Playing with Fire: How Creativity Makes Dreams Come True

Posted on Nov 6, 2012

“From the pain come the dream

From the dream come the vision

From the vision come the people

From the people come the power

From this power come the change”

– Peter Gabriel (Fourteen Black Paintings)


Playing with Fire, Seriously

Last Thursday afternoon, Ian and I arrived on Koh Samet in Thailand for the final week of our vacation. Strolling along the sidewalk linking three resorts here on Ao Phrao, the remote western bay of the island, I noticed a young man practicing a rhythmic dance with a simple apparatus: two ropes with weighted balls at both ends. I later discovered that every Friday and Saturday night there is a fire show here, and so that Friday night we went.

What I saw that night on the beach so impressed me that I went back the next night to videotape it. The four young men gave themselves completely, skillfully, joyfully, risking real injury for our pleasure, and asking nothing in return but the kindness of strangers. I was not sure the audience fully appreciated their commitment, particularly when it came time for reciprocal generosity.

The Men Behind the Fire

I wanted to know who these bright young men were and what inspired their creative contribution. So I asked the restaurant manager, Payab Iamjuy, and he arranged for me to meet them. Yesterday afternoon, I sat down with 26-year-old Ball Earn, a pool boy at the Ao Phrao resort. With help from “Jiji” (Jirapa Siripornsawan, Senior Assistant Front Office Manager) to translate English and Cambodian via Thai, I asked my questions and Ball told me a bit about their story.

The Birth of an Idea

The four young men are childhood friends, and they all came here from Phnom Penh, Cambodia in search of a better life. Each has his own job here between two affiliated resorts—Ao Phrao and Le Virman Cottages and Spa. Phan Gam is a gardener. Chuy Charoen is an engineer. Wath Puan works in Environment. And Ball Earn is a pool boy.

When I asked Ball how he had the idea to do the fire show, he told me had seen performances on Haad Saikaew beach on the eastern side of the island. He had taught himself the skill by watching those shows, viewing videos on YouTube and experimenting. He trained himself with the moves, and his three friends joined him later.

According to the resort’s Rooms Division Manager Saravoot Wannaprasert, a couple of years ago the hotel saw a need for more activities for its guests. While fire shows are commonplace on the Eastern side of the island, they had not come to Ao Phrao. Ball said he trained with the ropes and balls for a full year before he felt ready to add fire to his performance. At that point he showed me the scars on his hands, distinctive lines that seemed more like lash marks than burns. And he smiled.

“Why do you do it?” I asked him.

In the simple language required at such times this gentle, thoughtful and clearly serious young man said, “I love the adventure.” “The danger?” I asked. And we all laughed.

I tried to ask if there was a kind of meditation involved in the process, but the word was too complex. I tried again, asking about fear, or whether the job required a certain state of mind. I kept trying to phrase questions differently to understand how he feels during a show. But one word kept coming up again and again. The word was joy. “I am so happy when I play and everyone else is so happy. I enjoy the music and the people’s response. If the people enjoy it, I am happy.”

Transforming what is into what could be

I asked him if he practices every day, thinking he would talk about maintaining his skill. But his answer told me he has a longer-term vision in mind. He said he wants to work here about two more years and then go back to Phnom Phen, open a small restaurant, create a new team and do fire shows there.

Ball Earn came to Thailand 10 years ago at age 16. He has a wife here now, and family. He has found something to do that makes him happy. And he plans to use his self-expression to distinguish himself, to make a better life.

Wherever I go in the world, I meet young people trying to set themselves apart to make a better life. Wherever they go from here, these four young men have already set themselves apart with the dreams they dream and their commitment to them.

It is a simple but powerful story, repeated again and again. And it moves me every time. Passion finds opportunity, adds discipline and love, and transforms what is into what could be. Some would say these are stories of survival. I call them stories of human creativity. In small ways or big ways, these young people express the best of what it means to be human. And I love telling their stories.

I’m sure you have stories of your own to tell. Join me? Leave a comment.

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