Acting for tourism amongst the beautiful islands of Krabi, Thailand.

By Connor Newson

A few days ago I arrived at a small village in a remote part of Krabi province, to teach English to the local community. Admittedly this was partly because I was guaranteed free accommodation and food which would definitely help my withering budget, but also because if I was going to volunteer then I would be sure to do something worthwhile. Little did I know that I was about to become an actor for EverydayKrabi.com in their promotional tourism film, and for a group of university students majoring in Tourism Communications with their final film project.

At 5.30am Teo and I (the other volunteer) were awoken at our dorm room and coaxed into a car with bleary eyes. “We need to leave now so we can catch the sun rise” explained A’om, one of the students. Five minutes later we pulled up to the pier of Laem Sak with four other crew members – Punpun, Pueng, Pam, and Floke. We waited by the sea until another car arrived. Dissaya and Toto (of EverydayKrabi.com) climbed out and unloaded the equipment as a fisherman walked by and jumped on a boat to start its engine.

I climbed aboard and watched as a wooden table, two chairs, a picnic basket, and various film equipment was passed from one person on the pier to the other on the boat. We set off into the darkness of early morning, still barely awake and unable to see much around us as we chopped through the gentle swaying of the shallow waves. Minutes later our boat had driven up the bank of an isolated beach that was too small to be called an island, yet large enough for it to need a warning light for passing boats.

The sky had begun its spectacular transformation after we stepped onto land. Above our heads the midnight blue skies merged with a concoction of wispy orange clouds that sprouted from behind the silhouette islands in the distance. Within seconds they had turned a bright candyfloss colour as myself and Teo took our seats beside the conveniently placed table in the centre of the beach. The sun then finally breached the horizon with explosive luminosity. Suddenly the famous Krabi Islands were no longer blackened obstacles in the dark, but beautiful rocky, green canopies seemingly floating on the calm blue sea in their own magical isolation.

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I was distracted by the sound of something more unnatural than rippling waves running up the sand. It was the sound of a Phantom 4 drone that had been launched into the sky, cutting through the air with its four propellers and an underbelly camera directed towards us as we sat in front of the colourful backdrop. I looked at the table in front of me – which was furnished with a table cloth and local sticky rice with banana and coconut wrapped in banana leaf, and a coffee, all laid prettily for a picturesque shot. “Action”, someone from the distance shouted.

We ate whilst the drone circled overhead, with other cameras following on foot for close-up shots. Unlike other roles back in England, I felt no pressure this timeas I was too tired to care and too focused on the much needed coffee in my hands. However, my morning caffeine dose was soon cut short –┬áliterally.

“Do you mind if one of us replaces one of you?”, someone called after the cameraman called cut.

The crew explained that they instead thought it best for a female crew member to replace a male for this shot. I guess perpetuating the normality of using a heterosexual couple to sell a romantic breakfast at sunrise is better fitted for this particular scene. Nevertheless, I volunteered to stand out and observe for the rest of the scene.

After wrapping up we hopped back in the boat and sped to a nearby island. We pulled up to a tiny alcove where an unusually large ladder led to a cave inside. We climbed and explored as the cameras and crew followed, occasionally being directed to repeat certain actions. When Theo and I climbed back down, we spotted another crevice for which to squeeze through.

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Credit: Punpun

Inside a small stream ran by our feet as we crawled through the algae-covered ceiling that glowed from the shimmering water. Seconds later we emerged on the other side to a vast open marshland, looking almost untouched with towering rock faces and thriving greenery surrounding us. It looked like a location where The Beach could have been filmed at, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio, and it could easily be one considering their actual location isn’t too far from here.

After taking a couple of steps forward I found my ankles had been completely submerged in the mud. Attempting to move forward was messy. So we ran, trying to move quicker than gravity could take us, for that proved somewhat logical at the time. It was not. And just like that, we had been reborn as children, falling and throwing handfuls of mud at each other, playing in the marshy green paradise.

After a quick swim in the warm sea to rinse our caked selves, and a short journey by boat, we arrived at a private beach hidden inside the masses of floating islands. I relaxed in the sun as the crew figured out the most aesthetically pleasing angles to shoot. Shortly after I was sat on a picnic blanket with Dissaya, the girl from the sunrise scene, chatting away as various cameras filmed the scene.

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The lack of direction was relaxing, despite this meaning that I wasn’t really acting. Instead I was simply a tourist and I guess that is an accurate depiction for both tourism projects. The freedom in our movement limited the extent to which false representations of tourism could be made. After all, one of the most annoying things when travelling is to be sold something that is different to what you were originally told.

In need of Shelter: Medika, Zagreb’s independent creative community

By Connor Newson

Its been a little over a month since myself and Jean began hitchhiking from the West of France towards Eastern Europe. By now I have become pretty familiar with some kind of routine, or at least understanding certain objectives that need completing before the day is out. This usually includes finding a place to sleep: a field, a park, somebody’s sofa or van, a cave, practically anywhere that wouldn’t mean being moved on by police at 2am (which has happened twice already) is suitable. Think our standards seem low? Me too, but I find this is the best way to truly experience local life. However today I didn’t expect to stumble upon Medika, a former squat turned creative and cultural centre, which sheltered me if only temporarily from the fast approaching winter.

It doesn’t take long for the 20kg bag on my back to begin taking its toll as I walk towards the city centre. I take refuge in a pub and make a list of other objectives to pass time: “buy new gas canister, find gloves and scarf, buy tomato to cook with, FIND SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP”. After an hour the rain subsides, so I pack up my things. As I do so the barman asks where my hostel is. I explain to him I don’t have one. “Actually I’m looking to pitch my tent, do you know anywhere?”. He tells me this is going to be difficult in a big city, and this I know all too well from sleeping on the streets of Modena in Italy two weeks ago. “You should check out a squat called Medika, they might let you sleep there if you wash some dishes or something for them,” he adds.

With some brief directions to work with I thank the barman and set about completing my task. Daylight quickly fades and I become exposed to the captivating, however wet, atmosphere of Zagreb by night. I navigate through the bustling centre of town, watching as people pile in and out of the packed evening trams on the main square. As I pass by the National Theatre I spot a tiny patch of grass concealed underneath a small bush surrounded by busy roads. “Just enough space to squeeze my one-person tent if all else fails,” I think to myself. I carry on, determined to find this safe haven.

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Finally, as the rain picks up pace once again, I reach a complex of buildings hidden behind tall walls. Every inch is a plastered palimpsest of thought-provoking graffiti. This must be it. I enter through the darkness of a passage until I stand alone in the middle of what resembles a concrete courtyard surrounded by more elaborate street art. The rain continues to fall, and there is little sign of life besides two rooms illuminated by dim flickers of orange. A man then walks out into the shadows from a door, struggling to pull a hood over his head whilst simultaneously lighting a cigarette somewhat unsuccessfully.

“What is this place?” I call, hoping to spark some sort of conversation.

“Well”, he replies in a heavy Balkan accent walking towards me. “It’s everything.” An ambiguous response. He then gestures over to the flickering orange windows, “that’s our library on the ground floor. It has a Free Shop [where people take or leave items of clothes as they need], a small information desk, and occasionally workshops. Above is the gymnasium, and a few bars and a club space are dotted about.” They seem to have everything. I ask to check out the library thinking – or rather hoping – it’ll be warmer inside.

As I enter through a very used looking door I interrupt a group of four people who all turn to me eagerly from a table in the corner.

“Are you here for the workshop?” A guy with blonde hair, Stan, asks.

“Unfortunately not, I wondered if I can just sit in here?” I reply.

He graciously accepts, hearing the rain hammer down more heavily now. I see a sofa in the middles of the room and sit, drying off my sodden clothes by a small log-burner to my right. The embers gently throw a flickering warm glow onto the shelves of books that surround me. Lining the walls are posters of political resistance, anarchistic drawings and paintings, humanist and feminist slogans confessing solidarity in support for equality. Meanwhile a small French pug is gnawing on a bone as big as her little head underneath the Free Shop (which is essentially a coat rack full of clothes and a few bags of scarves and gloves). I quietly coax her over and she complies, bounding onto the seat next to me.

Now I sit content, listening to the relentless downpour on the window panes whilst Stan explains how clay can be purified to make medicines and toothpaste. I feel relieved not to be on the other side of that door, for instead of facing the bitter elements alone on the street I now face the warmth of a log fire with the company of a canine companion. Soon enough the workshop is finished and myself, PhD Chemistry student Stan, Art student Erica, Language student Isa, and my new French friend – who is now curled up on my legs – are sat around the burner, drinking ginger and rosehip tea to nurse our shared cold. I become eager to understand more about Medika and Stan seems more than happy to give me the low-down.

Apparently, the space was formerly an abandoned medicine factory (which explains its name) until about a decade ago when it became occupied illegally by a group of people who wanted to use it for their own desires – otherwise known as a squat. Judged as unwelcoming to begin with, the early days of Medika lacked government and public support which is not unusual when it comes to the opinions of squat communities. But time passed and creativity flourished, the space has since transcended as an independent creative social and cultural centre. With its potential now acknowledged at least in part, Medika has acquired a partial legal contract with the city which means they rely on donations from its own facilities – such as Stan’s workshop – and subsidies from exterior organisations to pay the bills.

Whether this is a genuine understanding of creative subcultures on the council’s behalf, or an effort to utilise Medika as a strategic tool to draw in tourism and subsequent capital is a different matter. Either way it seems to be surviving for now. However Zagreb’s reputation of becoming a Global City is continuously proving more fruitful, so the probability of such cultural communities becoming susceptible to over-commercialisation is undoubtedly high.

I begin to question the often negative stigmatisation of squat-like social centres across Europe. Such generalisations only serve to limit the effectiveness of similar creative spaces. Moreover, these communities are usually born from a genuine desire to construct a space that allows the free collective creation and consumption of creativity, which is becoming increasingly important as more and more public spaces become privatised.

As late evening approaches, I again become aware of the outside world and my imminent mission to set up a small tent underneath a small bush on a small patch of grass, surrounded by not-so-small roads. However, on hearing this, Stan instead invites me to crash on his sofa. My need for shelter has been graciously welcomed by a likeminded soul in the confines of a former medicine factory – a perfect turn of events in Zagreb, besides the illness of course. But we have more hot tea for that inconvenience.

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