I always look forward to my trips with such anticipation. There are always new people and things encountered, places yet discovered, and situations that arise that test your timber. I constantly find new words to learn in Thai and cultural insights that surprise me.
One night last September, I chanced upon a Web site and found an incredible deal in airfare to get here— $672 round trip New York to Bangkok. The whole way I kept expecting that something would go wrong to justify that price! It was even on my favorite Asian carrier, ANA! Ever the cynical New Yorker I kept thinking, “What’s the hitch?” But nothing did materialize, of course! And the trip went smoothly enough.
I arrived in Bangkok, said goodbyes to some fellow passengers that I met, grabbed my bags from the carrousel, and blasted through the exit doors ready to greet the place I now consider my “second home,” or at least “my Florida!” As it was already nearly midnight, the Skytrain into the city was closed. I went to the ground level and took the next cab in queue. My driver was a pleasant guy named Noot. All went uneventfully enough until we turned onto the narrow lane where my hotel was located. In order to avoid a direct collision with a car coming in the opposite direction and two people on a motorcycle who just at that moment decided to drive to the right of the other car, Noot jumped the high curb. When I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see that we had not hit anything, but not a second later we heard the loud, sustained grinding of the wheel along the side of the curb. I was just thankful that no one was on the sidewalk at the time. The taxi came to an abrupt halt a short distance later in front of the hotel.
It was then that I realized that I was back in Thailand. The hotel’s security guard hearing the noise came out to see what had happened. Noot got out of the taxi with a groan of anxious anticipation. Sometimes the taxi drivers rent the cars from the owners and are responsible for any damage. Even at 1 am, in no time flat (pun intended) six other men came out of the shadows, and everyone hunkered down around the front left tire to inspect the damage and offer many assessments in the garish otherworldly blue light of the hotel entrance. As my luggage was in the trunk, I sat on the stoop next to them and joined. Why not? After many “Oh hooo!” and “Mai ben rai” (“Never mind,” whose meaning is a complete one hour cultural lesson in itself), everyone came to the conclusion that the rim of the wheel was scraped badly, but there was no other real damage done. The rims, however, were bright, new, shiny and, no doubt, expensive ones. Why such rims were put on an old jalopy of a taxi like that is beyond my comprehension. Well, maybe not, but certainly beyond reason!
Ever an optimist, Noot looked at me in resignation and said, “Well, at least the tire isn’t flat. I don’t have a spare.” I gave him a good tip, but I don’t think that could have cheered him up much. We smiled at one another and exchanged short bows. It’s sad when you think that what damage was done may cost him everything he made on his shift that night, maybe more. It makes you wonder how people who live on such an edge like taxi drivers do it day in and day out.
The next day at my favorite temple, Wat Patum, I meditated on the incident and reflected on how lucky I was. As bad and unfair as I sometimes think life is, there are always people like Noot who struggle so much more. And like him, always manage to see a brighter side of the situation. I found myself subconsciously tapping the amulet the old abbot of a temple in Suphanburi had given me 40 years ago and told me to always wear when I travel. I only wish a little of my good fortune could have transferred to Noot the night before.