Patong Girl

Susanna Salonen on Patong Girl:

In 1997 I spent a season working as a diving instructor in Patong on the island of Phuket. At the time, Patong seemed loud and ugly. Bars everywhere. Fake Rolexes, Nikes and Gucci on every street corner. Was love fake there as well? Fake love with real women? Real love with fake women? Real men? … Who decides what is “real”, anyway?

Away from the resort areas like Phuket and Pattaya, there is a “normal” Thailand without tourists or bar-lined streets. This normal Thailand is surprisingly bourgeois – an old nation of culture, with its own writing, ornamentation, music, literature and a social structure handed down over the generations. “Normal Thailand” and “tourist Thailand” rarely encounter one another.

I returned to Phuket two years after the 2004 tsunami. On the 26th of December, people lit lanterns on Patong Beach which floated off into the night sky. The lanterns were meant to guide the souls of the dead to the other side. 99 Buddhist monks recited a lengthy prayer. After the ritual, everything went back to normal ? the music in the bars was as loud as ever. The loud and the ugly could not be beaten down, and in a strange way that comforted me. That tells us something about humanity: despite everything, we carry on. We build new bars, new diving centers, new restaurants and we turn the music back on…