Hello all. I know I’ve been very quiet on here lately, and I have tons to catch you all up on, but right now I’m going to work a bit backwards and talk about the past couple days before I tell you about the past few weeks…
After an amazing, last-minute, “last hurrah” type of vacation in Phuket with some of my favorite Yellow Team Goon Squad members and the Too Live Crew, it was time to make my way back to Ubon Ratchathani, the Northeastern province where I’ve been placed to teach for the upcoming semester (details to follow, promise promise).
Lai and I took the same bus leaving Phuket because we’re cheeseballs and didn’t want to be lonely yet. She would have a 5 hour ride to Chumphon, and I would stay on a bit longer for a 10-12 hour trip to Bangkok – from there I’d transfer buses for another 10-12 hour ride into Ubon…(buses are cheaper than flights, feel free to send some money my way lol jk kind of mostly not really).
Thai time is a regular occurance, so I wasn’t too worried when it took us almost 8 hours to drop Lai off…But the later it got, the more I realized we weren’t actually getting any closer to Bangkok. Instead of going straight, we seemed to be zig-zagging our way through the country, and now I was alone with a dwindling phone battery.
I was pretty stressed. I knew something was wrong. Instead of getting to Bangkok between 8:30 and 10 I was exiting the bus at 2 AM to a completely abandoned bus terminal.
I sat by myself, charging my phone outside of a 711 because it was the only place in the dauntingly giant terminal with its lights on, doing my best not to panic. To my surprise, honestly, the tears never came. I began to think clearly about what I had to do and the reality of my situation. A few security guards passed me here and there as I sat and thought, and I checked with each one of them to see where I could buy a bus ticket to Ubon Ratchathani. They all pointed to a nearby ticket booth and said it would open at 4 AM. They kept telling me the same thing, so I stayed put and waited, even though something in my gut still felt wrong.
Around this time an older Thai man sat on the ground a few feet away from me and kept glancing in my direction. He had long scraggly hair and a beer in his hand despite the early time. He asked me where I was from and seemed to want to say more, but didn’t. I didn’t feel alarmed by him, but I was uneasy about my situation as a whole…I still felt something was amiss. So when I looked down and saw a giant cockroach siting next to me I decided it was time to wander around a bit until the ticket booth opened and see if I could find someone with more information. I walked in circles for about an hour.
The terminal was huge, my suitcase was heavy, and its wheels kept getting stuck on the poorly paved asphalt.
After asking anyone I could find where I could buy a ticket to Ubon, I was directed right back to the same ticket booth, to sit with the same feelings of apprehension in my stomach and the same older Thai man hovering around me and watching what I did from the corner of his eye. Every time a security guard passed me I’d ask the same questions and they’d give me the same answers…sit here until 4.
I felt helpless and exhausted. I put my head down on my arms for a minute and felt the Thai man’s eyes on me again. When I looked up he said “sleepy?” I nodded my head, and he looked away.
Finally, at 15 minutes to 4, I got some information that seemed to make sense. A new security guard needed me to repeat my question 3 times before he understood. “Ohhhhh, Ubon Ratchathani!” He looked from me to the to the ticket booth I had been directed to for the past 2 hours and shook his head. He rapidly began giving me directions in Thai. I couldn’t keep up. He was talking in kilometers and pointing left then right then left again…my head was swimming. How long had it been since I slept?
The man who had been watching me and attempting small talk hurried over to intercede for me. He talked to the man for about a minute in Thai, then turned to me and said “Ubon, this way” and began leading the way. I had to run a little to keep up.
He walked me out of the terminal and after about a minute looked back at me, said “you sleepy!” and took my suitcase from me. He chattered at me in Thai that I couldn’t understand for about 5 minutes as he walked me through what seemed to be an abandoned night-market, down a block, and up three flights of stairs to what turned out to be a completely different bus terminal that I quite frankly would still be looking for if I hadn’t had his help.
He walked me to the only ticket window open and helped me purchase a ticket from the frowning lady who seemed impatient with me. Then he carried my suitcase back down all three flights of stairs and told me to wait there until he figured out which bus was mine.
Once he found it, he begged me to sit and rest and told me he’d sit with me for the next hour and a half until my bus came.
“Bus come, you get on okay, I go”. He kept repeating.
He asked me my name, and I told him “Kay” because Kaila was way too difficult. His name was Mr. Ya….yes, pronounced Mister Yahhh. He offered me water, asked if I had ever tried Tom Yum Gun, and if I wanted him to find me some, and even wandered off for a few minutes and came back with a cool towelette for me to wipe my face with.
His English was almost as limited as my Thai; he’d ask me a simple question, and if I understood he’d excitedly ramble off 2 or 3 paragraphs before realizing he had lost me. Whenever this happened he’d put his head in his hands and sigh and chuckle before trying to act it all out for me. He got quite a few stares and giggles from people passing by…but he never gave up trying to communicate with me, and didn’t leave until he was sure I was safe.
When my bus came he carreid my suitcase over to the attendant and handed him my ticket. When there seemed to be a problem (the frowning lady had ripped off one of my stubs prematurely), he physically put me into the bus and talked very animatedly with the attendant until he convinced him that my ticket was okay.
He came up to wave good-bye to me and told me it was okay to sleep now, that I was safe. As he left, I heard him talk once more to the attendant, and I can safely assume he asked him to keep his eye on me and to make sure all of my stuff got to Ubon with me.
I dozed off, but was woken up by someone whispering my name about 15 minutes later. Mr. Ya was back with his number written down for me. He asked me to call him right there so he had my number, and asked if I would let him know when I got to Ubon safely. He held my hand for a minute before hurrying off after one last “You sleep now, you okay now”.
I ended up traveling for 34 straight hours to get back to Ubon. My phone died around the halfway point, but when I FINALLY made it back to my apartment and charged my phone, I had only been home for about an hour before my phone was ringing, and Mr. Ya was on the other line.
“Kay! You okay? You happy? Happy happy in Ubon?”
Mr. Ya was the most silver of linings, of a bus trip from hell. I felt so helpless and frustrated so many times over the past two days, but he saw that frustration and exhaustion and took it upon himself to make sure I got to Ubon safely.
I’ve always admired the small acts of kindness we see here and there if we look close enough. One of the things I love most about Thailand, is that they truly happen every single day here. Selflessness, generosity of spirit, and heartfelt kindness are all staples of Thai culture.
That, and extremely inefficient bus routes.