Monday, 12 March 2012

Pai (pronounced 'pi', in case you were wondering...)

As you will see from the blog entries that will be forthcoming over the next few weeks, you will realise how utterly justified I am in not keeping this blog up to date. It has been a completely, ravishingly insane month, so I'm going to spirit you back to early February, as Mr. Furious and myself depart from Chiang Mai and head to our main destination: the traveller hippy town of Pai, "hidden" among the mountains of North East Thailand (ie. feels like it's hidden, but it's possibly the worst kept secret since Barack Obama pretended he wasn't from a reptilian bloodline).

Pai is very beautiful. The minibus crawls up five hours worth of gorgeous, mountainous views to get there. Mr Furious and I get in pretty late, eat, find a hut by a river to stay in, and mooch about waiting for the lovely people we met in Chiang Mai to bump into us, or for us to bump into them. As we discover, Pai has a very Smalltown mentality, and you bump into the same people a lot. You do not have to arrange to meet up whatsoever. It's a bit like a town where 90% of the population don't work (a bit like most smalltowns at the moment that are being throttled by David Cameron and his band of merry money-loving demons, but with loads of happy, stoned hippies instead of justifiably angry drunks). We meet up with a friend of Mr. Furious', Caroline, who happily shows us around, introduces us to people, and is generally extremely lovely. She even takes us up to her friend's house out of town, where they live on a mountains, to watch the sunset. (We go on motorbikes, and Furious still doesn't quite trust me until the end of the week to get on it again without the danger of destroying us both.) It's all geniunely a bit breathtaking. After that, I scamper about with a toddler who tries to steal my juggling balls, and we end up playing for two hours, much to the amusement of all the proper grown ups there. Furioso gets up at an open mic with an improv band and becomes a local celebrity for rocking the crowd, and we also gatecrash a singer/songwriter open mic with anarcho-rambles and shouts. We go down pretty well. I did War on Romance and, a little later, the pre-sliced veg poem, but Furious really had the balls of the night, forcing a whole crowd of extremely privelidged people to shout: "Realise you're not alone no more, say it loud and proud, no but BUT THE CLASS WAR!" I honestly hope they all went home thinking about the problems of consumer culture convincing you you're too busy to slice vegetables, and pitting themselves against riot police in the battle for anarchy.

Personally, I think we were quite a welcome break from all the Cat Stevens covers.

This is a place with a weirdly hypnotic, dreamlike atmosphere. The same faces float around in the same venues, the same venues have the same singer songwriters doing the same covers. 'Hotel California' merges into 'We Jammin' merges into enjoyably comfortable song after enjoyably comfortable song. There are two types of music available in Pai: acoustic singer/songwriter, and reggae. Our first night was misleading when we saw an amazingly energetic Thai ska band. Pai is not about expending energy. Pai is designed (and it does feel designed, no mistake about that) not for new experiences, but for leisure. Pure, uninterrupted, floating leisure. It was very telling that, during the great ska band, only a few people danced while a lot of annoyingly cool and beautiful people posed around a bit and took photos of themselves, clearly unable to live their lives without some kind of barrier provided by mediating technology. Just as the thirst to save an experience in digital images avoids the challenge of actually experiencing something, a leisurely lifestyle builds a foamy barricade against stress, pain, upset... in short, all the things that make us fully-rounded human beings.

But, as we all should know but frequently don't act on, leisure comes with its own set of problems. If unhappiness is repressed by forced jollility, it can rise up in strange, twisted ways. Furious witnesses an aggressively drunk argument between a couple, which verges on violence. We see teenage prostitutes - very young teenage prostitutes - in a rock bar, with men that define words like 'sleaze' dribbling and leching around them. A friend of ours is hit on in an incredibly crass way ("I'll be the best fuck you'll ever have"), and the next day when we bump into this individual, he seems completely shameless. This is because he feels that, in a place like Pai, where indulgence of relaxation is the endgame, he has an entitlement to attempt to exploit acquaintances he's built up over a period of time. (He may've just been a bit of a nob whilst drunk, but it was his response to his behaviour that disturbed me more than the behaviour itself.) There are subtle hints of a Pai social elite, a feeling of key 'organisers' of apparently casual, informal social events. There's a witchcraft/pagan-themed cafe which sends my brain spinning into Rosemary's Baby territory. In case you haven't noticed, the hippy perfection of Pai makes me a bit paranoid. As Antares at Magick River, Malaysia said last night: "Pai seems like the people have fallen out of a novel". He captured it perfectly. But when the artifice of the novel is transposed into reality, weird things begin to happen.

So, feeling trapped in the town, we move to Tacompai - a farm 5km up the road. This is an awesome place with great people, campfires, making mud bricks... I got to stay in a treehouse for a week, with a great view of the rice fields and forests for miles. Showering then sitting on my balcony naked whilst drying, undisturbed, listening to music, was pure bliss. The physical work on the farm was something I needed, even just collecting the firewood, as I was feeling a bit lazy and complacent after the seemingly endless touring coffee shops and bars. Getting out of the town also eased my neuroses (see above), and I learnt how to flip omelettes properly without totally fucking it up. If you go to Pai, I can't recommend staying in Tacompai enough.

There was also the saviour of Blah Blah Bar, which deserves a special mention. It's a tiny punk bar run by a lovely couple, and they take song requests on YouTube scrawled on scap paper, which is obviously a terrible mistake when worse-for-wear punks rock up, since we filled the request paper with Dead Kennedys, NOFX and Flogging Molly songs. Still we danced too much for a tiny pub, sung too loud for a small group of people and generally had a roaring time. Felt good to be listening to punk rock again - I-Pod isolation isn't enough, and you need other people around you, shouting along, to feel punk's gorgeous dirt on your hands.

And so, after nearly two weeks, we haul anchor once more, saying goodbye to our dedicated crew and begin the hitchike to Laos...

Thanks for the good times Pai, but being with you was a bit like pretending to be emotionally intimate with a drunken one night stand. As I get a bit older, the need to create gets stronger and stronger. The skills laid down by DIY cultures don't just apply to the physical or even artistic spheres, they also apply to finding, to quote one of my own poems, "space between the gaps" in any given environment where you can challenge and be challenged.

And that, Pai, does not include The fucking Eagles.

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