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Running away from Home

Shoulder to shoulder with the hoi polloi

THAILAND | Sunday, 31 January 2010 | Views [274]

Today I took the bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao and I witnessed a game that people in Thailand like to play. I am not sure about the name of this game, but “Fill the Bus + 1” seems to be a good working title. We were shoulder to shoulder in that bus. Just when I thought that it was impossible to get anyone else in, the bus would stop and two more Thais would get on board.

Before we had departed from Chiang Mai a fellow sitting behind me asked to see my ticket. He seemed upset that I had paid the same amount as he had for a ride to Chiang Dao. There is a prevailing notion that ferang should have to pay more for everything because we have a lot more money, but today I am thinking the issue was that he knew how crowded the bus would be and wanted to know why I didn’t take a minivan. Whatever his issue was I ignored him. The woman sitting next to me seemed to be offended by my presence as well. She performed all sorts of contortions to keep from making any contact with me. I did my best not to crowd her, but the young woman standing next to my seat was content to rest her rump against my shoulder. I was once told that in Thailand, you never sat on anyone’s desk or table because that was putting the filthiest part of yourself where someone worked or ate: an extreme insult. I knew that she did not mean to insult me, but I was starting to wish that I had paid for the minivan.

Traveling by bus in Thailand has been an exercise in trust for me. I was headed to Chiang Dao, but there might be several stops in Chiang Dao other than the bus station. How did I know where to get off? When we approached the city limits, I started looking around expectantly. The bus stopped. I asked, “Chiang Dao?” and made motions to get off of the bus. The fellow sitting behind me who had been offended by my bus fare all of a sudden became protective. He motioned me to sit down and to wait. Two bus stops later, I was still on the bus and getting very anxious. Finally, when the bus stopped again, he pointed in the direction of the door. I got off the bus, said a quick “thank you”, and pulled my pack from the hold. I was in exactly the right spot.

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