The Paradise Island Controversy


The past five days we’ve been on an island that at first glance felt like one of those paradise islands you see on TV or in travel magazines: coconut trees, bright blue ocean and drinks at the sand beach.

When we came here, I was ready to relax by the sea after exploring the north of Thailand.

So, we booked an Airbnb-apartment owned by a lovely retired French couple who fixed us up with a scooter and gave us recommendations on the best beaches and restaurants.

The first day, we took the scooter up the steep hills to a place called The Jungle Club and sat there for three hours just taking in the view. I even cried a little, to be honest, because the view over the sea was so beautiful and I felt so relaxed after the 28-hour-long bus journey from Chiang Rai to Koh Samui.

But after a day or so, the paradise island began to feel like there was something wrong. In a way, at first, we were seeing this one side of the island but then starting to realize the other side of it – like two sides of a coin. One side of it was the perfect beach days and drinks at sunset, while the other side of the coin was a modern colony.

It sounds harsh, I know, but I’ll try to explain why this feeling came to me.

The Expat and Tourist Island

Koh Samui is an island in Southern Thailand with a population of over 63,000. It’s one of the more popular tourist resorts of the country but in addition to a great amount of tourists even in the off-season (as the rainy months are rolling in), there are many expats who live on Koh Samui year-round.

The active expat life is clearly visible on the island.

While driving around the island with the scooter (I was the one sitting in the back and in charge of navigating so I had time to look around while my partner focused on driving alongside all the other vehicles), I could spot French boulangeries, English and Irish pubs, restaurants serving French food or the German currywurst.

The Thai culture, however, shined with its absence in many parts of the island – at least that’s what it felt like while we explored the island.

Of course, there are many local restaurants owned by Thai people and in many of the restaurants, hotels and spas the workers are Thai – but they are all there to serve the tourists, to make them feel comfortable. This is done by serving the food the tourists know and like, and by having the menus in foreign languages the westerners are familiar with.

Or if they are not the ones in charge of the usually small family businesses, they are the ones to do the service work for the westerners. They drive the car, clean the house and the pool, cook the food or provide other necessary services. The Thai people just as the rest of us need to make their living – and the rich westerners are there to give it to them.

In one way, there’s nothing wrong with this. But the thing is, it comes with a cost.

Oh, The Controversies

Koh Samui is a paradise – if you have the right kind of house, scooter and car for it. All around the island we could see new construction building up these houses that are advertised as luxury pool villas. The houses with many bedrooms are built out of concrete painted white, a terrace looking over the view and a pool to swim in.

But oh, the controversies in this perfect picture.

Water is regarded as something precious here and tourists are asked to save water whenever possible – but the villas need to have their pools to be attractive to those with the money to buy them.

Concrete is far from the more environment-friendly building materials – but it’s cheap to use for building and the demand for villas is growing.

The main source of income for the island is tourism and the streets are filled with small food stalls selling fresh fruit shakes, pork and chicken on a stick and coconut water – but there is nowhere else to put the plastic trash than on the ground. The amount of trash in this country is shocking.

It’s like the westerners have taken over the island and they do it at whatever cost on the environment and the local culture as long as they get their paradise.

Missing the Local Culture

The tourism and the expat life on this island are the ones that make it thrive, yes, but at the same time they are the ones killing the island, slowly but surely. During our first two weeks of travel, I had gotten used to the northern cities where it was often a struggle to find a way of communicating with the locals, where in many restaurants the menus were primarily in Thai and the city was about their own culture. I can’t say they have the same here – and it makes me sad.

It even feels a bit wrong to be here, to support the very western culture of this island and I can’t help but wonder how the local Thai people feel about the development. Are they truly okay with working for the westerners? Are they aware of the environmental damage this kind of tourism is doing to their beautiful island?

As we are leaving the country to the next (hello, Malaysia!), I’m left with mixed feelings about the South. I loved the Thai food here, the ocean and the amazing landscape, but the enjoyment comes with a cost – even I, a westerner, am adding to by being here.

Refreshing the Closets – And The Mind

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Me and my partner have moved around a great deal during the last two and a half years. Five times, to be exact. This means we’ve packed our clothes, our kitchenware, towels and bed sheets together approximately every six months. In the following weeks, we will move for the sixth time, and the plan to stay in that next apartment is, again, somewhere around six months.

You might think it’s crazy to move around that much. Doesn’t it take up huge amounts of energy, time and money – the three valuable things I’ve talked about so much on this blog? My answer to you: yes, moving does require all three of those, and no, I’m not too happy about it.

However, as we’ve been searching for furniture for this particular apartment (as we’re living in a furnished apartment at the moment) and been spending time at the new place, checking electrical stuff and so on, some thoughts have come to my mind about moving.

Adjusting to the Many Moves

How I look at it, a few good things have come out of relocating every six months or so:

  • We’ve become extremely aware of the differences between different furniture, and the value of good ones. As we’ve been living in a furnished apartment a couple times, we’ve experienced sofas that make one’s butt hurt, showers that are extremely sensitive to adjustments in temperature (which results in either ice-cold or way-too-hot water) and beds that make one’s back ache. So lately, as we’ve been shopping for furniture, we have a clue about what to look for and what’s worth paying for.
  • When visiting a new apartment, we know a little bit better what we want to check. How quickly the water changes from warm to cold, does the floor feel chilly, how the air changes in the apartment and so on. Small things that are, however, extremely important. The apartments we’ve lived in have had problems with at least one of those things. And it’s not nice, not in the long run.
  • This goes with the previous one but deserves its own point: the location. We’ve lived in quiet areas and we’ve lived next to streets with a lot of traffic. Being aware of what kind of area the apartment is on, is important. Is there a great deal of traffic, is there noise pollution and so on.
    • Here one might also mention neighbors. Do you have a weekend-party-goer or nearly deaf elderly couple as your neighbor (we’ve had both)? You might want to think again. (Or at least, you’d want to. But you can’t choose your neighbors, so, I don’t know what to say. Maybe just that it’s good to be aware of the environment, the surroundings when moving to a new place.)
  • Because of soon six moves within less than three years, we’ve become some sort of minimalists without never really aiming for it. Nowadays, we don’t own very much, just the things we need and use actively. The only physical memory I haven’t been able to let go of just yet is a wooden parrot I bought on Tenerife when I was five years old. But everything else we own fits into two backpacks and eight storage boxes. The last time we moved, it took us only one day to pack all our belongings. And that’s pretty awesome, I’d say.
  • As we change things up every six months, we never really settle. Instead, we keep on adjusting, finding new routes to the grocery store, the gym and the university. We refresh our minds constantly which is good for the human brain. I guess you could also describe it as stepping away from your comfort zone for a while.

But as one might guess, moving around this much also comes with a few not-so-good things:

  • When living in a furnished apartment, you can’t really start buying new sofas or beds if you don’t like the current ones or they don’t suit you and your body. That means you might have an aching butt or back the whole time you live in that apartment – and you just have to deal with it.
  • You can never really settle, invest in things such as plants or spices because they will become problematic when you want to swoosh things up and move to the next apartment. And when you move from one furnished place to the next or have to get some furniture for only the next six months, you never really have the opportunity to choose the furniture you want because you have to be very practical about everything (more about this on Thursday).
  • One’s creativity suffers when moving around. Because moving is about practical stuff and includes some bureaucratic paperwork, it’s away from your creative flow and efficient creative working. Even after the move is finished, it takes some time to get back on track, to get those creativity levels up and running again. (I might add that this is also the reason I’m writing about moving this week – it’s all I can think of for the moment and there hasn’t really been time for any other thinking.)

Intervals of Moving

During these last couple of years, I’ve begun measuring time through these moves. As they are so closely together, ranging from five months in one place to nine months in the next, it is also easier to have a to do -list for bigger things that need to be completed before the next move. For instance, before we move from this apartment to the next, I’d like to take the two big Ikea-bags filled with old clothes to recycling. And last weekend we prepared a dish that required two ingredients I wouldn’t consider buying myself but what the actual owner of the apartment has (sesame seeds and a bag of bread crumbs).

I’d say it’s more efficient to live like this than living in one place for five years. When moving around, bigger chores can never lay around too long. It’s also a good chance to go through all of the belongings, empty the fridge and the cupboard for dry foods. Everything from clothes and food to the mind gets refreshed every six months or so. But this kind of lifestyle suits those who prefer this kind of efficiency. How much stability and continuity one has in life is a whole other question (although habits and routines help out here a great deal).

However, I’ve been longing for something either more stable or more upbeat for the past month. These previous years have felt more like an in-between phase, like I am never really here but always thinking about the next move, the next phase. Feeling like this makes me restless, less focused. So I think it could be a good time to switch things up a bit, try something completely new in the near future. We’ll see what happens.

But for now, we will continue preparing for the next move. I hope you have a lovely Tuesday (see you on Thursday)!


The Difficulty of Accepting Change


It has become clear to me in a completely new way that we people aren’t really that good at accepting and adjusting to changes in our near environment. Sure, we are okay with brand new buildings and cafés popping up in the neighborhood or when new traffic lights are installed in one of the crossings – but when it comes to personal change… Boy, don’t we struggle.

We are usually fine with the changes happening in us, within ourselves – after all, it’s something we aim for: personal growth, self-development. But when it happens to other people, change suddenly becomes harder to accept. Why is that? And especially, why do we find it so challenging to be happy for someone else’s progress?

How We Define Each Other

We are defined by what we do. For many people, our profession defines who we are – a journalist, a teacher, a baker, a broker. It is probably one of the most asked questions when meeting a new person – what’s your name and what do you do.

In social situations, when we are finding out who the other person is by asking his or her profession, we are trying to categorize them in our internal system – is this person a maker, a thinker, a creative or a practical person? And when we have that person categorized, we can relax. We know now where we have this new person, in what category, with what kind of emotional tags. We know where we can place this person in our personal hierarchy.

But then something changes. The person we knew as a broker decides to become an entrepreneur, open a bakery and instead of having a normal nine-to-five job, he now works from 3AM to 3PM. The practical thinker becomes a creative maker. And suddenly you notice you have a hard time realizing that this person has (in what seems like an overnight) changed his place in your hierarchy and  doesn’t fit to any of the old categories anymore. That is when it becomes tough to accept the change. Questions arise: Is this a good change or a bad change – is this person completely nuts or actually a genius? Who is this person now compared to before? And where do I stand in relation to this now-changed person?

When we are forced to define our friends and family members anew, i.e. sort them into a different category and find a new place for them in our personal social hierarchy, it easily leads to a conflict. It can be a silent conflict in one’s mind or it can become a conflict talked out loud. Accepting and readjusting is always about dealing with a conflict – and some people handle it better or worse than others.

It’s About Comparisons

Why people most probably have difficulties in being happy for the changes that happen in their friends is that they quickly compare the efforts and results of this person to themselves. The fact that a friend has lost weight – where does it put me in the hierarchy of fitness and health? Or the fact that another friend seems to follow his or her career dreams bravely and actually succeeds in them – how am I doing with my own career plans? Am I doing what I want to do? Am I as happy as my friend seems to be?

Personal growth and self-development tends to lead to some sort of increased happiness in the person doing the changes. Sometimes the happiness lasts longer, sometimes a shorter period of time, but still, it’s extremely valuable. We all want to be happy with our lives. However, we aren’t, not at least all the time. And when a friend suddenly seems happier than usual, happier than we are – we find ourselves wanting the same thing, the same happiness.

Depending on how happy we are at the moment or how easy it is to reach that same state of happiness, we react to the changes in our friends in different ways.

What We Need Is Confrontation

There are so many questions that arise when a change occurs. The questions are about the change, about the person, the environment, about oneself, and they never seem to end. That’s part of the process of accepting and adjusting to a change in our social environment.

However, the process gets twisted if none of those questions are asked out loud. And it isn’t even enough that these questions are asked – they also need to be answered. That is  what I call a confrontation. And I know, confrontation sounds like something negative, even violent but it doesn’t have to be that. As Merriam-Webster defines it: a face-to-face meeting or the clashing of — ideas. In my opinion, that’s what confrontation is: an opportunity for a face-to-face conversation about the ideas of two persons that have clashed.

After I came back to the city where now I live, I hoped for a confrontation about the changes that had happened. About my weight, about my career plans and about my behavior. And there were questions asked out loud – but no one wanted to hear the answer, the questions being questions without actual question marks.

When this happens, the processing of the changes and the efforts to re-categorize the changed person becomes twisted. It’s as if having a trial for a suspect without asking the suspect or his/hers defenders any questions – sounds wrong, doesn’t it? By confronting and asking the questions one gives an opportunity for the changed person to tell and explain what has happened, what kind of process has taken place.

So, confrontation is needed but unfortunately only few of us have the guts to do it.

After The Change

If a change is never discussed, then processed and, in a way, accepted, it will have other consequences. Because, as I was left un-confronted and, therefore, without the support I had really hoped for, it left me thinking.

I haven’t really had the opportunity to show and tell who I am today because I’m still waiting for some sort of confrontation to happen. I am hoping that these people would ask me the questions that actually end with a question mark but instead, I keep on getting quizzically creased eyebrows or confused looks that go from the top of my head to my toes. I see the thought processes going through their heads but no questions are asked.

Of course, I need to be realistic and remember that even other people need time to adjust to the changes I’ve made because my changes have led to changes in them and in their personal hierarchies. But what I also know is that the longer we postpone asking those questions, the harder it’ll become to ask them.

The things is that after a change is made and Time goes by, one looks at life from a new perspective. And a question arises: in this new life, this post-change phase, what do I wish to hold on to – and to whom?

(P.S. I’m no saint when it comes to accepting changes in other people. However, I do feel that I reflect upon my own reactions more than many others do which, in the long run, makes it easier for me to accept the changes other people make in their lives.)