More monkey magic
Take a bite, any bite. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
AFTER having seen my magic a dozen times before Kung Fu the Pigmytailed Macaques, like most primates – less or greater – is less impressed as a I make the red foam ball disappear in front of him. The video footage I got of his jubilant reaction yesterday was rubbish, so I had contacted Somjai, the owner of the monkey school, to see if I'd be welcome to return this morning and try again.
This time I put the camera on my chest, kneel down next to the little fella and start doing the trick. Somjai, with a completely necessary kindness, introduces me to four of the younger monkeys in the school. She jokes that the older monkeys were like older people, just not that interested.
“Many times old people come and they say, 'Show my grandchildren, I'm just going to go lie down,” Somjai says with a gentle, knowing smile. “How long is your magic show? One hour, two hours?”
I say it's only about 30 minutes, but have to admit that I'm rusty. I've failed to keep up with practicing. In the month or two leading up to the trip, I was accumulating more and more magic tricks, but failing to open them, let alone gain the necessary proficiency to perform them. I'm tempted to try and show her a few tricks, but I'm feeling a bit shy about it; I'm worried that the bar has already been set to high with regards to her expectations.
Kung Fu is only mildly interested as I repeat the trick over and over again in hopes of getting him worked up about the wonders of a disappearing red ball.
He is much more keen to just take my hand with his strong little fingers and and play bite me as he starts climbing all over my body, hanging from my arm like it's branch an Ent.
Each of his fingers is no thicker than a pencil, yet their strength is unyielding as grabs and touches me. His fingers seem to have an intelligence of their own, learning tactically. Unlike the wild, devil spawn monkeys I've met thus far in Thailand, Kung Fu is gentle, at least with me.
The youngest to the class, Come, sits just barely within reach of Kung Fu. When the two of them start playing I cringe – as their teeth clamp onto lets and their fingers yank hard on ears.
I try the magic on Come, but she's very timid and shy. After about five minutes on my knees, I'm able to coax her over to look at the red ball, but any sudden movements and she scampers to the far end of her leash.
Som Tom, the third monkey in the pin, plays along, but is clearly uninterested, so I quickly move along to the last of the four, whose name I didn't catch. She's keen and fast, perhaps a bit too fast.
I lean in to get her attention, holding out the red ball.
A monkey hand nimbly snatches the ball out of my open palm, and she scampers off. I resist the temptation of trying to get it back immediately. Ajen, Somjai's Dutch partner, pointed out yesterday that the best way to get something back was to fain disinterest.
I stay put. I stay put and watch the monkey tear chunks of foam out of the little ball. I'm worried about her actually swallowing the bits of foam, but she's not interested in eating it, just giving it a good ripping.
It's not like I could get it away from her if I tried. Once done, she discards the bits and wanders over to see if my phone is in reach, retching out with her hind leg. She sees me picking up the red bits and bounces back to snatch up the biggest piece, like a sibling afraid that you'll somehow manage to have fun with their things, even if they don't want them. I ignore her and manage to get the last bit back.
Well, that's enough 'magic' for the day. Even if it's a fail on getting the footage. I'm buzzing from Somjai being kind enough to allow me to come back and visit the monkeys.
After several encounters with wild monkeys, I, like most, had developed a distaste for the discourteous little bastards. Though they live abreast of our society, they have a complete disregard for how it all works. If they see you with an ice cream, they will get the ice cream. Can you imagine that every time a person saw you with something they wanted they would come charging at you lips curled back, snarling? One little prick actually stole a water bottle of vodka from me at Rang Pier in Phuket. He scampered up the tree, looked down at me, then chewed through the water bottle to have a sip, eyeing me the whole time. With a bit of unconstrained joy I watched him get a mouthful of fire.
These monkeys, however, are a complete different story. There is still that monkey in them, but even Kung Fu seems to understands the boundaries of what's acceptable.
The whole time I'm playing with them, Somjai's off-site attending to the dogs.
On my way out of the pin, I stop to say goodbye to Kung Fu, he's a funny little fella. He jumps up for another climb, then straddles my arm. I feel something wet graze my forearm and take a peak. The youngester's red willy has popped out for a gander.
Laughing, I remove the hornball from my arm, give him a little pet on the back and head back toward the bike.
Ajen and Somjai walk me to the bike and I start repacking it.
Ajen apologizes again for me having to wait for an hour yesterday. His words, and face, show how much it actually bothers them. I just laugh.
“It's fine. I had fun waiting. I'm in no rush,” I say.
He asks that I send him the link to the blog post saying good things about the Monkey School so they can share the link on the website.
I'm instantly worried what they'll think about the post. It's of course positive, but my description of Ajen isn't terribly flattering. It's a pickle.
I spent sometime thinking about it last night as well, but if I'm being honest with my posts, I have to keep it honest. No going back and adjusting descriptions just because I've gotten to know someone better and have better feel for their goodness.
I give them a Dice Travels sticker and take down his email in a notebook, promising to send the link. I'll probably send both yesterday's and today's over. I can't imagine it's what they are expecting, but it's my current process.
With all my gear strapped back on the black beast, Ajen asks about my license plate still being in Thai.
My day nose dives.
It started with a few bumps after I woke to an email from my Mum kindly agreeing to look into my US bank account for me (a complete blessing) and also kindly reminding me that I must no longer “role dice”.
(Given the nature of the project and my professional background, the fact that I am consistently not discerning between “role” and “roll” was unsettling. It showed a lack of professionalism currently on par with my photography and videography skills.)
“Does it need to be translated?” I naively ask.
He's not sure for a motorbike, but explains that for his car it was necessary. And it was necessary to do so in the province it was registered in.
Out on the open road, I want to scream. I feel a fraud. All the gear and no fucking idea what I'm doing. I open up the bike and race toward Koh Samui.
“This fucking logistical, government shit!” I scream in my head.
Sheepishly slinking back to Phuket to get the license plate sorted wouldn't be the end of the world, but fuck me it would be a struggle.
Underpinning all of my concerns with the license plate and getting permission to travel through Myanmar was the idea of eventually having nowhere to go – stuck on a bike unwanted by any country I can reach. It's melodramatic. Very much so, but it's frustrating.
I want to enjoy the open road. Instead, I'm already feeling pinned in by India and China, unsure if I can even get my bike out of Thailand.
I thought I had what I need, but a license plate with Roman letters seems to be an incredibly reasonable requirement.
The only thing to do is to catch the ferry to Koh Samui, get settled in and launch a new round of research.
At the pier, I start to breathe a little easier. The die chooses a chicken puff and latte for me. It's calming to let the die roll.
The last zipper on my tank bag busts as I scuttle down to the car-hold of the ferry heading to Koh Samui. The bag had been having issues since I bought it. However, this was not the time for it fall to bits.
I quickly dug out some duct tape – yes, this is a duct tape saves the day sort of antidote. Haphazardly, I tape the flap on the bag closes, to stop all sorts of strange bits and bobs from tumbling out. By the time I tucked the tape away and kick the wheel block out from under the bike, it's time to finally see Koh Samui.
Those who are geographically familiar with Southeast Asia, will of course note that Koh Samui, a large tourist island in the Gulf of Thailand, is neither on the way to Bangkok nor on the way to Myanmar.
I'd like to say that the dice work in mysterious ways, because that's the sort of prophetic shit to drop when you are confronted by inexplicable moments. Unfortunately, that's not the case. A shipment of MMS I bought from Thai Organic Life never shipped out, so I decided to pick it up in person.
Prior to looking up what MMS stands just moments ago, I only knew that it was chlorine dioxide, which, when used properly at low levels of concentration, can selectively kill pathogens and candida without affecting body parts (according to FDA data).
It's something I used in the past, during a detox process, and in general seems like the kind of stuff you want to have around to deal with illness and general inflammation. But what does MMS stand for? About the most hippy-dippy holistic healing thing possible, which is probably why Miracle Mineral Solution is usually just simplified to MMS. Not that I'm apposed to miracle solutions – I might need one to get through Myanmar – but it's hard to believe in a universal, bottled solution for anything. Nonetheless, when it comes to being an all-around “bug killer”, it does the job.
Thankfully, a single road wraps around Koh Samui like a loose ribbon around a woman's waist. Equidistant from the shop, I just start driving.
Cruising the main loop, I'm not impressed. The place feels like a downsized version of Phuket, mostly the party town Patong. Of course, I assume that like Phuket, there are plenty of hidden wonders. There must be a reason the island was the original Thai tourist island and remains so popular.
I spot the Thai Organic shop, and pull over. A woman in her early fifties is juicing something behind the bar counter. Inside, the shop is packed with vitamins, and all sorts of raw food goodies. Desperate for some greens, I order a veggie juice and sit down on the wooden bar stool, waiting for them to grab the pack of MMS for me.
The woman immediately engages me. She speaks a funny, excited sort of English.
“Burma? Have you been to Loas,” she asks.
I haven't. There was a 25% that I would be headed that way right now, but alas, not the case.
She went last year.
“Want to see my pictures?”
“Sure.” Why not right? I'm in no rush. It would be nice to figure out if I need to go back to Phuket to get my license plate changed or not, but it's the weekend – what can I really do. Jealously, I listen to how she simply crossed into Loas as “a local” after someone pledged that she was part of her family. No visas, no problems.
“And this, Oh my god,” she says pointing to a picture of vibrantly colored traditional clothes laden with silver colored trinkets.
We look at how the hill people make their sticky rice, how they weave and the beautiful mountains.
“People say I'm crazy,” she says. She does have a manic element to her, but probably not full-on crazy. She seems to know exactly what kind of things make her happy and doesn't seem to be bothered if it's strange.
“My uncle works in the police. He says the police don't mind if you're crazy,” she says with a laugh.
I've finished munching two raw food balls of goodness. My body needed them. I'm already missing my cooking. The ability to horse down piles of kale and sort out my meals exactly how I like them. An irregular diet is probably party of the reason my mood has been in so much flux these last couple of days.
We move on to other pictures on her tablet. She shares her trip with Chaing Rai to me. Then a few memes that she thinks are funny, including a cat's face that when you zoom in is actually made of thousands of pictures of boobs.
It's been more than an hour, and I'm really wanting to get my bed sorted out for the night. I can feel my patience waning. I make a few subtle hints that maybe I should start finding a place to stay.
She continues on.
I then start putting on my boots.
“The way we're talking, it's like we've known each other for years,” she says.
I smile. It has been fascinating. She has a married son in Chaing Mai that she wants to put me in contact with, which would be amazing.
Clinging on, she wants to show me one more picture. We scroll through the tablet, but can't seem to find it. We look at a few more photos before giving up.
I pay my tab and head back to the bike. She sees the bike with delight – I had parked it around the side of the shop.
Suddenly a bit more enthusiastic, I don't mind taking some photos. In fact, it's fun. With a bit of finagling, we are able to set her tablet on a pile of rocks with the camera timer counting down. Several photos later, an English-speaking gentleman shows up – obviously an expat on the island.
He snaps one last photo of us.
“Oh, my friends will be so jealous,” she says. I smile. I'm a Leo at heart and really can't get enough of this sort of thing. She promises to have her son send me the photos via Facebook.
At her suggestion, the man agrees to show me a nice guesthouse nearby. I follow him to it, but it's a secluded little place that's a bit out of my price range. The man's sweet and makes sure that it's in my price range. I tell him it is.
I could afford it, but there are much cheaper places on the island, I'm sure of it.
I thank him and have a staffer show me a room. I smile and thank her before returning to my bike.
Like diviner reading tea leaves, crouch down in the dirt and chose six options from Hostels.com and throw the die. It's a five: Cassa Luna – the highest rated hostel on the list.
Not a bad result at all. The down side is the fact that it's nowhere close to where I am.
I situate myself on the bike, prying the duct tape will hold until I can get the bag to a haberdashery.
A dehydration headache sets in. At a stop light I slip a finger under my helmet and press on my temple, the pressure digs straight into the pain – it's so nice.
Eventually, I track down the hostel, located directly across from the “Full Moon Party Pier” and only a few minutes from Koh Samui's Big Buddha. The open air lobby is perfect.
A tall, thin woman with wavy blond hair is behind the counter. She checks her books for me. They have only one bed in the dorm room.
“You crazy man, driving around Thailand on a bike,” she says. There is a good energy here, so I explain the premise of Dice Travels.
It's not just Thailand, it's supposed to be a world tour.
“I actually ended up here because of the dice,” I explain.
“Good, you ended up in the best hostel.”
She and her English husband did the same thing two years ago. Not the exact same thing, but close enough. They sold everything and moved to Thailand with their two daughters. That is in fact why Cassa Luna now stands where it does. They had it built; it opened just four weeks ago.
The details in the design of the dorm room reveal just how well they thought through the project. The high ceilings allow for ample head room for their custom designed bunk beds, each with a bedside light and fan, which is a lovely addition to the air conditioning that they leave running. For 200 baht a night, the place is a steal. It's so good when the dice get it right.
“How old are your daughters,” I ask as we walk back to the room.
“One's 16, she's a real pain. She's run away,” the woman says. I've still not gotten the full story, though she's promised to explain. It's apparently a long one, and a complicated one. “The other is 12, she's great.”
The woman doesn't seem overly concerned about the situation; I'm looking forward to hearing the details.
Parenting a really adventure that I'm not quiet ready to tackle yet – it's a much longer one than just a year with so many more curve balls than the dice can throw.
After getting settled in, I drive out to watch the sunset. Yes, the sun as been out all day and it is now sinking below the Gulf of Thailand in splendor.
Thick, flat-bottomed stratocumuls clouds grow dark in the west with smaller altocumulus clouds and even a few wispy cirrus clouds playing across the rest of the sky. I sit down on the rocks and just watch. Just watch the sun; watch the Thai couple several meters down the shoreline also taking in the sunset.