Finding the Art in Phuket
The Art of Painting Yourself into a Corner
Anthony S Cameron
The wind was howling like a love sick dog, bending the rain sodden trees over so they looked like a line of giants bowing at us as we made our way to the beach. Broken branches lay scattered across the road, street signs and advertising banners lay where they once stood or were hanging precariously out of trees like Cristo had been here in a really, really dark mood. Maailay, my trusty companion and partner in scrounging crimes and general adventures squinted ahead into the squall, her perpetual smile there despite, or even because of, the treacherous conditions. Her smile infected me with the speed of a genetically engineered virus as we rode past Nai Harn Lake and I could feel the rain smashing against my grinning teeth as the foul brown lake beside us gathered all the shit off the streets and spewed it out into the Andaman Sea. I looked at her again, and broke into a hearty laugh as full and satisfying as a good Sunday roast at the local pub.
I am pretty sure my dog is a bit crazy too.
The beach parking area was flooded, usurped by a ferocious ocean, it having deposited several trees into the lagoon along with a tonne or so of plastic, a not so subtle show of strength that had me gulping as I parked on higher ground. Maailay was out of the sidecar before it had stopped and was happily ensconced in the remnants of a fish she had found in the debris, rolling over and over in it like she had found some kind of Nirvana. I tightened the hood of my one dollar rain poncho, leaned into the 50kms/hr wind and headed for what was left of the beach.
I stood on some rocks and surveyed the carnage. The beach was beautifully bereft of people, and awash in debris, just the way I like it. An extra strong gust of wind greeted me by ripping my poncho clean off and depositing it in the nearby trees, which weirdly had me laughing again. It was obviously going to be a ha-fucking-larious kind of a day.
The beach we had walked on yesterday was gone, having been removed by the two metre swell, which was now working on removing the cliffs as we walked towards them, the spray of each wave flying up into the air whilst more trees and enormous balls of tangled rope floated near the surface awaiting their turn to paint the landscape with the discarded human brush.
We made our way along the beach, climbing over mountains of the shit no-one wants, looking for that ‘safe’ foothold not containing a syringe or broken glass, keeping a watchful eye on a beach break big enough to move twenty cars like they were children’s toys. Huge chunks of fishing boats stuck up out of the remaining sand, along with their cargo of plastic buckets, nets torn to shreds, more plastic buckets in pieces and the curious stench of timber soaked in salt and diesel. I sensed movement to my right and turned just in time to see a huge chunk of concrete being hurled onto the sand not more than two metres from us. The skyline was scattered with ominously dark clouds filled with the promise of even more so we decided to turn back and find temporary cover in the trees on the cliff.
The storm beat us to the cliffs so we sprinted the last fifty metres in the rain and hurriedly hurled ourselves up into a stand of Pandanus trees, me laughing my head off and marvelling at our good fortune.
Ok, so it turns out Maailay isn’t a great climber, so instead she settled herself in amongst the fallen branches and their spiky edges and began pulling the thorns out of her toes, and I perched mid tree under the thin canopy it provided. Which was about when I saw it.
It was just above the high tide line, having just been thrown there by the last monster wave. I could tell by the way it moved that it was heavy, but that didn’t stop me from jumping out of the tree and making my way down the rock face towards it as another, all-too-familiar wave of scrounger’s high took a hold of me.
Up close it was even more beautiful. I gingerly entered the water and floated this lovely, caressed, tortured piece of rainforest over to the rocks, which I was hoping would be enough to stop it being sucked back out into the angry, monsoonal soup – for a moment or two at least – so I could extract myself from the tangled rope and plastic shards the water was full of.
It was too heavy to lift, so the only option was to heave the piece over and over on itself and walk it slowly along the base of the rocks where the beach used to be. With scrounger’s high, you don’t really feel weight or get tired, so there I was grinning like crazy and heaving this amazing buttress of a tree closer to the sidecar and further away from the ocean, a chunk of tree transformed into a soulful sculpture by a volatile ocean with nothing left to lose.
Suddenly I realised, mid groan, that I wasn’t rescuing this piece of tree. It was rescuing me, just like a thousand other pieces had in their own way, a little bit at a time. I was the driftwood, and I always had been. I just didn’t know it.
Maailay, having spent the last half hour ‘helping’ me by digging a series of holes directly in my path, shot me a look as I dropped into one of them, letting the buttress go before it crushed me. I sank into the sand and laughed and watched her run away as another wave blocked out the sky. I took a deep breath and braced myself.
Later, I sat on the rocks soaked to the bone and watched the buttress being taken back out to sea. It was already beyond the break.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
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.