February 2, 2014

my phuket

I have a place i go when my tolerance levels reach meltdown. It is a small place in the south of one of my favourite islands, Phuket. My place is cozy and spiritual. There are no breathtaking sea views or infinity pools but it is mine and i am happy here. On entering the small house and if the curtains are drawn, you will see fixed on an outside wall, directly opposite the french windows, a striking arrangement of bamboo poles – an art piece specially designed for me by a local Thai artist whose perceptive eye finally solved the problem of the intrusive but necessary structure. Also in the house’s minuscule garden stands a Thai Spirit House, installed after much discussion with Monks from the local Monastery who determined the date and positioning of the house following a visit with much chanting and perusing of papers. It was a moving experience and all done in correct Thai fashion after I had been advised of the protocols by friends from the village. Whatever one’s spiritual leanings, strangely I never feel alone here in my house, although I often stay there by myself. Perhaps the spirits who choose to pass through and occupy my Spirit House from time to time bring that warm feeling of harmonious company. Strangely, I also sleep very well here unusual for me, a long term insomniac.

The village where I stay is in the south of the island, far removed from the cacophonous, overworked neon jungles of the infamous west coast tourist destinations. Mainly my area is for long term foreign residents, their Thai wives, a hive of small businesses and a handful of holiday-makers escaping from the resort breakfast binges to take their morning coffees in one of the quieter local Italian coffee shops. I too go to my regular cafe every morning, chatting to the few friends I have made, watching the village begin its daily routines, the noodle deliveries, rice soup sellers, optimistic masseuses and small retail shops preparing for another day where some money may or may not be made. I watch with humility as a young shopkeeper burns incense praying for a successful day.

After coffee I shall stop briefly at my local laundry shop owned by Pa. In the great hierarchy of cleaning establishments, Pa is in the first league as she launders in hot water. . I could, of course, opt for a cold water only cleaning service, but the difference in price is so laughably small that the potential saving is derisory. Moreover, Pa has become a friend and we chat inconsequentially about nothing of any substance but, importantly, the conversation, such as it is, becomes another free lesson in Thai, and therefore has significant value to me , at least.

Weather permitting, i head off to my golf club where I shall play relaxed golf in the company of my delightful caddy Sau. It is obligatory to have a caddy when playing golf in Thailand and I am eternally grateful for this delightful custom. The Thai caddies are fun, unbelievably hard working, almost miraculously good natured, putting up with the inevitable tantrums of bullish golfers who have not yet learned the real values of the game – karma, humility, sense of privilege and a graceful acceptance of the many inevitable bad shots That will be played during a golf round. They genuinely are happy when the occasional magnificent shot is somehow executed and meanwhile do their utmost to keep your spirits up when your performance wavers, as it inevitably will.
Reaching the 9th hole, the view down the fairway, over a small stream to the front of the tee box is one of the great joys of my life. In the distance lies the club house, quite old and in need of a new coat of paint but nestling in a setting of overwhelming beauty, framed by lush tropical hills with a lake, as yet unseen, to the forefront. Eventually, this water hazard will need to be crossed with a supremely accurate last long shot, for the green protrudes into the lake, forming a small promontory. But that is yet to come. As I stand and look at the perfection of this landscape, before hitting my drive, I take a moment to absorb this glorious vista, each dimension in harmony, colours and shades perfectly balanced. It never ceases to move me deeply and I know, each time that I play this course, that I shall arrive at this moment and experience this same feeling. It is in that second that i appreciate the essence of what golf has given me, over and above being just a game. Maybe because I am inherently a city person, I have rediscovered nature through golf, but I believe there is something more intrinsic and internal about the whole spirituality of this game that places it in a different category from other activities. As Scott Peck says in his seminal work ‘golf and the spirit’, ‘dont forget to smell the flowers’. How wise, how true.

Come evening, i return home. As the day fades, my small garden lights come alive and i shower and relax, listening to the evening sounds. I shall go to one of the local eateries where I know the people, eat, drink and enjoy this pleasant time. Afterwards, home, a good book and sleep. Will the spirits come? Somehow i feel they will, in fact I am sure they are here already, safely settled in the Spirit House, welcome and secure, keeping me company and watching over us all.

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