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Blazing Saddles: Cycling with Steve

It was the mid-1990s and I was working as a senior vice president for one of the world’s largest communications groups based in Bangkok. I seemed to be forever jet-lagged from flying around Asia-Pacific to various meetings. I had high blood pressure, took sleeping pills to cope with work stress and jet-lag and had intractable sinusitis from the acrid air pollution of the city.

By Baz Daniel

Sunday 18 September 2022, 02:00PM

In short, I was not a happy bunny and one of the few pleasures that kept me sane was reading a column in Thailand’s Sunday Nation newspaper titled ‘The Rock’ by an American writer named Steve Rosse.

It was a column written about life in Phuket from the point of view of Steve, who had abandoned a career in film production in New York to ‘escape’ the rat race into a palm-fringed tropical island idyll. Well, that was the theory, but in fact Steve’s Phuketian reality, as told through his column, was far from the rose-tinted dream that the tourist marketing departments would have us believe.

Steve’s stories were quirky, often sad, even harrowing, but they radiated truth and were often very funny. Most importantly to me, they were set within the fabled tropical isle named Phuket, populated by a rogue’s gallery of keenly-observed misfits and liars, bar-girls and bimbos… all back-dropped by the most stunning vistas, infused with a sand-between-the-toes romance.

I would sit in the scorching, polluted Bangkok air on my Sundays dreaming of another life and of my own escape, and I can remember saying to myself, “I want a life in a tropical island idyll when I get out of this stressful nightmare. Someday… someday!”

Well, I did eventually manage to jump out of the grinding maw of big corporate life and in fact I came to live in Phuket in May 2006 to take on a dream-sounding semi-retirement job as the editor of Phuket Magazine published by John Everingham’s iconic Art Asia Press. 2006 was the tail-end of the halcyon days of printed glossy magazines, before the world exploded and “content”, as it became known, migrated totally into the dark Satanic realm of online media and audiences lost their ability to concentrate for longer than a nano-second!

It was great fun and what Art Asia Press lacked in financial acumen it made up for in creativity, enjoyment and hedonism. The job was a wonderful “calling card” through which I met the movers and shakers of Phuket and I soon met one of the island’s most successful entrepreneurs named Bart Duijkers, who’d been the General Manager of the world-famous The Boathouse on Kata Beach, involved in Andaman property development and later became the owner of the wonderful The 9th Floor restaurant secreted away on its eponymous floor of a rather gritty condo tower in the dark backstreets of Patong.

Time-wipe some 12 years later to November 2018 and I’m sitting down to a delicious music and art-themed supper at said 9th Floor restaurant, which Bart had asked me to help him arrange and then had kindly invited my partner Pattie and I to join. Opposite us at a long table full of local luminaries gearing up for a raucous evening, was a fellow I didn’t recognise. Bespectacled and a little intense perhaps, he seemed somewhat ill at ease.

“Hi, I’m Steve Rosse,” an American accent announced.

“Not THE Steve Rosse who wrote ‘The Rock’ column in the Nation?” I asked.

“Well, yes,” he said, looking both pleased and embarrassed ‒ and so, at last, I met the man who unknowingly had been so influential in my decision to live in Phuket.

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I had a trip to Khao Sok planned the following week for a Blazing Saddles article on cycling and river fishing in the National Park (ibid. The Phuket News - Jan 6, 2019) and Steve asked if he could join me. During our trip we became friends and I learned that he had returned to live in the States in 1997 and that his present trip was only his third time back in Phuket since then.

Steve confided, “Each time I found the experience of being back in Phuket overwhelming. The place has changed, I’ve changed. I did not feel what I expected to feel. The traffic, pollution, money-grabbing attitude all left me anxious, worried and sleepless. I’ve been kind of crushed, psychically, each time.”

Alarmingly, Steve also told me that he’d recently suffered a heart attack and had come back this time because he realised it might be his last chance to visit Phuket. He said he was travelling with nitroglycerin, in case he suffered another heart event… which he almost did when he couldn’t find it one night of our trip!

I’d brought an extra bike along for Steve in case he wanted to try a ride while we were in Khao Sok and one afternoon I took him out on a little spin along some back lanes following the course of the river between the massive, vaulting limestone cliffs. At one point he took his hands off the handle-bars and reaching heavenwards shouted, “I’m alive!”, which has to be one of the most enthusiastic responses I’ve ever received for taking someone on a bike ride!

On the way back to Phuket we stayed a night at the lovely beachside cottages in the National Park at Thai Mueang. Steve told me that he’d fallen in love with the quiet backwater of the Andaman coast and if he ever actually managed to retire to Thailand, he would make this area his home.

I took this with a pinch of salt, but in fact Steve did return to the Andaman to live last year and he now runs a successful YouTube channel titled ‘Postcards from Turtle Beach’ from up the Andaman coast.

Steve later told me, “I will always be in debt to you. I think that your offer to take me cycling in Khao Sok changed my life. No exaggeration.”

Proof indeed of the magic and serendipity which bicycles and words can weave.

“Bicycling” Baz Daniel has been penning his Blazing Saddles column, chronicling his cycling adven­tures in Phuket and beyond, since 2013.

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