One of our suppliers has kindly provided an all expenses paid conference in Phuket, Thailand. I say conference, but with just one two hour ‘update’ in the whole week, it can hardly be called a ‘conference’, and they very generously encourage us to relax after a busy year. We are spoiled with cultural shows, boat rides, spa treatments and much more, interspersed with cocktail hours and sumptuous buffets. Even the breakfast is almost more than I can bear, though I try very hard. Day one I sample a good deal of what’s on offer but day two I realise I can get omelettes any time and revert to the delicious subtle curries and naan breads, while day three sees me with yum char. Dim sums, dumplings and finishing with Chinese tea. Yep. This is me and that’s my breakfast preference.
Yum Cha every morning!
We were pretty excited at an upgrade which gave us better rooms in a Villa complex with its own pool, bar facilities and each room looking over the pool had a fully stocked free mini bar. Umm excuse me did you say ‘FREE’ mini bar? Yes the girl enthused. It will be refilled each morning at no charge. At this point Gilbert was imagining chips and chocolates while I had visions of bottles of Jameson’s whiskey and absolut vodka. There had to be a catch to this so I asked, “was there also water and lemonade and coffee?” “Yes yes, said the girl, and a coffee machine so you can make you own coffee how you like it but also sachets for you”. Wow! It’s no brainer, we said looking around at each other laughing as we scrambled for the front desk to sign up.
Mini bar, but not as we know it…
We are shown to our room and it’s a lovely room overlooking the villa’s pool. I go straight to the mini bar. I could do with a drink right now! I look around check all the cupboards and there’s no chips or chocolates, no whiskey or vodka. In fact there’s only a fridge full of soft drink and heaps of water! Haha! How crazy is that! She wasn’t lying. Just our perception of what a mini bar contains. On top of the mini bar is a coffee machine and it’s a little ripper. The coffee is strong and rich and velvety and sits on my palate delighting me. I LOVE this coffee. I restrict myself to one each morning after breakfast. A sweet, short black. I balance this with a gorgeous Chinese teapot that I make a pot of green tea to sip on each morning before we go to breakfast. And actually we are at the pool side bar from 4pm with the others, so seriously, we do not need a mini bar.
One of several pools in the complex
The women are pretty excited about the shopping, with most not been to Asia before. It’s fun watching them as they take in the street sights, sounds and smells. They think they are being intrepid crossing the road around tuk tuks and Sherrie told me she found two handbags she loved, when her husband began bartering, much to her horror. She begged him to stop. Eyes wide, she told me it was embarrassing. I laughed and said it was completely OK and even expected. “I’ve heard of it, she said, but I couldn’t stand it, and had to move away. Oh it was horrible,” she said shaking her head and looking down.
Everything inside is serene and beautiful. A very different picture just outside our gate
Nikki on the other hand has been to Thailand five times and is a veteran. She has a calculation she uses to barter with and is lovely but assertive. They were here in just October she tells us as we make our way down to her favourite shoe shop. She stops uncertain for a second, gets her bearings again and continues, listing what she’s bought so far. Two pairs of Adidas for her and now she wants two for her Mum, little bags and handbags and several iPhone cases. She stops again as we are weaving through crowds of shoppers. She’s peering up at the shops overlapped signage with blinking lights thrown haphazardly over. She then looks at the man sitting at the edge of his wares. He is bored and looks up at her now she has stopped. “Please Madam you wish to buy?” He asks half heartedly.
“Are you the man I bought off before?” She asks peering closely at him. “Yeees, he says unsure himself, yes I am, please come and look again”. Nikkies eyes are squinted looking down the dingy interior for something familiar. “Did you take me to the back of the shop yesterday?” she asks. “Yes I did”, he assures her. He is now standing, smiling encouragingly and starts to walk down the shop beckoning her to follow. Nikki steps in a tad and looks around. “Please come” he nods. “I will take you out the back and up the stairs again”.
“Stairs?”Nikki repeats, “Stairs?” “Yes, he nods, I will show you shoes and handbags at the best prices. Please come” At this Nikki steps back and pulling her shoulders back she barely turns to us as she says, there were no stairs. Not this place, must be further down”, and continues her ‘dos and don’ts’ of shopping rules with barely a pause.
A little further on she spots it and smiling, she nods at the door keeper, the introducer, the man who hands us over to the seller and we are led down a dusty alleyway where someone steps from the darker space as our eyes adjust and asks if we want tailor made suits. “No thank you, we answer. We’re just here for shoes”. Up one step, through a door and we are in a brightly lit space of floor to ceiling adidas. Nikki quickly chooses three colours and tells him she will come back as these are for her Mother and she will ask what colours. “I have wifi”, he tells her and in the blink of an eye the decision is made. She tells him what she will pay for them and he nods in agreement and the shoes are purchased. “I will give you something, he smiles bowing his head, as you are my ollld customer”, and he reaches in and grabs a brand new pink plastic bag and gives it to her as if a gift, on hands outstretched. “Thank you”, Nikki responds with a lovely smile. “I will see you again,” he says as he turns to open the door, just as two more women step up to the door, eyes quickly taking in the multi colours and we step down as the door is closed behind us.
“There’s a lot of knock offs”, Nikki continues chatting as we walk away pausing at the entrance just long enough for her to point out the Phuket Travel sign and tells us “to make sure you come back to this one. These are the real deal. I’ve worn mine to death since October. I go power walking, tai chi, the gym and they are in perfect nick still! She looks back at Sheryl and I to reinforce this. I’ll take you where there are some dress shoes. Really cheap but no bartering in this shop. I’m crazy about shoes, she confides. My husband says we will have to add on another room for all my shoes, she almost squeals with laughter. I really have enough now, but I’ll show you.” Sheryl wants to buy some for dinner tonight. We are going to a cultural show and she only has jandals. “What about you?, Nikki asks me. Do you like shoes?” “Well, I have funny feet, I admit. I only have one place where I can buy shoes that fit and are comfortable, so not sure I’ll find any here”. “I’m sure you will, she says, they have heaps”, as she turns and steps into a big bright store with floor to ceiling glass.
We step up and it’s big alright. Sheryl is off. She is tiny. Possibly a dress size woman’s four to six. She is probably going to go to a tailor later as she has trouble finding clothes small enough. What a problem! She is slipping her perfectly beautiful little feet into exquisite heels and viewing the backs in the many mirrors. Nikki meanwhile is complaining about her feet still being puffy from the flight and is dismayed her feet puff over the straps of some. She is confident they will be okay once the swelling goes down. I wander up and down the rows and find the biggest pair of sandals I can find. The salesman is close behind me. “Do you have any bigger sizes?” I ask. He shakes his head and looks down at my feet. “They will fit, he assures me. Try them”. I drop them to the floor and my gigantic feet can’t even get under the straps to get in. I look up at him and laugh. He looks quickly at my face, shrugs his shoulders and moves to the next person. “Any good?”, Nikki asks as I catch her up. “Nah, nothing big enough here”, I answer fingering the wallets in every shade and hue. “Did you ask for a larger size?” she asks as she bends down to do up the straps on a different pair. “Yep. Apparently I’ve tried on the biggest size they have”. Looking down at my feet, Nikki is perplexed. “They don’t look that big, she says turning back to her own feet. Oh well, we can find another shop and ask.” Her and Sheryl take their purchases to the counter and are sad for me. “Hey, don’t worry about me, I laugh, I never normally go into shoe shops. I’m well used to it.” Off we head again but in this heat quickly decide to head back for a swim.
We are instructed not to finger these as they are destined for a Buddha