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Banging My Head



I fly back to Bangkok from Europe, suffering on Austrian Airlines, whose colour scheme assaults the senses with green, yellow and red, and the smallest and hardest seats I can ever remember in over 30 years of flying. Having ignored my request of months ago that I have a seat on the aisle, always a convenience on a long flight, they tell me I’m sitting by a window. I protest, so they give me an aisle seat “that has just opened up” by an emergency door. The seat is close to the toilets and doesn’t recline, so I sit upright all night. Thank you Austrian, for treating a Gold card frequent flyer with the same contempt you showed in not waiting for my connecting flight in Vienna the last time I sampled your service. Enough is enough, and sending someone to meet me off the plane and escort me through immigration when there was no queue anyway doesn’t match my view of their promise to “take care of me” this time.

But there is a saving grace. I have a companion in the window seat, a young lady who at first glance looks Japanese but, I soon discover, is Thai and from Chiang Rai (so, an easy mistake to make, even for an old Thai hand like me). Having a girl beside me is rare. I have noticed, on the hundreds of flights I have taken, that I almost always sit next to a man. Okay, there are undoubtedly more men flying than women, on business, but I have sat next to a woman less than a dozen times in over 20 years of flying regularly, often weekly, so I believe they arrange this deliberately at check-in. Anyone working for an airline that can confirm this?

She is returning home after six months in Copenhagen, where she has been an exchange student, and she is sniffling from a cold brought on by the fast-approaching Scandinavian winter. The air on the plane dries her out by morning, but I don’t think she notices, and a dish of hot noodles will soon get her sinuses flowing again I’m sure. The Asian version of sitting over a steaming bowl of lemon water, towel drapped over my head, that I sometimes went through as a kid when I had a cold. The Asian cure is better, because it smells good and you can eat it too.

She restores my faith in things Thai, because we have read many times on the Stick Chronicles at how lousy the Thai education system is, often ruled by anarchy and self-interest and incompetence. My personal experience is of a family member who taught English for a while but could not put a sentence together (and also did not know France is next to Germany, or which side of the US New York is located). But this girl speaks English, even has an English-language novel with her, so I ask her if she went to an international school. She says no, she just studied hard, and I’m impressed. On top of that, from an ordinary school in the small city of Chiang Rai, a town really, she has gained an education that has taken her overseas. She tells me it is easier to get a good education in a smaller place than the teeming anthill of Bangkok. My wife agrees, when I tell her what I’m writing. She comes from a small Isarn village, two hours from the nearest airport, but there are people there who have become doctors and engineers, and one girl now has even received a scholarship to study in the US.

My companion in seat 28A is studying how to put biological data into a computer, and I suddenly realise she is a scientist, which she confirms. I’ve never met a scientist before, as far as I know, yet she looks little more than a girl with no long white coat in sight. She claims her spoken English is less competent than her written English, because she doesn’t get much chance to speak English. But she’s absolutely okay. We part.

I have plans, days after sitting on a plane all night, to sit on a bus all night to visit the country estate. I have bought my wife a house and some land close to her village (it’s okay, it’s okay – we’ve been married since the last century, over 15 years. No one is going anywhere). Flying is, of course, a better option, despite the distance from Khon Kaen airport, but for the return fare for the two of us one person can fly to Paris on a current promotion, so I refuse to pay. Instead, we take the VIP bus. Strange term. VIPs do not, in my experience, take the bus.

And this is when I come down to earth again and am reminded I am in the third world. To buy a ticket in advance, my wife has to travel across Bangkok to Mor Chit, physically go there to buy the ticket. I’ve looked at the company’s website, which is totally out of date, with wrong fare information, and no way to buy on-line. This is a major company in Thailand, providing a public service, and yet they offer no service relating to the 21st century.

Next month, there is going to be a gathering at a temple close to our country retreat, where eventually
I will retire to and hope a satellite dish will keep me in touch with the outside world, with international tv and access to the Stick Chronicles. Money is being raised for the temple, and some 30 or 40 people are going to sleep over at the house. Partly because of that, but mostly for my benefit on my once-yearly visit there, we decided to buy an electric shower. Sloshing cold water over myself, and washing my hair with cold water, in winter, is not an experience I cherish. Call me soft if you like, but at my age I’ve earned soft. Buying the shower should have been easy, but TIT.

We go to Central at Bang Na, and find one we like. The young man explains a little bit about its merits, itself a little unusual here, perhaps everywhere these days, because the only training most people seem to receive on the products they sell is how to take the money (although I’ve found the staff at Siam Paragon to be a major exception to this rule). So we say we’ll buy it, and that’s where we hit the problem. It’s the last one. Okay, no problem for me. But they won’t sell it, because it’s the last one. So why is it on display? Thai smile. So what are you going to do with it if you won’t sell it? Thai blank look. We leave.

We go next door to Big C, find the same deal, and they graciously agree to sell it to us. We also see a fan we want, but it’s the last of that colour. Here we go again? But no. Big C want to sell it. Brain cells are in active mode. Everyone is happy, and we don’t even have to put it together. Ah, but then I see a digital camera I’m interested in. I’ve seen pictures from a friends camera which proves my 30-month old 3.2 megapixels doesn’t cut it anymore. I now want 8.1, and here’s the very thing. There’s no price on it, so we ask. Puzzled looks, two or three concerned faces. Someone is called over. She stares at it, seeking inspiration perhaps, but nothing comes. Brain cells back in inactive mode. I later find out they’ve lost a sale of 15,000 baht for no logical reason. They simply were not competent enough to sell it.

Soon, we have two trolleys of shopping, including the small already-constructed fan. We go to the taxi stand inside the Big C car park. There are seven taxis there. Now, there is something very odd about this place. Just about every taxi there, always, is old, clapped out, even dangerous looking. Why? There must be a reason for this, but we would never be able to discover why. Smoke and mirrors. We are offered the first in line, but the boot (trunk, for our American readers, but they know that already if they are world readers of the Stick Chronicles) is small with much of the space taken with a gas fuel tank. It is also filthy, and we have food with us. The entire back of the taxi looks like it has been battered with a hammer. We decline the offer of transportation, and everyone else refuses to take us. Seven taxis, going nowhere. My wife walks to the street, immediately finds a non-third world vehicle, brings it round to the car park and we go home, with the non-mafia driver helping us unpack everything from the taxi.

The next morning, I sit down to write this, and the lights go out.