The more I visit Thailand the more I learn and the less I seem to understand. Like everywhere else in the world, Thailand is changing and I can fully understand that, but it’s the parts that never seem to change that I find the most difficult to grasp. The students in Kranuan were apparently due to receive their certificates for graduation and they’d asked if I could return to the college for the ceremony. It’s funny, but I thought that I’d already attended their graduation ceremony last week! It had been a good week in Kranuan and admittedly I’d consumed a fair quantity of Leo Beer and Lao Kau, the local rice spirit, but I’d definitely attended some form of ceremony at the college and had the photographs and friendship bands to prove it. But what the hell, the writing is almost finished and I could change my return flight to London. A couple of days away would be fun, … and cheap.
Return air ticket £60, bus ticket £8,… no contest. Because I’m a long nosed and pale skinned ‘farang‘, people assume that I dwell in a barrel full of money and no matter how often I protest this assumption, the Thai’s just smile and say ’mai pen rai’, it doesn’t matter, of course I‘m loaded. They automatically assume that I’ll be flying to Khon Kaen and to save face, mine of theirs I’m not sure, I don’t bother to correct them and head out to the Mon Chit bus station in Bangkok. It’s five hours to Khon Kaen and I just hope that the air conditioning is working and hopefully this time, …. the engine too.
For anything other than decorative purposes, watches are seemingly useless in provincial Thailand, outside of Bangkok nobody seems to care about time. Working in the UK, we exchange time for money and time becomes a precious commodity that there is never enough of. We might be Christians, Muslims or Jews, but whatever our faith, or lack of faith, we seem to accept that this life might just be our only opportunity to get everything done. We’ve only got seventy plus years and so we rush around like crazy people trying to get everything done in the time that we‘ve been allocated. In Thailand, a heady mixture of Buddhist and Animist beliefs allows them to see this life as nothing more than a temporary thing. What you do in this life determines your standing in the next and where you are today is a direct result of the merit that you gained in your previous life. This means that in my previous life, I must have been a very good guy and my current status as a ‘farang’ is a just reward for my previous good deeds. Perhaps the fact that this is only one of many lives that they will inevitably lead makes them less paranoid about time and punctuality and as a westerner, that’s something that I don’t think I could ever get used too. I arrived in Khon Kaen late on Friday afternoon, but I was too late, the ceremony finished hours ago. Nobody had felt it important to tell me when the ceremony was due to take place and I hadn’t bothered to ask, I’d assumed it was on Saturday. ‘Mai pen rai’, it doesn‘t matter, …. but that doesn‘t stop me from wanting to scream.
No problem, I want to visit the shrine standing above the lake on the edge of Khon Kaen and take some photographs of the place. Great, it’s all arranged, Tassaneeya will drive me out there after I’ve found a decent cup of coffee,… my caffeine levels are running dangerously low. In the market, the heat beneath the corrugated tin roof is almost unbearable but the noodles are perfect, ‘a-roi mak’, very delicious. Apparently not, I’ve forgotten that this is Isaan and the language is different, I should say ’suay mak’. I’m confused, ‘suay’ means beautiful or unlucky, depending on how you say it, but here in Isaan it also means ’delicious’, …. no matter which way you say it. The sweet iced tea keeps arriving and I keep drinking but there’s still no sign of any coffee. People stop and talk with Tassaneeya, they’re interested in me but are scared to approach me directly, all except for the kid’s who don’t seem to mind who they approach. The time passes and the sun sets, we’ve missed the visit to the shrine but there’ll be another day. It’s frustrating, I still wear a watch complete with an accurate date function, my seventy years are vanishing fast, I’m well past the midway point and my tomorrows are diminishing at an increasingly alarming rate. The Thai’s don’t understand why we’re always in a hurry, I’m not sure that they even have a word for impatient, they just keep telling me to relax and take it easy. Anyway, Tassaneeya tells me that she’s wearing shorts, a fact that hadn’t gone unnoticed, and they’re not suitable for visiting temples or shrines .… ’mai pen rai’.
On Sunday, using my accurate watch so as not to be late, I repeat the hot process of returning to Bangkok. Thankfully, although it’s the middle of the dry season, it rained last night and the air is cool and clear. The locals are wearing jackets and scarves, it’s similar to the hottest day of a British summer but while I’m enjoying the sudden drop in temperature, they’re all catching chills. Bangkok is just as I’d left it on Friday, busy, loud, vulgar and fragrant. I should take a bus, but I don’t understand the system. BTS, which I suspect stands for ’Bangkok Transport System’ is known to most people simply as the Sky Train, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s built high above the main roads of Bangkok on the ugliest concrete pillars, but it works perfectly. Fifty meters above the insane density of life and traffic, the Sky Train whisks you along in air-conditioned comfort and the most expensive ticket is probably a lot less than £1,… it works perfectly. Apparently there is also an underground system in Bangkok but I’ve never used it, or if the truth be told, I’ve never even seen it. In Thailand, things seem to work better if they’re not buried, like the electricity and telephone cables,… so I’ll stick with the BTS. I check into the hostel for two nights, my flight back to London should be on Tuesday, but the booking is not confirmed yet ….. ’mai pen rai’.
Post Script: I'm back in Bangkok and apparently my air ticket is the lowest form of ticket available, no real surprise there then. I expected to pay a surcharge to change the return date but I hadn't expected to be charged for the full cost of a new ticket if I wanted to simply change the date of travel. Needless to say, ...... I remain here possibly until 25th March.