ramshackle structure supported by Styrofoam blocks to which we were tied – they also raised fish here for the local restaurants and aquariums.  Before settling down to our meal of grilled fish, we were given a tour through the flimsy network of plywood planks where the nets suspended between them were pulled up so we could see the different species being raised.  It was baffling and impressive to see how these two lived with their three young children in the middle of the sea.  One thing I know for certain is that they must sleep well every night.  It might have been the most silent conditions under which I ever dreamt. 

The next morning, in lieu of a shower, I just jumped off the back of the boat and was again awestruck by the simplicity and ingenuity of the little floating fishing huts all around me.  After a great onboard breakfast, we were off, exploring mostly unseen areas of Phuket with our informative – if chatty – captain.  We drifted through small passages too big for most boats, through tumbledown Thai villages, past anchovy and rubber farms, and spotted the occasional spirit house on the banks of the island.  These elaborately-painted miniature mansions are built when Thais construct a home for themselves so that the spirits of the cleared land have a nice place to relocate.  It’s the epitome of Thai thoughtfulness. 

That night we drifted into another floating community – this one with significantly more activity including pearl farms, more fish farms and lots of floating restaurants.  Once comfortably tied-up to one of the bobbing eateries, Diane and I got busy playing rummy, and I hit the Thai whisky again with the captain.  This led to a climb to the top of the boat where we listened to Paul Simon, Jack Johnson, and the Grateful Dead as the setting sun set coaxed out every drop of color from the various shacks, boats and restaurants.  I think I might have spooked the captain’s Thai girlfriend with my one and only magic card trick and my Al’s Mar Azul tank top that changed colors in the sun (which I gave to her as a parting give the next day).  Then it was up to the restaurant for some more super-fresh fish and dancing to Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album which – yes, yes – I also provided.

The next morning – my actual birthday – we were definitely ready for some real showers and aircon, so arriving at our resort – The Indigo Pearl – was like arriving at a true oasis.  The place is nearly indescribable.  Conceived as a tribute to Phuket’s tin mining past, the resort bursts with creative design (silverware fashioned to look like wrenches, restaurant seats made out of old horse carriages).  Rivets and other industrial touches share space with cushy beds, rainhead showers, gourmet food and three superb pools.  The perfect downtempo soundtrack plays underneath it all.  Because it was my birthday, the place treated us in amazing fashion – upgrading us to a private pool villa, dropping off a free birthday cake and bottle of wine and giving us free glasses of champagne and flowers at dinner. 

Nai Yang beach was just a three minute walk alongside the hotel.  Wow.  It’s basically a strip of shacks that seem like they’d fall down like a row of dominos if tapped just right.  But they must be sturdier than they look because they were able to stand up to the amazing endless breeze.  Each shack – set beneath soaring casuarinas pine trees that whooshed, swooshed and dispensed that unmistakable woodsy incense – served up traditional Thai dishes like chicken with chillies and basil. One did it up better than the other.  Mains were about $3 each.  Of course, we were too stuffed from our resort dinner (the only one we had while there because once we found the shacks, there was no going back), so I decided a beer and bed would be the right way to end my birthday.

The only place that seemed lively was the Aloha Bar.  So we went in and got two beers before realizing the girls hanging around the place were interested in playing with more than just the balls on the pool table.  One took a real liking to Diane and at one point I asked her if one of the girls had kissed her.  She responded, “no, it was just a weird kind of hug.”  We were in a thatched shack full of giggly, charming, pool-shooting, hip-hop -dancing Thai hookers – yet another never B4 for my 40th !  Once they realized that they weren’t going to get more than lousy pool and one beer out of us though, they graciously backed off – flashing those endlessly endearing Thai smiles. 

We skipped the Aloha Bar for the rest of the trip but we sure did enjoy plenty of the beachfront fire and flavour of Thai meals for the next few days.  As we watched the sun set on our last night, digging our feet into the sand, watching the kite surfers flirt with the wind – and chillies, basil, lemongrass and coconut milk flirt with our palates – I let any anxiety I’d felt about this milestone birthday drift away on the outgoing surf and be replaced with gratitude as the waves rolled sweetly back in.

P.S.  Chutney wasn’t on the trip with us … but she sure makes coming home a lot more fun!  That’s why her picture’s included here.