Southeast Asia, Day 4: Mom's birthday surrounded by beautiful people

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Dad and Mom with her birthday dessert

After an entertaining breakfast in which Mom and I watched a grown man ungracefully smuggle a six-foot unicorn-shaped inflatable chair through the dining room of the resort, we headed back to the room.

Today was uneventful, with us lounging around the hotel pool and room (with a small snack break for street food in the early afternoon) until around 5pm, when we got ready to head out to dinner. We had a reservation at Café del Mar, a recommendation Dad received from a friend.

While the reservation wasn’t until 7:30, we wanted to catch the sunset over cocktails, so we hailed a taxi to take us there early.

It was quite a drive, since we headed up north outside of Patong Beach and up to Kampala beach. Up here, it was quieter, the beaches were less crowded, and the area had a more local feel, even though there were plenty of restaurants with picture menus to prove that it was still catering to tourists.

We pulled up to Café del Mar, which is actually located inside of a hip new hotel. The exterior is intimidating, a towering orange building with seemingly no windows, or at least they are hidden behind a complex concrete latticework. Once we stepped inside, a woman at the front desk ushered us to the outdoor bar.

Wow, was this place a completely different vibe. It was almost as if everyone here was hired by a fashion magazine to make the place look hip and cool, with fit, tan women in fashionable bikinis lounging beside the pool and muscular, tattooed men with wide, mirrored sunglasses enjoying cocktails beside the swim-up bar. A young DJ spun house music near the bar area, which had purple club lights sweeping across the floor from the ceiling, which was draped with dangling dried coconut leaves for decoration. I have not been to Vegas, but Dad insisted that this is what Vegas is like. I feel like this is what Vegas WANTS to be like. Is it actually like this?

We sat in the couches near the beach bar, behind the DJ. From here we had a view of the pool on one side, twinkling with golden string lights between the coconut trees and shimmering with the reflection of the disco ball hanging over the water. On the other side was the beach, emptier than the one beside our hotel and filled with more of these beautiful paid actors that guise themselves as guests, who are Instagramming the setting sun to their hundreds of thousands of followers who look forward to their posts of exotic food and cocktails that these influencers surely churn out on a daily basis.

At our cocktail table, there is a button to call a waiter, should they not see you as they attentively stand beside the bar, seeking to meet your every need. This isn’t an unclassy place where you dare raise your voice over the freshly-spun house music to order another drink…you just press a button to call someone over.

On the tables were cards advertising world-renowned DJs who had upcoming shows at the hotel. They have a DJ every night, but these were the especially special ones. Dad then mentioned that the guy who opened this hotel, bar, and restaurant comes from Ibiza. Ah, it all makes perfect sense now.

We watched the sun sink behind the sea as we finished our drinks and headed to the restaurant for dinner. Just before we began to order, the manager informed us that a fire show would be starting on the beach. A fire show! Imagine that. When we took a picture of the three of us on the beach earlier, Mom mentioned she smelled burning rubber. “No, no, Mom, that is the smell of gasoline… for fire dancing.” She wanted to know how on earth I knew that.

Back in May when we were consolidated for cyclone Donna in Vanuatu, we were stuck at the Holiday Inn resort and watched the weekly fire show twice, having been stuck for nine days. We’d previously seen it in April when we first arrived. Then I saw it in other resorts around Vila and I think this was about the sixth fire show I’ve seen in under a year. I’d already memorized the set list for the Vanuatu one (lots of fire-themed songs, like “Set fire to the rain” or “Fire Burning”) and basically the entire choreography. It became a running joke amongst us volunteers whenever we would just happen to encounter the fire show, like it was following us or something. I was curious to know what the Thai one would be like.

Adele-soundtracked, this was not. The Vanuatu show made this look like a devil-worshipping pagan festival, with a single dancer standing in ring of fire wearing a scary metallic monster mask while twirling chains of fire around his head to the sounds of heavy drums. It was great, though, and while I’ve seen some missed steps and near burns in the Vanuatu one, this was well-choreographed and not once did I wince out of shared pain for the dancer! We returned to our table after the show, and while I’ve been spoiled by too many fire shows, Mom and Dad seemed to enjoy it.

I am not used to these cocktail hours and multi-course meals, so I ordered my sushi immediately upon sitting down, because when I get to a restaurant, I don’t want to wait around to eat.

Mom and Dad enjoyed some oysters, a nicoise salad, crab ravioli, and salmon. When they cleared our dishes, they came out with flared and candles, singing the birthday song to Mom. They came out with a small chocolate cake with amaretto cream sauce, with “Happy Birthday Bridget” written in melted chocolate on the plate.

As we ate the dessert, instead of dwelling on the usual “I am old” conversation, it was a nice game that we played, listing off Mom’s accomplishments and the number of lives she’s touched as a nurse and overall caring individual. Mom mentioned myself and Eric, the two children she raised to supposedly be normal people, but I can’t speak to that. She married her best friend. There are dozens upon dozens of individuals who are patients or members of her aerobics classes whom she sees at the grocery store and run to her like paparazzi to a celebrity, wanting to fawn over how much she’s helped them. She’s hosted several fundraisers, one of which funded the flight home for a friend’s son who was stuck in Colorado at his university after a near-fatal ski accident that caused his hospitalization. Now, thanks to her fundraising, he has been able to get the care he needed and return to school after a short hiatus. It was nice to reflect on the positive impact she’s made so far. “Don’t be afraid of death…be afraid of the unlived life.”

The pool, twinkling with the lights from the disco ball overhead

I noticed that now it was around 8:40pm and the place had died down. At sunset it was hopping, but now it was quieter. However, the place has a reputation for hosting a packed dancefloor and bar late at night, as it’s open until 2am.

We didn’t stick around to find out, as we paid our bill and headed out to a taxi to take us to a night market back near Patong Beach.

Once we got out of the car, we split up, with Mom and Dad heading towards Bangla road for a drink after a failed quest for a souvenir ceramic plate. I continued wandering around through a few markets, several blocks apart.

Going to the markets at night, or at least in this part of town, was a different experience than shopping closer to the beach. There were definitely tourists here, but they seemed to be more on a mission, seeking out the best fashion finds, as opposed to wandering around aimlessly, practically asking to be hassled. And the vendors here were different, too. Instead of someone grabbing my arm asking me why I am not buying something after I ask a price, here, I ask a price and try to haggle and the dude dismisses me before returning to an apparently very important phone call with his buddy.

Along the main road, I encountered a quieter but very well-lit marketplace under tarps and basic coverings, with booths selling the same t-shirts and dresses that many other street markets were selling. There was also a massive booth with just cosmetics, with loads of lipsticks and eye shadows and face powders, all for affordable prices and fantastic quality, especially compared to Vanuatu, but even compared to the USA. I got a lip color here that was department store quality and cost me less than two dollars. There were other booths selling thousands of different smart phone cases and electronics and shoes and clothes, but I was proud of my lipstick find… and maybe a shirt, too.

Eventually I headed back, taking the scenic route through Bangla road. Despite it nearing 11pm, and despite the fact that I was wandering around alone on some streets that weren’t very well-lit, the area felt as safe as walking around Chicago at 7pm, with a fair amount of pedestrians around, and ones that were just going about their usual night. This is definitely a late-night place.

While walking alone, I noticed I wasn’t getting hassled as much by vendors or taxi drivers trying to grab my attention so I would spend money. I am not sure if this is because I have a knack for looking disinterested and straight ahead, or if it is because I wasn’t with Dad and therefore I was perceived as just a lowly female with no money to spend.

On Bangla road, I speed-walked through the crowds just to get some sights in but not too much to get hassled by drunk men wandering out of the bars. I walked through the more rambunctious version of Bourbon street, past the go-go dancers in nurses costumes swaying on the poles above the bar. I walked past the fifty-year-old women on the street with apathetic facial expressions waving signs in front of my face advertising “PING PONG SHOW! FUCKING SHOW!” I walked past the half dozen bars with live music that sounds worse than my karaoke, each competing for loudest speaker system. I exited Bangla r
oad and made it to the beachfront drag and walked past the dozens of massage parlors with sexy young women with high-slit skirts and low-cut tops showing off the prices for hot oil massages.

I walked straight to the food market near the hotel, got some mango sticky rice for dessert, and returned to the hotel just in time before Mom and Dad were concerned about my whereabouts.

Tomorrow will be Mom’s 60th birthday, our last day together, and our last day in Phuket.