As the saying goes, "mai pen rai"
February 10, 2019 by Kingsley Flett in Coverage, Travel with 0 comments
It was sign-posted in a fashion. But even so, it took me two passes and a pause to check Google maps before I found the left turn off the road to Chaweng.
Tracey, the 125cc Honda, gave out a determined low-end growl as she knuckled under for a climb that felt so steep that I wanted to lean forward to keep her front wheel down. I looked up and saw buildings, set so precipitously into the side of the hill that I had this brief morbid fantasy that they’d all start tumbling towards me in an avalanche if there was too loud a noise or a slight earth tremor. Then I got to the really steep part.
Tracey dug-in and snarled. I was even more impressed at what these sturdy little scooters can do. Eventually, after following a strange series of concrete ramps, which might have been the road, I came to a dirt carpark full of Tracey’s brothers and sisters. Again, there wasn’t any sign posted indication that this was it, but by then I’d seen a giant scaffolding tower projecting even higher which suggested I was at the place. Its name? High Park.
Another steep climb on foot towards the thumping dance music and I turn the corner just in time to see Nikko Locastro silhouetted against the light pink clouds of the early evening sky, flying, what seemed like 40 feet in the air, putter in hand, with that fierce look on his face when there’s something to be won, flipping a putter towards a basket before crashing into a diving pool. I ascended one last flight of steps towards the loud cheering and thumping bass to a deck with two large pools and two bars.
There are people in swimsuits with drinks in hand, having a separate, earthbound putting competition and dancing at the same time. The ascent to High Park has been so steep, and the decking built so high atop the hill, that we’ve left any earthly point-of-reference way below. The dancing, laughing and drinking disc golfers are set against a view of the whole northeast corner of Koh Samui: out over the Choeng Mong Peninsula and the distant peaks of the island of Ko Mat Lang.
It’s a party in the sky.
Just then I’m joined by two of Terry Miller’s posse, Johnny ‘Rumble’ Pecunia and Gary ‘To The O’ Obernberger. Rumble’s head is on a swivel and his mouth agape and when we see each other we both burst out laughing.
“This is some crazy shit man,” he says.
I know Gary O is on his first trip outside the USA so I say to him.
“What were you doing 72 hours ago mate?”
He shakes his head in wonder at what’s happened in the short time since he’s left that Wisconsin winter behind. Which to be fair, has been a lot. Gary O has already had a man visit him in his hotel room to fit him for a tailored suit, wandered the streets of Bangkok, hit an ace with his first throw of a disc outside the USA, and eaten a scorpion.
I can still remember well the first time I stepped off a plane, onto a tarmac and into SE Asia’s wet-heat, smell, and chaos, so I had some idea of how Johnny Rumble and Gary O would be feeling. Like they’d crossed into some parallel universe.
I feel for the TDs of other events out there: organizing something big, like a Worlds, US, or European championships. You might be planning some off-the-course activities: maybe a street festival, cultural experience, culinary extravaganza, live open-air music, performance art, or perhaps some jugglers or animal trainers. On Koh Samui, that’s called “going for dinner.”
The sheer mind-bending array of experiences that can be had by merely walking down the street is enough to satisfy the entertainment needs of any disc golfer, and that’s before Nigel Mills and organizers get their heads together and plan some fun. The Swine Classic is such a smorgasbord of hedonism from start to finish that no other event in the world could hope to match it.
The producers of the second Hangover film tapped that vein superbly. Nowhere quite does crazy like Thailand. Even if you are on the mild-mannered side as far as nightlife goes. Come here and you are guaranteed to go home with some bizarre stories. This morning I overheard a disc golfer saying, “Don’t pay those lizard people man. I got their iguana crawling all over me for free,” and didn’t raise an eyebrow.
Walking out to the back holes of 8, 9 and 10 on the first morning of the pro tournament I can hear heavy thumps and crashes, like somebody hitting tin with a hammer. I walk over to a small nearby village compound to see a man holding a thin rope and shouting up at the top of a coconut palm. Just then a coconut almost exactly the size and weight of a bowling ball comes crashing down onto the tin roof of the nearest house, leaving a sizeable dent.
He shouts up at the tree something in Thai something along the lines of “Aye! Watch where you are throwing the coconuts you crazy idiot!” just before another one crashes into a group of parked bicycles, breaking a front wheel.
I look up and eventually see, tethered by a leash to the other end of the rope, is a monkey, who has been trained to harvest coconuts. The monkeys aim with the coconuts is 790-rated at best. But the monkey just doesn’t care. But then the people in the village seem not to care either. I guess the coconuts are going to come crashing down anyway and they’d prefer that happened predictably.
The woman who is lying on the wooden floor of her hut, legs resting on her dog and smoking her cigarette is an almost perfect physical expression of the phrase “mai pen rai.” It’s a catch-all phrase that’s closest western equivalent is the Aussie, “no worries” – a don’t sweat the small stuff, and also it’s all small stuff, type of notion. But, like everything else in Asia, there are more layers to it than that. If you have a minor accident in the traffic, bump into someone in a market, or even if a monkey is putting huge dents in your tin roof with coconuts, mai pen rai also means, “I’m not going to put my personal needs ahead of yours to the point that I make a big drama out of this.” Mai pen rai is also an expression of the humility and community-minded philosophy that is central to Thai culture.
That night we were sitting at dinner on wooden chairs, at wooden tables, in a wooden restaurant, among a lot of other wooden buildings, when I felt, more than heard, a distantly familiar springy thump. “That sounds like a mortar going off,” I thought, just before there was an ear-splitting crack! and the street was lit orange. It turns out I could hear and feel the fireworks mortar tubes because they were only a hundred yards away down a busy street, shooting the fireworks directly overhead. Exclusion zone? We were well inside it eating dinner. Mai pen rai.
Then after play was finished last night, I explored a winding little coastal track with a friend, looking for a spot to take pictures of the sunset. We came to the end of a track where there was a tumbledown old shack perched on the rocks over the water. We sat for a while and had a drink, enjoying the epic multicolored light show that is just called 6:30 pm here. As we left, the proprietor of the establishment gave us both a long hug and introduced us to his mother before returning to the large crate of beer bottles that he’d put on the middle of the open-air dance floor to fill with petrol and attach rope fuses to. Clearly th,ey were Molotov cocktails.
“What are they for?” I asked.
He smiled, made a throwing motion, and said: “Big party later.”
Mai pen rai.