The Long Commute
After finishing my TESOL course at TEFL International I was anxious to get to work as an English teacher. My first job was in Bangkok, as were most of my other jobs while I remained an ESL teacher here in Thailand. Having heard all the moans & groans about apartment prices in Bangkok I thought I would be a smart cookie and head out to the suburbs for my pied a terre. I located an apartment in Nonthaburi for 3-thousand baht per month. It consisted of a large tiled room, with a bedstead holding one of those impossibly rigid Thai mattresses, the ones stuffed with sand, and a bathroom. The sink and mirror were located out on the balcony, where Greater Racket-tailed Drongos used to perch on the ledge to watch me shave. It even came with air conditioning – a massive, elderly unit that at one time must have graced the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, as it sent out a turbo-charged blast of arctic air that put ice on the walls within ten minutes of being turned on. When functioning, it produced a roar like an F-5 tornado. I only used it for ten minutes at night before going to bed. The apartment building was populated by a sprinkling of local factory workers and Thai college students, and an abundance of bar girls. The bar girls were crammed 6 to a room, all sleeping on the floor on rattan mats. I remember them as pretty good cooks when they’d wake up around noon. They’d giggle and whisper to each other whenever I walked by one of their open doors, and would invite me in for some curry & rice. Nothing loath, I often accepted – their food, that is. It was hard to believe these gals were bar girls – out of makeup and rested, they appeared to be about 15 years old, but once they got back into their nightly working attire I was reminded of a bad Halloween costume.
I initially gloated over my housing coup, thinking how much money I would save because I was willing to commute to work. That was before I discovered that the Bangkok Public Transportation System was designed by lunatics, built by sadists, and held together by betel nut and rubber bands. My first morning’s commute to my school started at 7am – that allowed me an hour and a half to arrive on time. On paper, it looked simple. Walk out to the mouth of my soi, wait for the Number 27 bus, get off on Silom Road, catch one of those truncated buses that used to be painted bright green, and gracefully descend outside the very doorsteps of my school.
I started out towards the mouth of the soi, only to be met by a pack of howling canines. Luckily, as the weather looked dicey, I was carrying an umbrella, so I scattered the mongrels with several deft swipes of my bumpershoot. (Nowadays I carry a bottle of water – dousing doubtful dogs as they approach always sends them flying.) I made a mental note to engage a motorcycle taxi to take me out to the main street from now on. I arrived at the mouth of my soi in time to see the Number 27 bus receding in the distance. No matter, I assured myself – another one would be along soon.
An hour later I was fuming as I uneasily rolled on the balls of my tired feet. I couldn’t be late for school, so I flagged down a taxi and wound up paying 150 baht to get to work on time.
The next morning I got a motorcycle taxi out to the main road in plenty of time for the bus. Piece of cake, really. I hopped on, paid my fare, and sat back smugly to enjoy the rich tapestry of life that presents itself to one gazing out the window while riding an unairconditioned bus in Bangkok. The only weevil in the rice was that we never reached Silom Road – we stopped at the Victory Monument – which, I was to find out, acts as a kind of maelstrom for all buses, mini vans, motorcycle taxis, and everything else on wheels that charges a fare. If you stay on any bus in Bangkok long enough you will eventually find it drawn to the Victory Monument – even if it was supposed to go to Chiang Mai! In a panic, I flagged down a taxi and made it to school on time by the skin of my teeth.
My bus map and my neighbors assured me it was the Number 27 bus I wanted to catch. So I tried it several more days, with the same result. I was learning that hard lesson of commuter life – trust no map or printed schedule, for they are fairy tales at best, devil-spawned traps for the unwary at worst.
I went to Plan B. This involved taking a taxi to the Municipal Boat Pier in Nonthaburi, taking the express boat down to the Taksin Bridge, and then getting on the skytrain for several stops, and then walking about a half mile to the school. This was more time-consuming and expensive, and I occasionally got soaked when filthy waves would overflow the delicate craft as it charged down the river, dodging rice barges and fishing trawlers. At the end of the month, toting up my commuter bill, I realized I could have gotten a swanky place in Bangkok, probably right next door to my school, for less than I was spending on commuting. Plus I could sleep past 5am.
I eventually did trade my homey Nonthaburi abode for something closer to work – at which time, as is according to Torkildson’s Law – my teaching contract was not renewed and I had to seek another school. Which I found rather quickly . . . out in Nonthaburi. But now I was locked into a one year lease on my apartment in Bangkok.
My advice to aspiring ESL teachers here in Thailand when it comes to accommodations?
BUY A TENT.