My last day in Thailand turned out to be one of those life changing days that happen once in a blue moon. They are special days. Days when you know that your life will never be quite the same again.
The day started the same as most of my other days in Phuket had, with a walk to the beach.
The sun was just coming up over the horizon as I made my way down from the hotel on to Kata beach. I was looking forward to some quiet time. A chance to reflect on all that had happened on this trip.
The air felt warm but not yet uncomfortable. A cooling breeze came in from the sea and the tang of ozone was in the air. The waves gently lapped the shore. I breathed deeply and took in the scene. Pu Island was still a dark silhouette. Around it the lights of fishing boats bobbed gently. The shy sun coloured the clouds a powdery pink, contrasting with the black shadows of the retreating night. I had the beach to myself.
Then, as I headed to the northern end of Kata I could see some movement. I watched silently as the figure jogged closer. As he approached I could see he was lean and well muscled for his age, which I put at mid forties. He nodded a greeting, and bent over putting his hands on his knees, stretching his calf muscles.
“Hard work running on sand”, he managed between deep lungfuls of air.
Without waiting for any answer he straightened. “Dave Watson”, he said, offering his hand. I shook the hand and introduced myself.
“I could do with a rest”. Dave lay down on the sand. He stretched lazily and looked up at the clearing sky.
“Gonna be another great day”.
I squatted down next to him, intrigued by this rarest of species in Thailand – the early morning jogger.
We talked about those things that Englishmen do when they meet in a foreign land. Cricket. Rugby. Beer. Women.
It turned out Dave lived nearby and jogged along Karon and Kata beaches most days.
“I like to get out here before the tourists.”
I could relate to that.
Dave had a lop-sided grin, and eyes as blue as the Phuket sky. He had a laid-back charm and a ready smile. He was easy to talk to.
As we sat on the warm sand, the sun climbed higher, but time seemed to stand still. Dave’s story tumbled out.
A former securities analyst in the City of London, he had come to Thailand 10 years earlier. When he arrived he was a basket case. He was divorced and broke. He had ulcers, hypertension, gout and severe migraines. His cholesterol was off the scale. He was 4 stones overweight. He was only 40 and one plate of chips away from a stroke.
Looking back, Dave reflected on the cause of his divorce. “I had a twelve hour day on top of 4 hours of commuting – I’m surprised my wife stayed with me as long as she did”.
When the marriage imploded it had been messy and expensive.
“I pretty much had nothing by the end of it. A lot of the guys I worked with ended up the same way. I was lucky – some ended up dead.”
Broke, disillusioned and burnt out, Dave had maxed out his credit card – it bought him a flight to Thailand, and a cheap hotel on Silom Road. He’d originally planned on staying two weeks. He never went home. His face told me he had no regrets.
“Coming here saved my life – I mean that quite literally.”
Slowly Dave sought to repair his damaged body during those first days. He worked out in the hotel’s small gym, swam in the pool daily, and ate as healthily as he could. Little by little he recovered.
“I lost a lot of weight. Luckily the stuff I like to eat is cheap here. I stayed away from the beer and bar girls and lived pretty frugally.”
A quaint word that “frugal”. It was not a word you heard much in these days of record credit card debt and sub-prime mortgages.
“After a couple of weeks in Thailand I knew I wasn’t going home again. Ever. But, I also new I needed to get out of Bangkok. So I came down here.”
Dave had started a small Internet business, helping other refugees from the City pick up the pieces post burnout and build a new life. “I understand how you can get trapped in that lifestyle – the money, the toys, the status. A lot want a way out, but don't know how. It’s a chance for me to help others, and contribute. I feel like I’m giving back what I’ve learned the hard way. It won’t make me a millionaire, but I have enough.”
I have enough. The words struck me like a sledgehammer blow on the nose. I thought of how they contrasted with the messages coming from government. The slogans of debt-fuelled consumerism. “Growth is good!”, “More is better!”, “You can have it all!”, “You deserve it all!”, “Be patriotic, consume!”, “Don’t save, spend!”. While GDP rocketed over the last 50 years, enriching the corporations, happiness for most people had flatlined.
I – have – enough.
How much unhappiness in the world could be turned into joy if people just appreciated the power of those three little words?
Instead the masses, brainwashed by government spin and misdirected by the psychological warfare of advertising, had chosen a dead end. They were playing the grand game of consumerism. It was a game with loaded dice – they could never win because they could never have enough. When you don’t know what enough is, how can you ever have it, you will always want more, better, bigger?
“My life is pretty simple. I eat well. Work out. I have a few good friends here now. I keep in touch with family back home, and sometimes they visit. I have time to read.”
Dave had splashed out on an e-reader. “It’s my one luxury. I love it. The funny thing is, I get more pleasure and satisfaction out of that little gadget than I ever did out of my Porsche and big house.”
I asked Dave about the big house. “It was nice, but I wasn’t there most of the time, I was at work, and when I was at home I used to spend a lot of my time fixing stuff around the house or paying someone else to fix it. I don’t miss it at all. Now I have a cheap rented room and no hassle. I don’t have a lot of stuff now, but I have a lot of time to spend on things that have meaning for me.”
Contribution. Time. Meaning.
What Dave had stumbled upon while jogging the beaches of Phuket was that when you know what enough is you are truly rich. It occurred to me that those on the “get rich and buy a monster 4×4” programme would consider Dave a loser.
Dave got up and brushed the sand off the back of his tanned legs. With a parting nod he started to jog back the way he came. Suddenly I found myself calling after him. I had to ask him The Question, the one I always asked people I met in Thailand.
“So what do you love most about Thailand?”
Dave turned and, laughing, lifted his arms skyward.
“Just look at that!”
I looked up. The sun was fully up now, having chased away the coloured-cloud splashes of dawn. The sky was a flawless light blue. I stared, sweeping around 360 degrees to take in the entirety of it. It was as if I were seeing it for the first time. There wasn’t a single cloud. It was beautiful.
Smiling, I turned back to shout a belated thank you, but the figure had already reached the far end of the beach, distorted by the heat haze that was now coming off the white sand.
Very, very nice indeed and I suspect many can relate.