I can officially say I survived a Thai SAO “bi-tiow” (trip) or otherwise described as a “doo ngan” (work trip). It all started out under some fairly interesting circumstances. I was told that we would be leaving at 8:00 a.m. and as much as I like to think my naiveté about the concept of time in Thailand has lessened, I was once again deceived. I woke up in the morning to a rainy day, which is very unusual because it hasn’t rained for at least three months. As I sat there and waited one hour passed and given the normalcy of this amount of delay I unworriedly remained prone in my hammock comfortably reading the newest issue of Newsweek. As the clock ticked ever closer to ten o’clock I began to worry. Maybe they had forgotten me. Maybe the rain necessitated a cancellation of the trip. As my mind was pondering what had happened two pickups came rumbling down the road, one covered with a bright green tarp and one with at least eight cheerful Karen faces covered in a menagerie of plastic. The hastily honked their horns and I was ushered into my stately throne in the front seat that is reserved for the token farang. I watched in amazement as nearly twenty people braved drizzling rain and sickening curves for the more than three hour trip to Chiang Mai.
We arrived in Chiang Mai in quite a haste only to discover that the second pickup had yet to arrive. Shortly before it had been right behind us, but 45 minutes later it had yet to arrive. Finally it came rumbling into the parking lot, and the excuse; the nayoke was in need of an emergency hair cut! It turns out that the little trip we were embarking on was actually somewhat of a package tour. We had a lively crew of three who were there to fill up our whiskey and soda as we played cards on the lower floor of the bus with the curtains tightly drawn because everyone knows that if the police see you playing cards they will haul you right off to jail. No tolerance for that chicanery in Thailand! The crew was also generous enough to give a constant ear breaking commentary about everything that was of little interest. The night rolled on and soon eyelids were heavy and cards were sloppy and the allure of sleep captured everyone’s attention.
At roughly 4:30 a.m. I was awoken when I realized the bus had stopped. It had made several stops throughout the night so I figured that soon we would be on our way. About 45 minutes passed and I realized we weren’t going anywhere soon. We had stopped at a Thai roadside gas station. I was told that I should go bathe because we would wait here until the sun came up and we could hit up the first destination of our trip. To my gratification, the showers were actually the square water bins used to dip buckets into in order to manually flush the squat toilets. As disgusted as I was by the prospect of bathing in such conditions, it was far more appealing than having every person in the group why I hadn’t “aap naam” (taken a bath). I did my duty!
After our little shower break we all once again boarded the bus and were off to our first “doo ngan” destination. We first went to a very well funded daycare where the requisite Thai formalities were out in force. Each person involved with the daycare got up and gave their speech as the forty people from my tambon stared on in boredom. This was pretty much the norm as we went to our other “doo ngan” destinations, which included an SAO that had won several awards and another daycare. We had three official destinations and the rest was pure site seeing. Now site seeing is an interesting occurrence in these type of Thai trips. We went to “the world’s largest dam,” a royal project that portrayed the four regions of Thailand, a shrine to someone who I didn’t know, an aquarium, a little drive through a rubber tree plantation, and to the beach. All of this occurred over the period of a little less than two days. On every occasion it was like we were on a hunting safari. Instead of guns we used cameras and Thais sure do like to be in pictures. We stopped at a destination, unloaded the bus, took myriad photos with every imaginable pose, and then boarded the bus once again, all in under fifteen minutes.
It was an interesting trip to say the least. I think we were in the bus driving four hours for about every fifteen minutes on the ground. All this action was under the auspices of learning something to bring back to the village. To my utter surprise, I have spoken to several of the day care teachers and they said they got many ideas from the trip and are going to make new materials for the kids from those ideas. It’s hard not to judge the actions people from another take in order to achieve a desired end. I thought it was highly unlikely that anything of substance would come out of the trip, but apparently it did. However, I am still fairly convinced that that time and money (in very short supply) could be used in a more efficient manner. In the end I am not here to make judgments, but rather work within the cultural context I am given and make suggestions for possible improvements. The degree that the advice is taken is dependent solely on the people who is directly affects and their wellbeing is paramount.