Finally and reluctantly acknowledging me through a drawn face that quite clearly declared that, I seriously can not be arsed with any of your shit ever, the waitress at the beach restaurant welcomed me with an, at-best spiky,
‘What do you want?’
Understanding that at times like this, it is of fundamental importance to respond in an absolutely glowing fashion, in the hope that the air (and in this case the face) changes, I replied with great effort and a radiation of perfect sunshine.
‘Good morning. Would it be possible to request a lovely cup of coffee? That would be fantastic.’
‘Make it yourself.’ She turned and walked off.
Now, I understand that in foreign lands things can get lost in translation, but as the only guest sitting in the restaurant, as eight or nine staff slump in restaurant chairs playing Candy Crush, I giggle to myself rather than bemoan the situation. This is certainly an experience.
I find my own way to a coffee machine and make my own coffee. Taking a menu to the till, I request an egg sandwich. A Miss Truchbull-style Thai-brut-of-a-woman makes no eye contact with me and commences a violent verbal scolding of one of her subvert-lings before it’s related to me that, sandwiches are not possible at this time, and I settle, strangely, for egg on toast. A baffling regime.
My friend, Hazel had a similar experience earlier the same morning. Dried from an over-night fan in a thirty-degree room at the same resort, where no water had been provided in our room, she had wandered to the bar at 06:57 to request water. She was told by the bar staff that nothing was available until 07:00 and she was made to wait for three minutes before being granted a service of water.
As Hazel, Collette and I joined in the restaurant some time after my none-egg-sandwich egg sandwich arrived, we felt inclined to properly discuss the service levels we were getting. We exchanged stories. How the one that looked like an ill Buzz Lightyear had gotten very demand-y about the bill yesterday, ‘Nooo, you pay now!’ How the gardeners seemed to have a gang-mentality and just hit things with rakes. How very miserable everyone seemed and how if you had come here on your honeymoon you would definitely consider that your new marriage was doomed from the on-set. Beautiful setting. Terrible vibe.
In Bangkok we had received the most incredible warm welcome and unsurpassed hospitality. Our experience here in Koh Kood all seemed very out of keeping with what we understood of the Thai hospitality culture. Hazel was so affected by the negative air that we collectively decided to leave the island right there and then for more positive climbs. Attempting to lighten our predicament we coined the phrase, ‘Koh Kood do better.’ The concept of customer service seemed monumentally lost here.
Collette took the initiative to check some recent guest reviews from a source we’d not previously seen and she uncovered something interesting and incredibly upsetting. A resident of Thailand had written a review on Trip Advisor to say that the staff at this place were Cambodian, paid peanuts and working incredibly long hours without breaks or holidays. Basically slaves. Escaping poverty in Cambodia, seeking opportunity in Thailand and being exploited. A Thai proverb translates to, escaping the tiger then meeting the crocodile. How very soul-destroying for the victims of this abuse.
It appears that this kind of abuse is a real problem in Thailand. Read this article by Human Rights Watch, that exposes in Thailand, ‘evidence of widespread violations of the rights of migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.’ Our three-minute-wait, egg-sandwich, garden-rake stories were now exposed as petty and insignificant. The waitress literally could not be arsed with any of my shit ever! And understandably so. I imagine her suffering a life of abuse that she can’t escape. Her interest in my breakfast is understandably limited.
As we travel, we can’t save the world and all of its problems. But we can bear witness to some. And there are lessons. This for me is one of the saddest experiences of a human plight. Watching people who have their freedom all day from a jail-cell. One lesson, amongst many for me, is to offer empathy first before passing judgment of any situation.