Since it is usually best to start at the beginning, I should mention that, before we set out, we consult Dorothy about the details of our journey. She tells us that Ko Samui is 422km away from our modest residence at Khao Talo Towers, Pattaya. Dorothy is our satellite navigation device. Her role in life is to look upwards and receive gobbets of wisdom from the heavens concerning the distances between things down here on earth, so naturally I accept her advice without question.
Considering 422km to be so trifling a distance as to be virtually around the corner, we rise late, take a leisurely breakfast and confidently expect to be lounging under towering palm trees and pressing our feet into island sand as fine and white as caster sugar by not long after lunch time.
Our baggage stowed and our direction fixed, we set off. We speed north through Chonburi. Assisted by Dorothy’s feminine yet authoritative instructions, we cut through Bangkok’s confusing motorway sprawl like a knife through butter that has been allowed to soften at room temperature for perhaps a couple of hours. This is when I have that thought about the fridge.
Anyway, to get back to the plot, we go a bit further, probably even passing Petchaburi, and there we are surprised to find the odometer of our otherwise impeccably trustworthy automobile insisting that, since we have now travelled the prescribed 422km, we have effectively completed our journey.
We gaze expectantly from the windows. Palm fronds do not fringe the skyline. There are no sands hereabouts for our feet to imprint, nothing even as fine as granulated sugar. Worst of all, we can find no vistas of welcoming water, turquoise or otherwise. This lack of water is the most worrying feature since a copious supply of the wet stuff is surely a prerequisite of having any sort of island in the first place.
We abuse Dorothy verbally, then bang her against the dashboard, but she holds firm to her story. Basically, we’re there.
As a last resort, we activate her help function. The distance of 422km is, she explains dispassionately, as the crow flies.
The what? The crow? When we purchased our GPS device and Mrs Pobaan named it rather soppily after Dorothy, my daughter’s tortoise, we did not specify a model that dispensed advice to black birds that caw. I require distances as the Honda drives, not as crows may choose to flap. Crows must already have access to all kinds of travel information. Surely they’re on hailing terms with homing pigeons, for example, one of whom would be only too willing, as it glided by, to squawk a helpful map reference to a menacing-looking crow in exchange for not having its eyes pecked out. Crows don’t need Dorothy. We got our sat nav instrument because we thought it would deliver down-to-earth, human data that would help us get to the hotel we have booked at North Chaweng, Samui, sometime before next week. And by car, not by crow.
‘You should have said,’ Dorothy seems to respond, somewhat smugly. ‘By road it’s 850km.’
‘By road? Of course it’s by road. You have a clip and a sucker that’s designed to attach you to a car windscreen. Try licking that and getting it to adhere to a crow. It’s just not going to happen. You are an in-car device. Everything about you says “car”.’
‘I don’t lick and stick; I dispense the information for which I have been programmed.’ Dorothy is beginning to get boring.
After about ten hours of this kind of imaginary bickering, we finally reach Don Sak, which is where you catch the ferry to Ko Samui.
Speaking personally, this incident has taught me a lesson about technology that Mrs Pobaan has already learned: when seeking information from a machine, make your own estimate before you press the buttons and only accept an answer that’s within spitting distance of your guess.
‘Like my money,’ she says.
‘How much I can spend.’
Oh yes. Mrs Pobaan is referring to a calculation she had to make to work out how much spending money she has each day for the next few days. Here are the facts: she has 3,000 baht in her purse and it has to last three days. Clearly a calculator is required. She punches in the numbers.
‘What’s that, my sweetness?’
‘Eight baht. I have only eight baht to spend each day. How can I go to the salon for eight baht? It’s not even enough for noodle soup.’
‘You have 3,000 baht for three days?’
‘So each day, that’s...’
‘A thousand baht, but the calculator says eight.’
‘Do you think you might have pressed the wrong buttons?’
She calms down a tad: ‘It’s possible.’
‘This place doesn’t feel like 422km from Pattaya, does it?’
‘No. The songtaews charge 50 baht even for a short journey. Ten baht in Pattaya. It feels like abroad.’
‘We should have known that before listening to Dorothy.’
‘We should. Still, the sand is beautiful. It’s like that Chinese stuff they put in everything.’
‘You know, in Chinese food.’
I’m 850km beyond arguing. Our footprints work well enough. Two lines of them stretch off into the turquoise sea.