Thursday, January 25, 2007

Happy Feet and Elvis

Surely Jimmy Buffett has a song about this, but I'll try to put it together in a coherent, though less musical, way. From my balcony in room T1 at the Amadeus guest house in Lamai, Ko (sometimes with an h, sometimes not) Samui, I can hear America's musical history of the last 30 years. This afternoon it was John Denver singing "Country Roads"; this morning it was Norah Jones intermixed with some unidentifiable hip-hop (I need Nick for this). Oh, and of course some songs from the Eagles, a little rock and roll, a little reggae. The music blares out of speakers in front of cafes on the sand.

My hangout now is Georgio's Bao Bob3. It is down a steep drive from Orchid Suites, my first home, and a short walk from the Amadeus. Georgio is from Switzerland, the Italian side, and he's been here for 10 years (I keep meaning to ask him what Lamai Beach was like in the old days, not that long ago). Georgio told me he had a daughter in Los Angeles who owns a restaurant in Santa Monica, the Via Veneto, but he's only spent two days in the states. His customers are almost all farangs from all over the world, but I suspect there are few Americans. They seem mostly absent on this trip, probably because of fears after September 11. I've seen quite a few families with small children, even infants. Lots of couples, many of them fat and in their prime (like me, I suppose). A few topless women (a no-no, according to the Lonely Planet, but then western tourists frequently ignore local mores and customs). Georgio named his restaurant after a tree found in Africa, not Thailand, and I told him there were a few in Santa Cruz (there's a Baobab lounge on campus at Merrill College).

This morning my local guide and translator, Ms. Thim Meesin, and I got a pedicure, manicure and massage from two ladies traveling up the beach in search of customers. I was resting from my first battle with the surf. The waves are small but relentless, leaving little time to catch one's breath, and the undertow is a bit fierce. My old trucks have lost their elastic and I did my best to keep them up in the roiling of the waves. Just as I was settling in to catch a few rays on the lounge in front of the Bao Bob, the ladies gave us an invitation we couldn't refuse. It was incredible. Since I can no longer bend over easily, my feet got much needed attention, and the massage was incredible.

But what does this have to do with Elvis. Last night, after dinner at Mr. Samui's, a combination restaurant and art gallery, we went to Sir Winston Churchill's, a British hangout, where an Elvis impersonation show featuring Ricky Newton was advertised. Since Jerry is winding up his research into the post-death Elvis phenomenon, I figured I'd do a little research for him. What was an Elvis impersonator doing in Lamai? Ricky was sitting near the bar in his outfit when we entered. "Elvis!" I observed. He nodded his head. The backdrop for his show was a tee shirt with Elvis on the front. Behind that was an drum set, unusued, and on the wall a large painting that pictured James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. Ricky was a stocky fellow in a flashy suit but he lacked the moves of the king. His voice wasn't too made, and he used a backing track for a medly of Presley's hits. But his timing was disturbingly off. There were about a dozen people in the audience, from a variety of European countries (Ricky asked), but the Russians got up and left in the middle of the set. The rest of us clapped our hands and sang along, although some of the hits were not that familiar to me. I was never an Elvis fan.

I'm getting to know the main drag of Lamai pretty well. There are quite a few stores that sell ugly clothes from Versace and Armani, although I suspect they are copies. And I'm beginning to notice lots of bird cages with a sparrow kind of bid inside (poor caged things). Many of the restaurants and bars cater to Aussies and Brits and when the soccer games are not playing on all the TV sets, the tennis tournament is. Rock and roll clone bands play in a number of bars.

This morning I caught a bit of Commandante Bush's State of the Union speech on Fox News. I was horrified and appalled to find Fox on the cable channel (with only BBC to make up for this lapse in taste). Hasn't somebody said something to the media moguls here? But then Ann Coulter has a column in one of the Ko Samui English rags. Bush's speech seemed somewhat tame, and he appeared to got applause from members both parties. But I despair of any bipartisan solution to Iraq. I fear the Democrats will cave, unable to extract the US while soldiers remain under fire. So, I turned the channels and found: cock fight! Yes, live (I think) on Thai TV. Another sport popular here is water buffalo fights. Apparently they are not all that bloody, and families are encouraged to bring their children.

My guide and translator, Ms. Thim, is showing me a side of Ko Samui I wouldn't see on my own. We've been to the market around the Buddhist temple several times. The Thai bubble tea is a delight. And we lit candles and incense to Buddha and received white threads for our wrist from the resident priest. Sticking the little gold square on the three Buddha statues was a little difficult and I ended with some on my face.

Tomorrow we go to the falls on the mountain north of Lamai. Our transportation will be a motor scooter taxi. I'm thinking about renting a scooter myself, as I did in Pai last year, but Lonely Planet says it's dangerous business. Plus I'd have to remember how to drive on the left. Learning how to speak Thai with Thim is hard enough. Perhaps I should stick to one major life experience at a time.

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