The wind, the road, the bus and the kindness of strangers

I’m on a bus right now from Chiang Rai to Chiong Khong in northern Thailand, with the plan of heading into Laos later today. The windows are open and the journey is bumpy, so no journal today – iPad instead. A part of me wants to focus on the scenes flying past the opened windows. We’re on a rural country road, sometimes passing fields, sometimes passing homes and sometimes passing long stretches of untamed nature. We’ve just stopped to let a person off somewhere along the way, I’ve no idea where, only a sudden surprise at the silence from a lack of wind and engine. It wasn’t even a minute, we’re on our way again. Palm trees. Wood piles. Rusty gates. Finally, a person! She has a stall by the side of the road. Fields again. I smell something burning. Wind again… with an empty, twisting road ahead.

The journey was scheduled for yesterday, but we took the 3pm bus from Chiang Mai which arrived half an hour too late for the last bus to Chiong Khong. So, we spent a night at a recommended guesthouse and lazed away. I can’t help but think of the alternatives. What if we had left earlier yesterday, or today, or taken a different bus? The difference comes from our state of mind and the time left behind. Without richness in money, I have only the richness of time.

Though I still have a terrible temper, getting very angry very quickly, a week of reflection and peace in Chiang Mai has reinforced my conviction that anger is useless. The hostel where we stayed seemed sheltered from the world. It had a swing and a hammock and sold fresh, cold coconuts and giant, heaping fruit salads. The people were incredibly friendly and some visitors came back year after year. It was a week well-spent. I appreciate their kindness so much more now, after being shocked and screamed at on the streets of Chiang Rai last night.

A friend and I had sat down to dinner at a roadside stall, foolishly not asking for the price beforehand. After our meal, the stall woman quoted a high foreigner price, knowing there wasn’t much we could do about it after the fact. 170 baht for a roadside meal in Chiang Rai? I’ve spent 60 baht for two people in Bangkok, a much more expensive city. We asked her for a breakdown of the price which she provided by snapping at us and jabbing her finger towards the dishes on our table. Then she freaked the fuck out. She started yelling, right there on the streets. Her English wasn’t very good so she kept screaming and repeating herself. I asked her to calm down and she started giving me the bitch eye and switched to Thai. I imagine she has a very colourful vocabulary and wish she understood all the things I wanted to say to her, naturally nothing pleasant. She made such a scene that a passerby stopped to assure us that the majority of Thai people weren’t like her. We paid. We left. She followed a few steps and continued her muttered curses. We passed the bitchstall on the way back and she swore loudly when I walked by. How is it that such a person can exist?

The events are now an interesting anecdote in my life and I can’t be bothered to wish her stomach ulcers. Karma will likely take care of that. If I’d met with the same situation at an earlier point in life, I would have smacked her upside the head with little hesitation, never mind fighting in foreign lands is just a terrible, stupid idea. Or at least shouted back and imprint on her mind that travelers aren’t people she should mess with. But I’d like to think I’m just a bit more mature now, reflecting on the events a day after. My lesson from this? Appreciate the kindness of strangers and never take it for granted. And always know the price before ordering, always. The bitchstall is located on the east side of Chiang Mai’s main road, north of the bus station. The first thing she asks is if you speak Thai.

The bus has stopped again and a lot more people are getting on. The seats are small, very small. My knee hits the seat ahead and there’s barely room for my bag beside me. Hopefully more people get off. It’s been an hour and sixteen minutes thus far.


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