Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My New Superpower: The Ability to Stop Moving Trains

Disclaimer: This story actually takes place a couple of weekends ago during the volunteers' site visits. I wanted to write it immediately, but haven't for a couple of reasons. One being PC likes to ensure we are worked to the bone during PST. Additionally, these types of entries, though I like to think of them as the meat (or meat substitute) of my blog, are difficult to write. I attempt to blow up one moment in time and make you feel like you were there. In turn, writing these takes considerable planning, writing, editing, and dominance over my OCD/perfectionism to get everything juuuuuuust right. I apologize that it's been a while since I've written one of these  kinds of entries, but I think it might be more understandable why now. Thanks, reader :)

Mid-day Sunday, Colin calls me and informs me that Nancy's co-teacher has extended quite the favor to us, in that she purchased train tickets for the three of us to return to Suphan Buri by way of Bangkok. Awesome. We play text tag for the rest of the day trying to nail down all the details.

It's Monday, and we get it all figured out- Train 44 should pull into Lang Suan at 21:52, at which point I will hop aboard, find seat seven, and we'll all be on our jolly way. They are in car five, towards the front of the train. I will obtain my ticket from them as I embark and show it to Common Ticket Dude to legitimize my passage. Simple stuff. I inform him I would be waiting at the station by 21:15 just to allow for any kind of surprise early arrivals.

Monday transpires and sure enough, after a delicious dinner of guai-tiao (two bowls, like a fatty) and a bunch of kanom, pii Oy, pii Nongyao, and nong Sai drive me to the train station around 21:00. No sweat. Super early, no chance of anything to go wrong. Pii Nongyao verifies the train schedule and we commence the wait. To pass time, I teach my new friends how to play "Animal" (only the best game (Tim and I) ever invented. If curious how to play, ask me or Tim how it's done. It will be a phenomenon that sweeps the world, as I've now taught people in America, Japan, Mexico, and Thailand how to play).

It's 21:40 and I hear a bell at the station. I ask my friends what the noise symbolizes and, predictably, a train should be arrive within the next ten minutes or so. Neat. Good job, Thailand, a train that will have arrived on time. After saying our goodbyes, the train arrives and I count five cars back, run (as much as someone in a walking boot and on crutches can) to the embarking area, and get on. I immediately notice it's a sleeper car. Ok, cool. Colin made mention that Nancy's co-teacher was unable to secure us third class, open air car (read: cheapest) tickets, and had to get second or first class, air-conditioned seats. Well, it's certainly air conditioned, but again, I didn't realize it was a sleeper. Whatevs. I begin to try to find them, but all I see are the equivalent of bunk beds and curtains pulled closed for privacy. I'm looking for Colin's shoes, baggage, or an open curtain, but I find nothing too inviting, beyond one bed not yet occupied, and seemingly near where one might assume seat/bed seven to be, between six and eight. I stop in front of it, only to see Authoritative Ticket Dude approaching.

Ahem. I ready my most coherent Thai to state that I don't currently have my train ticket, but that my friends are on the train already and that I just need to find them. I'm incredibly nervous about this for some reason. I'm not entirely sure why, because if I was in any other country, I think I would have felt sabaai sabaai about the whole situation, knowing it would work out just fine. I have noticed, however, that since being in Thailand and learning the language and culture, I feel like I am expected to utilize both skills and knowledge to succeed (be it projects, getting from point a to point b, etc.), and I become nervous. Regardless, I convey my message and ask him to hold on a few moments so that I may call Colin and figure out just what the hell is happening.

Ring ring. "Hey, dude. Where are you. I'm on the fifth car, it has beds. Which one is yours?"
"Beds? No, we don't have a bed car. We're towards the front of the train."
"Ok, so... Should I just start walkin...." Call ends.

"Erm, pop nung. Kho touwt krap."

Ring ring. "Ok, so Colin, should I start walking to the front of the train?"
"Um, I guess. But... it's a short train. We're sitting in the front. Well, wait. I don't think we've even reached Lang Suan yet."
"You're kidding. What was your last stop."
"I dunno, I had my headphones in."
"Well, ok... I'm going to get o..." Call ends again.

This happens five times. Every single time I get more nervous and embarrassed because by this point, I have woken people up with my frantic conversations with Colin, and privacy curtains are being withdrawn to see what dumb farang has failed so badly. Finally, on the fifth call, Colin and Nancy arrive at Lang Suan station. It's roughly 10:15 pm and I'm nearing another station. After having a quick ThEnglish conversation  Brilliant Ticket Dude clearly has an idea and runs off towards the front of the train and I'm left standing confused, with other confused/amused passengers. Finally Helpful Ticket Dude returns and I also notice the train slowing. We stop shortly thereafter, and he ushers me off the carriage. I wobble over some rocks, tracks, and uneven ground. Determined Ticket Dude begins talking with the station staff about my failure. He verifies the information of my actual train, which has indeed just now left Lang Suan. Train staff contact train 44 to inform them of my presence.

Kindhearted Ticket Dude tells me through broken English that the train I was on doesn't normally stop here. In addition, ticket 44 also doesn't normally stop here. However, since I failed, both will stop. Just for me. The farang. With a broken foot.

Thus begins one of the most awkward spans of fifteen minutes of my life. I am feeling just shy of mortified. I can't apologize and thank these kind men enough. I remember that pii Chan kindly gave each me, Nancy, and Colin some chocolate and peanut covered bananas as a gift. I pulled mine out and gave it to the staff, waiing deeply and appreciatively. While the gentleman's response was a bit underwhelming (as if I hadn't caused enough trouble), I didn't care. I began thinking of any other time in my life in which I felt so indebted to someone, much less a group of strangers. No one had to do anything. They could have kicked me off the train at the next station and said, "you're s.o.l." They could have charged me the money for taking this train one station, or more, and then left me to fend for myself to get to Bangkok another way. An entire host of possibilities were possible. But they did not transpire. Only the one most ideal, most good hearted did.

Only after thinking these very pleasant thoughts did I become hyper-aware of my surroundings. Having waited a number of minutes at a station my now old train typically does not stop at, I begin to see windows open and heads wriggle out to attempt to understand what exactly was happening. And what did these poor people see? A foreigner, broken and all, being tended to like he was part of Thailand's Royal family, all for screwing the pooch. Pretty obvious what's happening at this point. While this feeling of stupidity and the situation seem to last an eternity, I finally see train 44 barreling down the tracks and pull right alongside the other train (later, Colin would tell me that as they pulled in, he also saw innumerable heads poking out of the windows, which answered his question to Nancy of "I wonder if this is Jay's train?").

Once again, I am greeted by confused looks, as train 44 does not normally stop here. I am quickly gathered onto the train by the staff, such that everyone can get along with their merry lives once more. As I embark, I can hear my phone ringing, fully aware it's Colin calling, but assume it is bad form to pick it up, as seemingly every single train worker is helping me by taking my backpack, or my crutches, or offering me a hand. I ascend the stairs and peek into the car. I see Colin, on the phone, giving a half turn towards the back of the car to make sure I have successfully embarked. I don't know that I have ever been happier to see his mug. I am escorted to the real seat seven, put up my bag, and sit down, exhausted, but laughing.  "Ok, Colin and Nancy, this just happened..."

... and what happened to me after this entire debacle? I received well wishes and cakes. 


  1. This reminds me of a nightmare trip on the Portland bus system that I and my little brother, Dave, had over thirty years ago.
    Unfortunately for us, two country bumpkins completely baffled and intimidated by the big city, we did not find such helpful, friendly natives. The few times I asked for help in finding the right bus, I was met with terse, hostile words that did not help me at all since the problem was that I did not understand the most basic rules of the game that they kept assuming that I did, despite my continual pleas of ignorance. (I THOUGHT I knew how to manage when we first got on) Eventually, the fourth bus came to an area that I recognized, so we got off and walked the two-three miles home from there. I have never set foot on a bus again. Oh, America, why are you so mean?

    1. It's so fascinating that geography creates such different cultures. I can't wait to experience a culture based on compassion.