Nothing is lost in translation in Patong.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon ~ thetransitcafe.com
Wednesday, 13th September 2006
What you see is what you get - You get what you come for - And most of the time too you get what you pay for. Yeoh Siew Hoon spends three days in Patong, and ends up feeling strangely liberated as a tourist there.

"Konichiwa," shouted the shopkeeper. When I don't respond, he tries another language. "Ni hao ma?" He gives up. "Where you from? You want buy T-shirt?"In the global language of transaction, nothing is lost in translation. And especially so in Patong, Phuket, where every tourist is reduced to a walking target of consumption.

I have been to many tourist-y places in my life but I swear, hand on heart, I had never felt such a tourist as I did during my three-day break in Patong last weekend.

The last time I stayed on Patong was probably 15 years ago. Since then, I have escaped to other pockets of the island, areas where you are not constantly reminded you're a tourist.

In Patong, it starts when you leave the hotel. "Taxi?" "Tuk-tuk?" It continues as you walk down the strip. Non-stop from shop to shop. "T-shirt?" "Seafood?" "DVDs?" It continues as you stroll down the beach. "Parasailing?" "Jetski?" "Banana boat?" "Massage?"

This is mass tourism in your face. Everyone's trying to sell you something. I don't blame them. They've got to make a buck and the tourists are there to be made bucks out of.

Even the getting-to-know-you stage is cut short. A male friend of mine went to a bar on his own and was asked these questions by a waitress even before he ordered a drink.

"You alone?" (Yes)

"Got wife?" (No)

"Like boy or girl?"

It's called prospect profiling. In other words, how much time should I spend on you and what could I get out of it?

Another male friend struck up a "friendship" with a waitress and on the third date, she brought him to a jewellery shop and requested a bracelet as a gift.

Fair exchange, I say. At least, it's an honest transaction.

The folks here are doers and go-getters. I am impressed by how Phuket's rebuilt since the tsunami. Patong was packed with tourists despite the fact that it was low season. My hotel, Burasari, was running full with a mish-mesh of tourists from Australia, Singapore, Switzerland and Japan.

The only reminder of the tragedy are small road signs that say "Tsunami evacuation route, 300m". I wasn't sure where they pointed to and I am not sure they'd withstand any strong, high waves, but hey at least they're there.

Patong beach is cleaner than it's ever been and locals say it's thanks to the tsunami which swept up everything in its wake.

In a strange way, I feel very comfortable with the whole thing that is Patong.

What you see is what you get. You get what you come for. Great beach, great food, great fun. You get what you pay for, well at least you hope. And nobody gives a damn about you.

And here's the beauty of it – and the whole of Thailand, really. It's what makes Thailand unique among destinations.

You are free to be whoever you choose to be. Nobody judges you. Girl-boy. Old, fat, white men with young Thai girls hanging on their arms. Beer-swilling tourists. Chinese shoppers. Korean honeymooners. Russian drinkers. Malaysian tourists looking for bargains. Middle Eastern men picking up "chicks" on the beach.

This one man from Kuwait tried the same line on my 18-year-old niece and I, five minutes apart. "You want come hotel room?" he asked. I guess he is not age-discriminating.

On the same beach, Thai families play with their children and dogs, sharing their land with tourists from all over the world.

I felt labeled, yet weirdly free.

The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection".

She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.

Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934, Mobile: 65-96801460

Yeoh Siew Hoon's other writings can be found at www.thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at Travel's Busiest Junction
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