No shoes, no underwear, minimum amount of clothes, no shampoo, salt and sand in the hair, coconut oil on the skin. That’s how I spent my holiday. By the end of the first week I got evicted from my bungalow (due a reservation by people more important than myself), so I ended up sleeping in a hammock on the beach. Dormitory was one option, but where is fun in that? After a second night, I scored myself a bungalow (not a trivial task on Haad Yuan around NYE). But at this point I got accustomed to the life of a beach bum, so I continued maintaining status quo. A hammock, a sarong, swimming pants, some reading, a camera, a torch and a knife, a toothbrush with toothpaste, a comb, water and some money. That’s all I needed to get by. The rest was tugged away in friends’ bungalow and I hardly touched during my bungalowless phase. Simple, yet effective.
– Where do you stay?
– On the beach. I am homeless.
– Oh noes!
It was a good story to tell. Reactions were interesting. It seemed that most people were stressed by my situation and tried to help me by giving advice, while I tried to explain them that I did not mind being homeless. After all I had to have my adventure during this journey. If not for climbing a mountain or exploring yet another cave, then at least spending a few nights on the beach.
If there is one word to describe Thai culture, it is sanuk
: having fun together. Thai culture is all about sanuk
, it is one of the most important aspects of the society. First you have sanuk and everything else follows. The rule applies to everything: work, school, leisure, chores and so on. Contrast it with puritan western countries: there is time for work and there is time for having fun. As a curious side-effect, Thais are not big readers. Indeed, reading a book is anti-sanuk, as it can be. You deliberately spend time alone having fun (or not) all on your own. I have never seen a Thai child crying. Granted expressing own negative emotions is not something you do in Asia, but how on Earth you would convince a child not to cry is beyond my understanding.
After I got back to Finland after my surprise holiday, on the way home I systematically sought eye-contact with passers-by. Success-rate for a walk from Rautatientori to Kamppi? Zero. Not a single smile either. Doom and gloom everywhere. Sharing a smile with a stranger in Finland is a curious topic as well. When you smile at the stranger, you get something like this in return: anxious tension ⇒ quick awkward smile ⇒ anxious tension. That’s how we roll.
Finland regularly makes headlines as one of the happiest countries in the world. To see what a blatant lie it is, just take a subway ride in Helsinki in November. Any other month in year will do as well too. To be honest though, in some of these surveys they mistake prosperity with happiness. In 2009 local newspapers and tabloids were full of “Finland – the happiest place on Earth”-type headlines. Upon a further investigation it turned out that the results were based on Legatum Prosperity Index, which does not say a word about happiness. It seems that material well-being equals happiness in the eyes of many people. There are lies, damned lies and statistics, as Benjamin Disraeli eloquently put it. You can gather any numbers together, process them and slap it a moniker as happiness on the result. And then you convince everyone that this is the reality. However, taking a look around and especially travelling to other countries might give you a better picture of how things are, but this is a story for another post.
Ah, spontaneous traveling we meet again
Monday – started toying with an idea to book a last-minute flight to somewhere. Found two reasonable options – Thailand for 495€ (I have never flown this cheap) or Panama for 595€. Panama is mysterious – there is always a risk of nothing to do, nothing to see and no-one to talk to. 18h bus-trips, being misunderstood and a whole bag of big unknowns. No thanks. Guaranteed quality holiday is preferred. Had Yuan/Had Thien then.
Tuesday – Finished with the exams. Booked my flight.
Wednesday – Flew to Krabi
Helsinki → Krabi → Surat Thani → Donsak → Koh Phangan. The 21h marathon journey and still one songthaew and one boat trip away from the beach. The first impression about Thailand is that well it seems empty. The airplane had at least 1/3 vacant seats. In fact I had four seats for myself and had a relatively good night sleep too. The bus from Krabi to Surat Thani was half empty as well as had only a few tourists. Same goes with the boat to Koh Phangan. Funnily enough the boat ride took over three hours despite no apparent reasons, which led me to the conspiracy theory territory that it was a way of boat operators to compensate for a low number of customers (the longer it takes, the more people buy things they do not really need). Thongsala for the night with its lovely night market and the beach awaits tomorrow.
On the boat I met Frank from the UK. His wife left him five years ago, so he threw out a normal life with a job, children and illusion of security and became a full-time hippy. He has been travelling since then. Life is a funny thing. I asked him what he was really really good at. His response was that he attracts people and people come talk to him. Could not be more true, as it was me who stroke a conversation with him.
PS: A proof that we are living in the future now: “Scientific Crime Detection Center 8” sign spotted in Surat Thani.