On the plus side, it’s a handy amenity for time-pressed Pattayans with wrinkles to smooth or appetites to satisfy to locate more quickly the parking space they crave. On the minus side it has to be pointed out that a system as sophisticated as this is surely going to go on the blink pretty often and remain unrepaired for extended periods. Well, we shall see. In the meantime, and forcing myself to be optimistic, the innovation has had me thinking about how similar technology could be used to improve our lives in other areas. I immediately think—just as you would do, clever reader—of the most blindingly obvious application of this system: waterfalls.
Thailand is known (at least by the tourist authority) as the Land of Smiles. It’s actually not a bad name. People here do engage passers-by in prolonged eye contact and, while thus connected, bestow the stranger with the sort of smile that in other countries would be interpreted as ‘Well hullo there! Would you like to come back to my place for a drink and a few laughs, possibly an LTR with a view to marriage?’
The explanation is that living in paradise is bound to make people happy and a smile is the universally accepted way of expressing same.
While most of life’s precious gifts make people here smile, the one that is guaranteed to extend the grin the widest is a waterfall. In Thailand, everyone loves a waterfall. They can’t get enough of them. They drive for miles to find them, they trudge through mud and over rocks to get at them, they sit and watch them, they take photos of themselves in front of them, they picnic beside them and they jump into them, usually fully clothed.
‘There’s something eternal about a waterfall,’ I muse to my beloved, rather poetically in my view.
‘What’s eternal?’ she enquires.
‘It goes on forever; it just flows and flows.’
‘Except in the dry season,’ Mrs Pobaan points out gloomily.
Every balloon can be burst, but only up to a point. Seasonality is certainly what you would expect but waterfalls don’t seem to operate according to the rules of logic. After all, in Thailand, few things do. At the bidding of Mrs Pobaan I have hiked miles through soggy jungle swamps in the depths of the rainy season to view what is advertised as a raging torrent only to find a feeble dribble. Contrariwise, I find that some falls put on an impressive display of gushiness even after many dry weeks.
Waterfalls are a bit unpredictable, which is where technology could help.
Currently (ho ho), waterfalls are often signposted from the main highways. ‘Such-and-Such a waterfall next left,’ the blue sign tells us, omitting to mention that the watery phenomenon in question is 15km away, halfway up a mountain and, at this time of year (whatever that is) is no more impressive than a dripping tap.
For the convenience of proper waterfall fans my breakthrough idea is to do away with all these unhelpful signs and replace them with electronic display panels connected to flow meters set into the river. Out on the highway the display panel will helpfully indicate, say, three possible conditions: Grade A, torrential cataract, do not miss this natural wonder; Grade B, respectable flow, take a look if you’re not in a hurry; and Grade C, pathetic trickle, go home and arse about with the garden hose instead.
I think you’ll agree that this innovation will eliminate millions of wasted diversions and prevent much family disappointment and unpleasantness, particularly as directed at the driver who haplessly followed the sign. I modestly propose that my creative contribution to human well-being be known as the ‘Pobaan Indicator’. I will accept one paltry baht for each instrument installed which, because of the enormous potential of my invention, is likely to yield a tidy sum. International rights negotiable.
This week we are on Ko Tau, or Turtle Island, in the south of the country to celebrate Mrs Pobaan’s birthday. I am sitting on a rock mentally spending my future royalties from the Pobaan Indicator when the birthday girl herself innocently enquires: ‘I wonder if they have a waterfall on this island?’
Now Ko Tau is very small. Viewed from a distance it looks more like a sleeping camel than a turtle so its name must derive from the chelonians which tour operators tell you are practically dead-cert viewing when you book a snorkelling trip with them. Either that or the place isn’t much bigger than a turtle. This latter possibility is given weight by the waterfall enquiries we make at a tour office which elicit the response from someone concealing a giggle that the place is barely big enough to have water, let alone space in which it could fall.
It’s all a terrible disappointment for one whose birthday it is and who is guaranteed to smile at the very mention of a waterfall. Getting into my inventive stride now I decide that such frustration could be so easily avoided by the erection of some kind of sign on the mainland, just by the ferry terminal perhaps. It wouldn’t even need to be electronic. Since the condition is permanent, the following words painted on a bit of plywood would do: ‘Warning, rain or shine, this island has no waterfall.’
From a grateful nation of waterfall lovers I would surely deserve another baht for that idea.