Getting Around in Thailand on Pedals

Thirty-five years ago, before helmets were ubiquitous and when bicycle passengers were the norm, a summons from my mother to ride with her to the market brought my own agenda to an end. I could be languishing in the shade, in my cool summer togs laying brick pathways in the dirt behind the flower beds. Or, we were entertaining friends, racing around the cement slab out back and trying not to stub our toes on a harsh metal pipe emerging from the middle of the patio. I might be reading when the call came, lying on my stomach on a wooden bench, sheltered from the sun by the overhanging roof and re-living a Narnia volume or one of the many cheap Scholastic books we owned.

But I would drop everything when I heard the call. I’d trot into the garage, where my petite mom steadied the bike so I could clamber up onto the cushioned bench behind the seat. Then a couple of steadying pushoffs with her foot, a moment of balancing, and we’d sail out of the garage and down our driveway, navigating an unpaved road flanked by cinder block walls.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand on Two Wheels

I’m sitting behind my dad on the motorcycle at night, squeezing my eyes shut as we zoom through the dark and hoping, hoping, hoping. We’re approaching our little side road, our soi, and I’m willing the engine to accelerate, to not slow down and not swing right, in the direction of home and what was sure to be immediate bedtime. Yes! We keep going. When I’m chosen to go along on these evening jaunts, I never know where we’ll alight, which of my dad’s friends we’re going to visit, what movies will be playing on TV. Or even when we’ll arrive back home to settle in for the night. I don’t think my dad really knows, either.

We show up at a motorcyle shop, metal folding doors across its front pushed back enough for our Vietnamese friend to stand in the opening, chatting with my dad. Usually, I stand in the background tuning out the long conversation, looking around, studying the seat of the motorcycle. Tonight, we walk through the shop to living quarters upstairs, where family members are ranged on the floor around a color TV watching an American movie. And what a strange one it is. A repulsive little brown creature, with uncannily communicative big eyes, makes friends with a little boy. At the end, a space ship lands in the woods to pick up the creature. The dark, lonely wooded landscape and the swelling music add to the eeriness. Then the creature and the little boy hug in an emotional parting. A loud Eww! escapes me. My dad laughs.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand: The Night Bus

You haven’t lived until you’ve boarded a bus at sunset and trundled through the night to arrive at your destination just after sunrise. Those hot towels the attendant distributes with tongs at six a.m. make it worth the long hours, the bleariness, and the cheap comedies played on the television up front.

No, really. These were special trips.

Because there were two kinds of buses. You could take an orange bus—an “orange crush bus,” as one of the missionaries called it. Any time we did opt for this probably inexpensive Continue reading “Getting Around in Thailand: The Night Bus”

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