The Four Plagues Of Thailand – The First Plague
The Plague of Uncomfortable Long Haul Conveyances
(Plague — an affliction or extremely troublesome or annoying person or thing.)
After spending my first week of holiday in Thailand with a friend from work it came time for him to go home, and myself to spend a couple of weeks up in the village of my lady. My friend was leaving on a Monday morning on Northworst Scarelines, with a 6 a.m. departure time. My lady and I, and our daughter and her sister, who had come down from the village where our house is for the week, were leaving for Surin that night after he left. We had planned to take the train, and grab a couple of sleeper berths for this trip up country. This is where the first plague of Thailand kicks in, The Plague of Uncomfortable Long Haul Conveyances.
As I said, we were supposed to take the train. My lady's sister called and told us all the trains were full, because it was another Buddhist holiday. How many holidays do they get here anyways? The plague strikes and the fun began. "Well, how else can we get home?" I ask my lady. "We can take the bus." she suggests to me. “Nah, I'd rather get a mini-van." I suggest back to her. “Okay.” she says and calls her sister, who calls our regular driver, a friend of hers. The curse of the plague continues, he's busy with another fare, and won't be back for two more days. Shit! It figures. How come nothing is ever simple in this country?
We can take the VIP bus my lass suggests now. VIP bus?
"What's that?" I ask her.
"It's a special bus, with big seats that recline all the way back; and has footrests, and a/c, and a bathroom on board, and only stops once on the way." she informs me, in so many words, mostly Thai. I get the gist of it though.
"Well, why didn't you say so before darling? That doesn't sound too bad." I tell her. "Can we get some seats on it?" I query.
Her sister calls the bus depot, and tells us, "Yes, no problem, plenty of seats available."
I find out it leaves at 9:00 p.m. "Let's go for it." I tell them.
I had never ridden long distance on a bus in Thailand before this, and never really wanted to really truth be told. "Ah, what the hell, it IS the VIP bus. I'll give it a whirl once, and check out this mode of transport." I think to myself.
The cost of the VIP bus to Surin is ridiculously inexpensive at like 230 baht each, less for our kid too. The overnight sleeper berth train is around 890 baht each, one way, and a one way plane ticket is about two or three thousand baht, each. Although, as an airline employee, I can fly from Bangkok to Burirum for 40 bucks USD, taking the whole family can get pretty expensive after a while, as they can't get the discounts yet. So the VIP bus it is, and another new experience in the “Land of Miles”. Sigh.
So we check out of our hotel, and grab a cab to the bus depot, arriving about a quarter to eight. We wander around the bus depot until we find the right line to buy our tickets. Sis goes to the teller and tries to buy our VIP bus passes. After a long animated conversation with the clerk, which makes me nervous for some reason, she comes back to where we are waiting, and with a nervous little giggle explains that there is no VIP bus to Surin tonight, as the bus broke down on the way to Bangkok, and no one seems to know when it will finally arrive. "But you just talked to them not an hour ago!" I exclaim. "They're just finding this out now?" I say, with a bit of exasperation, which I try to hide, though I'm not completely successful at it. "Now what?" I say to no one in particular. They all stand there watching me, looking at me as if to say, "You're the man. You're the falang. You have the dough. Up to you! Whatcha gonna do now big fella?"
I forlornly mutter that, "What the hell. We're here already. Let's just take the regular bus to Surin." I figure they take this same bus every time they come to meet me to and from Surin and Bangkok. So I guess I can do the same, once
anyway. My lady smiles at me. Probably happy I'm not acting like some spoiled, jerky, asshole falang in front of Sis and daughter.
We stroll over to the line for the un-VIP bus to Surin and buy our tickets for our passage to hell. My lady informs me that the bus is air conditioned, but has no hong nam (toilet).
"How often do they stop?" I ask her.
"Only once." she replies.
Once! It's at least 6 or seven hour drive! Oh my aching kidneys. I look around for the bathroom in the bus depot, so I can void as much bodily fluids as possible before this glorious start into the unknown. Damn.
After finding the bathroom in the bus depot, and lightening my bladder, which my lady and her sister and our daughter do also, being experienced travelers on these sort of busses themselves, we go to the area where the torture device on wheels is waiting. I glower at the miserable piece of metal and rubber, as though eyeing my worst enemy at our final, epic, battle to the death. "Freaking shit box," I think to my self. "What have I ever done in life to deserve this horrible fate?" Plenty probably, if you ask my ex-wife anyway. Screw her, and this damned bus too.
I try to put on a happy face. No sense being miserable. Yeah, right. I take our daughter to buy some refreshments for the trip. We find a place and purchase some cokes, and candies, and some weird stuff she picks to eat that I've never seen before. Looked like green cheese puffs. (I tried some later, at her insistence. It tasted like puffed cardboard I thought.) I eyeballed some Singha beers sitting in a tub of ice, but thought better of it, as the bus had no toilet. They looked inviting, and I was sorely tempted. Nah. I'll get some at the rest stop maybe later on, if they have any.
A little while later they called the boarding of the bus. Sis had already had the stewards load our luggage, so we got in line and boarded the bitch. As I got on I noticed I had to duck my head in the doorway. (I'm 5' 10" tall.) "Great," I think to myself, "a bus for friggin' midgets!" I began to follow my lady down the aisle. I deferred to her judgment and experience in choosing our seats. Now I notice the seats are about 18" wide, at most. Ah shit, and double shit! This ain't gonna be fun methinks.
We find some seats toward the back and settle in. I try putting my seat back. It moves all of three inches. Groan. The temperature is at least 90 degrees in the bus. I start to sweat, literally and figuratively. This is not going to be pleasant. A woman and her young son, about 5 years old, sit in the seats directly in front of me. As the kid sits down he gives me an icy glare. Nice kid. "Whatsa matter squirt?" I think, "Ya never seen a sweaty falang stuffed into a midget's seat before?" Up yours.
The bus finally gets under way. We fight our way through Bangkok traffic for almost an hour before getting out onto the highway. By that time the a/c had almost brought the temperature down to a chilly 80 degrees or so. My lady was cold, so she covered herself with her jacket. "Now. (cold)" she says, grinning at me and closing her eyes to catch some sleep. "Some day woman," I think to myself grumpily, "I'm gonna show your sweet ass what cold really is! Try a winter in Boston and we'll see if you think you're cold." I sit there and sweat. Cold? Sheesh!
I finally lean back and close my eyes myself after an hour of watching the scenery flit by. I need to get some sleep. I'd been partying hearty for a few days steady in Bangkok and still feel a little jet lagged. I conked out and dozed fitfully for a couple of hours, muttering obscenities about chromed monsters jabbing their sharp horns in my back while I sleep. Sleep cursing. My ex says I do it all the time. "Probably dreaming of you dear." I said back, when she informed me of this.
I wake up later and pass the time watching the country side slide past the rain spattered window. A couple of older teenaged girls had sat across the aisle from me earlier, and now I check out the cuter of the two while they're sleeping. Nice, very pretty. I wonder to myself what she does for work in Bangkok. She is dressed pretty well, very fashionable, and has a new style mobile phone, and a good watch and gold jewelry. She looks so young and innocent while sleeping. I can't fall back asleep, so I take out a book I brought along and read awhile. Finally we arrive at the rest stop.
The passengers disembark and hurriedly scurry to the toilets, called Hong Nam in Thai. I follow along and find sweet, blessed relief for my patient bladder. Drinking plenty of beer does give you lots of practice in bladder control. I wash my face and hands, and comb my sleep tousled air. The little wash room attendant notices me cracking my neck and back wearily and runs over and starts massaging my neck and shoulders. I sigh and let him minister to my tired, cramped, muscles for a couple of minutes before tipping him 20 Baht and Kup khun krupping (Thank you) him.
I grab a couple of smokes out front while my lady buys some drinks for us. Two cold Singhas for me. You can't smoke on the bus by the way. I smoke about a pack a day, and do get a bit peevish without a butt once an hour or so. Someday I'll quit. My dad just had a bout with cancer a couple of years ago. They took out half a lung and he decided it was time to quit. You'd think that would have made me see the light, but I still manage to rationalize it away for now. Hey. He smoked four packs a day for fifty years before it caught up to him. See what I mean?
I watch as people start climbing back into the bus, looking for all the world like they are being devoured by the red, mud splattered, metal monster. I keep expecting it to belch in contentment when full. Freaking chromed beast! I climb back down its gullet with my lady and daughter, and Sis. We slide our way down to the tail of the silver carnivore and I jam myself back into the miserly little cramped thing that passes for a seat. Well, only three more hours to go. I look at the floor of the aisle and wonder if anyone would think me crazed if I just stretched out there for a while? I open a beer and slug it down. Aaaahhhh! Damn, I hope the ride's not too bumpy later. I gulp down the second beer and drift back off again, mumbling about monsters, and broken VIP busses. Sweet dreams indeed!
Later on I awoke to the bus stopping again. I notice the driver get out and go to a small office. Five minutes later he climbs back in and off we go. I think to myself, "Hey, next time he pulls this stuff I'm gonna jump out and grab a quick smoke!" I drift back off with this happy thought, and probably snore like a water buffalo.
I wake up again as I feel the bus slow down and come to a stop again a while later. Remembering my plan to grab a smoke while the driver was gone, I got up, and my lady asks me sleepily where I was going.
"Just to grab a quick smoke, darling." I tell her.
"Be quick!" she says.
"No problem." I reply, while walking away.
I climbed off the bus and lit up. I noticed we were in Burirum. Not much farther now. All of a sudden I'm mobbed by ten cyclo-taxi pedi-cab (samlor they’re called) drivers trying to gain my fare. They all start jabbering away in Thai. I had
no idea what the hell they were saying. I noticed a small building at the end of the platform and asked a couple of the guys if there was a hong nam in there. They kept jabbering away and pointing across the road at a small store front with the
usual noodle stand out in front. As I puffed my smoke I kept saying, "No not food, not taxi, hong nam, hong nam." They started pointing to a field next to the depot. The beers had finally caught up, and I really could have used a urinal.
Screw pissing in a field in full view of all the people on the bus though.
Suddenly I hear my lady calling to me. I turn towards her voice and see the damned bus is backing out and starting to leave! Without me! Oh shit, piss, and corruption! I toss my butt and dash for the thing. I can see the driver's face glaring at me through the windshield. The frigging evil little prick's gonna leave without me!
I run in front of the bus and he reluctantly stops and opens the door. I jump on as he starts to accelerate forward. The driver snarls something in Thai at me. I growl back at him something about him being in possession of carnal knowledge of his mother, and head back to my seat.
I sit down rather roughly in the midget's lounge chair, and hear it screech in protest. My lady started on about how she thought I was going to be left there, and what a jerk the driver was, and how she was going to complain to management when we get to Surin, and what was I talking to those guys at the depot about?
"I was trying to find the hong nam." I told her.
She assures me that we'll be in Surin in about an hour. Praise the Lord!
For the last hour every time we hit the slightest bump in the road my chair creaked loudly in protest. I must have broken something where it attached to the floor when I flung myself into it earlier. After about twenty minutes of this creaking the little kid in the seat in front of me stands up in his chair and turns and glares at me. I grin at him, and shrug my shoulders with up turned hands. He's not amused by this stupid falang, and glowers at me until his mother pulls him back around. Creak, creak, creak. I do it on purpose a few times, just to show him if I wanted to I could really make his life miserable. Up yours squirt! You and your grumpy uncle driving the bus! My lass catches what I'm doing and nudges me in the ribs and gives me "the Look". Feeling like a school boy caught out I smile at her, and creak the seat a few more times. She wasn't amused. Friggin' bus.
We finally arrived in Surin. I had now survived the first plague of Thailand. The Plague of Uncomfortable Long Haul Conveyances. Just barely! I arrive with full bladder, the loathing of my fellow passengers, needing a smoke, and with the determination
to never ride in the un-VIP bus monster again! And I never will. I swear!
Where's the hong nam, dammit?
(To be continued.)
(The Central Scrutinizer)
More magic from Cent!