My Giant #GarbageArt Cat

My House has an Amazing #GarbageArt Cat Hanging on the Outside Wall

I have a giant #GarbageArt Cat on the side of my house here on Koh Lanta.  And I’m loving it.  The best thing is that at sunset, when the photocell kicks in, my Giant Cat lights up.  You can see its head from way down the road.  When you get closer the wall around my home hides the cat, so people are so confused.  Where did it go?

“I know I saw something lite up but now I can find it”, they say.  And I laugh.

“It’s a Koh Lanta mystery,” I tell them.

So many people describe this to me, probably as they know I love cats and figure I’ll know what it is.  Hahaha, I’ll never tell them.  If they come to my house for sure they’ll know, but why spoil the intrigue I say.

Picking up Beach Garbage

I started picking up the garbage on my daily beach walk about a year ago.  This time of year the winds change direction and they blow in from the Andaman Sea.  These monsoon winds are super strong and they bring tons of garbage with them.  If anyone doubts that there are massive islands of plastic in the Pacific, they should come here and see out beaches. What comes here with the tide is astounding.  Tons and tons of garbage pile up on our beaches every day until the winds change direction in the Fall.

Picking up garbage is back-breaking work so I got myself a grabber.  I still have to bend a bit, but this little gadget changed it all.  Sure I could pick up more garbage and cover a longer stretch of the beach, but it allowed me to be precise with what I picked up.  As in lighters.  I could poke my grabber under debris and find lighters, and more lighters.

I Got Inspired

About this time I’d seen some #garbageart by an expat who lived a few beaches down from on Koh Lanta.  He’d done a seahorse and a dolphin and put Christmas lights inside them.  They were hanging at a local beach bar.

Immediately, and I mean right that second when I saw the seahorse, I knew that I absolutely had to make a giant cat.  I found the artist and had him tell me about his process and how he figured it all out.  His answers weren’t rocket science or mysterious.  Not even close. He told me that it was trial and error, figuring it out he went along.  He advised me to use good double apoxy clear glue and remove the tops from the lighters.  That’s about it.  It was all I needed.

Fortunately, well for me, a group in the area called Trash Hero’s started to clean up the beaches.  They put out notifications on the local Facebook groups and try to get people to help, going to a different Koh Lanta beach each week. This meant that I could stop picking up the garbage on my walks and not feel that guilty that I was walking my it.  I could now focus solely on collecting the lighters.

I’d bring a bag to fill and set off each afternoon to fill the bag.  Every few days I’d go to a different beach, and sometimes to a different island.

Finding lighters on Koh Lanta Noi

The island joining Koh Lanta (called Koh Lanta Noi, as in small, and we are Koh Lanta Yai as it big), has a huge beach with nothing on it, no resorts, no bungalows, absolutely nothing.  It’s near a small army /navy base and some government buildings, all on sprawling pieces of land.  This beach is heaven with breathtaking views, and loaded with garbage.  Yippee.   I loved going there with my grabber to collect lighters, the only farang (foreigner) for miles.

There were often some Thais collecting bottles, glass or other debris on this beach, and they’d always come over to see what I was doing.  I figured they were worried I was moving in on their livelihood. When they saw I was collecting lighters, they’d laugh and chat with me.  Of course they were thrilled with my crappy Thai.  Soon I become one of them, the beach garbage pickers.

As the months went on we’d see each other a few times a week.  One time a nice man, with his wife, offered to share their lunch with me.  I was definitely tempted, but figured the spices they used in the fresh caught fish, grilling on their quickly made beach rock BBQ, would rip my stomach to shreds.  After politely declining,  I told them I was full from my own lunch, and too fat to eat another one.  Thais love when you joke about yourself, and doing it in Thai was a hit.  Or whatever they thought I said was a hit, as they roared with laughter.


I had 3 cleaning step stations going in my garden.  The first one for soaking the lighters to remove the dirt and grime.  I’d leave them in soapy water for a day and then drain the water and the guck from the lighters.

For the second step, I’d put them in another pail of water loaded with soap and bleach for another 24 hours.  After all, I’m going to be working with these lighters and who knows where they’ve been before I grabbed them up.

The third and final cleaning step involved pouring out the soapy bleach water, and washing the batch again in soapy water to remove the bleach reside, and rinse them really well.  Once all this was done, they were ready for the separation process.  Oh ya, another time consuming process.

Taking Apart the Dam Things

Once the lighters were cleared, I had to remove the tops.  I also decided to pull out the guts.  This is the long white thing inside every lighter.  I needed to use heavy duty pliers as the tops are fastened on tight.  Basically you grab the tops with the pliers and twist to crack them off the base.  Then you grab this little screw and rotate the lighter until it comes off.  If you’re lucky, you can turn the lighter over and the white thing falls out.  More often though, you have to bang it a few times on a hard surface, or get a poker to pry off another small screw that will release the white thing. Or give up.

My poor right hand was suffering.  It was sore and needed at least a day rest after taking apart a big batch of lighters.  I must have done this whole process on about 8,000 lighters the past year.  Insane for sure!

Building my Masterpiece

While I was collecting, washing and taking apart the lighters, I’d started to build my massive cat. I drew it out on a huge pieces of corrugated plastic that I taped together so the base would be big enough for my design.  Then I started to build my cat.  I glued lighters to the permitter and then built it up.  I’d work in sections as I was envisioning the shape.  I used a cat design I’d been drawing since I was a kid.  A cat sitting sideways, with its head turned and smiling, of course.  I wanted to have lighters in elevated mounds to shape the legs, the belly, the rear and the tail.  I figured it out as I went.

The build took about 4 months, and I worked on it at least an hour or two a day.  I had to be careful to let the glue from a lower layer dry before I glued on it.  This  meant I had to strategically figure out a few days at a time.  Some days I was stumped and other days I was on a roll.

I decided to use colour in sections which meant I had to make sure I had enough lighters in each colour.  This wasn’t easy.  I couldn’t go to the beach and ask for only blue or yellow lighters.  I had to figure it out as I went, often moving to another section of the giant cat until I’d collected, washed and taken apart enough lighters in a particular colour.

This wasn’t a problem.  The cat was so big that there were many sections I could work on at any point.  The sculpture was so big it took up the whole living room.  I worked on it inside to keep it safe from the rains and critters roaming at night here on the island.  I definitely didn’t want a frog hiding inside the tail or a gecko getting glued to a lighter.

Friends would come over and check out my progress.  Some even brought me lighters they’d collected.  Yes, I was having a blast!


Lighting It Up

When I got about 70% done, I asked this electrician I know (hahaha, my partner) to think about how to light it up.  I figured, if he was willing to do it, I’d leave it up to him.

At first he wanted nothing to do with it, but then he starting warming up to the idea.  He put together a super plan and got at it.  First he made a frame and then built the base for the lights.  He used good quality lights to make sure they would last a very long time.

The base was designed so it could be unscrewed from the top frame, for repairs and cleaning.  He had to get a bunch of his friends to help glue the cat to the frame and then lift it onto the base.  Great fun for everyone.

Hanging it on the Wall

It took 2 strong men to hoist the giant 6 foot cat up on the wall.  It is definitely super heavy, and has big brackets hooked onto big pegs screwed into the wall.  Fortunately we know a friend that welds, and he agreed to make the brackets.  No way we want the cat to fall down.

It looks amazing both during the day and at night.  I totally love it and will hate to part with it.  But that is the plan, once Covid-19 is behind us.

Future of the #GarbageArt Giant Cat

I know the giant cat won’t stay on my wall.  Originally I was going to donate it to Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW – the animal rescue charity here on Koh Lanta that I support) to hang at Time for Lime, the evening cooking school that supports LAW.  But since Covid-19 has closed down the cooking school and all the tourism on this island, I had to rethink my strategy.

After talking with the Founder of Lanta Animal Welfare, I decided I would try to find a corporate donor who would donate a substantial sum of money for the sculpture.  Since LAW is an American registered charity, an American company can use the donation receipt for tax purposes.  The giant cat will look amazing hanging in a night club, a restaurant, an office/factor entrance, or even in a playground, whether It be for adults or children.

The sculpture is made with quality products that will last decades.  The lighting and wiring was done by a professional electrician with an outstanding reputation for quality.  Wherever my giant cat ends up, the new owners have a gem, absolutely!

But until this pandemic is in our history, it will remain on my wall, lighting up every sunset.  If you drive by, check it out.

You may be inspired to do amazing creative things….

It’s all good!

4 thoughts on “My Giant #GarbageArt Cat

    1. Junie Kovacs is the Founder of Lanta Animal Welfare. Everyone should check out the Website, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. They do amazing work saving lives and reducing the suffering of the animals in southern Thailand. I’m so very proud to be a part of this organization.

  1. I’ve just stumbled upon The Happy Cat and loving the content. I am 63 years old and was checking out an article about how to start running after 60. I found you their Happy Cat.
    I’ve worked in Libraries since leaving school, and like yourself love books and volunteered in my children’s school libraries.
    The only genre I have covered past 15 yrs is Spirituality so thank you for introducing me to different authors and perking my interest in reading fiction again. Looking forward to reading some of your other articles.

    1. Hi Nahid – Thanks for your kind words. Follow me on Facebook as I always post when new articles are published. It is good to they other genres to keep it all interesting and so you don’t get into a rut. Thanks for sharing.

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