Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Day 59 - 27 April 2015 - In Phuket

Through the night the crickets and frog kept up an orchestra. When one paused the other would begin and thus, the two teams went on without any let up. I had woken up quite early, done the blog and updated the expense account over a few cups of coffee. Once that got done a few slices of bread and berry jam filled in for breakfast. Then I felt a touch lazy and lay down for a while. I do not know if it was the Phuket effect, as I am not used to the morning snooze. It is a bit cooler in the plantation, during the night and even as the day wears on.

Simon had suggested a visit to the Mai Khao Beach in case I wanted to be some place not crowded. Moreover, it was not very far from the B&B. I dressed for the beach in T-shirt, shorts and sandal. I also packed a towel in case the urge to have a bath overcame me. I have always been petrified of water, primarily because I did not know swimming. I reached the beach following directions of Google Maps, which was longer than the one Simon had told me. When I parked the car and got out I was stunned by the colours of the water and the absolute calm. The beach was completely deserted; I could not find anyone there. Just another car and a motorbike were parked some distance away. The straight, long stretch of beach was enticing to take a dip. I succumbed. After many years I ventured into the sea to bathe. I had forgotten how salt water felt on your body. The eyes smarted and I felt sand all over. Pockets of the shorts became sand bags anchoring me to the ground. Even though the sea looked calm the waves that lashed the shore got bigger and I was thrown around a couple of times, grazing my knees and elbows in the bargain. Mai Khao means ‘white wood’, and the sand in this beach is considered to be the coarsest in Phuket. Swimming in this beach is considered dangerous between May and November because a short distance from the shore there is a sharp drop off into the Andaman Sea. Even close to the shore the drop from ankle height to waist is just a couple of steps.
On the way back to the B&B I chanced up a 24 hours shop, which claimed to be the cheapest price store. I dropped in with the idea of picking up some beer, which I did. But, the store was had a lot of bargains going. I picked up coffee powder and a few other stuff that I would need for the rest of the expedition. It was a large plate of chicken noodles and a can of Chang beer for lunch.

Patong beach is the main tourist destination in Phuket, which is known for its nightlife, shopping and entertainment of all sorts. Phuket became a major tourist attraction with the development of Patong in the 1980s. It has retained its share of tourist interest despite the emergence of Pattaya. As I was leaving for Patong, Simon good naturedly said, “Be good”. When I got to Patong I realised the import of that advice, for if one has the inclination to indulge the wildest wild side Patong has the wherewithal to cater to it. The months of April and May are part of the low season but the line of cars that crawled ahead of me to get to the beach made me shudder what the traffic would be in the peak season from November to February. I had to make two rounds of the Beach Road before I could find a slot to park. The 3.5 km long beach was incredibly crowded with people having fun in the sea and on shore. Parasailing, water scooter rides and snorkelling lessons were popular off shore activities. Serious sunbathers and swimmers had their time there too. Patong was one of the most affected areas during the tsunami of December 2004, when it caused large scale destruction of property and loss of lives. However, the most affected was Khao Lak, a neighbouring area. But the areas recovered soon. Prominent signages near the beach point out the tsunami evacuation route.
On shore, Bangla Road and Paradise Complex are lined with bars, discos, money changers, massage parlours and shopping stalls. I find that tourist locations such as Pattaya and Patong fetch better exchange rates for currency. In Patong the rates varied quite dramatically from outlet to outlet. Hence, one has to walk around and compare before making the deal. Major hotel chains and other world class facilities are available in Patong. Entertainment caters to women, men and transgender. Massage parlours range from the erotic to the therapeutic. I found one which explicitly mentioned “No sex” and “No Happy Endings”! the Christin Massage does not have anyone soliciting in front of the parlour as in most massage parlours. The ‘parlour’ is one the first floor. As I walked up I found a glass enclosure behind which many women were seated with numbers on them. Apparently one has to make a choice soon to be escorted to a private chamber for the massage and whatever else.

It got dark by the time I returned to the B&B. As I alighted from the car I got a message from Maya that George Jacob died this morning in Bangalore of a heart attack. He was a close friend of many years. He was introduced to me by MC Tom, another dear friend, when I was working in Container Corporation of India. George had a skill that was in demand internationally. He was an expert in marking granite. I would say that he was one of the major forces that broke the back of established interests in movement of granite blocks from India to western countries. Tom and he containerised the blocks which led to ‘piecemeal’ movement of blocks, eliminating the need for bulk transportation over sea. However, the death of his Italian business associate reversed his business fortunes and he, I must say, really never recovered from it. Since 2012 he had been experimenting and trying to market two products with tremendous commercial potential in North India and countries with harsh winters. I was involved with some part of his efforts to professionalise the venture. His was a totally centralised method of control and decision making. I had suggested that he let go of his obsessions and bring in an investor who would provide him a proper channel to launch his products into the market. In fact, I even suggested that he part intellectual company with the products and monetise it to settle his financial commitments. He was far too attached to his ‘creations’ and clung on to the notion of potential revenue string.
George was in Leh when I reached there on the Record Drive between Kanyakumari and Leh. He had insisted that I stay in his room, despite the inconvenience of having to share a bed. Those three days gave me adequate rest to do what I did on the trip from Leh to Kanyakumari, when I broke the existing record handsomely. He introduced me to the Asparagus Soup in the hotel, the like of which I have never had since then. He made friends easily and hence, it was no surprise that senior army personnel gave him all support to test out his products in Srinagar, Kargil and Leh. He could never say no to any request, however outlandish, and that tested his commercial skills.

The passing away of my mother in January 2001 had left a deep emotional gash in me. I decided to spend Christmas alone in Ooty that year. George and his wife, Anne, invited me to break journey en route in Bangalore and have dinner with them. I remember having a most glorious evening with them and Tom. It helped soothe the emotional trauma I had been feeling at the time. I still have the gift they gave me – a set of Euro coins that were being introduced then to launch the monetary union.
George Jacob, I will not be at your funeral in Manimala, but will always remember you for being a dear friend. The line from the John Denver song “Starry, Starry Nights”, ‘This world was not meant for one as beautiful as you’, rings in my ears as I wish you a safe journey to the shores that you are off to. And when you meet Tom, give him my love.

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