There are a lot of
confusing people in the world. Glaswegians
(hailing from Glasgow, in Scotland) are probably
near the top of that list. They possess the unique
ability to utter several sentences within a few
nanoseconds. The problem is that unless you grew
up on the same street as they did, you havenít the
faintest idea what theyíre talking about.
Cockneys, from London, even create confusion
deliberately, for no other reason than to elicit
the reaction ďWhat the heck are you talking
about?Ē from those not of their ilk around them.
They choose to invent clauses to describe the most
abstract of things. Apples and pears = stairs,
whistle and flute = suit, Alan Whickers =
knickers, Barnet fair = hair, butcherís hook =
look Ö and the list goes on.
Whatís the point? Iíll just never get it. They are
from the south of England, I suppose, so much of
what goes on in the nether regions of the country
is largely confusing to folk from the north. We
tend to leave them to it, mostly. Itís for the
There are people in Thailand who are perplexing,
too. Policemen at roundabouts probably claim the
top prize. They have an amazing knack of causing
complete chaos by waving cars through and stopping
others, seemingly at random and generally slowing
things down to a snailís pace crawl. What is
frustrating is that they make an appearance only
at peak traffic times, when they can cause maximum
Another source of confusion on the island is
katoeys. For readers that have just stepped off
the plane, a katoey is the Thai word for a
gentleman that rather thinks that heís of the
female persuasion, and would like the rest of the
world to think so, too. Some katoeys are stunning,
and thatís the confusing part Ė there are plenty
of them that even the most red-blooded males of
would describe as gorgeous. Scary.
Things are certainly not always what they seem.
Paul Hogan got it right, in that daft film from
the eighties, Crocodile Dundee. Having made the
mistake once of trying it on with one of these
ďgorgeousĒ blokes, through no fault of his own, he
took matters into his own hands next time he was
in doubt. He made sure in the most obvious way
possible, with a quick grab of the key area.
Once the womanís gender had been definitively
established, he winked knowingly at the hapless
lady. ďJust checking,Ē he said apologetically. Iím
certainly not advocating that method next time
youíre approached in Patong, as it may well not be
appreciated, but itís certainly worth a thought in
There are a couple of things that usually give the
game away. The first is the Adamís apple thatís
very hard to hide. The second is those furry
chins, a bit like your Great Aunt Daphne.
In the plant world, the closest thing weíve
probably got to a katoey plant is a member of the
ginger family Ė the costa speciosus variegatus.
Itís a ridiculously long and complicated name for
a plant that is otherwise known as the variegated
crepe ginger, or huang mai-naa in Thai.
The French got at least something right when they
assigned genders to everything. A palm tree is
masculine and a rose is feminine, but the
variegated crepe ginger hasnít chosen which side
of the fence itís on, and so itís all down to its
furry feel. It kind of needs a shave, but hasnít
quite decided whether it wants to or not.
Itís a curious plant. From a distance, it looks
much like any other plant with variegated leaves
(having more than one color). Up close, itís a
different story. Both sides of the soft,
10-centimeter-long leaves are covered in a layer
of fine fur.
The leaves of this tropical evergreen appear on
stems that are sometimes maroon-red, emerging
directly from the ground. Each leaf has a narrow
white strip along each edge with occasional light
streaks through the blade of the leaf. They kind
of spiral around the stem, forming arching clumps
that can form some fairly elaborate and bizarre
They can grow to over a couple of meters tall, and
the tallest stems can occasionally fall over and
collapse on the ground. This is another katoey
aspect of the plant. It pretty much does what it
wants, and does its best not to conform to the
usual rules of the plant world, and really doesnít
care what the rest of that world thinks.
Most members of the fauna side of the evolutionary
scale take the easy, predictable route and reach
skyward the most direct route possible. If thereís
more light in one direction, they turn that way in
order to follow it.
Not the variegated crepe ginger. Sometimes it will
form weird spiral shapes, almost as if it wants to
take its time getting there. Often it will change
direction as if purely on a whim. It has to be one
of the most non-conformist plants around.
Attractive, white, five-centimeter-diameter
flowers are produced when it feels like it,
appearing on the tips of branches. The leaves are
spectacular; the flowers are a bonus.
For the best results, this plant should get some
hours of direct sunlight daily, but not be out
there all day, baking. This plant has feelings,
after all. But if you put it in fertile, organic,
moist but well-drained soil, it will be
particularly content. It does enjoy its water.
All members of the crepe ginger family grow from
thick, fleshy roots Ė rhizomes, similar in
appearance to the ginger root that you would buy
at the local market. Most people take the easy way
out and buy them as a pre-potted plant, but even
if you start out with bare rhizomes, they are
still easy to grow.
Plant the rhizome two or three centimeters below
the surface in a sandy loam or clay soil that has
been improved by some of that coconut husk-based
compost you see in those white sacks at every
garden center. A single rhizome will produce new
shoots and increase to a fairly big clump quite
A plant with feelings? Not quite sure which
direction to turn? Fur on the oddest parts of its
anatomy? No wonder itís confused. Though Iíd bet
it would be an improvement to have it directing
traffic at Chalong Circle.