Ten-hour bus rides with the air conditioning set to full have seldom led me to desirable destinations. Even if the trip is worth it, I usually arrive sleepy and stiff from the cold.
My journey back to Thai Mueang, home of my volunteer experience in 2008, was no different. I spent a mellow few days in Bangkok relearning what little Thai I had absorbed last time, and then made my way to the Southern Bus Terminal to catch an express to Khok Kloi.
Unlike in many countries I’ve traveled, Thailand doesn’t have a singular bus company operating out of a certain region; multiple tour groups and transit companies set up nearly identical ticket booths, offering transportation to the same destinations at the same rates, leaving at practically the same time.
Mai pen rai. Such is Thailand.
So too is heavy rain, in which I found myself standing as the bus driver abandoned me and two Thai ladies by the side of a road in a town I couldn’t recognize. I thought there had been a mistake; I remembered the bus stop at Khok Kloi, and this was just a house under construction. However, after conferring with my fellow passengers, I confirmed this was indeed the correct destination.
To further prove this point, a Buddhist monk dressed in orange and holding an umbrella approached the house. An old woman appeared carrying a plastic bag of food and knelt as the monk offered the proper Pali blessing for her gift. If a 60+ monk dressed in robes could make his way across town in the rain, so could I.
I was completely soaked in five minutes, but there wasn’t exactly another option: all the motorcycle taxis were by the main bus stop, and the weight of my bags would have made it awkward to use one. Fortunately, now that I was well off the beaten path of Khao San and Patpong, I was dealing with much more amicable Thai people. One gentleman pulled up in his car and offered to take me to the bus stop, 4 km away. A nice gesture if I ever saw one.
After another bus ride and a short telephone call, I found myself in the company of other farang who had agreed to volunteer for the summer.
I don’t know why these feelings come up when I’m exposed to other lifestyles, but it seems as though every time I encounter expats younger than me, I question the choices that led me to this life. Two Scots, a couple traveling together before they went back home to look for work. A beautiful young American volunteering before joining her boyfriend in Paris (it seems I have a habit of meeting unavailable women who eventually end up with Frenchmen). All about 22 years old, with me being a distant 30, and our coordinator slowly approaching 50. I’m richer in experience than our young friends, but no more stable than when I was in their position volunteering at 26. If you’ve been following this blog regularly, I’m sure I sounds like a broken record, but I want to report on each revelation as they come.
Truth be told, I am one for the comforts of home: a warm cup of tea in the afternoon; a comfy bed; a couch to laze on and use the Internet until my eyes hurt. But never when I’ve had this kind of life did I feel I was growing as a person. Conversation shifts to the latest TV show or bit of celebrity gossip, and soon you start to just think in those terms. At least when I’m abroad, I’m not as saturated by media and free to explore my passions without having options shouted at me in the form of commercials and billboards.
I’m still at the crossroads I discussed when I turned 30, and if this trip has taught me anything, it’s that no matter where I end up, I should make it a place to surround myself with friends and family. As much as I enjoy writing this piece in the jungle outside Thai Mueang, I don’t think I could make a go at this life in a place this small and far away without someone truly special or a support system of friends.