I was in my favourite book shop on Koh Tao. I approached the counter with my selections, ready to begin the protracted haggling required when trading old for not-quite-so-old in Asia. The Thai girl behind the counter giggled. Was asking for a hundred Baht for Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Atomised’ comically optimistic? The book is crap, essentially the wank fantasies of a middle-aged French misanthropist, peppered with references to the idiocy of those of a Caliphate persuasion, but it’s in good condition.
‘Too much?’ I asked.
‘Hundred Baht ok ok; but you look like Pinocchio!’
She seemed flirtatious. Perhaps she thought that comparing me to a deceitful, wooden, fictitious bastard was complimentary. Certainly, it would be uncharacteristic of a Thai to insult someone. I asked her if she liked Pinocchio, and she said yes. That didn’t really clear things up though; you can’t rely on the responses to yes/no questions in Thailand. People are relentlessly polite, and consider the word ‘No’ to be rude in almost all circumstances. ‘No’ is communicated by a smile and an ambiguous shake of the head.
This is useful to remember if you’re lost in Thailand and need directions. Do not ask ‘Is this the way to —–‘ as you will almost certainly be told ‘yes’, even if you’re heading in the opposite direction. Instead, ask ‘Which way to —–?’
Still. My apparent resemblance to Pinocchio is a new and unsettling development.
My beloved has been working towards a Rescue Diver qualification, and I’ve been left to my own devices for a couple of days. My time has mostly been spent on the beach, reading when I haven’t been swimming.
Even as a seasoned haggler, the rate at which I’ve been getting through books threatens the integrity of my budget. I’m going to have to muster up the courage to purchase a Russian tome. Maybe something by Dostoevsky. Ben Elton, Irvine Welsh and Will Self are too quickly assimilated. Have you ever read a Russian? Is this a suicide mission? I declare that I am, in the literary sense, a Russian virgin, and I use those words only out of interest to see how many hits it gets me from prurient Google search terms.
There are scant literary options left. Unlike in major cities, the vast majority of second-hand books on the beach and island towns are thrillers. I am not a snob; I love crime fiction by the likes of Christopher Brookmyre, and am not averse to some James Patterson from time to time. Or at least I used not to be – have you noticed that all recent outpourings from J.P seem to have been written ‘with’ someone else? The man’s output is astounding – I’m convinced that these days, all J.P does is phone up his co-writer with a rough outline of a story, and his not-so-ghostly writer does the rest.
I said I wasn’t a snob, but I’m not even fooling myself. It strikes me that almost all thrillers are variations on the following tale:
The protagonist has stumbled upon something he shouldn’t have, and is consequently on the run from shadowy gangster types. He has an encounter with the FBI, and narrowly escapes with his life. He is forced to take on the shadowy gangster types alone, until by chance he meets and is helped by a lonely woman who until this point has allowed life to wipe its muddy boots all over her. They have sex. He proves to be an attentive lover in spite of the untreated bullet wound in his shoulder, and she has her first orgasm in years. One honest but hard-boiled cop is sympathetic to our hero’s plight, and vows to avenge the corruption in his own organisation while helping to kill the bad guys. They are successful against all odds, following which the cop quits the FBI to fulfill his dream of opening a bar in Hawaii, while the protagonist and his newly empowered girlfriend live happily ever after.
It makes for a compelling yarn, no doubts about it, but if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. Anyway. I didn’t mean for this blog to turn into a book group of one, but if I haven’t been reading, I’ve been snorkelling or drinking beer, and there is only so much that can be said about either.
Wait – there is something that can be said about both! We’ve spent many evenings in the company of professional divers, as I am friends with a couple of instructors who lives here on the island. When people pass their Divemaster qualifications (which takes weeks), they are obliged to face one last challenge – the Snorkel Test. This means having a small bucket of Rum, Thai whisky and a mixer of some sort poured into your snorkel while you have a mask covering your eyes and nose. The only way to breathe is to first drink the contents of the bucket. It’s extremely juvenile, but highly entertaining. Obviously, if it all gets a bit too much, you spit the snorkel out and/or remove your mask.
Here’s the thing though – not so long ago, someone DIED taking the snorkel test while on Koh Tao. The guy was from Japan, where losing face is notoriously unappealing. Imagine being there when that happened!
We went to the ‘Save Koh Tao’ festival last weekend. It is an annual event to promote awareness about environmental issues on the island. It’s depressingly common to see discarded plastic bottles and cigarette butts littering what is otherwise a tropical paradise.
I should perhaps keep my pessimistic thoughts on environmentalism to myself, but the amount of litter scattered around the festival site was too much even for this cynical bastard. We’re doomed, doomed! If a few hundred sandal-wearing hippies on a tropical island can’t be bothered to put their rubbish in a designated receptacle, then, well…