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East is East and West is West

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: News Column - Phuket Gazette. Posted: 9th Mar 2013

MY FINGERS are digging deep into the armrests of our Bangkok Airways ATR 72, or more appropriately called "the prop job", as it takes a sharp left turn high above the island of Koh Samui. Thankfully, I can't hear myself think, given the noise level is nothing short of being inside a bar blender in a Mexican restaurant on margarita Mondays. Brain freeze time is here again.

What exactly is the difference between soaring up to heaven, or falling down into hell? One of my favorite pastimes is measuring the distance between a supposed beach front resort property development offering and the ocean.

Reading those advertorials, which often wax on about hearing the gentle tropical waves rock you to sleep each night, typically ends up in a measurement exercise which finds you not counting meters, feet or sheep, but a rising marathon kilometer mark.

Back on Google Earth I decide to take a chance and key in Heaven, after all it's the internet and maybe they have inside knowledge. The trip to that unearthly paradise takes me to Bardstown Kentucky, to Heaven Hill Distilleries. I'm rather skeptical if our afterlife final journey is headed down South and the thought of angels in mullet-style haircuts at Walmart is disturbing.

Meanwhile, my quest goes back to purgatory, or what's known as the really deep South of Hades.

This is easy, as up pops Michigan.

Seemingly the religious right in the US has somehow made a land grab on all sorts of ecclesiastical real estate. Though a quick search also finds other Hells - Norway and Grand Cayman.

Thankfully, hell and heaven are not the strict domain of Americans only. With the Pope going into early retirement, what's next? Perhaps God or Satan will want to take a little "me time", go do some detox or learn how to paint? Or else, just kick back, travel and hone up on their golf games? Neither one has an Austin Power's Mini Me waiting in the wings, so imagine trying to find replacements for them? I do hear Kanye West might be interested though.

Back in the skies as our giant lawnmower edges toward Phuket, I scan the in-flight magazine, which features a literary take on Myanmar (Burma for those you who have been locked in a time warp).

Famous authors such as Kipling, Maugham and Orwell are all taken apart, dissected and condensed.

It's good reading but my memory ticks over that famous Rudyard Kipling poem, The Ballad of East and West.

It starts out: "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the Earth!" This strikes a strong chord of timelessness in our own day and age of technology, mayhem, madness and escape. Our little island of Phuket blends the best, the worst, and all that space in between into a rainbow of multicultureless.

In days past, Chinese, Malays and an entire plethora of Asian immigrants came here to set up businesses, raise families and create their own legacies. Just as Thais came from all over the land and settled here. After the tin mining, plantation and the trade set slowed, tourism followed.

Enter the citizens of the West, from near and far, Europeans, Americans, Australians the list goes on and on. The island of Phuket remains a space oddity in Thailand for its blend of East and West. While many would choose to be locked into the thought of legacy and entitlement, emerging markets and a changing world have plunged us into an entirely new melting pot.

Popping my head above the surface, I can certainly see the hastening pace of change where the term 'expat' will no longer only symbolize typically Western white faces, but will undergo an extreme makeover to be those from the region. Forget drawing a line in the sand, it's far better to take a handful of it, throw it up into the air, and see which way the wind takes it.

I'm not quite sure how Kipling would have viewed our own little island here in Thailand, but his eloquent line "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the two shall meet" isn't the case anymore in the year 2013. The two great houses of yin and yang have already converged here in Phuket.

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