by Kelsey Oke
I am sitting at a table made of bamboo at a café on the beach. Looking straight ahead, the deep aqua blue of the ocean rolls on by with the warm, salty 30-degree wind. I could feel that ocean on my skin if I took 15 steps forward. For now it is golden sand between my toes, fresh mango juice on ice and the shade of a dozen palm trees overhead. Flowers of purple and red, yellow and white frame this lunchtime view, the island of Koh Phangan in the near distance.
Between the confines of my peripherals there might be nine entirely different shades of green (I try to count) and six very distinct shades of blue. I can spy three different purples, eight golden-browns. As well as that piercing aqua marine already mentioned, a colour that requires a class of its very own.
I have come to the island of Koh Samui here in Thailand for the majority of the month of August. Just one week in, it is clearly a paradise. Over the past seven days, I have spent countless hours wandering these tropical beaches, side streets, fruit markets, jewellery venders, seaside restaurants, mountain top cafes and bars. I have played with elephants and eaten ice cream out of coconuts (a daily indulgence). I visited a Monk who lives in a cave, I swam in a waterfall, I took a selfie with Big Buddha, I have eaten the most mouth-watering meals since I lived in Italy (in fact it is a high contender for countries with the best cuisine).
While this one-way ticket to Samui was booked three months ago, the concept of this trip always left me a little blank whenever I caught myself trying to determine how I might feel about being here. There is someone living here who means a great deal to me, yet there is a life back in Australia that I have become quite fond of as well. I have come to eventually settle on not trying to bridge the two worlds, but to allow them to be independent from each other, beautiful and serene in their own ways. After all, if one’s biggest stress in life is how to correlate the very different, but equally magnificent adventures in their world, it begins to seem pretty silly to fret over. It is what it is, they are what they are: one life is exotic and passionate, another is beautiful and peaceful. It doesn’t even matter which is which.
But then I started wondering how I might, if I must, distinguish between these two different happy places. I’m not sure why, or even how, but the only sensible thing that came to mind did so on the back of the motorbike yesterday afternoon. Zooming through tropical forests of what seemed like 1000 different shades of palm tree, through the thick, aurous afternoon air, it all made sense: Thailand is green and gold, Australia is blue and silver.
Somehow that made perfect and satisfying sense to me! I felt incredibly accomplished (and relieved) having defined my feelings and determined such accurate representations of these two independent places which had previously left me feeling conflicted. Suddenly, I understand exactly how to classify them – and so simply! It was the greens in these tropical island forests, the collage of such grassy, leafy, luscious backdrops. The entire landscape is raw and budding, flourishing.
Having taken an interest in a mood ring I purchased not too long ago, I have recently become quite keen on uncovering the various meanings behind my constantly altering tiny trinket. I couldn’t have known how important that knowledge would unravel to me here. From what I have read (and choose to believe) about colour psychology, green has a great healing power. It suggests safety and endurance, and if those two things aren’t the most appropriate ways to describe my feelings while staying here in this company, I don’t know what else could. Green symbolizes growth, harmony, and fertility (maybe we’ll skip that one). In Heraldry, green indicates growth and hope. Thailand is definitely green.
It is also deeply rich in the golden heat of this world. An endowment settles over this land at the conclusion of each day when the warm sun tucks itself in, leaving behind its auric aftermath of yet another successful rotation. This colour makes me feel achievement, distinction, fortune. Thailand is a treasure trove of different kinds of wealth that many of us can’t know. It is glorifying and acclaimed, in every symbolic golden Buddhist figurine that lines the streets of this country. There is gold in each sunrise and in the deep, richly coloured sauces of each dinner dish. Even Chang beer cans have been strategically dressed as so in dark green & gold! There has been a certain glory in each day I have spent here and it has me certain that along with its deep green, Thailand is a precious gold.
Not necessarily in contrast but in its own divergence, Australia is serene, clean, clear and light. It holds the feeling of refreshment, purity and peace. I picture the natural nautical themes of my beach town and the harbour down the street from my house. Its cool tones, its stillness. The fresh ocean air sparkling, sterling, the crisp waters and the cloudless skies: blue and silver.
From a colour psychology viewpoint, silver signals a change of direction as it illuminates the way forward. It helps with the cleansing and releasing of mental, physical and emotional issues and blockages as it opens new doors and lights the way to the future. This is exactly why Australia is my silver; my path forward, my independent journey onwards from the various lives I have left around the world. Silver is related to the moon and the ebb and flow of the tides – it is fluid, emotional, sensitive and mysterious. It is soothing, calming and purifying.
More importantly, Australia is my blue, which symbolises trust, loyalty, confidence, and faith: things I never truly felt in any of my previous lives.
All of this has me thinking about those previous lives, about what colours I might deem every other country I’ve experienced, even if they were just brief travels. Instantly, I think of Paris: deep reds and majestic purples. Mystery, allure, a powerful and passionate lust coloured in those particular shades. Scotland has to be a rich orange, a rustic fascination in the rolling highlands and the malt whisky. I think of Las Vegas being technicoloured, of course, flashing strobe light colours of every rotating shade, chaos; an unsettling, wild array of hues.
And then I recall the places I’ve lived: for Italy I can’t move past bright green, white and red (in that order) simply because of how enduringly patriotic that country felt to live in; how iconic their pride in nationalism is. England is the hardest to colour-classify. It feels like a misty, merky blue; a colour hard to name, and perhaps that is because it was the least colourful time in my life. But there is still some comfort in those dim, predictable shades of grey.
Then, of course, there is my homeland: Canada, another tricky distinction. How do you sum up over two decades of living in one single country, the country you were born and raised in? The environment that originally influenced such unwavering wanderlust, that one single locale that I could ever truly label as home. Perhaps there is no colour for home. Maybe it can only ever be transparent; crystal clear, the undisguised and unconcealed realities of childhood friends and close relatives. Home is unambiguous, and unmistakable – yet it has no one distinct colour.
I’ll never get used to how lucky I am to be able to see this world in such magnificent technicolour; to get to feel the different tones and shades and tints of this planet. It is colour that brings life to this world: vividness, vitality, excitement, interest, richness, zest.
In the end, while it helped me to distinguish the exquisite differences, I guess my Colours of the World theory didn’t help me settle one way or the other over these two particular countries. I think most women know if they are a ‘silver girl’ or a ‘gold girl’ – just take a look at their fingers, their wrists and necklines. I have never ever been big on jewellery, but I have a few key pieces that never leave my skin. Perhaps those things might give me a clue: I have a pure gold chain necklace wrapped thrice around my left wrist, I never take that off. But now I also have silver elephants fastened, intertwined with it. The two are currently tangled together in a stubborn knot I can’t be bothered to unravel, or, perhaps I just think they look nice together.
All photos by Kelsey Oke