Finding the Art in Phuket
Racing to the Bridge
Anthony S Cameron
Years ago I was at a party that happened to be full of musicians, and yet oddly there were no instruments being played. There was plenty of alcohol and weed and yet the evening seemed bereft of music.
Fidgeting musicians sat around the fire waiting for someone to start the ball rolling, bring out their guitar and punch out a few crowd friendly tunes to get our collective toes tapping. An hour went by and still nothing. A friend of mine decided to take action, whispering to me “Watch this” as he went over to his car, got his guitar case out and placed it strategically behind the fire. He then opened the case and scuttled back to where I was sitting with a mischievous smile on his face. Sure enough, within minutes a couple of the frustrated minstrels were eying off the guitar and increasing their fidgeting, turning around regularly to see who was going to claim it as theirs. My friend and I at this stage were chuckling quietly to each other as we watched his plan ignite. Eventually one of the musicians got up, went over to the guitar, half- heartedly asked the fire sitters whose guitar it was, promptly picked it up and started tuning the strings. He sat back down at the fire, faked a self conscious smile and began strumming a few chords.
Within thirty seconds a handful of guys rushed off to their cars and retrieved their precious guitars, had them in their hands and were tuning up as the first guy started strumming a little harder, a little louder. Minutes later ten guitars were pounding out ‘Layla’, and with each beat the tempo got faster and faster as they raced each other to the bridge so they could pull the solo before anyone else. By this stage my friend and I were in hysterics, and I had pulled out my notebook and wrote the words ‘Racing to the bridge’, tears of laughter making the ink run as I began writing feverishly.
The words that landed on the page that night contained imagery of desperate teenagers trying to prove their manliness by playing chicken in their hotted up cars, seeing who would brake first as the cliff loomed in the distance. The car scene from Rebel Without a Cause figured prominently as I laughed silently in horror at the metaphor I had stumbled across for the human condition. We were all racing to the bridge in our own way, selfie sticks at the ready, pouting as humanity hurtled towards its own demise.
And to answer your question, yes the weed was very strong that night.
Twenty years later and I sit here on this beach in Phuket thinking about that funny night illuminated beyond the moment by my youthful posturing with the pen.
Phuket is humanity on steroids, racing to the bridge in a G-string bikini with a belly full of cheap cocktails. It doesn’t give a fuck about the impact it is having, in fact there is almost a flagrant edge to the endless polluting of the waterways that lure so many tourists and so much money here. As the twenty-year-long boom continues, as the numbers of tourists and the human ugliness that accompanies it increases daily, the only thing that doesn’t grow here, sadly, is the waste infrastructure.
Some combination of ignorance, greed and corruption has turned the water a putrid black on some beaches as untreated tourist sewage spews out of the outfalls in the dead of night. The coral reefs that boatloads of tourists snorkel over is largely dead, the fish they supported largely gone. And yet, the tourists flood in like there is no tomorrow, adding more tonnes of plastic to the waterways, creating large sunscreen slicks to compete with the black sludge.
As you can imagine, I am not the most popular guy here, given the general human trait of looking away from the brutal reality of our impact on this poor planet. Most people I come across opt instead for the vacuous need for superficial optimism. The common declaration that ‘this place is paradise’ travels up and down the beaches like office gossip around the water cooler. And like any mantra, if you say it often enough it becomes a wobbly truth held up by the frailest of threads, the sheer weight of numbers guaranteeing its universality.
I am wondering, humanity, how long will we look away, how long we will talk sustainability but not live it? How long will we pout at the camera while behind us the black sludge makes its way out into the Andaman sea?
I ask not to be misunderstood here as just another whinging middle class kid from a cushy country. I urge you to come with me on my regular beach scrounges and collect the consumer waste that outnumbers fish in all our oceans. I urge you to see the optimism that has me turning this waste into some kind of art. I ask you to enjoy the art of scrounging as something that enriches the soul, something that is a way of screaming into the void. I urge you to see your local rubbish dump as a place of endless inspiration, not an embarrassing eyesore. I ask you to see the beauty in our madness and express that in any way you feel is right.
And if you ever find yourself in Phuket, look me up. I am easy to find. Just wait for a storm to hit the island and cruise up the west coast. I will be there somewhere, standing out like dog’s balls as I collect broken timber, cigarette lighters, doll appendages, flip flops, action toys , bottle caps and plastic drinking straws whilst tourists on a ten day package with breakfast included bake themselves in the seductive tropical heat.
Come and scream with me, come and howl at the madness we call a modern life. Come and make some art out of it all. You wouldn’t believe how liberating it can be.
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. You can find his sculptural furniture on Facebook here.