Friday, October 28, 2016

The Beach

I clung to the back of the motorbike driver as we sped through the jungled hills of Koh Phangan from Thong Sala Pier to the infamous village of Haad Rin. There I would catch a taxi boat over to Haad Tien--a small, secluded area of beach etched into a craggy cove.

October being the low point of the low season as well as all moon parties cancelled due to the King's recent death it felt like I had landed in a deserted, unreal paradise much like when I arrived in Otres back in July.

I've spent most of my life being mysteriously drawn to certain places in the world--some of them strange and obscure, some not so much. I'm drawn to these places for no particular reason other than maybe a mention in a book, an overheard conversation, an unlikely chance meeting. I hear the name of a place and without knowing too much about it I cling to it with a desperation that I must get there. Since I've left Ohio, this is how I've ended up in every place I've lived and traveled to. This how I've chosen all the places I've landed on this journey.

I knew I wanted to get to a beach before the school term started, but I had no idea where to start. There are an overwhelming number of Thai islands and beaches to choose from. All of them each with a plethora of reasons to choose one over another with just as many reasons to stay as far from them all as possible. This made the decision process a nightmare. Something I'm incredibly bad at anyway.

I tend to go by way of mystical signs, a faulty intuition system, and taking the advice of fictional characters. What would Malcolm Reynolds do? What would Yoda do? This isn't the best method when, say, trying to manage a business or making responsible life decisions (though it has worked for me so far), but can be a lot of fun when trying to decide which Thai island to choose. Where would Richard from the Beach go? If you know anything about the story of the Beach, you'll know what a silly, impractical question that is. Not to mention dangerous.

My answer came from a You Tube suggestion. I had been attempting to look up interviews with Alex Garland (there are none that have anything to do with his books, by the way). I suppose that's how it came up. A group of folks decided to retrace Richard's steps from the book to find the island where the Beach is located, and they made a documentary of their journey.

Did they find it? Yes and no. They concluded that the beach isn't specific place, but a mashup of many places. Part of their trip led them to Haad Tien on Koh Phangan, and I immediately knew that was my island, that was my beach.

The community of people they found living on Haad Tien was the closest thing they found to the community of people in the book. The National Park and forbidden islands where the book actually takes place was the closest thing they found to it geographically--the walled in lagoon on one island, completely deserted beaches and jungles on others.

Haad Tien and it's even lesser known and more secluded neighbor Why Nam are full of healers and mystics, yogis and artists, travelers and expats. Some on a mission to heal and some on a mission to vanish, and some, like me, on a mission to find magic.

You can only reach Haad Tien by finding someone to take you by taxi boat or a crazy 2 hour trek through the jungle. And getting back to Haad just got to wait on someone with a boat who happens to be heading that way. I missed what I thought was the only boat leaving for Haad Rin the day I left, and of course, I began to think it was a sign.

I sat on the beach all packed and ready to head back to my life in Chiang Mai when I was struck with a urge to just not. I could simply melt into life on Koh Phangan and vanish. About that time another boat appeared. Sign. I spent the night in Thong Sala near the pier where I would be catching a ferry back to the mainland the next morning when I decided that maybe I would eventually make it back down here and stay. I immediately started researching schools around the island. Life twists and turns in the most magical ways. Stay tuned folks. Let's see where life in 2017 leads.

Have you ever been so mysteriously and mystically drawn to a place you had to get there without really understanding why? Tell me about your experiences. Did it become clear why you were led to a specific place once you were there? What did you learn? How did it change you?  

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Blurred Edges of Reality

It's late. I look out my window with its old time-y swinging shutters. I gaze over a narrow street lined with windows just like mine--guesthouses and hostels fill the top floors, small taverns, live music, and galleries of all types on the bottom.

It's like I'm in the old west, but I'm not. I'm on Love Lane in the heart of George Town on the island of Penang, Malaysia. Love Lane--depending on who you ask--was at one time either a street full of brothels turned guesthouses, or it was where all the sailors met their lovers when they sailed into Penang port. Possibly these were one in the same. Possibly this place only exists when one is here to witness it.

Bree and I walk a few blocks away from Love Lane, and we are in Little India--an area of the city that immediately transports me back to India--the smells, the sounds, the colors, the shops, the food, the people. In every direction, I'm back in India. But I'm not. I'm in the heart of George Town on the island of Penang, Malaysia. From colonial old west to India in a matter of blocks.

After an afternoon at the Thai Embassy getting our work visas processed, the taxi driver drops us off at a mall. Or what looks like a mall. It isn't. It's a time portal into the future complete with a science and technology dome, an observatory, a dinosaur exhibit/museum where kids can ride the dinosaurs, an herb garden, a restaurant where everything is made with or covered in chocolate, and apparently a pot of gold on the roof that we couldn't figure out how to access.

We spend hours and hours exploring, playing, and experimenting in the science and tech dome. Bree does a virtual autopsy on a corpse. I get strapped into a multi-axis chair and pretend I'm Ellie Arroway headed for Contact. They give us a private tour of the observatory. I nearly explode with excitement.

When we finally leave and step back into the city, we are zapped from the future to present time, and as we inch closer back to the old town, to Love Lane, we once again slip into the past.

Seventy-two hours after we arrive on Penang, we head back to Thailand. We land in Kuala Lumpur for an overnight layover, but something feels off. Everything about this airport is strange and different. I have been to this airport more than any other airport. I know this airport. But there are things out of place, structures are different--the escalator, the layout of coffee shops, little things.

Of course, there is always the Murakami factor. Like in 1Q84 when Aomame climbs down the side of the highway construction zone and ends up in a slightly altered reality. But I'm not currently reading Murakami. I'm reading Alex Garland. A book called the Coma where a man in a coma attempts to reconstruct his faulty, shifting landscape of memories so to wake himself up. It kind of feels like that. In fact, the past 72 hours has had a dreamlike, hallucinatory quality to it--slipping between time periods and cultures and places, shifting landscapes of memory, blurring edges of reality.

In two days time, I leave for the Thai island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand where I will spend the week leading up to my birthday, leading up to the new school term. And if you are familiar with Alex Garland's books, you might know where I'm going with this. Things could get a lot more dreamlike, a lot more hallucinatory, a lot stranger.

Let's continue down this path. Let's see where it leads.

Have you ever experienced an ordinary, mundane period of life that felt inexplicably more dreamlike than real? Tell me your stories! What do you think triggered it? What snapped you back?