My First Thai Field Trip

Well, the day didn’t get off to a great start for me. Two days before the IP6 field trip, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection that had me on antibiotics and generally down for the count for a day and a half. On the morning of the field trip I awoke to rain, which, even in the rainy season, is rare. Usually the rain will come in the late afternoon, but this time it started at dawn and never really stopped. I called my parents on my way to school; I was feeling pretty great. Unfortunately, in the blink of an eye I saw the WRONG direction my taxi driver decided to go, despite what I thought was an agreement we made before he started driving.

Me: Vibhavadi, U-turn (the expressway, then a U-turn into the main gate at the university)

Him: Chai, Vibhavadi. (Got it.)

Me: Mai Pahanyothin (No Pahanyothin, a very trafficky street)

Him: Chai.

And as we came to a dead stop on Pahanyothin, I realized it was going to be a very long day. I told him to let me out at a different gate,   knowing that this choice would require me to get on a motor taxi to traverse the windy road to my school. I got out, walked in the gate, and found that much of the university campus was full of a temporary fair with food, clothing, and jewelry stalls. I was fearful that no motor taxis would venture through a fair where there were people working and a few pedestrians. But then I remembered that I was in Bangkok where driving laws aren’t exactly, well, followed. Sure enough, along came a motorcycle, which I mounted side-saddle, shielding my head from the rain with a flimsy umbrella. He made his way to the road that goes through campus, swerved around traffic, and expertly went over speed bumps as I hung on to his shoulder and tried to keep my feet from hitting cars, the pavement, or the exhaust pipe. I was actually not miserable, simply because I just couldn’t believe what I was going through to get to work that day. It was so ridiculous that I had to just shake my head, laugh out loud, and hope that I stayed on the slippery motorcycle seat long enough to get me where I needed to be. When I arrived at school, rather drenched, it was already 7:40 and we were boarding the bus at 7:45.

The party bus we boarded, which featured decals on the back window of martini glasses and microphones (karaoke-equipped), was really quite nice. What I thought was a fluke occurrence that would only happen once (maybe the driver thought all the kids were safely aboard), actually happened each time we got on the bus throughout the day: The driver began driving away about a half a second after I had gotten both feet on the steep steps that led to the second story where the class and I sat! I absolutely could not believe that this happened every time. I would barely be in the bus and I’d feel us lurch forward and begin down the road. Kids were still standing up, possibly still boarding from the back side door; it blew my mind. Also, the counting of students to keep track of them as we visiting tourist sites was also sporadic and often not done. Anyway, besides the obvious safety concerns, we all made it to our destinations unscathed.

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There were four people on the bus who were not associated with the school. The first two were the driver and his girlfriend/co-pilot, who sat on the bottom deck and gave us a thrill by driving off without any sort of warning. One other was a woman who served us water, hushed loud children, pushed slow children, and glared at foreign teachers. The fourth and final was our illustrious tour guide, a woman in her late 30s who spoke nonstop for seven hours. I’m truly not exaggerating. It was an impressive feat that I’m not sure I could do, and I’m known to be quite loquacious. She, in Thai of course, pointed out bridges and buildings, played games like “How Many Bathroom Items Can We Think Of?” (toothbrush, toilet, wall, sink, and so on), and explained our turn-by-turn movements or the reasons for our delays. Then at our destinations she continued to speak incessantly about the history of the sites.
Due to the rain and our delayed departure, we had to skip the first of three planned destinations. The first stop was meant to be Wat Arun, but for some reason the rain prevented us from getting to this historic temple. I was OK with this because I’d been able to see it back in December with Sean and his two friends who were also visiting Bangkok. That was already two hours into our bus ride, but we pressed on. About 30 minutes later we arrived at Wat Po, a temple that I had not visited previously. Everyone got off the bus, and we entered through the temple gates. It was still raining, despite all the locals claiming that it would stop. It never rains all day!

I have to stop here to describe an irrational, yet very real phobia of mine. I absolutely cannot stand it when my feet are standing somewhere wet. I have been asked how I manage to take showers. Showers are fine because the water is moving, but upon exiting the shower, there had better be a dry rug or towel on that nasty wet cold floor (as clean as it may be) or I will be scampering out of there on my tiptoes like a bat out of hell. It is Thai culture to remove one’s shoes when entering someone’s home, anything royal, and any Buddhist temple. I’m not a big fan of being barefoot in a public place — even if the floor is dry (I politely removed my shoes to enter a temple back in December) — but on a wet day, I could not even imagine going barefoot. Unfortunately, we were visiting royal and religious places that day, so I avoided entering anything that required bare feet. I just couldn’t do it. Call me a bad sport. Call me disrespectful. Call me a lame tourist. Call me anything you like, but I was not going to take off my shoes and touch my bare feet to the cold, wet marble floors that were being touched by everybody else’s bare feet.

What is funny about a field trip at this school is that when a teacher decides not to participate in some of the activities because she has a wet bare feet phobia, it really doesn’t matter. With the tour guide and her sidekick and three other teachers chaperoning 32 6th-graders, I was just an extra anyway. So I stood outside in the rain, with wet feet of course, but at least they weren’t touching the ground!

Midway through our tour of Wat Po, we ate lunch, and after seeing the rest of the temple grounds and the famous 3rd largest reclining Buddha (I’ll see him on a future sunny day, in socks), we boarded the bus and drove a quick kilometer to the Grand Palace. I had visited the Palace back in December, but it was still fun to see again. It’s really quite majestic, very ornate, and an important part of Thai history. I learned bits of pieces of history from my student translators and enjoyed the museums inside. I really wish I would have snapped a photo of the middle-aged woman guarding the weapons museum, who was blissfully catnapping in her chair alongside humongous knives and really big guns.

After our tour of the Palace, we all got back on the bus, where the students were allowed to eat their snacks (utter pandemonium), sing songs, and generally behave the way I’m used to kids behaving on field trips back home. One girl even got to sing us a song with the karaoke microphone at the front of the bus. We arrived back at school, gave the kids some snacks, and said goodbye. It was an experience. I wish that the tours would have been in English, so I’m having to rely on Google and Wikipedia to learn about the historic sites.

 

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