Friday, July 3, 2015

Teaching Trip To Korat

The official name of the province is now Nakorn Rachasima, but no one seems to call it that.  Thais prefer to stick with the traditional name, which is Korat.

I got to the Moachit bus station in Bangkok with no trouble, but then everything went to hell pretty quickly.  Note to self:  from now on always go to the bathroom and buy a couple of sandwiches BEFORE buying the tickets.

The NOW problem.  Now means something different in Thailand.  In Thai or in English, the concept is viewed in a different light.  I bought the ticket and asked, in good Thai, when the bus was leaving.  The answer was, "now."  They even had a guy bring me to the bus.  I told him that I would like to use the bathroom first and he said that I had to get on the bus "now."  I sat on the bus for a half hour before we finally left.  I'm sure that it was still "now."

The ticket said "1st Class," and the bus said, "1st Class," but really it was a lousy old bus from the get-go.  Zero suspension; tired air-con; uncomfortable seats with no arm rests; exposed wiring some of the lights and speakers.

The trip to Korat should be three and a half to four hours, and the first two and a half hours were trouble free.  Then something broke, the hydraulic system or something.  Maybe the clutch?  That vocabulary is over my head.

The crazy Farang sitting behind me started mumbling immediately.  "This is not good," over and over again.  We were the only two Farang on the bus.  I'd seen him at our fueling stop, standing over to the side making weird faces and repetitive, circular hand movements, and had there and then resolved not to talk to him under any circumstances.  I didn't have to worry.  Within a few minutes of the bus stopping, he took up all of his things, put on his hat, and got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.  I didn't see him anymore.

We were there for two and a half hours before another bus stopped.  Same company, at least ten of their buses had passed us already.  This driver was also a bus mechanic, and he had some ideas.  Our own driver and the "bus assistant" had been poking around to little purpose beyond getting dirty with the oldest, rustiest set of tools in a ratty back-pack that you've ever seen.  The new guy began supervising, and within fifteen minutes or so something in the bowels of the bus gave up all of its pressure with a huge sigh.  The new guy seemed pleased and prepared to leave, buttoning up his shirt.  He had been joking with me me a little bit and talking at some length to another passenger that I had also become friendly with.  We were about the only passengers on the bus, us and two Tamils who never looked anyone in the eye, including each other, preferring to glare off into space.  My friend was a factory mechanic and he was interested in the proceedings; I found standing around outside equally uncomfortable so I switched off between outside and sitting on the hot bus. The driver exchanged words with my friend and he told us not to make a fuss but to keep quiet and come with him, he only had two free seats on his bus.  The rest of the passengers had to soldier on. 

To be fair, this was only the third time in over ten years that a bus had broken down on me in Thailand.  

So I left the house at 8:50 am and got to Korat at 5:30 pm.  I was so hungry that I ate at the bus station.  The tuk-tuk to the hotel was a bright spot.  He gave me the Thai price right away and was a very nice guy, very helpful regarding buses back to Bangkok.  I gave him a forty Baht tip and he was wildly appreciative.

I had booked and paid for the hotel room on Agoda dot com, but the hotel was not expecting me. I didn't have a print out, but I did remember the confirmation number.  That didn't really help.  I fired up my Chrome Book on the wi-fi and showed him the confirmation.  He was still lost.  He made a couple of notes and went back to the office for a while.  When he returned, he had a paper from his "manager," and said the manager told him that it was all good.  They got confused the next day too when I didn't check out.  I got back from teaching and they thought that I was going to check out late and leave.  No, I explained, I paid for two nights.  They issued a new room card and I could stay in the same room, so it could have been worse. 

The hotel was only okay.  I won't give the name, because they had so much trouble with the Agoda that I don't know if I trust them.  It was okay, though.  There was hot water, the free breakfast buffet was great, and the air-con worked.  Only Sy-Fy and the Universal Channel on the TV, plus a soccer channel in English.  The rest of the channels were in Thai.  So it was two days of House, and Law and Order, and 500 Mile Per Hour Storm.  (I only watch Sy-Fy in hotels, and of all things the last time I stayed in a hotel the same movie was playing.  500 Mile Per Hour Storm is okay, for a Sy-Fy movie, but isn't it funny how these things work out?)  One wall in the lobby was covered with pictures of military aircraft, most of which were signed by pilots and crew from many other countries.  The U.S., Singapore, Australia, Europe was in there too.  Some signed their names, some their call-signs, some both.  Thor; Minion; Bookworm.  Many said, "To Top and the rest of the staff at the ___________ Hotel."  Top sounds like a call-sign too, so maybe the owner of the hotel is a former pilot.   I guess there's a big training air base nearby. 

Later on I went to the lobby to inquire about the less-than-intuitive wi-fi in the rooms.  I rode down on the elevator with an old Asian man who probably wasn't Thai.  He was dressed like a Commodore, white military cut suit, white peaked cap, white shoes.  We smiled but only I spoke, I tried Thai and English but neither worked very well.  When we got off at the lobby he took a handful of amulets out of his pocket and gave me one.  The only thing he said the whole time was, "good luck!"

Teaching and the return trip were uneventful.  The bus coming back was much nicer, cooler and more comfortable, and I got to watch Lucy in Thai.  It's nice to travel, but it's oh, so nice to come home.

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