Eastern Exposure

There is a Thai island in the Gulf of Thailand’, called Koh Chang. Rieki and I visited it for the first time, 23 years ago. There was nothing there when we came. No electricity. No road, just simple huts on the beach and a kerosine lamp for light. The beach was stunning. They didn’t call it White Sands beach for nothing. A real paradise where time just slipped through your hands as sand would. We returned several times over the years. A road was built and an electric cable stretching to the mainland was installed. Development occurred. Hotels, restaurants, massage stores, supermarkets all popped up along the road that was built. Fortunately 3/4 of the island is National Park, so development is limited. In spite of the development, Koh Chang always kept its laid back, slow pace that seem to be moving in slow motion. We always felt at home there and hoped one day to make our presence more semi-permanent.

On a recent return to Koh Chang, we met many a lot of AE’s (authentic eccentrics). All were looking for a quality and not a quantity of life. While we were wandering around the main road, where all activity seemed to happen, I was reminded of an old TV show called Northern Exposure. It was a show about a remote village in Alaska, called Cicely, that attracted all kinds of AE’s. Very entertaining. Deep down, I was alway looking for my Cecily, Alaska. Koh Chang seems to come real close.

There is a cast of characters that were making Koh Chang their home. Mr. Yuji, a Japanese water engineer from Osaka, who started an authentic Japanese restaurant. He always reminded me that the food was “authentic Osaka style”. He showed me the Onsen (thermal bath) that he built in the back using solar heating. The reason he built an Onsen, in a place that often feels like an oven, is that he wanted to relax in a large bath heated to boiling temperature. If most went into the bath, they would shout “ Hey! What do you think I am a tea bag”. He only had 3 tables, because he didn’t want to make his restaurant a business, but a hobby. His restaurant was also home to Mah, his manager who spoke little english and who had no real business to manage, Sakura a playful black labrador and Bamboo a stunning persian cat with a football tshirt supporting Portugal who played with Sakura,

Dave, from Big Sur, ran a restaurant that served the best breakfast and barbecue, I had in years. His body was a wall tapestry of tattoos from famous artists. The name of his place was Annie P. after his girl friend, who every day laid out a food offering to the gods, that was huge. Didn’t realise that the spirits were so hungry. Dave is the philosopher and uber cook, who just wanted to follow his passion: Chilling, cooking and people and get away from the madness that is called America.

We arrived one evening to taste Dave’s pulled pork, which is out of this world,  and met some of the other AE’s that Annie P. attracts. Hans Henrik from Denmark, also moved to Koh Chang and used to work on oil rigs but now works in North Sea putting up massive wind farms, as a crane operator. Rick, who is a handsome Indonesian, and grew up in Santa Barbara, California. He is a pipe fitter doing maintenance at nuclear power plants. Rick is the guy you want to go out with to get into trouble but have fun while you are doing that. Very funny and generous guy, who works 3 months to focus on his main hobby, living.

Just across the road is Khun NOi, a beautiful Thai woman who runs a hydroponics lettuce farm in front of her shop that doubles as  a juice bar. Well maybe not a bar. Maybe more a telephone booth size juice bar. She is fun, funny, kind, and a very good business woman. Totally follows her heart and speak her mind.  She was often complaining about her Austrian partner who she calls a butterfly (chasing women). We got along wonderfully. Next to her is Sylvain, or Sweepie, as the Thai couldn’t pronounce his name. He is a French Rastafarian, and runs with his Thai girl friend a book store and a store dedicated to Bob Marley. Every possible image of Marley was integrated in clothes, socks, towels, etc. It was like being at a football stadium with all the merchandise. Sylvain had such a beautiful aura of happiness about him. It was intoxicating.

Heli, without the copter, is a Swedish single mom who had been living on the island for 20 years. She had been successful with property development and was working on opening a new beach front restaurant. I remember when we were talking about her life there and things she missed from Europe. She would say “I miss nothing. I get home sick for Koh Chang when I visit Trad” Trad is the mainland town where you catch the ferry for the 30 minute journey to Koh Chang. One thing struck me while we were chatting. She was remodelling, and all the builders were busy running power saws, hammering, etc. In spite of the need to get the job done before high season stated, she shouted, take a break so we can chat in peace and enjoy our conversation. Most entrepreneurs would not stop the job to have a conversation with a stranger.

Almost forgot Henk, who started a business making home made kroketten, bitter ballen and frikandel. For those of you unfamiliar with any of these Dutch delicacies, it is an acquired taste. Henk had a very busy job as manager and felt life was not about being exhausted, physically and mentally everyday. There has to be another way and ultimately ended up in Koh Chang.

This menagerie of people whether Thai or expat, all shared a common love of Thailand. All worked to integrate that “je ne sais quoi” that made Thailand unique, into their lives. Not one tried to discourage us from moving to Koh Chang. We were welcome. They saw we had that Koh Chang gene in us.

I nearly forgot the most interesting group. The dogs. There are beautiful street dogs everywhere. They epitomise everything that is magical about Koh Chang. They all seem to have gotten lots of scrapes, bumps, bruises, and all seem to have a weathered face reflecting their character building life. In spite of all these rough experiences, the dogs are not aggressive, at all but unbelievably sweet, gentle, and full of love. Like everyone we met. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that they are all well fed.

Everyone seemed to have found contentment in their lives. That was the common denominator. Whether the massage girls down the road who cracked, stretched and realigned my tired body or the owner of Yes restaurant who loved seeing Rieki’s smile. The all shared love, respect, generosity, friendliness, no rush, and all working to make a life and not only a living. Dying rich was definitely not the goal. All following their passion in a community that was home.

Finally found my Cicely, Alaska.

Looking forward to meeting you and other AE’s at TBLI CONFERENCE EUROPE 2015 in Zurich, Nov. 19-20.

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