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Amber Paulen

From a Hammock

11 March 2010


Now, maybe, I can again write something. I have acquired a writing pad, I have a pencil and a hammock. I am on a beach: Ko Phayam, Thailand. To arrive here it is necessary to employ a series of transportations, and another night in Bangkok ; we took buses and a long train with wood panelling and ancient metal fans oscillating on the ceiling and large open windows so that the scenery which passed, passed near and clear and graspable.

On our first day in Ko Phayam we laughed at our naiveté to be so swayed by photoshopped picture postcards. When one hears “beach” one thinks: Paradise! leaning palm trees with rustling fronds, a balmy salt-breeze and crisp waters of crystalline cerulean. But do not be swayed by picture postcards, or, those must be of some other island. But now, Ko Phayam is growing on me; we switched beaches and are well away from murky jacuzzi waters.

This island—most likely like many others—is dominated by Westerners on lazy holiday, and Thais and Burmese who work to feed and house us. Even as I’m writing, a fruit shake arrives to my hammock! What luxury! Which begs the question: who are we Westerners and what are we doing? Sometimes it’s hard to ignore our apparent privilege. But are such contrasts enough, as a recent commentator questioned, to deter us away from thinking about and voicing them?

The answer should be obvious; but it does bring up an interesting topic—not about the nature of our limitations, for that too, should be obvious—of distance, and how near, as a traveller, to another culture can one actually get? And is nearness even travelling’s point?

As a traveller one moves in and out and everything learned is a series of related or unrelated impressions picked up along the way. It is transience, which is a form of distance. Yet as most writers and artists know, there is an inherent validity in the thoughts of those outside. (Though, perhaps, it is photographers who wax most eloquent by the speed of an image’s metabolism. See: Robert Frank’s The Americans and David Alan Harvey’s Divided Soul.) It is exactly limitations, our past and where we come from, our influences, likes and dislikes (read: individuality) which create the uniqueness of the vision.

Anyway, about Thailand I will continue writing and opining until I am not in Thailand anymore. As a writer I must say, it makes no difference whether you agree with me or not, I do not write to convince you of anything but as an outlet to that which is bubbling up, which seems to me sufficient.



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