Travels with John Smith
Chapter 39 year 5 (2016)
Kou Phi Phi, Wuhan Evolution
-getting to Kou Phi Phi Don
-longboats and tourists
-sunset viewing from above
- ‘No’ island hopping
-Aftermath of 2004 Tsunami
-street food breakfast in Wuhan
-back in the Library
-talking with students
-Mizar and Jim
-the evolution of a person
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 39, year 5 (2016)
Kou Phi Phi, Wuhan Evolution
We are sipping watermelon juice, laying on sun-beds looking at a small bay surrounded by limestone rocks jutting out of a turquoise sea in the distance. It is quiet apart from the occasional, long elegant wooden boat with noisy diesel motors taking people to the surrounding islands and waters. The bay we are facing is called .Loh Dalam Bay and is part of the Andaman Sea. We are on an island called Koh Phi Phi Don, which is the biggest island in a group of islands about 48 kilometres from Phuket.
We took a ferry to get here. They told us it would take an hour and a half but it was more like 2 hours, plus about an hour long wait to actually leave Phuket plus the stops it made for the people who were on the ferry as a day trip from Phuket so probably more like 4 hours.
We are kind of shattered as we took a direct midnight flight from Wuhan, that got us into Phuket around 3:30 am and we then took a taxi to the port but nothing was open so we sat on bus depot like benches chatting with a French guy who lives in Shanghai until it was time to buy a ticket for the ferry.
John said he saw a large rat run into one of the food and drink stalls that serve the people waiting for the ferries so didn’t want to order anything even when they opened. That stall looked like it was the only one doing smoothies and I didn’t see any rat bites on the mangos so ordered a mango and ginger fruit smoothie which was delicious. I was, however, on the alert for the rat as I didn’t really like the idea of it running out from under the stall and up my leg.
The boat was very big but also quite crowded. We got a good seat on the top deck and as it was the 1st boat of the day, it didn’t get too hot until we were about an hour into the ride. It was lovely being on the sea though, with glimpses of what was to come, each time we passed a lonely huge limestone rock jutting up in the middle of the ocean on our way.
On the way, we stopped in Koh Phi Phi Leh, which is one of the reasons that the group of islands became so famous. It was used as a location for the film ‘The Beach’ , with Leonardo DiCaprio. It is very beautiful but sadly it loses some of it’s beauty with the many tourist boats in the small bay in front.
A few years ago, the 1st time I came to Thailand, I was lucky enough to be on a private boat with some good friends and we arrived very early in the morning to this spot. The sun was just rising and the water was calm and the quiet little cove with it’s white sand surrounded by the tall and characteristic limestone walls around it was breathtakingly beautiful. We looked at this gorgeous natural backdrop while we ate our breakfast. Then we heard the jagged sounds of the longboat motors and many other kinds of boats and it got louder and more gaudy as boat after boat entered the cove until there was hardly a spot free.
We had been travelling around the seas in that area and it had been quiet and calm so it was a rude awakening to how fortunate we were to have the freedom to go to different spots where there were no people at all. That said, the cliffs, clean white beaches, emerald sea, amazing corals and marine life still make it an amazing place to go and I wanted John to see it too, while we are in this part of the world.
We stopped at another place before finally arriving into the Kou Phi Phi Don’s port, where it was mayhem with all the people getting off, some for lunch and others, like us, to stay. It was hell getting off the boat with our bags but luckily the hotel was very close to the pier so we walked there in 5 minutes and here we are, with this lovely view.
It is now the middle of the week and we have truly settled into the holiday vibe. Every day, we wake up as the sun is coming up and go to the breakfast room which is really a kind of open air terrace and have a fairly copious breakfast. For the rest of the day, we lay in the sun, or in the shade on the sun beds drinking fresh smoothies and sometimes have spicy seafood snacks. We have a choice between swimming in the warm gentle waves of the sea in front of us or a more refreshing dip in the large double kidney shaped pool behind us.
We read, sleep and watch the slow easy life around us; people walking up the beach, going out on the boats or paddling around the bay in a canoe or a surfboard. When the tide goes out, it goes really far out so we might take a walk out as far as we can go on the flat white sand, past the beached boats and smaller dead coral clusters that are exposed to the sun. It is low season so there are always plenty of chairs to sit in around the pool and never any crowds of people on this side of the island. We can never get enough of this view.
At night we walk into the village. There are no cars on the island, only carts that are pulled by hand that carry luggage or supplies to shops or restaurants. There are 2 main bays on the island and our hotel is in the middle. The main entrance faces the bay where the pier is and the other is our view from the pool/beach.
Looking out from the port side of the hotel, to the right is a small hospital and a few hotels and to the left is the village which is along the beach on that side and carries on up the hill. There are are a couple little alleyways with hostels, shops and restaurants. After the shops and restaurants, there are some huts along one path where many of the locals live and if you carry on about 5 kilometres or 3 miles further up to the top of the cliff, there is a sunset viewing platform.
We decide to walk up there and on the sign at the bottom it says it is 3000 metres to get to the top. It doesn’t sound too bad so we carry on. We are now at the top and I’m not sure I would have made it if I had done the math and figured out it was 5 kilometres up. Especially since I am wearing my flip flops!
The view is spectacular and we can see the area where the hotel is below and both bays and the scope of it all. There is a large wooden platform and a hut selling Pad Tai and other Thai specialities and drinks so there are a few people making an evening of it, looking at the sun setting. When we were walking on the way up, we noticed there are no lights on the path or the road it leads to, so we start down before it gets too dark. There are motorbikes on the road coming down the mountain so you have to be careful as it is so steep, you can’t trust they will stop or see you and there are a few bends in the road to make it more adventurous as well.
We try different restaurants every night but have one that we eat in a couple times. It is the cheapest, the simplest and the tastiest so is by far our favourite. It is owned by a Thai couple and they have my favourite dish on the menu; Green Papaya salad. The 2 main businesses in the village seem to be scuba diving places and tattoo parlours and the age groups that go with those 2 things. There were a few older people there but mostly people in their 20’s.
There is a guy named ‘No’, who sits on the steps that go down to the beach who asks us every day if we want to go island hopping on his boat. Today we say “Yes” to ‘No’, we negotiate and he agrees on a flat price to take us island hopping. He takes us to Monkey Island, which turns out to be rather close-kind of around the corner and still part of the island we are already on. We could of swam there.
We do some wonderful snorkelling and see some beautiful brightly coloured fish and corals and we get back into the boat. We ask No if he can take us somewhere else as we are meant to have him for a couple hours and he did say ‘island hopping’. He says “No” and refuses to go anywhere else but keeps asking us if we want to go to Koh Phi Phi Leh tomorrow. We argue and he finally agrees to take us around the other corner of the cove and points to another beach. It looks nice but he won’t let us get out to go on to the beach and keeps the boat going, taking us back to where we started inside the cove, to drop us off. When he drops us off, he asks again if we want to go to Koh Phi Phi Leh. We think if today is an indication of how any other trip with him might go, we will say “No” to No. Not a good businessman!
On a sadder note; Koh Phi Phi Don was also one of the places the worst hit by the Tsunami that hit South East Asia in 2004. While we were there, we thought about the locals and tourists and what they might of been feeling when they saw the wave come in and we found some videos on Youtube. It must of been so scary. The hotel we are in was badly hit because it is one of the lowest points on the island and is directly in the path as the waves would of come in from both sides and hit in the middle. The wave that came in from the front was about 10 feet or 3 metres high and from the other side, the side with our view, about 6.5 feet or 2 metres high. Anyone in the lower floors of the hotel would of been hit. We saw a video taken from the 3rd floor of our hotel, where the large fountain in the middle of the swimming pool was almost entirely covered. It’s about 1 story high. We looked up some stats online and it said about 70% of the buildings on the island had been destroyed and at the time the article was written, approx. 850 bodies had been recovered, and over a 1,000 were still missing. We don’t know what the end number was. The locals we talked to said about 4,000 people died even though it’s impossible to know how many.
We are back in Wuhan, starting our Saturday with a street food breakfast in the Wu Shang Liang Fan area. Outside the covered market here, the entire street is always hopping, especially around meal times. there are lots of fruit stalls and stores and small restaurants that have different kinds of food they are preparing and cooking outside, in front, to entice the people passing by. There are things like all kinds of dumplings, hot and dry noodles(which is a speciality in Wuhan), big thin slabs of bread made in clay ovens and covered with a delicious chili sauce or big flat grills cooking something that looks like a rice omelette.
We decide to have this today. There is a thin coating of egg on the outside and sticky rice on the inside, with little bits of fried mushroom, green onion and spices mixed in. It’s sliced like square pieces of cake and sold 3 big slices in a take out container for 10 Yuan each (2 Canadian dollars). We also have some spicy buns that are 5 Yuan each (1 dollar). John and I think it is the street food we will miss the most if we move away from China.
It is 7:30 Saturday night and there is a storm crashing outside. The rain is coming down like a flood and the time between lightning and thunder is almost nil so each flash of light brings a sound that almost bursts the windows. John and I have unplugged our computers and the TV as the last time there was a storm, something popped and our neighbours TV never worked again.
I am still enjoying being in the Library. Amy wanted to re-organize the non-fiction section so I made some cool posters to explain what is where, etc. It was a big job but I really enjoyed it. I still get to do the creative stuff too, so i have made displays for each season all year. Every class period, we have different groups of kids in the library who are in a spare. I ask the ones who are good at Art to join me and we have lots of fun as the creation changes with each group of kids bringing different ideas but I make sure we stick to the main idea.
I have long conversations with these kids while we work and also with other kids and I get to know them in the process. If they need help with anything, I try to listen, or give suggestions if asked or connect them with people who can help them.
The years I spent working as a counsellor/therapist in the UK comes in handy, comes naturally. The kids who are in the Teahouses also often come to talk about music or their lives or to play a little music so I am grateful to be here.
Right now I am working on a Graduation display. I bought a face-sized mirror and placed it at the middle of the bulletin board and made a grad hat from black cardboard and placed it above the mirror. There are paths that go from the mirror to different jobs, different cities all over the world but if you look in the mirror, it’s your face that is graduating.
I have also been learning to catalogue. I asked Amy to teach me before as we had an order with hundreds of books arrive and she was plodding away at it but she said she was ok, that she would do it. She might have been worried that I would screw it up. After I finished all my creative jobs, I asked again and she said ok. She wrote out the order of how to do it and as you stick to the script, it’s pretty easy. I am happy that I am learning a new skill.
I have been asked to organize the library at the Foreign National School, which has been a little neglected. They want me to spend a few hours a week over there so that’s exciting. Who knew I was good at a particular kind of organizing? I guess it’s kind of like writing a song or a story. It’s taking stuff and re-organizing it or putting it in a kind of order. It’s very satisfying.
Blake, our Principal who came here the same year as us, is moving to BC next year. Maple Leaf is opening up a school in Kamloops. They have been our neighbours for 4 years and Blake and Sandy are the ones who helped, supported and translated us through John’s heart attack last year. We will really miss them.
We know we are staying for another year and maybe we will change our minds but we are thinking that it will be our last year here. We are counting down the days until we will go back to Canada. Graduation ceremonies are tomorrow and the party is next week. There are about 360 students graduating and of all the graduating classes since we came to Wuhan, I think I know more students in this class than any other one.
The first 4 years, we were here, only the Grade 12 teachers were officially invited to Grad, have chairs with their names on them and sit at the front of the room during the grad ceremony. John attended all of them but I didn’t know that many students. I also would have had to to sit or possibly stand at the back of a sweltering hot room for 2 1/2 to 3 hours (The Chinese seem to like long ceremonies).
This year, because I am in the Library, I am invited and was told there is a chair with my name on it. Many of the kids have been asking me if I will be there as it is an opportunity to get a photo taken with your teachers etc. There are quite a few kids graduating that were in my favourite class of all time as well as many individual kids from different classes I taught or worked with in EAF or the Teahouse or now see in the Library, so I am excited to go.
It is now Sunday and the grad ceremony is over. It was a great show and lots of pictures were taken with students, usually by the parents. A few of the alumni kids showed up to the ceremony too. Kids that have been in America or Canada in University for a year or 2 so it was a day of reuniting, seeing the changes in different kids.
John and I just got back from dinner. There is a knock on our door and we open it to see Mizar and Jim. They graduated about 3 or 4 years ago. I have spoken about Mizar before. He was one of the original ‘No Pop’ guys, is an amazing musician and is now producing music, and living in San Francisco. Jim, was also one of the ‘No Pop’ group. He has the singing voice of an angel, also plays guitar and is going to University in Vancouver. It is wonderful to see how they have grown up and we have a great visit with them. We play some music together and it is a kind of icing on the cake way to end a fantastic day.
I used to see commercials on TV, advertising for people to become teachers. In the beginning of the advert, they would describe a certain kind of person and then slowly make it clear, ‘Then you should become a teacher’. Even though I thought some of it looked interesting and therefore, maybe I was one of those people, I always thought, ‘Well it’s too late now’ or ‘Are you kidding? Teenagers are scary”, etc. But everything we do is for a reason. Even when it doesn’t seem like it. When I was very young I wanted to be a spy or a teacher. The spy idea came with TV shows like ‘The Girl from Uncle’ and the teacher thing probably because my mom was one.
The ideas faded as the twists and turns of my life took me to different places and into different jobs. When I think back about sometimes working with teenagers in treatment centres and actually understanding what they were about or where they were coming from and then meeting John and in awe that he was so good at teaching and then falling into the job myself through John and coming here. You never know what’s going to happen. Everything you do will be useful, somewhere in your life.
I never would of guessed how absolutely rewarding it is to see young people coming into a place, when their characters are there but they are still learning who they are. Getting to know them and their quirks and caring about what happens to them, even the ones that caused me grief. Then watching them continue the journey, discovering and evolving through different things and people and experiences. Then they are standing there in front of you and they are a fully formed person. Suddenly there’s different feeling, maybe something like a surrogate parent. There’s a pride in knowing this person and an absolute joy having watched the things that molded them, the evolution to what they have become. And now it is a different relationship. If anyone would of told me I would feel this way back when I lived in London, I would not of believed them but today I feel truly grateful to have had this experience.
We will be back in Canada in time for Canada day with the family. We will be there for the rest of the summer, until we come back to Wuhan for what we think might be our last year here. That said, anything could happen….