The Tropical Dream
Happy memories of the Far East
The country side around here ……………………….
Shimmering lakes, tree clad mountains, forests, birds, cows and the noble water buffalo. That’s just a few of the beautiful sites I can see from my window. My window is in South East Asia, Thailand in fact. What an amazing place to have a window! Or rather, a lot of windows and each one with a different aspect of this amazing countryside. Do I think I’m one very lucky person? Of course I do. This has been a dream for forty four long years and began in 1965 when as a young woman of 21, I was permitted to join my husband as a service wife in Singapore. But then I wanted to live in Malaysia, not the housing estates of the forces families in Singapore itself. Singapore is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it has changed a lot since those long-gone days when large estates were occupied by British service personnel families. My thoughts of such an exotic location did not encompass anything other than kampong villages, colourful local markets and enchanting people in sarongs. So who wanted to live on a housing estate in such a fabulous setting? The thought of living with the local people; getting to know them; learning their language; understanding their customs and ways of life; eating as they did; walking and talking with them was an obsession. This obsession was doubtlessly nurtured in my very early childhood by amazing tales from my beloved Grandfather, Tom Pratten, who had served with the Indian Army for many years.
Living in Malaysia itself really happened. The very idea was frowned upon by the powers that be; quite naturally of course, they were responsible for our health, safety and welfare. The communist problems had only just been quelled in Malaysia with the loss of many lives, and they were fearful that the isolated position of our new home would not enable them to protect us should there be any more trouble. Their fears were thankfully unfounded. We stood our ground, put forward a good case and were allowed to remain in that delightful setting for the two years of our stay. I think looking back the thought that comes to mind is ‘the ignorance of youth’, or ‘ignorance is bliss’. But we had no problems and were made welcome by the villagers in our small village outside of Johore Bahru.
What an extraordinary experience! We had two little daughters; Ingrid aged 5 and Vikki, 3 years. Ingrid was privileged to start her first years at school in a tropical setting and has never forgotten it. She treasures the few photographs we took and wishes there had been more. She lives those happy days even now. Her school was a BritishMilitarySchool in Johore Bahru and was much as the schools are here in Thailand today – primarily made of wood; open and airy classrooms with wide covered verandahs and noisy fans lazily moving the warm, languid air above their heads.
After a couple of years of mixed bliss - amazing experiences and the agonies of missing home, we returned to England and settled into a routine that could only be emphasised by the memories of the Far East. Was it all a dream I frequently asked myself. We treasured absurd things like shopping bills from the local Cold Store shops; bus tickets and pressed exotic flowers, and imagined we would never see that wonderful part of the globe again. Of course, we were very wrong and the determination to return one day persisted, sitting somewhere in the recesses of my mind, occasionally surfacing like a sign post through the busy years that followed. I never imagined I would actually live in this part of the world though, merely that I would visit as a tourist and be happy in the visiting.
The opportunity came around 1998 when we decided that after years of very hard and stressful work, we really would like to retire early. We had visited Thailand on several occasions and the more we saw of it the more we fell in love with it. The gentle people; the stunning scenery; the food; the atmosphere; the culture; the history and art; and of course, the amazing mountains, plants, animals, birds and trees. Just everything about the place was magic.
Of course it has its seedier side and living so close to Pattaya makes you conscious of it. But is the scene offensive? I think not, a happier bunch of mortals would be hard to find and whether your male or female, you’re always made welcome wherever your path takes you. The dilemma is that it’s a sad reflection on the huge gap ever present between the wealthier nations of the world and the poor, who would like piece of the action too. Thailand is not unique in this aspect – it happens, and why shouldn’t people make some ‘bread’ from their only asset. With a better education system maybe many of the people caught up in the trade would have a better chance in life to make money. Til then, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world and makes them a good living. They can support their large extended families and feel good in the process. A sure case of ‘supply and demand’ that will never be unnecessary. We have to forget our moralistic Victorian attitudes and allow them to get on with their lives in the way they know best.
Each and every day, I have to pinch myself that I am still alive and not in an unearthly paradise, having passed away without knowing it! To walk our two old Labradors through the lanes to the woods and fields around our village is breathtaking. I turn round at the top of the hill and look out across the lake to the sea. Between are a wealth of waving palms fronds, spiky old rattans; tall, straight hardwood trees and the innumerable dark green heads of the ubiquitous mangoes. The perfumes that rise from the disturbed grasses are intoxicating so early in the morning and I linger to watch the little bees busy at work on the tree blossoms. The birds are amazing in there variety and voices. Over there I hear the demented scream of the Asian Lapwing as she entices you away from her nestlings with here frantic dance; above is the fluttering ribbon tails of a noisy family of racket-tailed drongos; the chatter of the mynah birds is incessant; tiny birds flit noiselessly from branch to branch and the beautiful sounds from the various bulbuls mingle with the harsh caw of the crows, jays and magpie robins to form a harmony of nature unsurpassed on this planet. Their music mingles with the soft sounds of the gentle wind as it wends its way between the trees and rustling bamboos.
The only thing that’s missing from those heady Malaysian days is the dawn chorus of the gibbons – always such a joy to listen to. But gibbons of any sort have been hunted to near extinction, and the loss of their habitat has seen them isolated only in tiny pockets of Asia. I miss them!
So begins another day in this incredible paradise. What happy fortune brought me here in the winter years of my life? I’ve no idea, but my canvas was begun as a young woman all those years ago. I’ve now taken up the palette again after an absence of 40 and more long years, and must finish what I began. I count myself blessed to be able to do it. Happiness is illusive and I hold its fragile gossamer wings in my hand fresh each day. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and I’m not waiting around to find out. This moment is precious and to be lived. I want to live and share it with as many people as possible.