Volunteer Work in Thailand

The longtail boat about to get swamped

TUESDAY: Back at the boatshed. Scott decides to get the newly launched longtail out of the pond beside the shed and into the sea. Once across the sandbar, we have to stop it being swamped while the motor is mounted. I get to hold the prow square to the waves. I was hoping the water would be refreshing but it’s hot. There’s lots of broken coral underfoot whenever I’m not treading water. Then there’s a coconut tree stump. Then the bow rope gets wrapped around my leg. The Thai expression for this is mai sanuk (not fun). Then the motor is finally mounted and started and we pile in and head out past the breakers for a while.

Recounting our adventures that night, I mention the water was disappointing to swim in. One of the hippies chips in with: “Well I won’t swim in the Andaman Sea – there’s too many ghosts.”

WEDNESDAY: Last night a falling coconut tree swamped the longtail we launched yesterday. So we tow it out of the creek, bail it out and anchor it past the breakers. In the afternoon Scott decides we should retrieve the motor, while the tide is out and it’s beached. That means carrying it about 200 metres. It takes seven of us and several pushes. A lot of instructions are shouted in Thai at put-down times, not enough translated. The third time we put the motor down, Brandon says matter-of-factly: “It’s broken.” His little finger has been nutcrackered in the mounting bracket. That’s hospitalization number 10 for the boat shed crew.

I wait at a nearby shelter with some locals, who are having post-work drinks or durian (one or other, you can’t have both unless you want a trip to hospital too). Some of the men show me their scars from previous encounters with boat motors and say “mai ben rai” (literally: “there is nothing”, basically: “no worries”). A guy arrives with a truck and drives me back to the Nature Resort. Scott and Brandon arrive a few minutes later.

THURSDAY: Scott has gone home sick. Brandon’s finger is in a cast and he’s supposed to take it easy. That means a long lunch at a nearby café. Taking our cue from Kong’s newspaper, Miss Universe is our conversation topic. A few days earlier it was front-page news for an unfortunate reason. On a photo shoot in Bangkok, bikini-clad contestants were photographed with Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) forming the backdrop. Thais are almost endlessly tolerant of failure to observe their customs but that got some people going. Thailand being Thailand, that’s over now and the loveliness of Miss Korea is today’s front-page story. Kong says he’s also a fan of Australia’s outgoing Miss Universe, Jennifer Hawkins.

One of the local fishermen, Putko, gives Brandon and I a lift home. He lost his leg in the tsunami and now has a side-car on his motorbike. One small Thai and two big farang make for more weight than the bike can really manage so we crawl along the highway at what feels like walking pace. Still, everyone overtaking gives us a friendly toot or thumbs up, even though it’s peak hour and we’re holding up the traffic.

FRIDAY: I’m going to Ko Phi Phi today so I can have a leisurely breakfast while everyone else is heading to work. The gibbons swing by and the tame one climbs into my lap, maybe hoping to share my breakfast, maybe just because he’s sociable. The not-tame one, readily distinguishable by a hare lip, sits nearby and glowers. I don’t try to be friendly with him.

On the ferry to Phi Phi I chat with a Phi Phi boatman, Jin. He saw the first wave coming and ran into the Phi Phi Cabana Hotel and up to the top floor. A good choice, because those who just kept running from the first wave ran into the next one coming in from the north side. “Now I make nice money again, working on the sea,” Jin says.

When I get off the ferry at Tonsai Village, I think I’ve made a huge mistake coming to Phi Phi. It’s packed with people and noisy. Electronic dance music is thumping out from several sources and it’s only mid afternoon. In the evening, though, there are a hundred people at the volunteers’ meeting, all wanting to do their bit.

Continued on page two…..

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