lessons from a bangkok bus ::
Picking the first of 100 travel stories to share wasn’t hard. Starting at the beginning with the story of my first passport stamp made sense. But what story to tell second?
I’m not much of a person for order and chronology, so lets skip ahead a few years to Thailand in 1997 for travel story 2/100.
In 1997 I moved to Bangkok to teach English writing at a Thai university. I was young, impatient, idealistic, and determined. (I’m still impatient, idealist and determined, but older now). Bangkok 14 years ago was also much like it is today: crazy, chaotic, congested and operating by its own set of western-logic-free rules. In short, Bangkok was ready to eat me alive with a smile.
For some unknown reason, idealistic and determined me chose to train for my first ever half-marathon in Bangkok, one of the hottest and most air-polluted cities in the world. This story could be about how many times I tripped in a gaping hole in the pavement while running and fell flat on my face while smiling Thais looked on and giggled, or about how I both passed out and placed in that very race I ran. But those stories are for another time. This story is about my weekend running ritual.
My 1997 home in Bangkok was approximately three miles on foot from the well-known Jatujak weekend market. It was the cheapest place to buy anything I could possibly ever need or not need. Each weekend I’d brave the heat, grey air, three legged dogs, and missing sidewalks and put in some miles. On days when I needed to shop, I’d defeat Bangkok traffic by running one way to the market, doing a few laps around the park, finishing my shopping, and hopping the bus home.
On the day of this story, I had run to Jatujak , picked up a few things I needed, and jumped on the bus for a quick lift. Only that day, like most days in Bangkok, there was nothing quick about the bus. If you know anything about Bangkok traffic you will understand that many days walking is actually faster than being in a “moving” vehicle.
We had gone about a mile and then came to a dead stop. Everyone around me was patient and smiling and serene. I on the other hand was dripping with sweat, legs cramping and completely frustrated. I’d had enough with the non-moving bus.
I grabbed my bags and pressed the button for the bus to let me off. It didn’t even have to stop to open its doors because it hadn’t moved in so long.
Free on sidewalk, I started running. With my shopping bags. At midday under the Bangkok sun. May I remind you, that on a regular morning jog people started at me like I was insane when I took to the road for a jog. Let alone a foreigner, running in the noon heat with their shopping.
I got about 10 minutes down the road, as the traffic along side of me thinned. Sure enough as I was jogging along the bus I had defiantly disembarked crept up behind me. If this had been in the US, I’m sure the bus would have blown by me as the passengers remarked how dumb I had been to get off and run. But in a pure Thai manner, the bus began to honk its horn to get my attention. (and perhaps to ensure that anyone in the entire vicinity who hadn’t already been watching me was now).
The driver pulled the bus up beside me, opened its doors and beckoned me back in. In my perfect memory all the people on the bus cheered when I hopped back on, but perhaps I was just hallucinating from near heat exhaustion, and they were all just smiling in their patient way that I obviously hadn’t mastered.
I rode the bus the rest of the way home that day. Embarrassed and educated in my own impatience. To this day when I’m stuck in traffic or nearly losing it in a long line and contemplating if I should change lanes, I sometimes remember the lesson I learned from that day on the Bangkok bus. Perseverance is the fastest way to getting where you’re going, even sometimes when you’re stuck in a traffic jam.
Are you a waiter or a runner?