Nine (‘gao’) is the lucky number in Thailand, and there is a species of inter-city bus called the “999,” which is of course three times as lucky. The little bus on the ticket actually bears the legend, “99,999.” They are typically very new buses with a limited number of big, comfortable seats and better bathrooms. They cost about fifty percent more than a first class bus, and they make better time because they make fewer stops. I usually go back and forth from BKK on a first class bus from a company called “Piriya-tour,” they’re the best. They were sold out, though, so I went with the Gao-Gao-Gao.
Last year was tough for Thai transportation companies, all the world’s transportation companies really. Gas prices were through the roof most of the year. Obviously some adjustments were made.
My bus was not the usual glossy new Scania tour bus. It was a 999 from a couple of generations ago, a double decker MAN. Usually, these older buses are transformed into mere first class buses, but something had kept this one on the premium line. Each way, the extra money for the ticket is over two hundred Baht, which is a decent days pay here. Times are tough. The ride in this thing was certainly tough, and bouncy. Thai mechanics are great, but Thai’s in general believe that shock absorbers are a lifetime item.
Me and one other passenger were put on the bottom level, so we had plenty of room. The TV didn’t work, but it was just as well. It was one of those Thai revenge movies, where something goes homicidally wrong in the very beginning and then everyone goes on a revenge spree for the rest of the movie, under cover of very serious music.
At first I had the impression that the bus had been used to transport goats, or that the driver’s dog had lived in my seat for a month or two, but I soon realized that I was smelling the bathroom, the door to which was right behind my seat.
Very soon the stewardess took the seat in front of me and threw it back into full recline. On these “luxury” buses that means that the top of her head was within a few inches of my nose. It also means that it became almost impossible for me to get up, as the seat back in this position almost touched the arms of my chair. I put back my seat to relieve the pressure on my face, and checked to be sure that I could raise the seat arm rests in case of emergency. Yes, so at least I would not be trapped if there were a fire.
A common human ritual that I find strange is the violent flipping around that many people do in preparation for sleep, and sure enough, the stewardess flipped around for quite a while with athletic vigor. She was driving the prone seat back into my knees in the process. It only hurt if she happened to catch me with the tray table. After apparently falling asleep, she almost immediately began to flip around again. In her calm moments I could tell that she was fast asleep, her breathing was regular and quiet, and she made no voluntary movements. I thought that maybe she was having seizures, but it was not my day to watch her so I let it go. Maybe she was having nightmares.
The trip took forever too. The bus had been more than a half hour late, and it made quite a few stops that were some distance from the highway. It took a full nine hours, usually it’s more like seven, seven and a half. Everything else went fine, though. I found my way to a distant ticket window and purchased a ticket for next week’s teaching excursion, and the first taxi driver that I approached was fine with taking me to my distant neighborhood.
The last ‘gaow’ in the title, by the way, is Thai for ‘old.’ Old people are ‘gaeh,’ but old things are ‘gaow,’ it’s a little longer than the sound of the 9.