Chapter III from the book DESTINATION DESIRABLE
With the tour guide’s excellent advice, the three finally arrived safely at the port in Laem Chabang after a four-hour ride with a private coach. They stood in front of the Star Clipper. A vast white sailing yacht with a decoration in the spirit of maritime tradition.
“Wow, this is a sailing ship!” Danny stood there with an open mouth staring at the boat.
“Yeah, a Voilier traditional four mâts with 115 meters in length,” Nia looked at the sails; adventure was waiting for her eyes, “and 85 double cabins.”
“And a pool!” Lulu added with a smile on her face. She could not wait to lay at the pool, feeling her skin kissed by the sun a soft breeze.
Paula and Walt had just boarded the cruise, and Paula was already researching, surfing the internet. After she had stumbled about some nature project, she decided to stay in their cabin following her study on environmental and social issues in Asian regions. Not the idea Walt had how to spend the evening, but rather than starting a discussion, he decided to leave the cabin to get some fresh air on deck.
Danny was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, taking a critical look, then his mouth changed into a smile, and he did what he always found a bit of scary thing, talking out loud while being all by himself. But he told himself confidently, “You are getting there!” He then carried on unpacking his stuff. His cabin was quite spacious, the interior a mix between the comfort of maritime tradition and timeless luxury. He threw himself on the king-size bed and closed his eyes for a moment letting the past year review. Headlines that had run through the media appeared in front of him. When he opened his eyes again, he knew that he had made the right decision leaving it all behind. He was looking forward to the trip and his new fortune. He went to the bathroom to get ready for dinner.
Nia was so curious, and before she was unpacking, she wanted to see the whole ship. She got a quick introduction by the skipper who had welcomed her. They quickly discussed the project topics she would be writing. The skipper explained to her the winds for setting the ship at sail. She then moved on along the spacious teak wooden deck. She was breathing in the fresh air filled with sea salt, looking back at the city around the port. Nia passed by the open pool walking to the back of the ship.
Walt was standing at the railing, looking at the water and further beyond, trying to grasp the horizon when Nia joined him.
“Already inspecting the ship, Nia?” Walt asked.
“Yeah, it is fascinating. I had a welcome drink with our Skipper,” she smiled “well, I mean our Captain at the navigation bridge. He gave me a short introduction.” Nia could not bear a smile. “The guy looks more like a movie star than a skipper.” She laughed.
“Oh, well, you are single, aren’t you? So maybe that’s your holiday flirt?” Walt joked.
“Well, yes, if the guy wasn’t at least double my age.” Nia tweaked with one eye. ”Then for sure.”
“Oh, such a pity, but maybe you find one of the other 180 guests where one might be closer to your age range.” Walt laughed.
“Well, if I were looking for a flirt, I probably would find someone here, but this was not the purpose of the travel. I am not looking for a holiday fling.” Nia sighed, looking at the blue water, sky, and slowly sinking, setting sun.
“Oh, no holiday fling? How could I forget, for you, this is a business trip. You are actually at work here. A workplace where others make a holiday with fascinating views and stunning sunset. What a dream!” Walt was winding her up.
“Yeah, this scenery is priceless, and this ship. These sailings look so majestic, so vast. I have seen only this outdoor deck and my cabin, but the interior must also be impressive. I am excited about the restaurant tonight; it reaches over three floors.“ Nia looked forward to the dinner.
“I haven’t seen it yet, either. Paula immediately switched on her laptop, surfing the internet. She is already looking for the next project.” Walt explained.
“Ah, so for you guys, this is as well a business trip you are looking for new projects?” Nia asked.
“No, not really. I got an offer from the UN in London, and I want to settle in London. I have been around the world for the last ten years since I graduated. I had no job longer than two years in one country. So, I think for me it is time to settle somewhere. But Paula, I think she is more interested in moving on to a new project abroad. We wanted to make this trip to get clear about what we are going to.”
“Oh, wow! She is surfing the net for new projects, and you are watching the sunset on your own.” Nia summarised the relationship status.
“Mmmh, well, I am not watching the sunset alone, am I?” Walt smiled, looking at Nia. “Paula is the one who is missing out on this natural wonder, not me.”
Nia could understand that there comes a time when one wants to settle. She was also travelling a lot for her job, and she loved it, but she also knew the downside of travelling around the world. She knew that at some point, you wanted a place to belong.
“I understand, I also love travelling, but I also need some base, a place where I can go to feeling kind of home. For me, it also has the time come where I want to settle, and I am starting more thinking about getting a partner and family planning rather than some holiday fling or affairs.” Nia looked at the stunning sunset.
“So, when was your last relationship?” Walt asked.
“Well, the last guy I was with had an affair. It turned out that I was the affair. The guy was married. And, of course, he had no intention ever to change this. And I wasn’t just his only affair.” Nia swallowed.
“My kind of superpower, getting on the wrong guy. They are either married, cheat, turn out gay; there is always something.” Nia joked.
“Or are your double age?” Walt laughed. He laid his arm around Nia, hugging her. The two watched the sun slowly disappearing behind the ocean.
After unpacking, Lulu had taken a bath in her lushly appointed en-suite bathroom, which included features of marble surroundings as well as a dressing table. She was impressed by the interior of this beautiful spacious cabin: antiques, vintage Thai silks, Jim Thomson’s fabrics and a gorgeous reading nook.
She was now sinking into the lounge chair; her face was still covered with her fresh-up mask sheet and eye pads, looking like lemon wedges. The mask had to stay on for another fifteen minutes. In the background was playing some beautiful lounge music with Asian ambient sounds. At the side table, she had placed a glass filled with champagne. Lulu took a sip from the Dom Perignon, and she cheered to herself. Finally, she had made it happen to split from her husband and took the courage to start all over again. She took a second chance at her career and looked back at her past thirty years.
Her marriage had become a low-impact shimmy on a greyscale with vibrations of sadness, a monotonous everyday life filled with waiting for her hubby. Better said a waiting game for his phone call, when he would bring up some lame excuse why he could not make it. Lulu wasn´t sure about the time when they had been this happy picture-portrait family. These days had passed a long time ago. Since the kids had gone their ways, their daughter was at University, now at her finals, one more year, and she would start working as a lawyer, while her brother had stepped into his father’s career to become a movie director.
Lulu knew that her husband’s excuses were often long nights discussing new projects including spending the nights with new, aspiring, female talent half her age. Sometimes she did not know if this waiting game had just become a habit, a kind of addiction. Remembering when she had met her husband on the film set, the time she had been the young, promising talent. For her husband, the career had developed like an ageing vine, and he was still prominent in business, while for her, the profession had had an expiry day by having had her first child. In terms of technology and a change in the film industry, she now had the chance to come back with an offer to cast the main character in a new streaming show on Netflix. She had finally drawn a line under her marriage.
Lulu was standing at the majestic three-level Atrium Dining Room staircase, which featured single-sitting and open-seating dining. The open Atrium started at the Piano Lounge on the Main Deck with a spiral stairway hugging the Atrium’s perimeter, accessing retail shops, two decks of passenger cabins and, ultimately, ended at the centre of the Dining Room three decks below. An ivory-coloured piano positioned high above. Lulu had spied her table where Paula, Walt, Nia, and Danny were already seated. The group was sitting at a table together. The design inspired a festive atmosphere but without feeling intimidating. Lulu took one more deep breath to take in the whole ambience. Before she walked down the staircase, the ship’s surroundings were splendid, joining her group at the table. “Ah our beautiful Lulu,” Walt complemented Lulu while a Stewart was adjusting her chair.
“Oh, thank you, Walt.” Lulu smiled into the group, where everyone looked at their best after resting in their luxurious cabins and had taken the time to dress up for the welcome dinner.
“Thank you for giving me a seat at this star table.”
Placed at the table where the captain would later join and usually sit for dinner, including unique service. Almost no wish was unfilled. While reading the dinner card, their eyes lightened up with each line they read.
“Smoked Salmon and Caper Beery on Herbed Crisps, Eggplant Caviar topped with Salmon rose and Seafood Dim Sum with Plum” Danny read the Starters from the Dinner Card.
“Mmh, here we have wild sweet leaf salad from Isan with red ant eggs from Korat. Anyone who goes for the traditional Thai menu?” Nia was asking. Everyone at the table showed a quite irritated look with a smile on their faces.
“Ant eggs, seriously?” Paula was wondering, “What size do they have? They are going to beat the Caviar. I am just going to order it for the look of it.”
“You probably will need a zoom to identify the red ant eggs.” Danny was joking. “What size are they, and do they have these living ants here on board?”
“These ants are the most venomous insect in Thailand. They can be dangerous for kids as these ants have the ability, unlike other insects, to sting more than once, but usually, it just results in a trip to the school nurse. A sting from these might increase your temperature, and it swells, similar to a wasp sting, and it will cool down after a few days.” Paula gave her expertise on insects.
“And I do not think they have the living ants on board. These eggs are bought in bulks as they are a delicatessen here in Thailand.” She added.
“Well, I will go with the classic caviar, I guess.” Danny laughed.
“Me, too.” Lulu joined Danny’s choice. “I am not so experimental on food, to be honest.”
“Well, I order it, and you guys can have a taste if you like,” Paula suggested.
“Oh, that’s great!” However, Nia was not so convinced by the traditional Thai cuisine.
“Can I get your O-Tones for my article then? I can change your name if you like. But it would be great if I have authentic feedback about the whole cruise experience, including the Thai cuisine, of course.”
“That’s okay, you do not have to change my name.” Paula giggled. “I am happy to share my experiences with you.”
Of course, there was also a buffet, and apart from the menu, there were choices a la card.
“King River Prawns Tom Yum Soup modern style” Walt continued on the menu. “I wonder what modern style means?”
“Maybe the art they catch it, rather than how they prepare the dish”, Paula questioned. “This would be interesting how they treat these living creatures. I would feel much better knowing how they catch this seafood and if they are wild ocean living or if they are from such prawn farms filled with antibiotics.”
“Well, if you want to enjoy this dinner, you better don’t question these things.“ Lulu suggested. “Best you go for the vegan menu.”
“Yeah, you are right.” Paula laughed. “But the red aunt eggs are for the excitement when food becomes an adventure.”
They all cheered their glasses, ready for the feast.
“Yeah, I will go to the buffet, maybe having the chance of a plain simple burger.” He laughed.
The buffet exceeded anyone’s expectation from traditional Thai cuisine such as Thai steamed Red Curry with crab from Bang Taboon and seaweed from Andaman, organic Rice Berry rice, organic Jasmine Rice or Roasted Cherry Duck Breast with sweet tamarind sauce from Phetchabun to an international kitchen with spicy dishes like Chili Curry with Angus Beef Rib from Buriram. Yes, there was a simple dish like Burger with crisps as well. So no disappointment for Walt, and he returned triumphing to the table like he had hunted the beef himself.
“Oh, you are such a philistine!” Paula shouted, “We are on a Thai cruise with the most delicious traditional foods, and this is what you go for?”
“Yes, this is what I go for, some plain fare beef.” He grinned. “I feel like I am surviving on appetizers since we left London, some dim sum here, a crab pastry there. I need something sustainable once in a while.” He laughed. “I still have the whole week time to try each dish.”
They cheered their glasses again. “To a wonderful trip! How about we make a competition about the best Thai dish at the end of the week?” Paula suggested
“Oh, no. please, no competition here on board, I just want to enjoy and relax without any competition pressure or whatsoever.” Danny immediately intervened.
“Yeah, you are right. We are on holiday, for pleasure only.” Lulu agreed.
And at this moment, the captain joined the table.
“Only for pleasure and holiday.” The captain repeated.
“Well, these are some of my favourite words. I see I’m at the right time at the right table.” Looking around, Jules’s gaze suddenly stuck on Lulu’s eyes, and the two stared at each other. Lulu was starring in Jules’s eyes, eyes that were quite familiar to her and which she hadn’t seen since shortly after the Cannes festival almost thirty years ago.
“Lulu?” Jules swallowed. He usually knew all the guests’ names who were on board. As Lulu had registered with her common family name Heloise Richard which was still her husband’s family name Jules did not know that Heloise was Lulu.
“Yes, that’s me, Captain,” Lulu responded in a sharp tone of voice with a sweet smile.
The captain, Jules, was kind of perplexed for a short moment. This situation was nothing he had expected, and he was unsure how to continue the conversation to explain why the two knew each other. So far, he had avoided showing off his past reputation as a film star. His guests would mostly know him as a captain and sailor. He decided to continue with his regular introduction without explanation.
Meanwhile, the board program presented a performance of classical Thai dance followed by a cabaret — both allowing a short break for digestion. Finally, the dinner finished with dessert. A muskmelon parfait was with lavender ice cream served, a toddy palm cake and mango sticky rice.
The captain, Jules, told some little anecdotes about the cook, how they had met the first time and his passion for the sticky mango rice, which was not everyone’s favourite. He also explained the ship’s amnesties, the evening program, and the activities on board for the next day. In his charming voice and good looks, he had all the cruise guests’ attention the second he spoke. Lulu listened attentively, and she was still impressed by him. Jules looked stunning. He had been remarkably handsome in young years but even know the grey in his hair did not take a thing off him, it made him look even more attractive. He had aged like a good vine. Lulu had imagined any role Jules could have played, but she had never seen him as a cruise ship captain. But in his white dinner jacket just like thirty years ago at the Cannes Festival, the same feeling overcame her, like the day when she had first fallen in love with Jules when they were shooting for the “Celebrity” movie.