Escaping pleasure island

Mar 1, 2022  ·  4 min read

I’m writing this from a plane that has just taken off the island of Koh Samui, the place where I’ve spent the past 9 months of my life.

I was not planning on staying this long. Nobody really is, I suspect. People just get trapped in, and find themselves unable to escape.

Why? That’s a great question. I was recently watching a lecture by Jordan Peterson, and came across this notion of “pleasure island”, the place where Pinocchio gets drawn to and experiences real evil and chaos for the first time, after getting lured in by the bright lights, the theme parks and the promises of infinite fun.

I believe Samui is pleasure island. One instance, out of many, of the concept of pleasure island.

Islands are the place where time stops. This might be a consequence of the fact that islands are, well, isolated. The hustle and bustle of the real world can’t find a way to get here, and therefore you don’t really notice what’s going on outside. Global pandemic? Not a thing here. Protests? Unheard of. Anxiety for the threat of a global nuclear war? Can’t hear you from my hammock.

It’s easy to get used to this, because it’s so comfortable. Here, your list of daily worries don’t include spending hours commuting, or wondering if the current political unrest will lead to insecurity on the streets. The word that best describes what’s going on here is “chill”.

Chilling is great. Chilling is what you recommend to someone that’s overly stressed, and chilling is what you do when you’re on vacation. But you can’t just chill all the time. Humans can’t live on a perpetuous state of chill – or, I’d rather say, they can: but then they lose something intrinsically valuable and important on the way.

They lose the sense of adulthood, they lose responsibility and control over their own lives, and they become grown up kids. It’s interesting, because Peter Pan also lives on an island: the island where kids never grow up. Infinite fun comes at the price of personal growth. You trade the actuality and imperfection of reality for a never-ending carnival, and it’s not a fair exchange.

What I’ve noticed most is a generalized lack of ambition. It’s not that island enjoyers lack talent or potential, but the island life, with its seductive charm, has a way of lulling dreams into a perpetual siesta. I would argue that islands are essentially black holes for ambition.

This lack of ambition is something we’ve all personally felt during our time here. Maybe I haven’t noticed it as much as my other nomad friends, but all of us can tell there’s been a certain complacency creeping in. We got way too comfy for a good while.

We tried to stay away from the pleasure by imposing discipline, but it takes constant effort. We tried creating routines by hitting the gym every other day, consciously avoiding superficial distractions, and a deliberate focus on purposeful work. But it’s been an uphill battle. The island’s allure is strong, and it’s easy to slip back into a state of perpetual vacation.

Ironically, I think the island would be an ideal place to take a few months off and write a book. You just have to have a clear goal in mind and set strict deadlines. Here, you get isolated from all the noise, plus it’s relatively cheap to spend a few months here, so you can focus exclusively on getting the thing done without worrying too much about money or about what’s going on outside.

That would be the ideal play, I would say: spending a few months at a time, with a clear purpose in mind. Then coming back to the real world when you’re done. But coming here indefinitely? I’m not so sure about it.

There were roughly two kinds of people that I observed living around me in the hotels/apartments I’ve been staying and frequenting the places I’ve been going: plain tourists (who stay for days/weeks) and regulars (who stay for months / forever). Tourists are alright, but long stayers had all something in common: I think the kind of people that stay in islands like this come here to die. I mean it figuratively: they’re not necessarily old or terminally ill. They’re just people who have given up on life, they don’t want to compete in the real world anymore, and have chosen to spend their days in a place that’s removed from reality. They just want to play life in easy mode. Think about it: if you’ve never made any substantial money, it’s easy to impress locals with your current income; if you have been bullied your whole life, it’s easy to get a few tattoos and look cool and make friends on an island; if you’ve never had much success with dating, it’ll be probably easier for you around here. And I’m not excited about the idea of becoming one of those folks.

Anyway, this flight is just about 50 minutes long. You can’t get much done in flights this short, especially because flight attendants don’t appreciate you typing on your laptop during takeoff and landing. We’re about to land in Bangkok.

Back on solid ground, back to reality. I’m leaving pleasure island behind, but I’m carrying its lessons with me. I’ve learned the price of infinite fun, the dangers of complacency, and the importance of ambition. I’ve learned that while it’s important to relax and enjoy life, it’s equally important to grow and evolve.

So, here’s to a new chapter, a new adventure. Here’s to escaping Pleasure Island.

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