Heading Up Country A Coupla Clicks

We didn't get away from the Bangkok office until about 5pm. We have a long trip ahead with two hospitals to visit over the rest of this week. The manager say it will be a six hour drive. We have to install newly delivered machines and train the Doctors who don't really have time on which button does what, a task so mind-numbingly uncomplicated that they usually don't remember - you know, the stuff that I do best. The South Isaan sales-manager, 23 year old Sumet (NHRN) is my driver but he needs to go to his sister's home first for his clothes, so we weave our way through the sclerotic back-streets of suburbs in Bangkok I don't know, Duan Moang, and others, thick with market-stall, cars, pedestrians, motorcycles, tuk-tuks (so-called because they make that tuk-tuk-tuk noise when their 2-stroke motors idle), and on we go through other unknown parts of the city. At this point I realize just how little I know of this enormous city, more than half of Australia or Canada's population are squeezing in here into one smelly, congested, chaotic, complicated nightmare. Eventually we head back to find the north-bound expressway near the Victory Monument. We actually hit our stride at about 7pm going past the old airport. I think: I was asleep already.

It had already been a full and busy day for Sumet and for me. The main evaluation team from the Government had been checking our equipment that afternoon prior to those installations and we were explaining all the features and the technology after the large deal we had won. They must have been not only satisfied but impressed also, as one of the Doctors ordered another system on the spot. I had been doing a machine demonstration in another hospital all morning (badly - I had locked up the software accidentally by pressing a button that sent it looking for a non-existent network) as well.

By 8pm on the freeway, the full day that both us had already worked through was showing its effects. I woke from my own nap and became aware that Sumet was on the verge of his own, while still driving! He was yawning a lot, rubbing and stretching his face frequently to keep his eyes open. The hand sweeping though the hair every twenty seconds is a dead giveaway. Fuck, I really am going to die as a passenger in a car-crash one of these days.

"Pull into the next service station, Sumet. You're going to get a coffee and good nap before we go any further," I told him.

"I am little bit tired," he eventually admitted.

We found a gas station and, with the driver's seat laid back as far as my large bag in the rear seat would allow, he slept like a baby for twenty minute while I amused myself up at the food market and drink stalls at the back of the service station. A young child, maybe two year old, gave up chasing the ginger cat with his small hammer and next started dancing awkwardly to his family's amusement and clapping encouragement as the loud tinny beat of a Thai karaoke CD playing from his weather-worn granny's CD/VCD stall blasted across the car-park. A welder was putting up a steel frame inside the market, using the tried and untrue method of protecting his eyes by looking away whenever he touched the arc-welder to the steel, showering a splutter of sparking tiny molten metal fragments across the floor. Flies lazed drowsily on thickly cut chunks of cucumber in bowls of soup vegetables ready for the occasional customer on each of the tables where I sat, sipping a barley-flavoured tea, checking my watch.

When I returned to the car, Sumet was still snoozing. I went for a piss and came back. He was up now, getting another coffee. We took off. He felt much better. Trust the old man for good advice.


National Highway 2 out of Bangkok is the slow chugging supply line of Isaan. Long queues of smoking trucks in varying degrees of slow inertia block up the two inner lanes of the three (later the inner one of two) going north-east. We are wary of their elephant-like tendency to swerve suddenly and unstoppably in front of us and so passing them is fraught with anxiety. Everything is moving slowly and we have a long way to go. I do note that the multicolored reflectors on the backs of the truck are shining particularly bright in our headlights.

After a bite to eat and another coffee for Sumet at 10pm in a guitarist endowed beer-garden in Nahkon Rachadamsi, we turn off towards the east, Buriram and Surin. Here the road goes from a truck-crowded four lanes to a truck-crowded single carriageway. The smaller lorries here though are more likely to be loaded with stacks of sugar-cane. At first I though it was bamboo but I remember being told that this province is where SangSom rum is distilled. Rum is made from cane-sugar.

Almost as soon as we were on the single road, a car coming towards us flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. The car coming a hundred yards or so behind this first one flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. We took a gentle curve and a truck coming around the bend towards us flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. The bus behind him flashed his HIGHBEAM at us and left it on, nearly blinding us. There were several cars caught behind the slow-moving bus and truck. The first of these cars flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. As he went past he flashed his HIGHBEAM several more times. The car that behind him flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. The third car in this stream of traffic flashed his HIGHBEAM at us several times. As we came onto a straight piece of road an oncoming car flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. There was another bus that flashed his HIGHBEAM at us. The next car on the oncoming lane also flashed his HIGHBEAM at us.

My eyes are killing me. Every time I get the flash of HIGHBEAM I have a strong urge to shut them. Luckily I am not driving. I sneak a look at Sumet: he is squeezing his eyes every time a car flashes its HIGHBEAM at us. Great, I am going to die. For once I'm going to be the car-crash, not only just the traffic-jam...

Before me
So beautiful
So clear.
Reach out
And take it
'Cause I'm so tired of all this fear. Snow Patrol

"I think they're flashing their highbeam at us for a reason, Sumet," I said. "I think your headlights are set too high."

"Yes, I think lights set wrong too," he laughs. "I will take them for Saturday to be fix."

There is a bus careening towards us, just before he flashed his HIGHBEAM at us, I see in our lights that an elaborate design has been painted on the front, lots of manga-looking girls draped over a manga-looking boy. In large gothic letters under the windscreen is the (presumably) misspelled word "PRAYBOY". (To my sister, I kid you not.)

I feel like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty saying, "Lord, send me a sign"

[And at this point I was going to repeat the essence of the HIGHBEAM paragraph over and over for several hundred on-coming vehicles until you had truly got the point that this HIGHBEAM thing went on continually for the next two hours, but I don't want to drive you [ha ha] all away, yet.]

At one point we are singing along to Greenday's "Watsername" to stay alert.


We arrive at Surin, in the south part of Isaan (NE Thailand where it supports the over-folding Laos) at 1:30am totally exhausted after eight hours in the car, the last two with that fucking HIGHBEAM in our eyes...

Now seems like a good to start to look for a hotel for me, the International VIP. My Thailand company is nothing if not organised, and tonight my company is not organised.

"We haven't booked a room yet?" I ask.

"No need. Is chai dee, OK," replies Sumet. "Plenty of hotel. We hab many good one in Surin."

The first hotel Sumet asks me to stay in the car while he negotiates a rate. He was offered a reasonably good rate of 500Bht per night ($13USD), and no Sumet, that's NOT too expensive, but they only have single beds available for XXL E@L ... No way. Next!

The second hotel, now at 1:40am, gives us the same story: single beds only. What IS it with place all of a sudden? Let's try the next hotel, purportedly the best. Hey, you took me to the cheapest place FIRST!? WTF?!

We arrive at the next doorstep at 1:50am. E@L is out of the car already, moving his bag up the ramp. A big bed is available at this third but best hotel, buffet breakfast for 2 included (no way I'd go looking for a partner at this late hour, well in this stage of exhaustion anyway, even if the hotel-owned disco, karaoke, pool and massage establishment [membership available] was still pumping!) all for a whopping 740Bht ($19.25USD), but beggars can't be choosers eh? Turns out to be a hotel of "excellent" quality. Well, the water pressure in the shower was excellent anyway, which is more than you can say for many places I've stayed at, including some snobsville "Churchill Suite" in Bloomsbury, London for £200 a night. (My prostatic grandfather could piss higher up a wall than their shower nozzle, and it was ON a wall!)

"See you at 7:45 tomorrow morning, in the lobby," say Sumet. "No, I mean 8am. Have sleep in!"

2am. Showered and undressed.

2:01am. Head hits pillow.

2:01;01am. E@L is asleep.

Here Endeth Part One



Posted by: expat@large on Mar 01, 07 | 12:22 am | Profile


i am so not ever, ever, ever complaining about a business trip EVER again!

Posted by: savannah on Mar 01, 07 | 12:00 pm

Savannah, I agree - Shallowphil is pretty tolerant and adventurous overall! Definitely a well-seasoned traveller!

I'm a distant relative, and I tell you he's like our 'Uncle Gil' - who was ALWAYS travelling and experiencing the diversities of faraway countries, and relaying that info back home via postcard or letter (back in the '60s) - Shallowphil is a definite carbon copy of his uncle. His handwriting's even the same! But of course you can't see that.

At least he comes home occasionally, unlike our Uncle Gil (whom we never actually met in person)!

Posted by: Sister on Mar 03, 07 | 7:40 pm

distant as in distance, not as in blood.

Posted by: expat@large on Mar 03, 07 | 10:12 pm


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