Rolf Potts on Tourist Snapshots


Potts explores the traveler's need for pictures @ Design Observer.

In the fall of 2001, while I was living in the south Thailand border town of Ranong, I had a brief love affair with an Australian woman named Eva. I first met her on the swimming-pool veranda of the aging hotel where I was renting a studio for $150 a month. Travelers would occasionally pass through Ranong to renew their Thai travel visas at the Burmese border, and Eva had just returned from a visa run with a British couple I’d met the day before. That night the four of us went out to drink whiskey and sing karaoke at a local nightclub. The following morning, the British couple headed north for Bangkok, and Eva moved her things into my room.

Eva was tall and slim, with sun-browned skin, sun-bleached hair, and a slightly clumsy gait. When she laughed, her smile bloomed back from the corners of her mouth, crinkling her nose and narrowing her eyes into quivering, blue-flecked slits. She was beginning the second half of a two-month holiday to Southeast Asia, and she’d spent the previous week on Koh Phangan, an island in the Gulf of Thailand known among backpackers for its full-moon-party scene. In Ranong, she and I lived our days like an affectionate middle-aged couple, silently reading books at poolside, or walking to the open-air market in the town center to buy ingredients for dinner. One evening we watched muay thai kickboxers at the local sports arena; another time I borrowed my landlady’s motorcycle and drove Eva to see the old tin mines that dotted the mountainous rainforest east of town.

After five days of this, Eva told me it was time for her to move on: She didn’t want to spend the rest of her holiday in a sleepy little border town, she said, and she had longstanding plans to explore the north of Thailand before she went home to Australia. I responded with a whimsical rundown of reasons to stay (We can take up spear fishing! You can learn to kickbox!), more for the chance to watch her nose-crinkling laugh than for the conviction that I could change her mind. That afternoon I drove her to the bus station on the motorcycle. I told I’d miss her, and she responded in kind. She didn’t invite me to come with her.

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