This is our truth, tell us yours
please be aware this post discusses rape in a personal context
I have been quiet here this week, and it would be easy to put that down to a busy schedule and sundry distractions. Easy, but dishonest. The fact is that I knew any writing would be avoiding the pachyderm in the corner unless I confronted it head on, and was unsure if I wanted to. The funny thing about writing what is quite a revelatory blog though is that it becomes next to impossible to do the fluff pieces, or the angry polemics when that Elephant is taking up all the space. For some writing might be a distraction, for me it is a vital step in understanding who I am and how I got here.
You may have seen the story of the two backpackers murdered in Ko Tao, the fact one of them was young and blonde means the papers have leapt on it. I have been unable to avoid it, in the way of those things you know will not improve your mood but you consume anyway, like drinking when the black dog is roaming. I suppose I have to put the inevitable disclaimer here, I love Thailand, or loved it, since no country remains the place our memories create. When I first visited Thailand Ko San road closed after 11, and was a street of noodle bars and cheap hostels. You could get a suit made for a few dollars and catch an overnight bus to the islands. Whilst Samui was, apparently “ruined” it had no airport, ruined seemed to mean busier than backpackers found acceptable. On the other islands restaurants were being set up in people front rooms as they wondered how to benefit from the falangs, and Full Moon Party was still mainly a piss up for Thais.
So far so annoying middle-aged traveller, telling young people how they can never have the authentic experience they did, because they were born too late. Of course this travelogue is all simply a way of making space for that elephant, letting it take up the space writing is meant to exorcise. No matter how many lovely memories I have of Thailand, and I visited many times, they all lead to one place, Ko Tao, to one night, to one event, to being raped by a group of western men, holiday makers who found a new way create holiday memories, a Kodak moment that I hope they remember from time to time, since I have to. I am not able to go into what happened in more detail, the elephant is getting restless, but I wrote more about it here. Obvious content notes.
When I read the first accounts of the murders two things struck me in the Police response, that it couldn’t have been Thais, and that they were focussing on Burmese migrants. It;s a feature of western racism that we assume that all “others” are an amorphous mass, without the socio economic issues of the civilised west. Thai prejudice against various Burmese ethnic groups is strong and ingrained. The police here were doing what police all over the world do, finding the minority it is easy to blame a crime on when you want a quick result. One group of course was not even considered as suspects, the westerns who places like Ko Tao have come to rely on. No longer fishing communities the entire economy based on being a tropical paradise where reality never intrudes,
This aspect of the case is very close to home for me, since I was advised by the two kindly dive instructors who found me cowering, incoherent and shaking as the sun rose, that going to the police would not do much good. Any crimes by foreigners were covered up as quickly as possible, nothing must mar the image being sold. One of them did go and check the ferry, and yes a group of Scandinavian men were leaving, no proof it was my attackers of course.
When we travel to exotic destinations (and Benwell is exotic if you fly in the other direction) we want to believe that they are detached from the murk of the real world, sex, drinking, those bucket list moments, all can take place in two weeks separated from real life by a plane flight and the idea that a place exists solely to cater to our desires. Sometimes we take the mirk with us, sometimes we encounter it in the hearts of others, but either way we have to remember paradise does not exist except in our minds, and if we are lucky, in our memories.
Side note, since it seems to be relevant to the Thai PM, I have never owned and never intend to buy, a bikini.