Saturday, October 3, 2009

Horror in Paradise or From Hovel to Hospital

Are you ready for Thailand and the island of Ko Samui? This is not so much a hotel horror story as a classic example of Schadenfreude—taking pleasure or seeing humor in someone else’s misfortune. Yes, I’ll be the bad guy laughing and pointing near the tail of this tale.

Let’s start our story in a Munich living room-slash-jungle. It is filled with potted palm trees, each in its own stage of death, from greenhouse healthy to no-one-light-a-match-near-me dusty dead. I peer through fronds at my new love interest and say, “So, if you love palm trees, why can’t you keep them alive?” I lean my head toward the terrace, which looks like a cornfield in October. I’ve begun to call it the “palm tree cemetery.”

“Munich isn’t the right place for palm trees,” he says, making no apologies for not seeing the eerie irony of his jungle room.

“Would you have better luck with cacti?”

“If you really want to see palm trees, you need to go to Ko Samui,” he says. His excitement for palm trees is endearing and just plain stupid.

My partner, Horst—that’s not his real name of course, but I like the awful sound of “Horst” for this story—is a man of action. If Horst wants forty palm trees in his living room, he goes out and buys them; if Horst wants to fly to Ko Samui to show his new partner what real palm trees look like, Horst does it.

Before you can say kob kun mak krab, I am walking along the stunning beach of Chaweng with hundreds of other tourists. We’ve already checked into our hotel, and I’ve already had the initial shock of seeing what ten dollars a night will get you on Ko Samui: a spartan bungalow with twin beds with mattresses only a mite softer than the floor—and no TV.

“You’re such a snob,” Horst keeps saying.

“I like our hotel-cum-shack. I really do,” I insist. “I just thought we might see what was available for, say, eleven dollars a night. A minibar might be nice.”


“The palm trees are pretty.”


“Whatever,” I say, distracted by the menu of a beach restaurant. “Are you hungry? I can’t wait to eat a curry.”

He laughs—one of those savvier-than-thou laughs. “These restaurants are so overpriced. We can get the same food from one of the street vendors in town.”

“Do the street vendors offer Gewurztraminer with their meat on a stick? And cloth napkins? Look! There are orchids on the table!”


OK, OK. I admit it. I am a snob. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it probably a million more times: I am an adorable snob.

Horst starts to pull me away from the menu with its crispy soft shell crab on eggplant and kaffir lime leaves with sweet basil leaves in green curry paste and roasted duck in red curry stuffed with rambutans and lychees. I cling to hope, but Horst is very strong, so eventually he loosens my full-body hug on the menu and schleps me off to the back alley where we have dinner reservations in a gutter.

Moments later we are standing next to a grill cart. The meat-on-a-stick prophecy has come true. There are no rats or dogs playing in the street. Shouldn’t there be rats and dogs here? Where are they?

“Two, please,” says Horst. He’s beaming with pride when he turns to me and says, “We’re gonna eat dinner for the price of a candy bar.”

“I think I’ll take the candy bar,” I say and take a Snickers, which the man at the grill cart sells as well.

“You’re not gonna eat this?” He’s already chewing the meat off the stick. “You’re such a snob. I’ll eat both of them.”

“Thank God. Better you than me.”

We take another walk on the beach and then head to our bungalow complex because Horst suddenly needs to use the bathroom. When he comes out of the bathroom, he says he’s not feeling well. And then he starts throwing up...violently. I could say I feel sorry for him, but that would be an outright lie.

The paramedics come and take us both to the hospital. See, on Ko Samui, when tourists get food poisoning, you all go to the hospital—even the smart snobs who didn’t eat the rancid rat meat. They don’t believe in splitting groups up. So off we went.

An hour later, I’m getting comfortable in my plush hospital bed and checking out the selection of movies and international news stations on the TV. The hospital is a converted hotel, so there’s a swimming pool right outside our room. Poor Horst is sleeping or passed out or something like that when a nurse comes in with what looks like a family photo album.

“Order dinner now!” she shouts.

Horst stirs and pukes up a bit of stomach fluid.

She comes over to me and hands me the photo album, which turns out to be a selection of dinner menus.

“What’s this?” I ask.

“All restaurant on island,” she says. “You order, insurance pay.”

“I love you,” I say.

“Say again,” she says.

“I said I love you and I want to marry you,” I say. “And I’ll have the soft shell crab with basil.”

“My favorite,” she says.

“Horst? Horst? Horst, raise your little finger if you’re still alive. Would you like a green curry with—”

“Oh, no,” the nurse says. “Today he drink water. Tomorrow maybe scramble egg and toast. Better for tummy.”

Horst moans and says something about wanting to die, I think, but his voice is barely audible. And who could hear anything over the "Welcome to Thailand" jingle the nurse and I are singing at the top of our lungs?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.