Adventures in DMV Days

Riding my motorbike the other day, I came around a bend, prepared to make a left turn. At the same time, a handsome man was driving his motorbike towards me. Our eyes met, and I flashed him my winningest smile. He smiled back. We slowly eased our bikes around each other with a smooth, graceful dance-like harmony, and went our separate ways. It was like something straight out of an old film.

“Hey there, sailor. Drive here often?”

Oh, wait…did you think this was the beginning of a road-romance? Sorry, let me fill in a few more details:

Riding my motorbike the other day, I came around a bend [making an illegal U-turn], prepared to make a left turn [in the wrong direction down a one-way street]. At the same time, a handsome man [wearing a traffic-cop uniform] was driving his motorbike towards me. Our eyes met, and I flashed him my winningest smile. He smiled back. We slowly eased our bikes around each other with a smooth, graceful dance-like harmony, and went our separate ways. There. That’s more accurate.

To be fair, (and to put my parents’ minds at ease), there was construction nearby making all traffic a bit of a mess, and my normal, legal route home was blocked. I don’t usually drive so haphazardly. Nonetheless, the encounter did make me think that now, after two years of ‘practice’, it was probably time for me to actually get my license.

After spending 7 and a half hours at the DMV yesterday, I was almost regretting that decision. Since my driver’s license is all written in Korean, I couldn’t simply exchange it for a Thai one, write a 15 minute multiple choice test, take a 2 minute drive around a closed course, and merrily head home with a legal license. Instead, I had to take a 4 hour road safety course…all in Thai. I dozed through some of it, but when I did listen, all I understood was, ” ……. left turn….. motorcycle….. maybe …. car… 10 minutes… train.”

After the 4 hours, and a 1/2 hour lunch break, the next 3 hours were spent waiting for and taking the written test. 3 times. I took it once for the car and failed, then I took the same test immediately again for the motorbike and passed, then I had to wait 30 minutes before I could take the same test once again for the car. The test was theoretically in English, but that didn’t mean that the words tossed together made much sense!

While waiting for my 3rd round of ‘decipher the question’, I took the practical component for my motorbike. I drove around a closed course, and the official may or may not have looked up from his desk while I did so, to make sure I hadn’t fallen off, or careened into a bush.

Next, I went to get my licenses printed. They printed both a motorbike license, and a car license, but won’t give me the car one until I’ve borrowed a friend’s car and taken the road test. The photographer took my picture 5 times, until she was satisfied that I was smiling, and looked pretty enough to have my face plastered on a permanent ID. That was nice of her. I wish she also worked at the place that does passport photos.

In the end, even after a full day at the DMV, I’m still no closer to understanding Thai driving rules. The only think I learned for certain is that it’s illegal to park by a black & white striped curb, like this one:

Motorbikes (including mine) illegally parked at the DMV. 

I’m sure the drivers of the bikes above can be forgiven, since none of us actually had a license when we drove here and parked. Now that we know better, I’m sure we’ll never ever park illegally again.

Now, if the handsome traffic cop ever pulls me over, at least I’ll be wearing my prettiest smile on my new license. 

Adventures in Village Life #1

It’s been a long day, and spending the day trying to function in another language seems to have curtailed my usual verbosity. So, instead of regaling you with stories, I’m hoping that tonight, a few pictures of my new ‘hood will be of interest:

1. The giant beetle that tried to break through my front door last night. That’s a square-foot tile he’s sitting on.

2. The local convenience store, which the teachers refer to as the 7-11.

3. The gas station at the 7-11. (The 2 pumps behind the woman are the gas pumps)

4. The school bus.

5. My after-dinner view.

Now, I’m going to climb under my mosquito net, and try to fall asleep before the monster-beetle starts knocking on my door again.

Adventures in Worries

I’m a worrier. A fretter. An anticipator of disaster.  I can’t seem to help it. I try not to let it stop me from doing things, but I worry anyway.

At this time last week, I was worried. I was getting ready to go to Ban Pui, a small village at the end of a long, windy, rutted muddy road at the top of a forested mountain peak in northern Thailand.

The long and winding road.

I’d visited the village school once before, 3 months ago, to get permission to stay at the school and conduct my research. After that initial 2-day visit, preparing to stay for 3 full weeks had me fretting. My list of worries was long:

1. My Thai language skills are…um…dreadful. I can order food, and tell people I have a cat. I understand very little of what people say to me, so conversations often go something like this (roughly translated):

Thai Person: “What’s your name?”
Me: “I’m from Canada.”
Thai Person: “What are you doing in Thailand?”
Me: “Yes, I like Thai food.”
Thai Person: “You don’t understand  a word I’m saying, do you?”
Me: “Thank you. It’s pretty.”

With such stellar communication abilities, I was anticipating three very long, quiet, frustrating and confusing weeks ahead – especially since Thai isn’t even the primary language in Ban Pui. As bad as my Thai skills are, my Pwo Karen vocabulary consists of a whole 9 words.

2. During my last visit to Ban Pui, it rained non-stop for 3 full days. The roads were covered in thick, slick mud, and we fishtailed our way up the mountain, occasionally skidding a little too close to the cliff’s edge for my comfort. Once we established that I’d be returning in September, someone reminded me that September was rainy season, and therefore the “roads might be bad.” So, my second worry was that I would get washed off the side of a mountain, making worries #1, #3 and #4 irrelevant.

3. Electricity. On my first visit, the school’s principal asked when I planned to return. When I said September, she replied, “Oh good. We should have electricity by then.” I mentally ran that through my ‘Asian-speed-optimism’ filter, and calculated that electricity would likely arrive sometime in December. As a result, I was prepared for 3 weeks of wandering around wearing a head lamp and carrying 20 pounds of batteries for my recording equipment.

4. Some of my readers might not believe it, but I’m really quite shy, and talking to strangers stresses me out. Apparently, “Don’t talk to strangers.” was the one childhood admonition I took to heart. Life as an adult would have been much easier if I had remembered “Don’t run with scissors” and “Don’t eat paste” instead. The idea of approaching dozens of strangers to interview them for my thesis, using a language I don’t understand was, to put it mildly, daunting.

For these reasons, at this time last week, I was a worried mess. On Monday, my Bible Study group was kind enough to add this little worry-wort to their prayer list, and did their best to encourage me.  On Tuesday, I took a deep breath, tossed my backpack into the back of a truck, and hit the road.

Here is how my list of worries panned out in reality:

1. One of the teachers and the principal speak English. With some back-and-forth over the meaning of some words in either language, we’re able to communicate pretty well. The other teachers speak some English, and speak to me slowly, and are patient with my dreadful pronunciation. Despite the language barrier, we’ve all shared some good laughs and conversations.

2. The village hadn’t had rain for 3 days, so the roads were dry and bumpy, not slippery at all. I also remembered to take my motion-sickness tablet, and felt pretty good about the whole trip.

3. The school got electricity and WiFi the week before I arrived. I can re-charge my equipment with ease, and even manage the occasional facebook update if time permits.

4. The teachers, villagers and students are friendly, welcoming and kind. I’ll write more about them, and life in the village in my next post, since I’ll be spending next week conducting my interviews. But for now, I’ll leave you with pictures of kids from the Grade 1 class.

 What was I so worried about? 🙂