the land of smiles?

In a few hours I leave for my dive trip. This morning I got my gear sorted out and met my instructor for the advanced open water diving course I’ll be taking. It’s funny – Stephan, the guy at the desk at Similan Diving, asked me where I was from. “New York,” I said (sorry Boston). “Oh!” he replied. “I’ll see if one of our American instructors is available.” Either it’s a language thing, or he thinks I’d be more comfortable with one of “my people.” (Of course, I originally got PADI certified in Spanish in Costa Rica, taught by a Colombian and an Argentinean. But that’s beside the point.) So my instructor is Seth, a native Vermonter.

Last night during dinner I experienced my first monsoon-like rain here. Dark clouds had rolled in over the hills in the late afternoon, and soon after the lightening started. I decided against an evening swim. I showered, went to dinner, and after I got my meal (spicy Thai salad with fish and prawn) a few drops started coming down. Everyone grabbed their plates and ran inside…and 2 minutes later the rain really started. It was like someone poured an enormous, bottomless bucket of water over Khao Lak. There was no space between the drops – or rather, the streams of water that fell from the sky. (I tried to take a photo, but it just doesn’t do it justice.) After I finished my salad I ordered (of all things) a Long Island Iced Tea (150 baht – around $3) to sip while waiting out the storm. I ended the night sitting on the covered balcony of my room, watching the lightening in the sky and sipping Sang Thip, ridiculous Thai whiskey that tastes a bit like Southern Comfort. Yuk, but still interesting.

I’m still trying to figure out Thai people. Some people are instantly and genuinely friendly, giving credence to the official Thai tag line as “The Land of Smiles.” But other people seem completely uninterested and sometimes even hostile – even outside of Bangkok (where you’d expect less openness). For instance, the entire staff at the Happy Lagoon acts put out and even annoyed by the guests. Ordering breakfast involves gesticulating wildly to the waiter (who is more interested in surfing the Net on the computer behind the desk). And this morning, as I was packing to leave, the maid came up, leaned on the door frame picking her nose, and said, “Checkout?” She clearly had the attitude that I was just an inconvenient object stopping her from finishing her cleaning early (I was in the last room). I told her I’d be out by the noon checkout time as a way to ensure that she wouldn’t stand there watching me pack. So she said something sarcastic-sounding to her fellow maids and dragged her feet away. As I said, many people are exactly opposite. But it’s annoying to feel like you’ve overpaid to stay at a guest house whose staff is also rude.

And then there’s this internet cafe, where the connection is painfully slow (I may not get to upload all my pics) and the proprietor shows you which computer to take using the “hostile point and glare” method.

But whatevahs. I’m going underwater! I’ll be back online from Bangkok on the 28th after taking an overnight 12-hour bus ride from here).

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