My first journey out of Bangkok took me to a potential place of employment at a school in Nong Phai, surrounded by mosquito-infested swamps and rice fields. In an attempt to be budget-friendly, I boarded the second-class bus on the route to Phetchabun. Not fetch-a-bun, but petch-a-boon. I found myself the only English-speaking Westerner on the bus. Backpack squished between my legs (precaution taken in heed to many tales of stolen luggage), I began the uncomfortable journey in my seat with no air conditioning or reclining capabilities.
Luckily for me, five leg-cramping and neck-aching hours later, I was able to understand the call for my stop on the side of the highway. I stepped off the muggy bus into the hot and rainy haze of Nong Phai and found the teacher from the school. A brief tour of the school grounds revealed much nicer facilities than I had anticipated, until we reached what I’ll call “Teacher’s Row.” A few dilapidated huts were lined up on a road within the school grounds. My impression that these buildings were abandoned was proven wrong as we rolled up to the last house. Proclaimed the nicest home and reserved specially for the female teaching staff, I thought that maybe this would be one of those “don’t judge a book by its cover” situations.
Nope. Inside, there was a motorbike parked in the kitchen (which came complete with a single electric burner resting on the floor which was covered in some bright pink plastic table cover sort of material) and lizards sprinting along all the walls.
I met some of the extremely lovely staff and went to dinner (where I had the most delicious spicy cashew chicken) before returning to the house after dark, where I’d be spending the night. Alone. On a one-inch thick foam pad on the floor. In a completely bare room. It was raining. There were no lights on the street or in the area. Is anyone else getting a creepy, scary movie feeling? For some reason, I didn’t get much sleep that night. On the verge of having a complete breakdown, I settled down with my book and somehow convinced myself that no, those strange rustling noises outside are not being made by axe murderers or hungry jungle animals.
In the morning, I reluctantly told the staff that I just couldn’t accept the job. I had to face the genuine looks of disappointment, inflicting a surge of guilt and regret to run through me. However, I knew that I simply could not do six months in such a dreary place. Overwhelmed buy the staff’s kindness, despite my screwing them over, I was treated to a Thai breakfast and a ride to the bus station.
The bus to Chiang Mai was full, and I had to accept a position standing in the aisle. As I stood there miserably waiting for the bus to depart, I heard my name being called. Sure enough, the teacher who had brought me to the station was clutching a plastic bag containing a water bottle and loaf of raisin bread. She presented me with this small gift, as well as a promise to help in case I needed to call her for her translation skills. The hospitality and generosity I was showered with, even in light of my denying their contract, was so astonishingly and unexpectedly heartwarming. The perfect contrast to Bangkok and introduction to the kindness of the Thai culture I have heard so much about.