We had finally broken out Felonius, the kite. This sprawling phoenix burst into the calm, azure Phuket skies as we started off our first days on the beach. We were looking for respite and believed we had definitely found it, as the water stretched out before us in sparkling crystal waves and the sand stayed clear, as though thorough and expedient staff were combing it every ten to fifteen minutes while everyone took a smoothie break. It was a beautiful day, we had already slathered ourselves in SPF 1000, and middle-aged ladies in windbreakers jogged up to offer us fresh fruit.
In time, though, we noticed a strange facet about the makeup of Karon beach. It was packed full of white people, which was of course common in tourist-friendly Thailand. But they were all the same kind of white people: statuesque, blonde, tall in some alien way. They spoke perfect English, but would occasionally ask us native speakers for tips or specific words. They were teutonic and bronzed and all went to the gym every single day. We came to realize that we were on the Germans’ beach.
Germans on a beach typically don’t do anything weird, but it seemed like today was a special day. Young couples were frolicking about everywhere, looking perfectly sculpted and tanned, as though at any moment they would be cast as extras in a surfing movie.
One particular couple began to edge closer to our kite-flying zone. They were majestic-looking people–enormously tall, elegant, and incredibly blonde. They were unearthly unicorns of people, and it seemed like their beauty might probably offend the gods or be some sort of supernatural ruse to lure in the gullible so they might feast on their lifeblood. The spell they cast on others was only broken by the fact that they were taking a lot of photos of one another.
I mean a lot of photos of one another. She was posing in the surf on her knees, the water splashing about her in an artful spray, her skin dappled by the warm afternoon sun. Also, she was acting like maybe they were shooting a Pin Up calendar, as she began tossing her hair, playfully toying with her bikini, and throwing as many come-hither stares down the barrel of their camera as she could. At first this was entrancing, but it very rapidly became absurd once it was clear they had no intention of stopping.
When they stopped shooting her ten minutes later we thought the process over, but it was just to switch lenses and models. Suddenly he was in the surf as well ,throwing out his best beefcake, thrusting his bespeedoed junk towards the camera and flexing aggressively. Arms behind the head. Chest pump. Bicep flex. Blue Steel straight at the lens. When they later approached to ask if they might also pose with our kite, we had to acquiesce: they had provided us with nearly an hour of entertainment.
We laughed over our drinks and thought of what an odd occurrence it was, until we saw another sun-darkened pair flexing and primping in the sand. And then another. And then another. We could have developed a drinking game, as we saw seven different German couples taking risqué photography of one another across the beach. Was this the central European meme equivalent to planking? By mid-afternoon we had seen so many perfected breasts and pectorals, so many steely glances, so many apotheoses of human physique that we abandoned our attachment to humanity as a lifeform in general, having grown tired and bored now that we were inundated with the pinnacle.
Deciding that perhaps Karon beach was not for our comparatively pale, drooping torsos, we headed the next day to Kato beach. We quickly discovered that this, too, was designated as the hotspot for one specific tour group: the Russians.
While my childhood had only really exposed me to Cold War era stereotypes about the Russians and the red terror, the few that I had met in travel and life were perfectly normal people. Just other travelers, out to see the world. The ones that frequented this beach were not that.
Possibly the diametric opposite of the parade of human structural elegance on Karon, the Russians of this beach were exclusively hulking, angry creatures. Horrendous tattoos, gold chains, enormous pot-bellies hanging sadly over stuffed and too-small bathing suits. So much back sweat. They skulked and stalked the beach, throwing dirty looks at us with every pass, and tossing piles of garbage in their wake. They glowered at every Thai who approached them. At some point we tried to keep a mullet tally, but grew overwhelmed and simply gave up.
Was every beach in Phuket like this? Were there websites we simply had foregone checking that indicated where we should politely sunbathe among our own kind? We imagined a beach exclusively frequented by Chinese tourists, by South Africans, by Brazilians. There was probably a secret beach, maybe via some underwater cave, for the Thais. There were probably beds waiting for us somewhere, on the North American beach, with our complementary pizza.
We realized, with time, how even so far from home, it can be comforting to be amongst people you understand. People from your own culture. You travel, certainly, to see the world and to learn about those places unlike your home, but there are certain things people from the homeland just get that allows you to be at peace. You go to the beach where all the people are taking hilarious sexy pictures of one another because that’s the place you won’t feel awkward when you inevitably start your own photoshoot. If everyone else has a giant chest tattoo, you can wear yours with pride.
Show me to the Canadian beach, please. And make sure my beer has maple syrup in it.