Today´s the Fourth of July. We´re on the island of Phuket on Patong Beach. The Big Cheese and Enigma are off, shortly after sunrise, looking for shells while I savor the alone time and type this. The beach is beautiful, but the water´s dangerous now on the western side of the island because of the summer monsoon season. There are rip tides. The information´s out there, along with the red flags on the beach, but the Thais aren´t going to tell you not to go in the water and tourists drown on Patong beach fairly regularly.
We got our own taste of the rip tides yesterday. There have been multiple lectures from the Big Cheese regarding tides and water safety (the Big Cheese can be a little pedantic) along with eye-rolling and impatience. We have a tidal chart because it´s so complicated – two high and two low per day – and we hit the beach at slack tide so we could swim for a couple of hours, which entailed getting up early. I took a long walk. And Diva and I took one last swim as the tide started coming in.
We stayed in the water about five minutes too long. We weren’t that far from the shore, in water all churned up but still shallow enough I could put my feet down between the swells. Body surfing, laughing about imaginary “sea humpies,” the sun on the water… and then the wave ebbing fast past my legs and realizing …. shit shit shit … and looking over at Diva´s face as she realized how hard the tide was pulling us, how in the space of a few seconds she couldn´t touch the bottom any more. Then: talking to her, amping her down from mild panic. Holding her hand to keep her close, not fighting it, getting her to ride the swells, slowly, toward the beach. The whole drama lasted maybe three minutes until she could walk to shore. She was shaking. She´d been bugging us to go to the beach since we got here, chafing at the Cheese and his stupid rules and the red flags. But she didn´t ask to join them this morning. She´s downstairs with her iPod enjoying, for once, breakfast alone.
And I´m sitting here with the twins, Tom & Jerry on in the background, pondering the shape of the day. Fireworks? Today´s the fruit-tasting at the hotel, and I´m interested. This is fruit season, and it´s amazing, although some of the fruit I can´t even figure out. I like dragonfruit, and I can peel a rambutan (although unless I´m doing something wrong, I don´t really like the results), and I´ve had a couple of weird, nutlike things and a rose-apple, which is like eating crisp, juicy perfume (in a good way), and something called (I think) wawa, which is like eating a cork, only with less flavor. Maybe it wasn´t ripe?
I can pick out the smell of durian now. The shells (husks? rinds? carapaces?) are piled up in the trash cans everywhere, and I can smell them before I see them, even over all the smells around me. They don´t smell like a sewer (the sewer smells over here are pretty breathtaking). They smell more like a Western-style bathroom, with all that implies, including a blast of Tropical Fruit air freshener. It is, in its own way, a remarkably addictive smell. I think someone should work some durian into a fragrance; I mean, look at some of the other manky smells we like – indolic jasmine, leather, dirt. There´s room for durian in there somewhere.
Full disclosure: I crapped out on my durian tasting a few days ago because I was worried about embarrassing myself. It looks like an alien brain – curved and lumpy, yellow-white, maybe a little creamy/spongy. I was going to sample it in public, and I have weird textural issues about food (which I’ve passed on to two of our kids, and which drives the Cheese insane), and I decided if I bit into that durian and then lost my lunch in public in front of the Thai people (a small but distinct possibility) I´d die of shame.
UPDATE: 5 p.m. Kids off for special July 4 meal of McDonalds! I encouraged them to order the McTom Kha Gai with a side of lahb salad, but they´ll probably get chicken fingers or something equally disgusting. It´s hot. But not that much worse than Washington, really. I just drink all the time — I´ve fallen in love with the 11-baht canned and bottled refrigerated beverage section in The Big One, our next-door 7-11. I´ve been avoiding the Red Bull dupes and the drinks with visible chunks of colored glop in them, and thus far I´ve only had one total loss (something green and really bitter.) They have several kinds of canned coffees, all of which are wonderful, and I´m developing a pretty serious guava-watermelon juice habit.
At the fruit tasting I ate: a dragonfruit, which is so amazing we are really missing out in the U.S.; a rambutan, which looks like a hairy red chestnut on the outside and is actually quite good (ours must not have been ripe); a mangosteen, which is incredibly juicy and delicious and looks nothing like a mango; a mango, which served with sticky rice for dessert (thanks, Noy!) is, essentially, heaven on a plate; a litchi, which is even juicier than a mangosteen and I totally understand why they´re always sticking it in fragrance; and a longan, which – eeeew. It´s like popping a horror-movie eyeball in your mouth. And, although I´d requested it, no durian. After the longan, maybe that was a good thing.
PS Response time on your comments may be delayed by the 11-hour time difference. And too much Singha, possibly. But I’ll get there!
images, top to bottom: Patong beach; dragonfruit; rambutan; mangosteen; durian