Here is a great story written by Ihor Yaskiw, an AIESECer who went on a traineeship to Thailand. We've had some great stories, but nothing quite this literary (so far). Enjoy!
“How long were you in Switzerland for?”
“A year,” Jeep answered, as she took a sip from the bottle and passed it to Eli, who sat in the lotus position staring at the sun-drenched ocean.
Eli took an awkward swig – it was hard to be graceful with a two-liter bottle. “A year?” she reiterated, surprised. “That’s a while… I’ve only been here for three weeks and I already miss Berlin”.
“I was homesick too. I managed, though. My host family was very nice to me – we still keep in touch. I miss it sometimes… I’m supposed to go visit them next year. The first thing I’m doing when I get there is going ice-skating.” She smiled at me with a toothy grin.
“Ice skating! Isn’t that a little too cold for you?” I retorted jokingly – a not-quite-clever quip at the fact that the temperature rarely went below ninety Fahrenheit ever since I arrived in Thailand.
“It’s cold, but nothing I can’t handle.” She never ceased smiling. “I’m probably better at it than you.”
I let out a soft laugh. She was probably right – I’ve only stepped into ice-skates twice before, both times resulting in borderline embarrassment.
There we sat, young idealists from around the globe, thoroughly committed to changing the world for the better in one way or other, drinking cheap whisky and Coke out of an absurdly large bottle at one of the most beautiful spots on earth. Modernization hadn’t completely bypassed the blindingly white beaches of Ko Samet, guaranteeing travelers the necessities of water, shelter, food and fun, but had managed to stay far enough away to keep out various impurities like billboards, asphalt and a Marriott or Hilton at every spot that had sand and a palm tree. The only traffic to be seen here were bikes and mopeds traversing the uneven dirt road that followed the east coast of the island or the occasional pick-up truck with benches mounted in the back, shuttling people between the port up north and the many bungalow hotels that lined the beach. Fresh-caught seafood for pennies, lodging for three dollars a night, and “happy hours” from ten to midnight – backpackers’ paradise.
European tourists populated the sand, trying to absorb as much of the over-abundant sun as possible with their pasty complexions. The locals looked on from the shade as they went about their daily business, fully dressed, struggling to digest the notion that anyone in their right mind would intentionally make their skin darker and probably snickering at the impropriety of exposing that much bare skin. Then again, few Thais appeared to really care about, much less be offended by what the farang did, even though they often became the topic of conversation.
As peaceful and diplomatic as it may have been, the culture clash was, without question, ever-present and hard to overlook, even within the realm of our weekend getaway banter. Jeep, Eli and I, though we’ve only known each other for several weeks, could comfortably discuss any topic, no matter how controversial, and were largely on the same level, so to speak. Nevertheless, it was impossible not to notice that Jeep, while she sat on the beach with us, wore a knee-length skirt and a t-shirt while Eli and I, just as the tourists around us, have been in our bathing suits since morning without as much as giving the issue a second thought. I was an outsider, and while I knew well by now that a woman exposing her shoulders was, by local standards, considered taboo, I had a hard time identifying with that fact directly. And while I listened with utmost interest to Jeep’s stories about the sternness of her relatives and how the drawbacks and restrictions of having blood ties to the royal family outweighed the perks, putting myself in her shoes was nearly impossible.
There was perhaps a half-hour left before the parching sun would disappear behind the tree line, immersing the beach in cooling shadows and finally letting the mellow breeze have an impact. The tourists would scamper off to dinner to be replaced by locals, who took full advantage of enjoying the twilight hours by engaging in a casual game of beach soccer – which any brave soul was welcome to join – or going for a simple barefoot stroll along the constantly shifting line where the waves hit the shore. The bars would start preparing, lining the sand around them with colorful tatami mats placed around foot-high tables. As torches and festive lanterns came on, a different kind of life would erupt on Ko Samet.
I took the last swig of the bottle and glanced at Jeep, whose onyx eyes stared at the water with peaceful determination. The tips of waves were hypnotically incandescent as the setting sun bounced off them at just the right angle. Suddenly she stood up.
“Screw it. I’m going for a swim”.
She looked around, and with the air of impeccable nonchalance stripped down to her underwear, tossing her clothes onto the sand behind her as she ran toward the water, her beautiful, dark complexion giving off a satiny glow under the golden light. There was little I could do except follow her.