It always surprises me that the trains generally run very much on time in Thailand. It’s surprising because nothing else seems to happen according to plan.
Plan? What plan? It’s not so much the failure of a schedule to obtain, it’s the general failure to plan in the first place. Either that, or someone somewhere plans something and doesn’t tell anyone else about it, someone that may be involved in the plan.
It is Friday, January 9, 2009, or 2552 if you are a Buddhist, and this term my class meets on Friday. Last evening, one of my students called me and asked me if there was class today. I saw no reason why not, and I devote a lot of energy to keeping up with such things. She said she’d make it if she could. She was not alone in her uncertainty: only four students out of eleven showed up for today’s class. Plus one new recruit who transferred in after missing four meetings.
There was no class last week or the week before because the school was devoted to re-testing. My university, alone in Thailand, offers those poor souls who fail a final a chance to take a second bite at the apple in the middle of the next semester. This week, me and thirty-seven percent of my students thought there was class. Next week the entire class schedule is cancelled because the week is devoted to inter-school sports events. After that it gets real hazy.
One of the professors, and the cleaning lady, among others, plus my reading of the schedule (albeit, through the fog of Passa Thai), told me that the week of January nineteenth the entire school was closed, and the time would be devoted to commencement. If the cleaning lady believes that she will be locked out of the entire building for a week, I tend to believe her, because she is a poor woman and really needs to be paid, and she was very careful in our conversation to make sure that I had the schedule correct. She made me take out my book so we could make notes. The school, I was told, would in fact be locked down, no access to any of the buildings, because the commencement would be presided over by Princess Chakri Srindkorn, the “Good Princess,” beloved of Thai people, and Chinese people as well for that matter. Honest to god, her birthday is almost a holiday in China. My wife and fellow Peace Corps veteran loves the woman too, and I love her as well. So, security.
I was concomitantly told that normal classes would resume in the week of the twenty-sixth of January. Please note that I was told this by: 1) a professor; 2) a research assistant who speaks great English and watches out for me; and 3) the cleaning lady, Khun Amara. We’d be back to normal, they all said it, the week of the twenty-sixth.
My students, the four (five) that showed up today, had a different idea. They had the understanding that the week of the nineteenth was only the lead-up to commencement, the “rehearsal,” the practice period. I remember from last year that there was a lot of standing around in rented gowns, holding giant Doremon dolls and lots of flowers, taking pictures, on days that degrees were not handed out. Maybe that’s it. They said that the actual commencement, with the closed buildings and all, was actually the week of the twenty-sixth, so no class. They thought that there’d be regular class on Friday, the twenty-third. That’s not what I heard.
It gets even weirder. A couple of months ago I got a rough schedule of my teaching assignments at remote campuses. All that the professors involved could tell me then was that I would teach at Petchabun province sometime in January and Nakorn Panom province sometime in February. Last week, one of the professors involved suggested that I would go to Petchabun on January seventeenth and Nakorn Panom on January thirty-first. Well, here it is January ninth and still no one can tell me for sure.
But it’s all good, and I’ll tell you why. There’s two sides to every coin, we all know that. And in Thailand, on the one side, you have this delirious lack of precision in timing and scheduling, which can be a hassle sometimes for a man like me who lived in New York City until he was twenty-seven years old and who, as a result, became accustomed to knowing where he was expected to be at any given time and then actually showing up there and then. On the other side, you have the comforting, gentle style, the forgiving nature of Thai-Time, which makes life less demanding and more welcoming.