It's Raining Coconuts
Picture this: an island in the South China Sea, bleached sand, the turquoise sea of the shallows fading, beyond the reef, to a deep Pacific blue. A soft breeze is trailing through the palm fronds. Now imagine you are sitting on this beach about as far away winter as you can get. You are leaning against a tree because it's too hot in the sun for skin that hasn't seen the light of day since September, when suddenly, an object the size of a small mortar shell passes inches from your head and disappears into the sand.
You look up. The crown of the tree has coconuts packed tighter than bird shot. Looking down the shore, you notice the beach is littered with impact craters and half-buried coconuts -- each one representing a potential crushed skull. The long line of palm trees rimming the beach between the rocky headlands, which had seemed exotic and picturesque, takes on a new, threatening appearance.
I mention this because I've been taking a lot of heat since I returned from vacation about bailing out before the ice storm got bad and Maine was declared a disaster area -- as if I was shirking my duty as a Mainer by jetting off to the South Pacific (there's something irresponsible, even sinful about the South Seas) and not experiencing this wintry hardship. I want everyone to know that I too was faced with a life-threatening situation. After the coconut fell, I was forced to gather up my margarita and reading material and join the Danish girls who were sunbathing further down the beach, exposing myself to sunburn as well as embarrassment, since, instead of blatantly ogling, I felt compelled to make a lame attempt at witty, engaging conversation. At the bar that evening, I made further inquiries into this important and underreported threat to public safety and learned that the leading cause of death on the island was, as I had thought, coconuts falling on people's heads.
Besides being concussed by coconuts, the tourist to Thailand also faces a high probability of being run down by motorcycles, bicycles, buses, and Tuk Tuks. (Tuk Tuks, so named for the impressive noise of their two-stroke motors, are essentially souped-up tricycles that function as taxis.) This is especially true in Bangkok, a city so congested that commuters transport devices that allow them to relieve themselves in traffic jams, and pedestrians wear surgical masks in hopes of filtering out the poisoned air. Just crossing the street in Bangkok is a major undertaking requiring a carefully worked out strategy. After a few days, I learned to herd my children into a position downstream from a phalanx of Thais, venturing out behind my blockers like a skittish halfback trying to make his way up field.
Jonas, my five year old, who is used to rural Maine, objected to traveling in this manner, especially since the temperature was over ninety degrees.
"I'm tired of walking," he'd say. "Let's take a Tuk Tuk -- there's one over there."
When pleading didn't work, he'd often hail a cab on his own, and suddenly a Tuk Tuk would dart across the stream of traffic and swoop up to the curb idling loudly. While Jonas climbed aboard, I'd have to explain, in a language, which I didn't speak -- and which couldn't be heard in any case -- that I didn't want a cab.
I was afraid we'd be run down in Bangkok, so we bailed out and fetched up on this tropical island, where it never gets cold, where the sea seems as gentle and predictable as a farm pond, and where one glorious sunset follows another. Where there are no newspapers, no televisions, no traffic jams. Paradise. Except for the jellyfish and coconuts.
"Keep a lookout for jellyfish," I'd holler when the kids where in the water.
"Watch out for coconuts," when they were playing under the trees.
They didn't pay much attention to my warnings. Coconuts are irresistible to children, especially for kids from Maine. My boys spent many happy hours gathering coconuts and smashing them together, trying to break through the shell, looking to taste the sweet, exotic meat of another world.
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