"Your wife. She is alive?"
They pause for an answer.
"We are so happy. She helped us to go to Similan Islands two years ago."
He now brings out photos of their new baby.
"When will she be back? We came to see her."
The story shifts: "It was a busy morning... I was running..."
It is a common conversation.
"I try to teach them to be valuable employees," Reid tells me as we devour Tommy's sandwiches.
"There used to be more," says Tommy, a resident of Khao Lak for over a year, as he serves us salami and tuna sandwiches.
"More buildings. More people," he speaks slowly, his eyes cast across the room, waving his hands with measure to illustrate the energy, the tangibility of moreness once out there. Maybe just outside this particular sandwich shop window.
In his English, I understand him to mean the bustle of people. The cackling energy of sanuk, "the wide-reaching philosophy of "fun", which, crass as it sounds, Thais do their best to inject into any situation, even work," says my Rough Guide.
While it was Khao Lak's busiest low season to date due to the economic boost of the volunteers, nowadays, you can have an entire strip of beach to yourself.
"What two things do you need to have before your customer goes home?"
The 17 or so students stare blankly at Reid Ridgway, the director of the Ecotourism Training Center, a non-profit that trains young adult Thais how to gain employment through PADI certified diving instruction, English, computer skills, and environmental stewardship.
"A photo of you and the customer. And their email address," Reid explains.
I never found them.
I know Phen is alive: "We saw her in the village yesterday." "Mama and Papa Season have a shop in village. Maybe she work there." And I assume that Mon is fine somewhere too as no one died at that resort.
Still I miss laughing with them.
I see Phen waving the scissors and Mon covering up her nose as we approach. My boyfriend’s self-deprecating remark about his big farung nose had led Mon to confess that her nose is too wide and too flat – a distinct characteristic of Eastern Thais – and she longs for a nose more like mine.
Phen pulls out a map and Mon shows us the East Thai hometown she and her husband left to join Seasons when it first opened this past April.
I’m never certain if the scissors are meant to graft one of our noses onto Mon’s but everyone scurries away from Phen regardless.
Watching the farce, the blond German man sipping his beer behind us chuckles. The old Italian couple that walks over each afternoon to the restaurant from their southern bungalows smiles in acknowledgment.
Part of the charm is that each of the guests – and visitors - has their own unique running joke. This becomes one of ours for the rest of our stay.
And the opportunity to make new jokes.
Plain miss them.
The bungalows were my first destination when I arrived in Thailand. I went looking all over the island of Koh Jum. Seasons was still under construction when I finally gave up on December 22.
"The important thing is you tried to find them." Reid words drift for a minute while I inhabit another world.
Reid's next story brings me back. He's the consummate storyteller. I don't need to take notes as the characters and scenes are vividly brought to life with dialogue and impersonations - replete with mannerisms, inflections, accents.
At Tommy's sandwich shop, Reid tells me he first learned to dive from Antonio in Mexico.
"I went back time after time to train with Antonio. Once I went back and he wasn't at his old dive shop. And they didn't even know of an Antonio," Reid says.
Luckily, he recalled Antonio's last name. He remembers it today. "Ah, si, senor. He's at the Chamber."
Reid had brought toys for Antonio's kids, which he estimated were now four and five years old. He brought the works: a computer game console and a garage-sale box worth of games and a Barbie collection. The way Reid related the story you could tell watching the kid's faces and how Antonio was the hero in their eyes was the highlight of his trip. Maybe any trip.
The evening before, Stuart from Australia, a volunteer since last January, points across the wide street with brand-new medians and streetlights to no one in particular.
I know that side of the street was barely damaged. Where we sit - well, yes, the water came to the ceiling. Monty's brother punched a hole through it to escape the rising waters.
T-shirt vendors, mini-marts, Internet cafes, and Monty, the tailor who'd just convinced his girlfriend to move to Khao Lak from Phuket, are now on the safe side.
"They didn't just lose their customer base. They lost friends, long term relationships. People come here year after year after year," Stuart, whose been here a "few" times before the tsunami himself, continues.
On my second day in Khao Lak, I walk into a cafe just as two women are exchanging tsunami stories. I know this immediately by the questions: "Where did you go? Where you injured?"
"I come here every year with my family," the woman tells me later. "I saw the wave in the distance but did not know what to think. If it was normal, or not. So I asked Nam, 'Have you ever seen this before?'"
"No, never." That was their signal to run. The German woman picked up her son. They haven't seen each other since - until this reunion. Nam, whose name means water, was whisked to Phang-nga Hospital.
All the while, Nam smiles benignly, even when she shows us her scars.
In Thai culture jai ren literally means 'cool heart' and it's a trait everyone tries to cultivate. And maintain at any length. An even countenance and calm unruffled exterior. Everyone knows that anger is the sign of an inferior soul.
I look up from this morning's tea as I write this. And I notice the Discovery Cafe's waitress t-shirt: "Smile... and the whole world smiles with you." Nearly hidden at the bottom, "Fart...and you stand alone."
"They believe the worst thing is to be alone," Tom says to me on New Year's Eve. We're hanging out at Mama and Papa Dang's bar with a huge sailfish hanging from the entrance. We're looking at the huge crowd of Mama and Papa's friends gathered to grill the freshly caught fish. (Papa Dang also runs fishing trips for tourists around Phi Phi.)
This is Tom's third trip in a year from the UK. He used to come more often swapping months as a tech writer between London and Phi Phi and the northeast village where his girlfriend Anna's family is from.
Anna was the breadwinner. And now he's taken over her role in providing for the family in an area where the farmer's rice cooperative brings in the equivalent of US $2.50.
"That's the ultimate unhappiness. To be alone," Tom continues. "They can't understand that someone may choose to travel alone."
At that moment, I falter. I'm not sure if it's a choice for Tom - or me.
That was a particular lonely New Year's. But the paradox is that traveling alone allows me the opportunity of meeting many more people. And for someone that always travelled to the new and novel (never ever repeat an experience), I find myself plotting how I will come back next year.
"You see them trying to create new friends. They ask you: 'When you come again?'" Stuart is saying.
"They put on a brave face." He looks once more across to the safe side.
"But it's hard."