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  • Elizabeth Cochran

To give, just to give

To give just to give is a practice that comes from Buddhism. In Buddhism, the monks live in the temples and the alms that they receive are from the goodness of people's hearts. In the West, it seems we have been since removed from giving whole heartedly and forgotten the importance of giving to the community. I learned about the importance of community, the importance of giving, and of suffering from when I was living in Koh Phangan in the 2020 lockdown.

Koh Phangan aerial view

To give and give out of the goodness of your heart is true love, it is unconditional love. It is the loving kindness that helps builds communities, help shape the world, and appreciate the true beauty of the struggle of life.

Magical Koh Phangan

I was in Thailand during the four month militarized lockdown and I happened to be on a small remote island of Koh Phangan. This island is known for its spirituality due to it being discovered mostly by the mystics, hippies, and the more peaceful simple minded people back in the 60's. The island had always been around of course, but not until around the 1970's did people come to live here for business. Thai people were looking for business opportunities in the tourism sector and many were fleeing for work in Surat Thani area. There were talks of tourism opportunity in the island of Koh Samui. Businesses and tourism was growing rapidly there and many moved to Koh Samui for those same reasons. The family of Nira had moved for the same reason, however call it fate, but ended up sailing to the smaller island of Koh Phangan instead. This at the time was only a small island with no human life, only a remote island with monkeys, tigers elephants, and coconuts. This was around the 1980's when people began to come to Koh Phangan for business, Nira and her family were the first to come and they opened their café.

Nira's Bakery: the first business on the island

The island of Koh Phangan was prosperous with sea life and when people heard about it it became the fishermen's village. The family had opened family business and was the first business on this island.

Nira's Home Bakery

Thong Sala, Koh Phangan

74/10 Moo 1 ThongSala, Koh Phangan, Surat Thani 84280, Thailand

The first business in Koh Phangan- Nira's Bakery

The first businesses started in Thong Sala, the main port. Nira's bakery is a small café, bakery, and a place for the fishermen to relax and get a bite to eat from their voyage.

Some time had passed and tourists from far away lands (the hippie types) were drawn to this zen island. Monks came to live here in the jungle as well, they were seeking to live secluded in total peace with the nature. To this day Nira's bakery is still there, but with the lack of tourism Koh Phangan is in a shifting point.

Boats docked in Koh Phangan

From that time on Koh Phangan was a place for yogis, monks, and Zen masters, the hippies... the Full moon party emerged from this. It began with a small group of people dancing by the sea on the full moon. They would dance, sing, and flow with the full moon every month. The root of the full moon party was very peaceful. People would do fire dances, sing by the fire, dance, and set their rituals for the full moon. However, with time their was a shift and outside countries began to hear of this full moon party in Koh Phangan. What began to happen then was people from all around the world would come to this small island for the full moon, and then they would leave soon after. It became more and more touristy, filled with neon paint, and larger crowds. Then when more tourists came the beach bars emerged including the very first bar on Haad Rin in Koh Phangan, called drop in.

Drop in is where the first full moon party had happened. Some years had gone by and it pushed the yogis, hippies to the jungles, and the tourists stayed at Haad Rin. Most of this island is a national park, so it is inhabited due to preservation of wildlife. However, Haad Rin the biggest beach became inhabited with a tourism wave every full moon.

Within a few years, the full moon party was then known as one of the biggest parties in the world, as crowds of anywhere from 10,000-50,000 people would start to come only for the full moon. This was amazing news for the locals at the time due to the boom in business opportunity. What they didn't foresee happening, was the negative effect it would have on the island and the sea life there. Overtime the sea life would flee, and Koh Phangan became a struggle for the fisherman to fish, the corals began to vanish, and the beach would get polluted and ruin the water around the island. The locals would clean up the beach, but with the overcrowding of the full moon party too much trash would enter into the oceans.

The full moon had a big effect on the island's sea life as a once a prosperous island filled with sea life, monkeys, corals, pink dolphins, a place for sea turtle hatching... it all went away. The jungles still had a lot of life there, but you were not meant to go there as it was to be preserved. This island even was a place where the whale sharks would migrate, however it had caused the whale sharks to migrate more towards Koh Tao instead. Sea life then wanted to avoid the loudness of the parties, and then would gravitate more towards Koh Tao.

During the lockdown in 2020, Koh Phangan's sea life, nature, and overall life began to flourish again. This only happened because outside supplies or huge barges, huge crowds of tourists, and the pollution from the full moon party all stopped. The island began to have an abundance of fish once again. It flourished for the fisherman, it flourished for us stuck on this remote island as there was fish for us to eat. The fishermen would talk on the beach of the sea life they saw throughout their voyage. They began to see the pink dolphins again, schools of fish, whales, and corals growing once again. On one of the beaches there was even a large amount of sea turtle hatchings that I got to see.

The little turtles hatching & going to sea

I would see on the beach the life beginning again, and while the whole world was suffering I found a small amount of beauty that only nature could have brought me. It brought me peace to see that there was still life. I saw little crabs emerge from the sand and schools of fish in the sea. I had wished I had a raft often to explore more. An unforeseen obstacle that came about was the wild monkeys emerging. The wild monkeys were not friendly at all. For the first time ever, I was like wow I know nothing about how to survive in the wild. I learned to stab fish with a spear while snorkeling and be content with what I had. I was lucky to have experienced community from the monks, the fisherman, the other locals, and a bunch of Burmese people who helped me through; we all helped each other through. We gave to give, simply to give.

What do I mean by give?

I realized how happy giving can actually make you feel. I have always been a giver, but I never have experienced it like how I witnessed it in Koh Phangan. About the second month of lockdown it was becoming extremely hard for all of us on the island. We all were hopeful things were to return to normal, businesses would open again, and the supplies would come, but that didn't happen. It all stopped. I saw tourists from all over the world stranded. Some couldn't afford their rent anymore, and had no choice, but to camp on the beach or in the jungles. The outside supply was completely closed off. Thailand issued a province travel ban, so all outside supplies were not allowed. I felt panicked, because travel outside of the country was now impossible, as we couldn't even move from our exact location. It was militarized eventually and we had no choice, but to stay put. All of us.

Noted: Within month 2 or 3 the Thai military moved in and we soon had to shut down our food offerings to the community.

Something I saw was that people began to give, just to give. We all were suffering in some ways, but we gave anyways. I saw that the monks began to donate what they were given from alms offerings to the suffering. This included the undocumented tourists, immigrants, starving, and the hopeless. It didn't matter, if you needed you would receive. The monks had let people into the temples to live, and some took refuge in cheaper bungalows. The world began to feel less scary. The alms included mostly food as that was the biggest need at this time. It was extremely basic, but it included things from the farmers on the island such as fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, and rice. Of course we would not have to worry about running out of water, but it did cross my mind. The island has many coconut trees, banana trees, more fish, papaya trees, and a lot of agriculture. Since we were not allowed to gather, the huge Thai markets (farmers markets) were not allowed either. Luckily we learned to adapt, and the famers would sell on the street, so if you were driving by you could buy your fruits, coconuts, or whatever they were selling. I witnessed the community of this island in a way that is still hard to put into words... I learned a new meaning of giving, and I will never forget to give just to give, you will receive.

To give to just give that will build the community, that will change the world, and that will bring an abundance of joy.

Peace, love, and light.

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