Wednesday, January 19, 2011

If Paradise Installs Internet, is it still Paradise?


After a semester of prelims, proposals, and teaching anthro 102 I decided I needed to unplug and take a rest before I delved head first into my 18-month field research project.  So I dropped my suitcases off in Taipei, slept off the jetlag and hopped the next flight for Bangkok. Bangkok is fun, but not relaxing, so after one night there I took an overnight bus, waited for the tide to come in, took a 4 hour boat ride, and then a motorcycle taxi to this remote little resort (broadly defined) I had stayed at the year before. 

Last year was my first time on this island.  I was in awe over the white sand beach, the clear blue water of the bay, and the lack of all the technology that has become an extension of myself.  It was, I will admit, difficult for me to so thoroughly unplug.  I even packed my little computer despite having been told before hand that the resort had no Internet connection.  After the first few days, I didn’t miss my cell phone or computer at all.  No communication with the outside world meant that for the first time since I began school at the age of 4, I had nothing I had to do.

When I returned this year, about a week ago (I think, but I do not keep track of the days while I am here) I expected, and wanted, that same experience.  When I arrived everything looked more or less the same, except that there were more people here than before.  The prices had all been raised, we were told, because the owner was improving the bungalows.  When my boyfriend and I got to our bungalow we found a fresh coat of paint and a door on the bathroom (last year it had only been separated from the main room by a sarong hanging from the ceiling).  We dropped off our backpacks and leisurely made our way to the restaurant for a bite to eat.

The restaurant also looked the same. It is a raised platform with a roof and no walls – perfect view of the sea. The sound of the ocean and the call of the geckos crawling on the ceiling above us was obscured by the conversations of the new influx of people, but it was not unpleasant.  I could hear German (tourists), Burmese (the servers), Thai (the owners or managers), and at least 3 different dialects of English (North American, British, and Australian).  There was also something strange.  Though most of the tables were abuzz with conversation, there were a couple tables of people silently staring into computer screens. 

I was too tired from the trip here to ask anyone about the laptops that evening, but I did inquire so first thing the next morning. Sure enough, the owners had installed WiFi since my last visit. 

Now I know I could have left my computer in Taipei, but I didn’t.  I brought my computer because I bring it with me everywhere, and even though I was not expecting a connection here, I like to have my laptop here so that in case of emergency I can walk to town (3km away) and contact friends and family as needed. Besides, under the conditions I expected, even with my computer, I would have been cut off because laptop or not there was still no Internet easily accessible…

But now there is Internet here…

I came here to relax and unplug, but at this very moment I am staring out at the Andaman and blogging.

I avoided getting online for the first 2 days, but the conundrum of the Internet coming to my island paradise kept rolling around in my head until I just had to get it out. This isn’t stressing me out – exactly – but I do now feel compelled to check my email and Facebook page daily.  This is counterproductive.  The point of being here is to not feel compelled to do anything at all, and yet at the same time there is a comfort in being able to communicate with the outside world. 

I have not yet decided whether or not I like that there is now Internet here (as my Facebook friends have already seen).  Last year it took me a week to fully relax and take on the laid back island pace of life; perhaps I have just not yet reached that point.