On my latest adventure, I set out solo to visit my native country of Thailand. I have not been back to see my extended family for over thirty-seven years that live in both Bangkok and Ban Nongsao. Ban Nongsoa is a small rice farming village near the city of Roi Et, which is located in the north eastern region of Thailand – also known as Issan.
Having lived in the United States of America since the age of nine, communicating in Thai was very challenging for me. However, I had high hopes that it would be like riding a bicycle, where certain words would come back to me the more exposed I was to the Thai language and my family. After a week long trek of visiting various Buddhist Temples and an Elephant Nature Park in Surin, my ability to communicate effectively was greatly enhanced. In the end, I would need all my communicating skills in order to accomplish my very last adventure of catching a taxi cab to the airport in Bangkok, during a state of Martial Law where the strict curfew was 10 p.m.
My flight back to the USA was leaving at midnight, so my family and I readied ourselves to leave for the airport at 8 p.m. to allow for plenty of time to arrive for check-in; and, for my Mom and Aunt to return back home before curfew at 10 p.m. The Bangkok Airport was approximately fifteen miles away from our condo. The first taxi cab took about five minutes to catch in front of our quiet residential condo building. As the old taxi cab began moving, it made a whirling whining sound with each spin of its wheels. My Aunt immediately became nervous and asked the cab driver what the loud noise was. My Aunt, having lived in Bangkok part-time for over thirty years, could smell trouble brewing with the taxi car itself. The cab driver said there was no problem with the car, that it was merely old. The air conditioning did not work properly either, and this made my Aunt question the integrity of his car again and it’s ability to drive on the highway to the airport. Within ten minutes of driving in congested traffic, the cab driver had to pull the taxi cab over to the side of the road and fill his radiator with water from his water bottle that he kept in his trunk. My Aunt again loudly questioned his old taxi cab as we started slowly forward in traffic. The thick Bangkok traffic moved slowly and the hot humid air made it necessary to have on the air conditioner.
Another ten minutes passed as the cab whirled and whined its way through traffic and avoided hitting the motorcycles weaving in and out in front and behind us. The radiator light again flashed red and the cab driver had to get out and refill the radiator once more. As we sat on the side of the road with the meter running, and the clock continuing to click towards 8:30 p.m., my Aunt made a decision that we should seek out another taxi cab right now before we reached the highway going towards the airport. So, my Mom, my Aunt, and Me all got out of the taxi cab into the suffocating hot night air with all of my four pieces of large luggage. We waited to catch another taxi cab on a busy street in front of a very big shopping mall that was closing. People and cars were everywhere on this congested road as everyone wanted to be home by curfew.
My family being originally from a rice farm in Ban Nongsoa, gave the impression of the country mouse in the big city of Bangkok. No cabs would stop for us for over ten minutes, as my Mom and Aunt tried to hail the few that we saw drive by. We proceeded to move up the street about twenty feet away from the mall parking lot exit, in order to accommodate stopping cabs. The taxi cabs still continued to pass us by without even a glance our way. My Mom decided to use the theory of divide and conquer and moved away from me about ten feet ahead to hail a taxi cab. My Aunt decided to move about ten feet behind me to do the same. I was left alone with my four pieces of luggage to do my part in a big city under martial law. I proceeded to wave at every taxi cab that went by, whether available or not, as indicated by the red light in its windshield window being on or off. I had learned how fickle cab drivers can be about which fares they chose, from traveling thru some big cities around the world. Left alone to catch a taxi cab, I was able to secure one in under five minutes. The young cab driver understood my broken Thai and was ready to drive us to the airport. However, I had to quickly find my Mom and Aunt on the crowded sidewalk. I could not see them anywhere as they had walked along the sidewalk further away from me than expected. The heat and city noises was wearing them down and they were becoming disoriented.
I spoke again to the cab driver explaining they had wandered off, and if he would mind just waiting a few minutes longer while I looked up and down the sidewalk for them. He was very pleasant and had no problem waiting for me and had already loaded all my luggage into the cab. I was now paranoid that he might take off on me with my luggage in his taxi cab. I decided to leave the front and rear passenger doors opened as I looked for my family. Just as luck would have it, Mom showed up and I signal her to get into the awaiting opened cab door. She then asks about my Aunt and immediately goes into panic mode after hearing she has wandered off. Mom starts heading in the direction of where my Aunt had disappeared. After ten steps and not seeing my Aunt right away, she begins dialing my Aunt’s cell phone and turns around and heads back the other way down the sidewalk. I tell her to stop and just get into the cab, but she can not hear me as the phone is ringing in her ear and the traffic noise is all consuming. She begins to speed walk in the wrong direction as fear overcomes her, and the intense heat plays with her reasoning skills.
My Aunt shows up from the opposite direction, slowly walking along and unable to hear her phone ringing inside her purse, having been unable to hail a taxi cab. My Aunt speaks no English; therefore, I gesture and speak in my baby Thai voice to let her know to get into the open cab that I have secured for us. She quickly smiles and proceeds to get into the front seat, relieved by the air conditioner blowing coolness into her face. However, my Mom is still speed walking away in the other direction with the phone to her ear calling my Aunt. She can not hear me calling her name in English and Thai over the noisy street. Thank goodness there were a group of teenagers hanging out and began yelling at her “Mom!” over and over again so that she stopped walking to look at them. They then proceeded to point and gesture at me down the sidewalk. Mom takes the phone from her ear and sees me waving wildly for her to come back and get into the awaiting cab. We are both sweating profusely by now and in a state of high stress. My plan to arrive at the airport smelling cleaned and ready for a twenty-two hour travel day had crumbled. I was clammy and my heart was beating way too quickly. I started questioning both my Mom and Aunt for leaving me alone on the busy street with my luggage, and then heading in different directions on the sidewalk. However, it soon became apparent to us all as the young cab driver told us he was also from a small rice farming village near Ban Nangsoa, that we had a couple of disorientated ladies trying to cope during curfew on a hot night in the big city of Bangkok, Thailand.
My renewed understanding of the Thai language allowed the tension to break, and we all laughed at the comedic events that occurred merely minutes ago. The cab driver also had family that would visit him in Bangkok from his small country home town. Taxi cab drivers in Bangkok are no different than the ones in Chicago or Paris. Everyone has family filled moments of panic and miscommunication. The taxi cab driver with the old run down car had tried to earn a good fare to the airport, but his radiator could not survive the heat and congestion. The understanding young taxi cab driver had immediately put my family at ease and the air conditioning lowered our stress levels immediately. We were transformed into giggling school girls on our way to the airport as we laughed at ourselves. When we finally arrived at Bangkok International Airport, all of us were again reminded of the ability to overcome the language barrier with the help of family unity.