After my first field trip with the school to Palio, I made a mental note to never participate in another one so far away. Then I heard the seniors were going to the beach and I forgot all about my little vow. It wasn’t because of the disappointing destination that I didn’t want to go again; it was because Thai field trips have a way of reversing the little notion that the journey is half the fun. Instead, you must struggle to get there, and hope that what you’re going to see is worth it.
Before I explain further, I ask you to imagine yourself in two different scenarios.
Firstly, you’re on a bi-level bus in a country where the penalty for not having a driving license is $6. You’re sitting up front on the highest level, swaying left to right as the top-heavy vehicle speeds along a two-lane highway. You have a VIP view of what feels like a 3D movie as you zoom past everything in your path, never mind the oncoming traffic, or the dogs crossing the road, or the motorbikes in the way.
It’s slightly reassuring that the bus is probably going to win should it collide with any of the aforementioned, but when the semi-truck is coming straight for you, in his own lane – the same lane your bus is currently occupying at full bore – you start praying to this country’s beloved Buddha that that truck has enough common sense to move over as your bus overlooks the double yellow lines and creates a nonexistent middle lane.
Now place yourself in a karaoke bar. You’re standing in the corner, next to a speaker that’s literally thumping from the loud noise it’s projecting. Your eardrums actually hurt from the impossible volume. Looking on stage you see a teenager screeching the latest hit song into the microphone, not even close to carrying a tune, but sending an obnoxious racket through the black box next to your head. The sound is so piercing it makes your eyes water. Your head begins to pound, and soon enough you feel as though it might explode. You want nothing more than to cut the cord and runaway, but you can’t leave. Not for another nine hours anyway.
If you put these two scenarios together, you might begin to grasp how I spent 18 hours of a two-day “vacation.”
Karaoke buses are very popular in Thailand, and by all means they are a brilliant idea. I wish we had such a thing for high school field trips when I was that age. However, our teachers would have turned the volume dial to the left a few dozen times, told us that it can hurt our ears and eventually make us deaf if we listen too loudly. A fact I would have scoffed at but knew was true – a fact the Thais don’t seem to understand.
After the first nine hours, I was so happy to see the ocean I could have turned my tears of pain right into tears of joy. I immediately changed into my bikini, then covered up with shorts and a t-shirt and jumped into the warm ocean, just like the Thais. At a private resort with over 200 students, there was no way I was going swimming with any fewer clothes, especially after a brave 17-year-old boy asked, “teacher, swim?”
“Yes, of course!” I replied.
If I had brought a turtle neck, I probably would have worn it.
After a long dip in the sea, I felt like me again. I showered and positioned myself at the teacher’s table where I downed a few (overdue) beers. Next we enjoyed dinner, and more karaoke. The resort constructed a stage for the occasion and several more hours of singing commenced, but I wasn’t confined in a bus so the music was bearable. The teachers and a few lady-boy students taught me how to Thai dance (kind of) and it turned into a very enjoyable night. I went to bed thinking that the ride was worth seeing a glimpse of the beautiful beach in Chanthaburi, but then I woke up.
I actually cringed at the thought of getting back on the bus at 8AM. I understood something I couldn’t the day before – why the teachers started drinking whiskey at 3AM, and never stopped. Admittedly, I judged them that first morning, even though I knew it’s acceptable and expected for Thai men to drink (a lot), but it was hard to wrap my brain around the fact that they are teachers, and this was a field trip, and some of them appeared to have come straight from the bar.
I get it now. Unfortunately, though, they were all too hungover on Day 2 to offer me a drink.
When we stopped for dinner on the route home, Teacher Pussadee informed me that one of the classes was in trouble for drinking alcohol on the bus.
“How did you punish them?” I asked, unsurprised.
“The teachers turned the music off,” she said.
“Really? I wish our students would get in trouble,” I said with a laugh. But I wasn’t kidding.
“Our bus is good students,” she said. “They like to study hard. Good class.”
“You’re very trusting,” I said. “I was in high school not all that long ago, and I was a good student too…”
I could see her thoughts spinning. “Maybe I should check,” she said.
Back on the bus, I was sitting with my headphones in and my hands over my ears, (unsuccessfully) trying to sleep. Not long after we boarded, Pussadee noticed a student, Tao, walk to the front to speak (yell at) the bus attendant – something he’d done numerous times before, but Pussadee had been sleeping too sound to notice. She leaned over the railing to see what he was doing, just in time to catch him bribing the steward with alcohol to turn up the volume.
Tao is the same little punk who asked if I would be swimming in a bikini.
“Busted,” I said with a large grin as he sulked back to his seat. We both knew what was ahead.