Letters

Letters 12-05-2016

Trump going back on promises I’m beginning to suspect that we’ve been conned by our new president. He’s backpedaling on nearly every campaign promise he made to us...

This Christmas, think before you speak Now that Trump has won the election, a lot of folks who call themselves Christians seem to believe they have a mandate to force their beliefs on the rest of us. Think about doing this before you start yelling about people saying “happy holidays,” whining about Starbucks coffee cup image(s), complaining about other’s lifestyles…

First Amendment protects prayer (Re: Atheist Gary Singer’s contribution to the Crossed column titled “What will it take to make America great again?” in the Nov. 21 edition of Northern Express.) Mr. Singer, the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

Evidence of global warming Two basic facts underlay climate science: first, carbon dioxide was known to be a heat-trapping gas as early as 1850; and second, humans are significantly increasing the amount of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities. We are in fact well on our way to doubling the CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere...

Other community backpack programs I just read your article in the Nov. 28 issue titled “Beneficial backpacks: Two local programs help children.” It is a good article, but there are at least two other such programs in the Traverse City area that I am aware of...

A ‘fox’ in the schoolhouse Trump’s proposed secretary of education, Betsy DeVos (“the fox” in Dutch), is a right-wing billionaire; relentless promoter of unlimited, unregulated charter schools and vouchers; and enemy of public schooling...

Home · Articles · News · Random Thoughts · Paradise lost & found
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Paradise lost & found

Robert Downes - December 27th, 2007
If you go traveling around the world in search of paradise, you are likely to be sadly disappointed. Every time you see a beautiful beach or a waterfall in a travel brochure, all it means is that the photographer was able to sweep thousands of tourists out of the way long enough to grab a shot before they all came flooding back again. We travelers tend to love beautiful places to death.

Such was the case at Patong Beach on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand, where I’m continuing my slow journey around the planet. I had expected Patong to be a bustling place, but thought there would at least be some sandy lanes and secluded beaches to enjoy. Instead, there are thousands of shops and restaurants here, packed like a train wreck into a two-mile strip of beach, with tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world: Russia, England, Germany, Australia, India -- but again, no Americans that I’ve seen.

This is a place which endured the 25-foot tsunami wave three years ago on Dec. 26, 2004. This monster roared through town, sweeping hundreds of people, cars and shops in its path. But there’s not a trace of a reminder that it ever happened today.

Besides the insane level of hyper-development, there are hundreds -- perhaps even thousands -- of prostitutes mixed in with the tourists. It’s quite an odd sight to see some fat old bloke with a gray crewcut and hair growing out of his ears dining with his teenage bar girl while a young family from Sweden (or wherever) sits with their kids at the next table. Some of these illiterate girls are hooked up with big bullies and look scared silly.

So, the island of Phuket is kind of a downer -- and far from a paradise -- but as Mick Jagger once said, “If you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need, oh baby.”

Indeed, my wife Jeannette (who is spending two weeks in Thailand) and I find paradise on Phi-Phi Island after a 30-mile boat trip into the Andaman Sea. Here are scenes of tropical splendor fit for a Hollywood movie: in fact, “The Beach,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was shot just a coconut-toss away on Phi-Phi’s little sister island. It’s about a group of backpackers who go looking for a secret island paradise in Thailand and find a bunch of pot farmers.

So what does paradise look like? Long-tail dragon boats ply the bay and in the distance, sheer rock outcroppings tower from the sea. The shoals are aquamarine and lined with palm trees, frangipani and hibiscus flowers, and people walking around half-naked or strapped with backpacks. Bayside cafes are piled high with prawns the size of bananas, lobsters, and whopper fish, still wriggling on ice. At night, fire dancers whirl batons and bolos filled with kerosene on the beach while the bar blasts Limp Bizkit, LL Cool J and Bob Marley’s remix reggae at a thumping volume that pounds right through your heart. Would you like some “merrywanna” to go with your beer? The friendly barman can supply.

But it’s too hot to do much of anything but melt. A tough day here is dining by the waves over shrimp pad thai and pineapple shakes and trying to decide whether to lounge on the beach or hang by the pool... Or should you go for a chocolate banana crepe instead? Hmmm...

Anyway, I’m sure readers back home could care less about such drivel, being caught up in the excitement of Christmas and the New Year, but here’s the latest from the other side of Planet Earth:

-- We had the good fortune to explore a sea cave full of thousands of sleeping bats near “James Bond Island,” where “The Man with the Golden Gun” was filmed in 1971. The cave had a horrible, hideous stink -- like the concentrated B.O. of 100 jock straps that had been worn for a month on jungle maneuvers -- only worse. The captain said to keep your mouth shut if you looked up. Aye-aye sir! Scary place...

-- The biggest freak show in Asia has to be that of the “lady boys” of Patong. These are transsexuals and transvestites decked out with long, sleek hair, full breasts, girlie outfits and thongs. Some are dressed in ballet tu-tus, ball gowns and wedding gowns. On a street full of go-go bars, we saw a flock of five she-males dancing to the sounds of “Ice, Ice, Baby” for a huge crowd gathered outside a disco. Some idiot Western tourist handed his little baby to them to shake up and down on the platform. Classic. But then, you see all kinds of European and Australian families with little children and infants walking down this street late at night, which is basically a red light zone. Many of the kids look exhausted.

-- Our hotel charged extra if you got a new tattoo, because the ink from a fresh tat tends to bleed on the sheets.

-- I had a live cobra dumped in my lap by a chap named “Snake Man,” who was clowning around during a visit to a snake farm. The cobra was six feet long and as big around as my arm, with a soft, silky texture. It had a “What the hell?!?” look in its black doll eyes and was loaded to kill too -- we watched Snake Man milk it for poison after I got my lap dance. I was glad he had a good grip on its head, because I jumped about a foot.

Hmmm, I see on my watch that Christmas is just a week away as of this writing. It seems like an event in another galaxy. My stay in Thailand is almost up and it’s time to ramble on. Paradise gets a bit snoozy after awhile -- not to mention expensive. Where to spend the holiday? Cambodia? Malaysia, Laos? Perhaps a place that resonates with m-my g-g-g-eneration. See you there.

 
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