I stayed much longer than expect at Patong, despite the place and Phuket not really being my scene. I was really thankful to have a good room with a balcony and the added luxuries of TV, fridge and hot water.
But I want to tell you about what I see from my balcony each morning. There is a school just below that I look down on and can see clearly. Each morning at about 8:15 the pupils, up to the age of about 11, assemble in the yard in very neat lines. There are staff there too but they hardly seem needed. A daily set of procedures then starts that includes the national anthem and the raising of the flag. Throughout the behaviour is just perfect. When the proceedings have finished they lead out in single file one row at a time, never directed by staff, each line waiting patiently for the previous one to finish, never breaking ranks. I can even see them in 3 of the classrooms, they have no windows just opened shutters, and again the behaviour is spot on, they sit and pay attention the whole time and I have yet to here a raised voice from a teacher. I bet you can guess where all this is leading to, yes me having a good old moan and getting things off my chest. Firstly, I can't imagine any group of pupils in the UK standing around for so long without complete meyhem breaking out. The little darlings wouldn't be expected to pay attention for so long, besides, it would probably be considered a breach of their human right to stand still in rows. In fairness they would probably just get wet anyway. And what about the national anthem and raising the flag, probably considered xenophobic at home. And whilst I am having a moan about Britain I may as well continue. Various incidents and news items have irritated me whilst I have been away and I am sure when I return the place will take some getting used to again. A few are as follows: When Caroline and I were sick with the same virus, her doctor wouldn't come out to see her, yet third world India had a doctor at my bedside within half an hour. After the 'instant' cash transfer to Yangon took 6 days to arrive I complained. It turned out that the only 2 parties to handle the transfer, the bank and the Foreign Office, had both wasted days rather than minutes. I wrote emails of complaint but the final repsonses I got were to the effect of "I am sorry you are not happy with our service", clearly their standards only reach as high as a very poor service bordering on the downright idle. Then I heard about the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow and ensuing chaos when just a week earlier Beijing had opened a complete new airport, one of the largest in the world and people were singing its praises. I know there will be differences in reporting, but unfortunately I can believe them both. Recently I heard of the binge drinking party on the Underground the day before alchohol was to be banned....only in Britain. I could go on. I am also getting fed up of answering the same old questions about Britain, why do we binge drink?, why do our football supporters always cause trouble?, was it right to invade Iraq? etc, etc. Unfortunately all I see is Britain on the decline, a very negative view I know, I wish I could be more positive. Take our drinking problem for example, towns centres are becoming no go areas in the evening and some I have passed through have drunken people in the streets, people throwing up, litter from take aways strewn everywhere, yet every country I have passed through I see people drinking at all times of day, yet they are never drunk or agressive. Whilst with Joelle and Clement in Chumphon a bus load of female tourists arrived at the bar we were at. It was early afternoon and they immediately ordered beers and were noisey, Joelle making the point that they were British. In fact they weren't or at least they weren't speaking English, but that is the perception people have of us when we are abroad. OK, enough, I could go on, but at least I have had a moan and got it off my chest as I said earlier. Feel free to disagree, I would love to be proved wrong and to be shown we are moving forward in the right direction. Oh, and don't get me started on motorists as I am not going to bite. It has to be said though that Britian has the busiest and most congested roads, though you may be pleased to know that they don't have they worst drivers, there is some way to go for that title yet, but they do have the most impatient and agressive drivers, probably due to the congestion. It is a joy to cycle in places where people just carry on calmly despite the stupid things that people constantly do around them. Here in Thailand it's commonplace for motorcycles to head the wrong way on a hard shoulder, but there is no aggression or anger shown towards them, everybody is calm and relaxed, a lesson we could learn. We are the best at hating cyclists though, no doubt about that.
Whilst cycling on Phuket island I have seen other cyclists, probably just hired bikes at a guess, though I can not make contact with them, their whole body language as we approach each other says "leave me alone, I am not even going to acknowledge you". What a shame. Sometimes as I cycle along, my mind wandering and miles away, I hear a call from somebody, I turn and there they are waving, I return the gestures and it always brings a smile to my face. But what I like even better is as I ride along and I can see somebody looking at me without any intention of making any contact, so I call out, wave or both. Suddenly they are doing the same and a big smile appears on their face, that never fails to make me feel good. It doesn't hurt to say hello in whatever language to a stranger, it can make their day as well as mine.
Whilst I am rambling on, let me tell you a little story. A week or so back I cycled for 3 days with Joelle and Clement from France. At some stage I talked to Clement about books and he kindly offered to give me a book, but I declined as I already had two, so didn't need another. On the evening that we split up Clement had the book to give to me. As soon as I saw it I knew that I would never read it and again declined his kind offer, but he was pretty insistent and eventually I took it so as not to offend him, but it was just extra baggage, thankfully not very big. Anyway 4 days later I arrived at Patong on Phuket and after looking at a number of guest houses and hotels checked into one for 2 nights. The following day I went out on the bike to the south of the island, but I knew by early afternoon I was in for a late finish, it was tough going too, and as I had been on the bike for 10 days from Bangkok I decided to have a rest day the following day. I did just that and did nothing and felt guilty about it, what's more again by early afternoon I once again knew I wouldn't leave the next day, though I wasn't happy at all about it. I didn't really like it in Patong, it's not my scene, yet I didn't want to move on either. The third day there was more of the same, again by early afternoon I knew I wouldn't move on. I was withdrawing into myself, spending too much time in my room and on the balcony, such a waste of time. I wasn't even enjoying myself, I felt despair, I was stuck in this place. I couldn't work out how I had got myself into this situation and worst of all I couldn't see a way out, I might be here for days yet. It was during this time that I wrote the first part of this post, probably a reflection of my mood at the time. One effect of all this was that I started reading again, the first time in weeks that I have read anything other than a travel book or a map. I finished the book I had started so long ago and thought I might as well read the book Clement had given me. I was surprised to find out that it was a novel, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I don't usually read novels. Still, I gave it a go. Once I started reading I became totally engrossed, I could hardly believe what I was reading, it was about me! It didn't actually name me, but never the less it was about me. It was about a young man (ok, ok, but I am young at heart and it is a novel) from southern Spain who when he was young his father wanted him to be a priest. He didn't want to, he wanted to travel the world and the only way he felt he could do this was to roam the land as a shepherd. His father eventually bought him a small flock. He had been a shepherd for a few years when he had repeated dreams about a small girl who transported him to the pyramids in Eygpt and told him that there was treasure there, but as she was about to show him he always woke up. He went to a old woman who read dreams and she told him that he should go to the pyramids and all would become clear, it was his Personal Legend. He thought she was a waste of time and forgot about it afterall he couldn't give up his flock, his livelihood and the only job he had experience in, then a while later whilst in a town to sheer his flock he talked to an old man. He told him he was a king and he knew about his dreams and the pyramids and he too said that he should go and reacdh hi8s Personal Legend. This was too strange so had to be true, so he then dicided to go, sold his flock and bought a boat ticket to Tangiers in Morrocco. Soon after he arrived he had all his money stolen, he had not a penny in the world and the Foriegn Office were hardly likely to help him out (actually, I added that bit). He got a job with a man selling crystal and when he had enough money he was about to head home and buy a new flock when the crystal seller encouraged him to continue to the pyramids and realise his dream. He continued and as his caravan rested at an oasis he fell in love with a girl he met at a well. He thought this was his treasure, his Personal Legend, but the girl told him to carry on as this was not the pyramids and if he really loved her he would return to her. As the story pregressed I realised it wasn't so much about me, but applied to about 95% of the population and it was a story about urging people to realise their dreams, about omens and receiving signs, learning how to interpret them and understand them. I didn't finish the book, but I went for a walk and whilst walking I realised that tomorrow I would leave Patong and whats more I was relishing getting back on the bike, I could hardly wait for tomorrow, the despair had gone and been replaced by happiness and contentness, I felt released, free. I thought alot about the content of the book and how and why I had come to aquire it. Firstly the book had been delivered to me with some insistence, I would never have chosen it myself, I had already judged it by it's cover. Once I had it I had no intention of reading it, so Patong was a significant place to be as it wasn't my type of place, so I spent longer and longer in my room and started to read. If I had been anywhere else I would have been out and about much more, unlikely to be reading. The room was also important. If I had taken any of the other rooms in Patong that I had seen then I would have found in much easier to move on, the room I had was a nice place to stay, an easy place to stay. But why had I been forced to read this book. Well in a few weeks time I will embark on the toughest part of this journey so far. I expect it to make the last year seem like a picnic, but I will write about that nearer the time. When I go through this stage I will need to be aware of the omens, the signs, to try and understand them, to understand my inner feelings and be able to act on them and make the correct decisions. I have been on the road now for just over a year, but I feel that this is the most signficant thing that has happened to me. You could say it is fate, coincidence, that may be so, but all I know is the strong emotions I felt both before and after starting to read that book were very real.
The only advantage about staying in Patong for a few days was to see the sunsets. Each evening for about 20 minutes there was a kaleidascope of colour (photos), more than worth the short walk to the beach, just magical, magical.
This morning it was raining when I woke up, it was still raining when I left, but there is no stopping me now.