“Yea, though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil, for my name is Richard. I was born in 1974” (1).
Having grown up in a post-war era, Richard was a kid obsessed with Vietnam War, watching films and listening to stories of the same. His adventurous streak combined with his need to escape reality made him an avid traveller and took him to places like Thailand. Apart from his constant urge to act out fantasies from the war, he held a low opinion of other tourists, considering them to pests that infested foreign countries. Seeking peace and seclusion, he joins hands with Etienne and Francoise to discover the ultimate backpacker paradise: the beach. Amidst the adrenaline rush of the journey, he loses the sense of reality and invites lethal danger—swimming across the Gulf of Thailand, coming into close proximity of armed farmers, jumping off a cliff, and, worst of all, disclosing the secret of the beach to his American friends—only to become a cause of its destruction. Richard, like the other residents of the beach, has escaped one civilization to enter another. In the process of maintaining secrecy from society and harmony within themselves, the residents of the beach become the cause of its demise. The tale is a perfect blend of adventure and drama that makes us realize that such fairy-tale beaches only exist in our minds. Picturesque, tranquil, and deceptive, the beach seems like Utopia on the surface. However, it was just another serene slice of land that awaited its destruction at the hands of humans. By the end of his journey, Richard realizes that a paradise is nothing more than a mirage, a masterpiece of the human brain.
Richard, in a lot of ways, was different than the omnipresent tourists in Thailand. He would not be fascinated about conventional tourist activities like sight-seeing, about Hollywood films being shown in every nook and corner of Khaosan Road in Bangkok, or about tourists plaguing foreign countries like Thailand and disrupting their culture. Nevertheless, all of them, travellers or tourists, were using travel to escape their banal lifestyles. Similarly, Thailand for Richard was a means to elude his western lifestyle; the beach was a means to elude the tourist-packed Thailand. He had quit normal civilization to enter a smaller, isolated civilization. Much like the outside world, the society at the beach had rules and a social construct. There was a quasi-leader; people were assigned daily tasks; emergency situations surfaced that required people to improvise; there was an abundance of emotions like friendship, desire, and enmity; residents lead an ordinary twentieth-century. Despite all that, the beach is worshipped as Eden—praised, popularized, and even mythologized. Globetrotters flocked to Thailand and endangered their lives in search of this seemingly picture-perfect world.
Daffy Duck, a former resident of the beach and founder of the beach community, was driven to insanity by the cancer of tourism and the idea that it could spread to places like the beach. When uninvited travellers knocked at the doors of this self-contained community, it disconcerted Daffy, so much so that he lost mental balance and had to forfeit the co-operative society. It was clear to him that “with these place, with all these places, [one] can’t protect them” (320). A similar scenario sprung up while Richard was living at the beach. “Sometimes it feels to me that I walked into the glade and lit the cigarette, and someone else came along and finished it” (59), said Richard soon after completing the first obstacle to the beach. Even before discovering the Eden that he was seeking, his personality had changed from friendly to selfish and arrogant. This was a strong indication of the nature of the humankind. After toiling so hard and clearing all of the five deadly obstacles and impressing the community with his agility and masculinity, he had established himself as an alpha member of the