I.I carefully walk along the muddy roads of Otres Village down to the beach. I pass half constructed buildings, shut down businesses, and a tuk tuk parked along the side of the road--the driver stretched over the back seat sleeping, his leg dangling over the edge. A few motorbikes pass me splashing puddles and dodging potholes. The entire village is eerily empty.
The long stretch of beach that sits between Otres I and Otres II is even emptier--not a soul as far as I can see in either direction. The air is warm, the water even warmer. My eyes scan over the Gulf the Thailand--dark waters and reckless waves, thunderstorm afterthoughts.
In-between the storms and black looming clouds, these moments of sunshine feel like a strange paradise--vast and empty, like driving down a Montana or Wyoming highway--a never-ending, limitless expanse into the unattainable horizon.
Incredible, breathtaking temples, sprawling white sand beaches, devastating war, still buried landmines--what lens do the people here see their landscape through?
II.Back when I lived in Santa Cruz, I would always walk by this guy who worked right around the corner from me, and we would always have the same exchange--he would wave and say: just another day in paradise.
Early on, I would politely smile and nod. Because I was living in paradise...right? Over time, my responses became--if you say so or depends on your definition of paradise. He might have been being sarcastic all those years. I'll never know. It took me far longer than it should have to learn that one person's paradise can be another person's hell.
III.I recently finished reading The Beach--dark and twisted and oddly funny. Apocalypse Now meets Lord of the Flies--you know it doesn't go anywhere good. But how could it? A group of people to young to have lived through or remember times of war brought up on pop-culture and video games and boredom find themselves living in paradise--an Eden, a utopian society on a secret beach in the middle of an island in the Gulf of Thailand. What begins in paradise ends in hell because once people are introduced to paradise it ultimately cannot hold--paradise lost. It is a complex story, powerful on so many levels. Read it.
I have seen paradise in every place I have traveled--tropical beach paradises and Himalayan Shangri-La paradises. I have also seen the dark underbellies of some of these places. The only difference between me and the locals and long term expats is that I can pick up and leave anytime. I never have to stay long enough to experience anything but paradise. Another reason (perhaps the only reason these days) to fall to my knees in gratitude.
Have you ever lived in a so called paradise and wondered if other people see it the same way? What do you consider paradise? Have you ever witnessed your paradise turn to hell? Tell me your thoughts. Tell me your stories.
And please folks, for the love of good literature, do not go out and watch the movie. It doesn't come close to capturing what the book does (not to mention it leaves out a main character, changes relationship dynamics, and waters down the ending). Skip the movie, read the book.