By plane, train, taxi and tuk-tuk, I finally arrived in Bangkok. It was a grueling 20 hours in flight, and I was stuck in the middle chair where finding comfort was impossible. I had specifically picked a window seat when I purchased my ticket, but it turns out my surprise was only an introduction to the ongoing lesson I would learn in Thailand: never have expectations.
After a good night’s rest, I woke early from the 14-hour time change and headed outside to wander around the area. I stopped for breakfast at a street vendor (one of many that line almost every sidewalk and sell food for $1) where I had fried bananas, drizzled with a thick honey-like glaze. She put it in a plastic bag and gave me a stick to eat with. It looked disgusting, but it tasted delicious.
Later, I met up with several other teachers from the agency, all of them from the U.K. and South Africa, and we took a tour of the city. Public transportation is really good, and quite necessary in a city where getting a drivers license is as simple as holding two strings, one in each hand, and pulling them straight until they’re an equal length. Seriously.
We flagged down two tuk-tuks for the eight of us (hey, entire families ride on motorbikes here) and asked them to take us to a food market (an entire block of street vendors, not a grocery store). So excited to ride in one, we didn’t question the rather cheap 20 baht it cost…until we arrived at the most expensive restaurant in Bangkok, and we were the only ones there. Apparently, tuk-tuks work on commission from eateries, and a group full of white people was an easy target.
The next day was the beginning of a four-day orientation for all of the English teachers. I thought the flight was arduous enough, but I’d do it again before I sit through another seminar like this one. Nothing sticks to a plan in Thailand; it all just comes together in the end.
The staff informed us the first day that our schools might start on November 1, or they might decide last minute to start next Monday. They don’t have academic calendars like we do in the states; they’re free to extend, shorten or cancel school days/terms for no reason. Even holidays are often determined the day before or the morning of. It looks like my Christmas break to Bali might become more of a weekend trip than a two-week vacation.
The second day, we learned that our placements still hadn’t been decided, and I became disappointingly aware that my promise of going south was an empty one. Oh well, I concluded, as long as I’m not in Bangkok, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it anywhere. I forced myself to push the dreams of a bungalow on the beach out of my mind, and not to mistake certainty for maybe.
After three nine-hour days of boredom, we were handed our school profiles. I opened mine and turned the page — Bangkok. My heart sank. I’d already been planning my escape from the city, and now I was spending the next six months here, far from the “real” Thailand. Looking around the room, I noticed I wasn’t the only upset teacher. Holly was sobbing about her placement. She had her heart set on living in Bangkok, and she was being sent to a village up north where elephants roam between rice fields.
“I would love to switch you,” I offered, but both of us knew that it was a lost cause. We had listened to the agency tell us to “just deal with it” all week, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to ask.
This morning, we put on our smiles and begged for a school swap. “I’ll see what I can do,” they told us. And an hour later they pulled me aside to ask if I was sure. Nothing is set in stone, they reminded me, but they could make it happen.
“Absolutely,” I said. I’m now dreaming about riding a moped through the countryside and stopping to take pictures of elephants along the way. Maybe it was meant to be. Even though I know better than to believe it until I see it, I can’t help but be excited about the surprises I’m sure to find when I finally get there.