October 11, 2022
You are a bus driver.
On your first stop, you pick up 21 passengers from a ferry dock in Surat Thani, Thailand. Your passengers are bound for Krabi, a seaside resort town about 2 ½ hours away.
The passengers are a mixture of mostly white, European/North American types. There are a few Thai people in the group, mostly wives or girlfriends of some of the European/North American men.
There are some families traveling with children. A few couples carrying large backpacks. At least one single man traveling alone.
The single man is American. He is the first person to board and selects the front row seat behind the entry door, across from the driver’s side. A Thai lady sits across from him. She is soon joined by her white European husband or boyfriend.
As the couples and families board, they continue back to empty seats behind. A headcount is taken, and the passengers hear the bus attendant tell the driver, “Kon sip-gaew”, or “Nineteen people.
As soon as she says that, a father appears with his young daughter. They had to run to the nearby toilet before boarding.
Another younger European man walks up to the front and says he needs to use the toilet. The driver scowls a bit and points quickly toward the building outside and says “Ha!” while holding out all of the fingers of one hand.
The American man sitting in the front understands that the driver just told the European man that he has five minutes to pee and get back to the bus. The European man, however, doesn’t comprehend anything the driver has said or motioned. He insists that he wants to use the toilet.
The exasperated driver motions again, but doesn’t say anything this time. The European guy gives up and retreats to his seat, saying that he can hold it.
The American is happy that he used the toilet on the ferry just before docking. Two and a half hours is a long time to hold back a full bladder.
As soon as Mr. I’m-gonna-hold-it is back in his seat, the driver puts the bus in gear and sets out on the road.
The driver now seems quite friendly. Not to the passengers, but to all of the other bus drivers who are passing in the other direction. Holding an orange washrag in one hand, the driver continually puts it up in the air, waving to the other buses.
The driver has an odd habit of using their left hand to wave off motorcyclists the bus passes. Instead of waving AT them, it looks more like some type of dismissive gesture. Perhaps it’s a good luck thing.
Speaking of good luck, the driver’s Thai name is Chokdee something-or-other. Chok dee in Thai means “good luck”.
The American notices this on the driver’s credentials that are posted above the entry door. He takes a picture of it.
The reason he takes the picture is because he has noticed that the driver isn’t really doing that great a job of paying attention to the job.
The driver keeps their right hand on the steering wheel while the left is busy most of the time picking their nose or using a tool to pick their ears. They wave the orange rag around a lot.
Sometimes they reach for a big cup to drink from. Other times eating large leaves of basil that the driver keeps wrapped in a plastic bag. On at least two occasions they open small brown bottles of liquid that look like a local energy drink. After finishing, they transfer the empty bottles to their right hand and throw them out the open window.
The American notices that the driver has taken their shoes off and is operating the bus in stockinged feet. While he can sympathize with the driver for wanting to be comfortable, the American knows that this is not a proper way to drive, especially when operating a vehicle designed to carry passengers or cargo.
Amused, he uses his phone to take a surreptitious photo of the situation.
A little while longer into the journey, the driver puts in earbuds and shuts off the irritatingly sugary pop music that has been “entertaining” the passengers. Opening social media on the phone, they begin scrolling through videos.
Some of the videos are of Muay Thai fights. Some are videos of machinery, or how-to instructions for maintaining engines. After watching for a few seconds or more, the driver becomes bored and swipes up for something new.
The videos the driver spends most time on are of young, scantily-clad women who dance and flip their clothing around suggestively.
The American sees that the European/Thai couple have also noticed the driver’s behavior. He exchanges some light-hearted conversation about the driver with the European man. The Thai woman begins taking her own pictures and video of the driver’s actions.
The European man makes a comment about reporting the driver. The American man agrees, though he doesn’t really have the intention of doing so himself. He’s been in Thailand for a while, and knows that this can be typical behavior of drivers. He’s not terribly worried about his own safety because the bus is going relatively slowly on a fairly straight highway.
The titillating videos continue. The ear-picking continues. The bus wanders from the left lane into the shoulder then back into the driving lane.
Then, the American notices that the driver is getting a phone call. The driver stops the video to answer it.
The call isn’t very long. The American doesn’t understand much of what the driver is saying, though he does hear “pu chai falang” a bit. “Falang” is a commonly-mispronounced version of “farang”, which means foreigner in the Thai language. “Pu chai” means man. So the driver was referring to a foreigner man.
After the driver ends the call, they begin to glare angrily in the mirror at the American. A few times, the driver turns in their seat and jabs their finger in the American’s direction. The phone gets unplugged and tossed onto the dashboard.
The American understands what has happened. The European/Thai couple followed through on their intentions to report the driver. They didn’t even wait for the journey to end. The phone call was from the company employing the driver. They were probably not too happy to have customers complaining about the driver’s behavior.
In turn, the driver is super pissed about having been called out. They simply misunderstand the situation and choose the wrong target for their anger.
The American ignores the driver’s angry gestures and looks. He continues to browse his phone, listen to Spotify, answer messages from friends, check the map, and look for information about Krabi.
He realizes that the driver may want to exact revenge, so he begins to think of ways to calm the situation should that occur. “Jai yen, jai yen” are words that come to his mind. Essentially, Thai words to calm someone down. Failing that, he is also prepared to take no physical shit from the driver or any of their cronies that may await him at the terminal.
When the bus comes to a new highway, the driver then buckles up their own seatbelt. The American does the same, and the driver notices.
The reason the American has buckled his own seatbelt is in direct response to the driver. If the driver intends to crash the bus in some sort of retaliatory overreaction to the threat of being fired by the company, the American intends to be prepared.
The European/Thai couple buckle their belts as well, but for a different reason. Posted in front of them is a sign warning that not wearing a seatbelt would result in a fine of 5000 Thai Baht. Perhaps they thought there would be an inspection, thus the driver buckling their own seatbelt.
The driver continues to scowl and mutter angrily, but the journey ends uneventfully at the terminal.
The American and the rest disembark and collect their bags. Everyone makes arrangements to be taken to their respective hotels/resorts. The churlish driver doesn’t say a word to anyone.
Now the riddle:
How old is the bus driver?