Snowbirds Droppin' In
Living on a tropical resort island remains one of those elusive objects of desire that fires the imagination of many an urban dweller. Holed up in an arctic winter in some vanilla skyscraping monster, and knocking back a few too many whiskeys just to keep your toes from falling off, you end up chatting with the cat. Or perhaps your dead grandmother.
That scene from the Jack Nicholson terror epic The Shining springs up in a vivid daytime nightmare, where he sticks the axe through the bathroom door, and snarls out, "Here's Johnny." A nasty case of cabin fever can drive even the most gentle soul to the edge… and beyond.
This is why so many "snow-birds", as such people are called in the tourism trade, opt out from a potentially thrilling but ultraviolent mid-winter episode and instead catch some sun in Phuket. Soothing the savage beasts of mass tourism certainly brings a state of economic euphoria to those in the rough trade.
In my case opposites attract and high season is increasingly driving me into a state of depression, high anxiety and borderline rage.
Despite the ramp up into the festive season (this term I also hate with a vengeance), my all-too-frequent trips to the airport start to mimic scenes playing out during the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam war, or perhaps the crush of crowds standing in line at Bangkok's first Krispy Kreme out-let. American donuts and war machines strike up an odd combo in my mind's eye.
But let's face it, our international gateway has changed its Facebook status from "Hello Phuket" to "Welcome To Hell On Earth". Let's rap out all those "ooh's, ahh's and duh's" – massive tour buses unloading legions of the lost, ripped up sidewalks/roads/temporary fences, stray dogs and taxis taking up every spare bit of space.
Touting drivers, lines longer than cocaine cowboys could imagine, parking fees that are driving me to the edge of bankruptcy. And of course the confused solo traveler with 10 suitcases tying up the only line open at AirAsia for a full 90 minutes while trying to pack, unpack and repack. Meanwhile mounting flight delays, women giving birth in the same line as the teenage airline staff chats on an iPhone.
This is just the trip out, never mind trying to return to paradise.
Of course we can touch upon the subject of those diligent "civil servants" who man the immigration booths. By nature I'm a pretty organized person, and being forward-looking I also stick one of those handy Post-it notes where my non-immigrant B visa is to be found. Travel is one of the tools of my trade, and so my passport is getting fatter by the day with extra pages. Without fail each and every time, despite putting my arrival card on the correct page and having this huge red sticker marking the spot, the immigration officer always furrows his brow into a confused look and starts aimlessly thumbing through the entire passport.
Trying to help is a fruitless exercise, just stare into that little webcam, don't step over the line and for God's sake – don't offer any help.
Mick and the Stones sang about time being on our side. Clearly they hadn't toured Phuket yet. And still I wait… until the last page is slowly reached and the puzzled person on the other side of the counter starts to go through it all again, one page at a time.
There are of course so many other disastrous episodes, infomercials, virals, mini-series and sequels to the whole distorted passion play of high season that I could never cover it in just one column.
Gridlocked traffic, entire families of Croc-wearing tourists walking down the middle of the street, bad tattoos, Singha beer tank tops, sexpats, knock-off designer logos on every possible wardrobe item and those screwy corn row hairstyles.
I've hit my breaking point. Hollywood often brings inspiration and the other night Escape from New York came on. My thoughts turned to retrofitting one of those Titanic-sized tour buses into a Mad Max type of flaming torpedo of massive destruction.
I'd need some caffeine first.
Momentary stumped how I could park the bus in front of my coffee factory Bake, thoughts turned to escaping Phuket and the nightmare of high season.
A late-night nun over the bridge and keep heading north… keep going up through Yunan province in China and come to an inter-section and perhaps push the limit into Russia.
Suddenly the BBC weather report brought me back to reality: it's snowing in Moscow. Isn't this where I first got on this train of thought?