Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ronald McDonald is a drag queen.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”

–Dagobert D. Rune

Ronald McDonald is a drag queen.

Phuket, Thailand, the country’s largest island, is a Euro utopia, the beach all butchered English and speedos and brazenly bare middle-aged breasts. Oftentimes it’s difficult to tell whether said boobs belong to man or woman as most have fallen victim to both gravity and excess, their nipples and bellybuttons close enough neighbors to be on good speaking terms. Not that I’m looking.

This comes as quite a contrast to the Thais, who are generally quite modest, often observed bathing in both swimsuit and shirt. Paddling right between banana-hammock Europeans, the Caucasoid pillars baking under the tropical sun. Hope you like your meat well done.

Without premeditation I’ve wound up sleeping at the guesthouse appearing on film in The Beach. It’s not as decrepit as depicted on the silver screen over a decade ago, but I am happy to report still has plenty of down and out charm. What happenstance, I set off for Ko Phi Phi shortly, home to the beach from, well, you know, The Beach. How incredibly inadvertent.

There’s good reason why Phuket is the country’s richest province as result of tourism and why you’re just as likely to hear a Germanic language on the beach as Thai. If allowed, the jungle stretches to the sea, which is clear when caressing the sand and then fades from turquoise to emerald and jade, the ocean one giant, glistening gem. Upon snorkel submersion one becomes the camera for a National Geographic video. The fish all colors of the rainbow and extroverted, schools swimming into your facemask, a three-hundred and fifty-nine degree panorama of underwater enchantment. That last degree spoiled; just as you’re about to complete the circle one of those middle-aged breasts finds its way into your camera lens. Not that you’re looking.

As the sun rises Phuket life is all about snorkeling and skidoos and riding an inflated banana over the ocean top as its pulled along by a long-tail boat. As the sun sets the entertainment is decidedly different. You know that sweet ’ol aunt of yours, the one that hasn’t missed Sunday service since 1968 when she just had her appendix removed? Don’t let her leave the hotel in the evening.

While similar in appearance, this isn’t Hawaii on the humid setting. Phuket is far more seedy. Sure, there are tranquil, family stretches of beach and secluded bays for the rich and well-known. Then there’s Patong. Home of the more-famous-than-one-ought-think lady-boy cabaret. A class act all the way, from the costumes to the original score, but I find myself unable to pay for such things when already inundated with transgender entertainment while walking the streets. Some sois bring about gender confusion and I find it necessary to check my bits and pieces both before and after passage through to ensure I am still, at least technically, a man.

Awkward is walking down an alleyway while uncertain whether boy, lady, or a combination of both, is licking his or her or its lips and purring like a kitten. If unsuspicious one might remark on the length and leanness of the leg, the shortness of the skirt, the supple contours of the abdomen, or the brassiere that leaves just enough to the imagination. Or the Adam’s Apple.

Head down, check the bits, everything’s in order, keep walking. Hell, after lying on the beach all day isn’t a jog in order?

Real-Time Travel Tip #3: Embrace the uncomfortable. Figuratively. It usually means you’re in the middle of something interesting.

Now, if you can just make it out sans bite marks…

How about some advice in earnest? Don’t let those of transgender engender you to scratch Thailand off your travel bucket list. If you and your aunt are of a similarly sweet disposition please note that lady-boys are largely well-received within Thai culture and seem fairly sweet themselves. This is why you left home in the first place. To feel the wind at another longitude. Sometimes the breeze begets goose bumps.

Unease the new fad, it’s anti-escapism, forcing you into the moment.

So fleeting, after navigating another soi the lady-boys bring nothing more than nonchalance. As common as rice and your daydream work concerns return. Now a McDonald’s, that’s something I haven’t seen in Thailand before. Cool, there’s a statue of Ronald outside forming a wai. Adorned with a woman’s wig, he’s really become one with the locale.

Clown transvestites I can handle. The naturally born women who, to grab your attention outside a massage parlor, literally grab you, quickly detract from one’s sense of sea-gifted harmony. The exact opposite of the lady-boys, first it’s flattering. The cooing, the ‘hey big handsome man’, the hand on your butt. Then you realize they’re doing the same thing to those Euro man-boobed men who flew out here for the very thing. Just like the tuk-tuk drivers pulling aside you asking, ‘Hey you, where you go?’ thrice every block, it’s the service industry sucking-the-paradise-out-of-paradise in all it’s ulcer-inducing glory, intent on separating a farang from his baht.

Okay, you’re right. The hand on the butt, it’s not so bad.

At least until you spot the Adam’s Apple.

Keep drifting.

Chalong Bay, Phuket, Thailand

I splurged, paying an extra $1.50 for a room with its own bathroom; a model of efficiency, the showerhead is above the sink next to the squat toilet.

A hidden beach, between Kamala and Surin beaches, Phuket, Thailand

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