Sunday, March 18, 2012

You Never Know Who You Are Going to Meet

The TEFL class will be concluding in another two weeks leaving us to our own devices as to what we will be doing next.  Two sound like they want to consider other countries while four of us plan to stay a while.  I have learned to survive and get around, made some new friends and seen some old ones.  A challenge that I have mentioned before, transportation, came into my consciousness again these last few weeks.

The most typical and ubiquitous method of getting around town is by motorcycle.  Over last few weeks, as temperatures began to rise, more classmates got motorcycles.  Two of the guys who are best friends bought a pair of motorcycles and got a good price.  Within the first few days, they had adventures to tell.  One was getting pulled over for not having a helmet.  The police officer said they could go to the station and pay 400 baht or just pay him 100 baht and they could go.  These guys are quick witted, though.  They told the cop that they had just purchased the bikes and were on their way to buy helmets.  The cop shook his head and signalled them to go away.  We also heard tales of being chased by dogs and, of course, dealing with traffic.  Still, I take my songtaews or just walk.

Once I get a job, we agreed that we will definitely need a vehicle; most likely a pick-up truck as we have dreams of buying some land and growing food.  I am a product of the 60's so I haven't given up the dream.  I just put it off a bit too long.  In the meantime, I still have my adventures on the buses.

If you catch a bus in San Francisco or New York, you gradually get to recognize each bus stop, turn, stop light and other landmarks.  You might even begin to measure your progress by which bus stop you are at, smiling whenever you get to pass one.  Chiang Mai has no bus stops.

The songtauw are a combination of taxi and bus.  We could rent one, with driver, for the entire day, if we want.  A songtauw brought us here from our original hotel.  There is quite a network of songtauws in different colors.  The red ones are downtown and after that, it is anybody's guess.  The white ones seem to go to San Kampaeng, we saw yellow ones up in Mae Rim, but there don't seem to be signs saying which goes where and Nee says they don't even say so in Thai.  I guess you just have to grow up here.  If I had a motorcycle, I would probably see Chiang Mai in an entirely different light; one of a place trying to kill me.  The songtauws, though, give me a chance to meet the people who live here face-to-face.

The day I was student teaching the little ones, I dressed in a nice shirt and slacks, looking more professional than tourist.  An older lady got on, dressed in her work apron, worn hands and a face that has seen it all.  She looked at me and said, "bpai nai," where are you going?  I said gat luang, the main market.  She looked baffled.  She pointed at herself as to say, "I am going to gat luang.  Where the hell are you going?"  I have no idea what she thought I was or why I was there.

A couple of days later, a lady in her 30s got on, smiled at me and then settled into her seat.  She then started to talk and ask where I was going.  As she spoke some English, I told her I was getting my license to teach English.  She told me she was working up with the hill tribes to teach them Thai.  At that point I noticed her arms, legs and face were covered with insect bites.  She said she had come down from the hills to go to the hospital as she had an allergic reaction to the bites.  The bus stopped and she got off and then got back on, looking a bit flustered.  She said she doesn't know the town and didn't know if she was at the hospital yet.  The driver told her to get back on and we dropped her at her destination. 

One morning, three young monks got on.  Once again, "bpai nai," asked the one in front of me.  I told him I was going to school and he said he was, as well.  He showed me some papers he had with various complicated formulas on it.  He said he was going to take a midterm. 
"Is that calculus?" I asked.  He said it was just math.  I wished him luck and got off for my class.

Friday morning, I crossed the busy street in front of my apartment to catch a bus.  A well-dressed young lady came out of the building behind me and she also caught the bus.  She sat across from me quietly for a time and then just asked me where I was going in English.  I told her and she said she was in an English class just up the street from the apartments.  She started to ask me about what I was doing, so I told her I was on my way to teach a class.  She apparently wanted to talk more and I realized that I might have been able to gain my first tutoring student.  Unfortunately, before I got my brain working, my stop came up and I just said good-bye.  I have business cards saying I am an English teacher with my phone and I realized I probably should have given her one.  Thus I could see why I am much better at working for someone than running my own business.

Nee and I will probably move from this place in a few weeks to find something closer to my job I hope to get and to be a bit further out of the city.  We have talked of getting a car or motorcycle.  I said that as long as the school and home are near a songtauw route, I am happy to keep riding.

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