Finding the Art in Phuket
Dancing When the Building is on Fire
by Anthony S. Cameron
First up, I’ve got a confession to make. Sidecar is undergoing a transformation. Little did I know how sensitive Sidecar was to her appearance, but it seems that my previous remarks weren’t appreciated. Let’s just say that there are better ways to get your point across than spontaneously collapsing mid-corner, mid-journey and leaving your owner (dare I say that?) stranded on the side of the road. Let’s just say that it might have been better if there was the odd creak of distress before the explosion into flat out not playing the game. Just saying. Was it the second police check that piled on the stress, Sidecar? Was it the police boots roughly kicking your tyres and peering at your paperwork and the heads shaking in disbelief? I know you weren’t fooled either. We’re old pros at this shit, we understood this was part of the game for an ex-pat farang in Phuket. I guess there is a cost to living in paradise, but to make this many donations to the police fund was getting ridiculous. Dollar signs on motorbikes, that’s how an old ex-pat referred to the way it works here. OK, no problems.
As you can probably tell, Sidecar and I are going through a bit of a rough patch, and given what happened last time, I better be careful what I say. What I can say, and I think Sidecar would agree here, is that over maintenance may have been why Maailay and I were now making our way to the nearest house or shop or 7-11 to get help. But really Sidecar? To drop your bundle on that mountain, 30 kms from home, on the last remotest sliver of island left with jungle and bugger all development? And to do it so spectacularly, I mean, the way you just sort of detached yourself, peeling open from the front to the back, sidecar going one way and bike the other? I mean, really.
As you can see I am having a few residual anger issues, but I will not let it derail the reason we are here. And that is of course to entertain the shit of you lovely folk, and take you on my twisted journey in search of art as I find it scattered along the beaches and strewn across my path like beacons in an ocean of darkness.
So, to finish off and also fulfil my obligations to my counsellor, I would like to inform you that Sidecar is being rejuvenated. Sidecar will be stripped of the rust that led to her early demise like a new prisoner being hosed down before being given the orange overalls. Sidecar will then be re-painted in a fetching blue and, between you and me, I have also been making tentative enquiries about a canvas roof for Sidecar, in blue of course.
One step at a time, that’s what the counsellor says.
When people think of Phuket, the images that come to mind are of tropical beaches, five star resorts and great nightlife. Throw in a Tuk Tuk ride and a potentially embarrassing moment with a katoey (ladyboy) and you’ve nailed it. And if I was interested in trying to convince you that there is an art to rampant nihilism at the expense of the environment, then I would probably be working for a travel magazine and using the words ‘amazing’ and ‘incredible’ a lot.
Luckily for us all, I’m not.
So, with that in mind, I present to you my latest, and some would say most gothic subject matter to date: The Art of Abandonment.
The most arrestingly tragic and beautiful buildings I have ever seen lay scattered through the jungle landscape like forgotten guests at a party. They are the dishevelled, neglected, abandoned half-built resorts that never got into the brochures. They are the bastard children of a developer’s worst nightmare: not paying enough to the right people to make the problems go away. They are the great idea turned to dust and crumbling concrete. There is a weird silence in these places, a silence laced with expectation. It’s like everyone who fled when the authorities arrived that day will be back at any moment.
Often they are perched on cliffs overlooking the Andaman Sea, in the middle of a National park of pristine jungle, the boundaries of which seem very elastic and easy to shift in Phuket. Sometimes they are the first tentative steps of a shopping district that has since exploded all around it while it crumbled, unfinanced, at the feet of another street of excess. Often they are boarded up and have a security dude who sleeps through most of his life at the front gate and turns away the odd casual onlooker. But there is nothing casual about my interest, nothing casual at all.
I have found some beauties over the years, as you can see. Outside of their obvious decrepit charm, how good a place would these be for a trance party? A photo shoot? Shit, you could probably even shoot a zombie movie here. A horror movie festival perhaps? I can see the black and white images blasted up on a mouldy white wall as I write, or thrown at the façade with the same casual abandon that gave these buildings their beauty in the first place.
For there is something incredibly poignant about these places for me. They are like post-apocalyptic sculptures to my eye, pointing accusingly at the times of excess with a dirty finger, the times we all thought were never going to end as we sipped our drinks and stared out at the South East Asian soup stretching out in front of us like another dream gone wrong. Except we haven’t had the apocalypse yet, have we?
So the dance continues, the only way for me to make sense of it all, with the sound of my soul screaming as a backbeat. If you’ve ever sat in an abandoned half-built resort and considered it luxury accommodation, then you’ll know what I mean.
And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to dance with ghosts.
Anthony S. Cameron is an Australian ex-pat living in Phuket, Thailand, and the author of two novels, Driftwood (2014) and Butterfly on Bangla (2015). Born in Melbourne, he escaped in his early twenties to central Victoria, where he designed and built a sustainable house and raised two sustainable children. His books are available on Amazon here.
Pics by Anthony Cameron