The rain clouds hung low and quickly descended even lower. As soon as we dropped the first of our bags onto the sand, rain began pouring down from every corner of the sky. There were no structures on the beach at all so there was no need to run for cover. Everyone collapsed into a seated position on the sand, as if succumbing to fate. We waited for the situation to resolve itself.
The beach we had landed on this afternoon was on the west side of Koh Muk. It was like a painting ... a perfect crescent. The view offshore – Koh Waen and Koh Kradan symmetrically parting from each other while the vast water between them reflected the sinking sun through changing colours.
Through the curtain of the rain, the view in front of me looked almost surreal.
It was a little after 6pm. The sun, hiding in the clouds and obscured by rain, had almost reached the horizon. The upper sky was shaded dark, the lower was a layer of light grey and red patches. Below the sky was the emerald green sea and at the bottom was the creamy sandy beach. These layers of colours weren’t sharply separated, all blurring into each other.
The longer I watched the display of colour before me, the more I couldn’t help but feel excluded...
“Professor, are you not going to do anything at all?” I thought of a question a student of mine shot at me after the February 23 coup d’état.
“What do you want me to do?” I remembered answering.
“You used to fight.”
“It’s not the same...”
The sky was still pouring with thick rain ... Finally the crew agreed that if we waited for the rain to stop, we would be wasting time until dawn. The consensus led some to unload the rest of our luggage from the boat, others to hastily put up tents to store the luggage in. The task of cooking rice in this liquid moment went to Ta Moh Tao, our only hope.
To be honest, I am utterly useless in such circumstances. The only thing I was doing was gazing at the sea, wearing the same old fishing hat...
I heard my student’s voice again. “Don’t you support democracy?”
“I do ... but I’m sick of politicians.”
“So you think the military regime is better?”
“No, I don’t.”
“How should it be then?”
“I have no idea.”
By the time we got to eat it was past 9pm. Ta Moh Tao’s fried fish in chilli sauce was delicious as usual. It was a shame he put a handful of scallions in it. I had to pick them out as I was allergic.
“We human beings don’t make sense,” I said to my friends. We were circling the cooking pot poised on rocks at three corners. “We are so sensitive to what we dislike, and yet so attracted to these things and must reach out for them...”
“But we’re so confused about what we love...”
The sky continued to leak. Lightning flashed, switching night into day in the blink of an eye. The rain, waves and thunder were part of the orchestra. The whole terrain echoed with their sounds.
I took off my soaking wet hat, hung it on the tent pole, crawled into the tent and slept alone, thinking the rainstorms would ease by morning.
“You’ve given up, haven’t you?” My student’s voice rung in my head, louder than the thunderstorm.
“That’s not the point,” I tried to explain.
“What’s the point then?”
“Now I don’t know who I’m fighting for ... what I’m fighting for.”
I had invited several friends on this fishing trip. Besides Chang Si and Ta Moh Tao, who were from Trang Province, Tong and Nid had come south from Bangkok. Rungchai, another friend who rarely went offshore, had made an effort to catch a bus from Songkhla, crossing steep mountains to join us. Long-tail boat driver included, our wandering sea crew numbered seven in all.
We departed from the Trang shore on Friday, March 1, 1991, drove past Koh Muk, fished along the way and made Koh Kradan our first night’s stay of the sea journey. Saturday was spent fishing from dawn to dusk. We followed the coral reef around islands – behind Koh Hai and beside Koh Chuek, then headed back to stay at Koh Muk.
It was after 4pm when we left shore on Friday. I let Tong and Nid bait first. As host, I should let my friends catch the first fish.
It was raining lightly, causing my Trang friends to tease that I had brought the rain with me; Trang hadn’t seen any rain for nearly a month.
The rain fell to the east by the time we neared Koh Muk. After watching my friends fish for almost an hour, I wanted to have fun so I cast my own little orange lure into the water. I felt like a boy playing, dragging a toy can behind him, walking along the street not thinking much.
To rephrase that, I didn’t even try to fish. My rod and the line were too small. I had bought them in Singapore not long before and was thinking I should use them at least once.
Whatever it was, luck or something else, I caught a fish in less than 10 minutes. It was a yellow barracuda weighing around 7 kilograms.
I had no choice but to apologize to my friends.
Fishing has been a pastime of mine for years. But what I look for isn’t fish. To be more precise, catching fish isn’t my first priority on a fishing trip.
Every time I’m on the sea, I feel like a pathetic little creature. The open water deprives me of my haughtiness – it feels good. It cleanses me of the notion that life should be so complicated.
And perhaps the sea is the only place where depth meets width. In its vastness, I feel as if I have entered a sacred temple, like a sinner come to seek redemption.
In fact, it was no coincidence that I came to the Andaman Sea a few days after the coup.
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