Jan 25


by in Drawing & Writing

On one of our Ko Tao layabout days, we had a very difficult decision to make.

“Are you going for a swim?” I asked Antje. “Because I am, in a few minutes.”

“You can go.”

A few minutes later I was still there, and she asked why.

“Just relaxing.”

Ten minutes later I hadn’t managed that swim, so we left together, and Antje came down to the beach. “Are you going in?” I asked. “No.” She began to draw. I guess I was watching her draw, since she asked, “Aren’t you swimming?”

Oh yeah!

I swam, which was really like sitting in the water. Then I went back for a bungalow shower, which is more like standing under a weak raincloud. By the time I met Antje on the beach again, a small miracle had happened. Sitting across from her was…

… Aaaaandrew?

Andrew from Louisiana?



His hair was a bit shaggier than a month earlier, and his relaxed nature showed that he, too, had enjoyed many relaxing experiences in his time away from us. As Antje’s drawing attests, though, it was definitely him and not an imposter angling for our friendship.

For the first ten minutes we laughed more than we talked, kind of like crazy people. But the situation was crazy!

We’d last seen him the night before we did the Tongariro crossing with Mt. Doom; he’d done it earlier that day with Khan, who taught us the “Bunny Bunny” game. (Or “taught” us.) From there Antje and I had gone to Napier, New Zealand’s seaside “Ashland”, and he’d jumped one step ahead to Wellington.

He’d also left New Zealand a earlier than us. Back when we were celebrating New Year’s Eve with Robbie and Rebecca in Wanaka, he was watching people eat spoonfulls of worms from a bucket at his “Reggae Mansion” hostel in Malaysia’s capitol city. (Note: Andrew does not recommend “Reggae Mansion” to anyone.) So he’d gotten to Ko Tao island via Singapore, Malaysia, and south Thailand; we’d come from the north, from Bangkok. Strange. These things tend to happen while traveling, but usually within one country, or in a region – not New Zealand and Thailand. Something told us that we were meant to do something very special together, that it was perhaps even fated to be so, and suddenly we knew what it was:

Eat Thai food!

We did just that, and things were feeling celebratory. It was Chinese New Year’s Eve, which we’d been aware of since 8:30AM that morning, when firecrackers exploded outside our window, and Inga texted Antje, worried about pirates.

So when our waitress walked up, Andrew and I ordered big beers instead of small ones, and Antje and Inga ordered margaritas.

Five minutes later, the beers arrive. Ten minutes had passed, then fifteen, and still the girls still had no drinks. Hm. Had they forgotten? Just as we were about to stand up and ask – somewhat difficult with cross-legged eating – the waitress walked up with someone else’s food in hand.

I said, “Excuse me–”

And, much to our confusion, she set two pizzas before us.

“Not our pizzas,” we said/pantomimed.

The table-numbering system is hit or miss here, so this sort of stuff happens a lot. Usually the waiter/waitress moves on immediately.

But this time the waitress gave us a long, hard stare that said, “I am 100% sure these are your pizzas.”

And in a way, she was right.

It was Antje who figured out the riddle, and since the answer was so pleasingly logical, such an “Ah ha!” moment, for now I’ll let you figure it out for yourselves, so that you might feel that pleasure, too. [Answer below]

When that was resolved, the girls got their drinks. A dog wandered under our table, and stayed. A seven-year-old boy cleared our dishes, smiling proudly.

Antje went to the bar and ordered two more margaritas, and got charged more than I had. She wasn’t pleased by a Margarita price-structure based on a customer’s sexual anatomy, and said as much to the bartrendress.

Later the bartendress came to our table, though, handed back the change, and apologized.

From there we walked up the beach, which was covered in beached backpackers. They were reclining in various positions on various reclinable articles belonging to beach bars, and unfortunately for us, our plastic mats were wet with moisture. We wiped them off with our hands as best as possible, sat down, and soaked up the rest with our butts – just in time for the waiter to come over with towels. Oh well. Antje and Inga ordered something with cranberry juice. Andrew and I stayed with beer.

A few minutes later the waiter came up with two beers and a bucket. The bucket was sloshing with cranberry juice, ice, and an entire flask of vodka.

I was impressed. “Did you guys seriously order a bucket?”

They hadn’t. They’d ordered “cranberry juice,” and now they had a bucket.

The waiter laughed, took the bucket away, returned with their cranberry juices, and left.

Antje sniffed hers and wrinkled her nose, “This is NOT cranberry juice.”

I smelled it, too, expecting alcohol. Instead it smelled sweet, sickly, sickly sweet. “Smells like grape bubblegum,” I said.

Andrew smelled it next, and immediately solved this, our second riddle. “That is DEFINITELY Kool-Aid,” he said. He was absolutely right.

Antje and Inga frowned at us. “What’s Kool-Aid?”

Andrew and I were stunned. “Kool-Aid? You don’t know Kool-Aid?”

They didn’t know Kool-Aid. Un-effing-believable. We were speechless, physically speechless. How do you explain Kool-Aid? How do you explain something that is so integral to your childhood, to your summers? It’s something an American has never had to think about, let alone articulate, and for a while we could only look at each other and laugh, waiting for the other to begin.

Andrew began. “So Kool-Aid’s like this big… guy who busts through walls.”


Is that what Kool-Aid means in Louisiana?

I mean yes, it’s completely accurate and 100% true to say that “Kool-Aid” was in fact a cold glass pitcher with a smiley face fingered on who likes to break through brick walls or anything else that stands in his way of refreshing those thirsty children. That is exactly what the advertisements show him doing. But I never would’ve started there – that’s not the first association I make with the word “Kool-Aid” – and this tremendous gap in MEANING between his understanding of “Kool-Aid” and my understanding of “Kool-Aid” was one of the more hilarious experiences of my life. Andrew laughed at himself, also realizing the explanatory hole he’d dug by starting a description of Kool-Aid with a “guy who busts through walls.”

I tried, and mostly got the idea across that it’s an artificially flavored, artificially colored sugar concoction that you mix with water, and that parents only give to their children on special occasions, since it literally turns them rotten.

Antje sipped at her terrible drink. “Bleck.”

So this was maybe “cranberry Kool-Aid,” but definitely not cranberry juice – meaning the girls were 0-for-3 that night with their drink orders. But that was OK, because…

…in front of us were five young Thai guys with their shirts off doing crazy things with FIRE!

Some had sticks, others fireballs on chains. All were professional, or semi-professional. Two were stand-outs.

“He’s the best,” Antje said of the skinniest. “Look how fast he is.” It was true.

“Yeah, but he also makes the most mistakes,” Andrew said. And on cue, the guy dropped the stick.

The next guy came up, built in a way that was almost military. “This guy’s good,” Andrew promised. And he was. He was ALMOST as fast as the other guy, but never made mistakes. He was methodical, technical, perfect. You got the feeling he practiced a lot more, focusing on where he was weak.

Skinny guy came back and started twirling. For all his mistakes, though, he was still far more fluid, flexible, rhythmic. He was a natural. He did make more mistakes. But he was a natural. He had his own style, like the rest of them, his own “go-to” moves, his own clothes and tattoos. They were like skaters standing around a skate-park.

It’d been going on so long that no one was clapping anymore, which felt weird. These guys were busting their butts, burning themselves, and the backpackers? The backpackers were yawning. They were leaning back on the beach, chatting it up, sometimes watching. What was the point of all this fire if no one cared? What does it imply when dangerous fire-twirling isn’t exciting anymore? What did the backpackers REALLY want, if not fire-twirling? “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” There was a tip-box made of wood, and no one tipped. What would make them tip? I got the feeling that if a Thai guy had self-immolated and jumped in the ocean, they would’ve tipped. “Now that’s entertainment!” The Thai guys felt it too – but this happens every night for them, and it wasn’t really about the foreigners, anyway. They were there to trade tricks and trade jokes and twirl some fire.

It was time to go home.

We tipped.


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2 Responses to “Missunderstandings”

  1. From Mom:

    Loved it!

    Posted on January 25, 2012 at 15:36 #
  2. From Roxy:

    Margarita pizzas rather than beverages, yes? That’s a fun bit of multilingual misunderstanding:)

    Posted on January 25, 2012 at 19:31 #