Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi Don
From early January, 2018
I am lounging on a golden, palmy beach on the southeast end of Ko Phi Phi Don, a butterfly-shaped island in the Andoman Sea off Thailand’s southwest coast. I sailed over on a long-tail water taxi for 100 baht in attempt to avoid the beach in town.
All my holiday modulates between two main activities: One, trying to achieve serenity by relaxing in pleasant surrounds, in an attempt to forget my life at home, and Two, trying to look at beautiful and unique things to distract and immerse myself, in an attempt to forget my life at home. Activity Two is usually accompanied by Instagram photos.
Both of these activities are somehow degraded by the presence of other humans. I don’t believe it’s just me and my misanthropic ways. Everyone wants to “beat the crowds”. Humans find civilization convenient but are not really pack animals, and the presence of other beings often alarms us, if quietly, down to some mitochondrial core. It’s not that we have anything against any of these strangers, personally. We can empathize with them, certainly. But we’d find it better for our peace of mind to be in a place that is pure–by which I mean, free of our species.
All I seek on this vacation is peace of mind. Adulthood is but a constant stream of stressors that one must deflect, as if in an endless game of Galaga. I am more self-aware than when I was young, and more aware of others. Mostly this awareness empowers, because everything is manageable, because the world follows rules and reason, which have grown more apparent, clearer and clearer like a loading JPEG. But it also means that I am very aware of the stressors, and can almost quantify the exact of brain energy spent on each external stimuli.
So I’ve come to “recharge my batteries”, as they say. This means attempting to wipe my mind clean, letting everything fade, fade, fade.
The world follows rules and reason, which is why we can all predict things, for example:
- This beach will be less crowded than the others on the island because it’s not physically spectacular enough for day trippers and is not connected by land to the hostels.
- If you get there earlier, it will be even less crowded, as people on vacation tend to get out and about at around 10 or 11 AM, and more like 1PM if they are young.
Such are the rules and the reasons. The predictions are usually more or less true. In this sense, adulthood is kind of boring.
We feed this knowledge into a calculator in our brains: Is it worth 200 baht? Is it worth the effort? We make our prediction and make our decision accordingly. Sometimes risk arises. We’re on a quest to optimize.
“I thought it would be more ____”, we say to each other, with either pleasant or unpleasant surprise. We like to run our thought processes by others, to check for concordance. We also like to disseminate new information to others, to improve the hive mind, to aid others in their predictions and calculations. This is what passes for conversation in adulthood.
In fact, I am a little disappointed because this beach has a solid hundred or so people also partaking in the lounging and swimming, even at 9AM. I observe that the beach has six or so villa hotels which have guests pleased to stay put, in addition to those of us who all have sailed over here with same idea about avoiding the crowds in town. The world is also a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and we end up at some Nash equilibrium. I have new inputs, but the calculation still makes sense.
What was youth but lack of experience? I’ve taken many vacations now. I’ve visited 25 countries. Each time I learn some boring new rule of travel arithmetic.
- Try not to check luggage.
- Ask for prices before getting in cabs.
- Always wear sunscreen.
As a result of these learnings, I make fewer blunders, and experiences are more optimal.
Of course, my adult self does not compare to my 19-year-old self. The 19-year-old was blissful in ignorance. The 19-year-old did not even have a sense of optimal. The 19-year-old faced no material stressors. The 19-year-old allowed dopamine to rule. The 19-year-old would chat with strangers and find these points of interface exciting and hilarious, instead of tedious and forgettable.
Like I said, adulthood is kind of boring. I don’t feel bored though, I feel relaxed. I’m sitting on a beach, eyes closed, listening to waves, trying to clear my head. I often hear coworkers tell me how they dream of sitting in a cabin in the woods by themselves, or maybe with their dogs, or how much they enjoyed their weekend of “doing nothing”. We’re all hurtling toward hermitage. It doesn’t upset me. It seems like the natural byproduct of working within capitalism. I happen to work in the most capitalist place on earth and I happen to live in an individualist Anglo culture. I noticed the Cubans seemed more sociable. I noticed the Brazilians seem to find crowds invigorating.
Next week I’ll be on the subway.