Friday, January 27, 2012

A Lesson in a lot-song-thaew

Like in many other countries you will find many local transportation services in Thailand. There are public-bus transportation services, taxi, Lot-mey, tuk-tuk, motorsai, lot-song-thaew (forgive me if my spellings do not match the actual Thai pronunciations) not to mention sky-trains in the cities. Public-bus, taxi and sky trains cover the highways while Lot-mey, tuk-tuk, motorsai, lot-song-thaew cover the road network other than highways. Taxi fares are relatively high because it’s more comfortable to travel by Taxi, while Lot-mey, tuk-tuk, motorcy and lot-song-thaew operates at a cheaper fare.

Public bus

Taxi

Sky train

Lot-mey

Tuk-tuk

Motorsaii

Lot-song-thaew

In and around our university there are Lot-mey, tuk-tuk, motorsai, lot-song-thaew and taxi.

Going to the shopping centers on free time is a popular recreation for Bhutanese students in the university and most often we travel by Lot-mey and lot-song-thaew.

A lot-song-thaew, carries about fourteen passengers, twelve in its rear passenger seat and two in its cab. They wait at the university entrances for the students and local people to board until all seats are filled. It also picks up passengers along the way but they have to travel standing.

Last Sunday I was going to a shopping center and I boarded a lot-song-thaew. I was the only Bhutanese passenger in it. There were about eight male passengers including me and the rest female.

Few minutes down the road, the vehicle stopped to pick a woman passenger. As the women treaded in, a young university boy stood up to give her his seat. ‘What a kind fellow’ I thought. The women took the seat without even saying ‘thank you’.

After sometime a young girl boarded the vehicle and this time the gentle man sitting straight opposite me stood up to offer her his seat. By then of the eight male passengers in the vehicle, six of us were still sitting.

A few minutes down the road the vehicle pulled over yet again to pick this time a group of five university girl students. As they stepped in the vehicle all five male passengers sitting stood up to give them their seats. While the girls sat without even thanking the men.

Then I was the only male passenger sitting and I hoped ‘If the pulls over again to pick a passenger  let it not be  female ’

We traveled for some time and the vehicle stopped again to pick a passenger. I craned my neck only to find a lady stepping in. A question sprang in my mind ‘should I offer my seat to the lady? No I shouldn't because there is a long way before I reach the shopping center.’ So I continued sitting and pretended to be oblivious of the presence of the lady.

But after sometime I noticed that all the passenger in the vehicle were gazing at me and some even glaring at me. I thought ‘is something wrong with my face? Have I got sweat on my nose?’ and wiped my face but the passengers were persistently gazing at me. ‘Are they looking at me because I am a foreigner? Have I become something of an oddity?’ So I turned my face away from them and looked at the trees and houses that passed by.

However, few minutes later my conscience pricked me and I felt awkward to be the only male passenger sitting, so I offered my seat to the woman. Surprisingly, the passengers withdrew all those stares, gazes and glares. It was only then that I knew that those glares and stares meant that I should stand and give the lady my seat. And it dawned on me that it must have been customary for men to offer their seat for female passengers. I also knew the reason why female passengers who took the seats offered by male passengers didn’t say ‘thank you’ because when something is a customary there isn't any need for saying ‘Thank you’

After ten minutes, we were at the parking lot of the shopping center. We unboarded and queued up to pay the fare. I wasn't quite convinced of why men had to give their seats for female passengers. So I couldn't help asking the student before me in the queue ‘Why did men stand up when women got in?’ but he dint seem to be speaking much English. So I rephrased it and said ‘Why men stand up when woman get in?’ He stammered and finally forced out ‘sss..sss..ss sacrifie…’. He meant sacrifice. That said it all. Men sacrificed their seats for women.

The following Sunday I found myself travelling in a city bus and this time when a lady got in I was the first person to stand up and offer her the seat and I dint mind even if she dint say thank you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Away from my family

I am back in my university in Thailand after spending few months semester break in my country. Was there any time in your life when you had to leave your loved ones behind for any government assignments or duty? How did you feel to be away them? Today the same feeling that you felt is killing me every second.

I have two daughters. The elder is six and the younger three. Ever since I had them, I have not a single day stayed away from them.  Now you won’t believe me when I say ‘ not a single day’. Trust me, it’s true. Like to anybody, my family means all the world to me.

But, when duty takes precedence over love we cant help it. It forces us to be away from your loved ones and staying away from them makes us homesick, depressed, distressed, anxious, insecure, withdrawn, helpless- you name it .

I have heard stories of Pemi Tshewang Tashi who had to painfully leave his family and set out for war, Gasa Lamai Singye who had to leave his fiancee Galem for a government assignment and today when I have left my family I am among them feeling the same heavy feeling.

I feel unaccompanied. I feel as though i have lost a life giving element. I feel that I am away from the most solacing thing on earth.I feel insecure because I have no one to turn to and confide to if I run into troubles. I can’t help watching the video clip I recorded in my mobile when I was with them, over and over like a stuck record and I wouldn't mind even if my mobile phone gets damaged. I haven’t opened my backpack in which my wife stuffed all my necessary things because I feel her presence with the bag and if i am in the room I can’t help staying by the bag. I haven’t washed my face for the last two days because my daughters left their adieu kisses on my cheeks. I don’t want their kisses to be washed away and go in the drains. I can’t stay long in my room because I feel that the walls are cutting me off from them. I feel that they are somewhere outside. I don’t mind spending heavily on top-up cards (One minute talk costs around 15 baht or so). Hearing their voice in the phone overwhelms me with emotions, wells my eyes with tears, tightens my throat and I go speechless. After the calls I cant help burying my face in my pillow. Sometimes I wish I had never come here. 

Although it’s hard to come to terms with my being away from my family, I find no option but to struggle in time. I can only pray God that my wife and two daughters be well and safe. At night I look at the sky and look at glowing  moon and wish if I was it to see everything beneath it. Sometimes I wish I was the sun whose rays can touch all places on earth in a split-second. Above all, I wish I had the power to pull time.