It was a bit awkward standing behind a monk at Seven Eleven to buy a beer. But I didn’t care. I needed one. It was the first time I thought I was going to die, since walking down a Chinese sidewalk and almost getting plowed by a taxi. I was visiting an ancient temple in southern Thailand called .
I know. I can’t pronounce it either. Tour books call it by its short nick name: wat-phra-borom-that-chaiya-surat-thani as if that’s any less of a tongue twister.
But here is my advice on visiting temples not found on Lonely Planet. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t visit it. There’s a good chance if you get lost, you will discover you just visited the Temple of Doom.
So I took a minivan from Suratthani, Thailand, (a city tourists should visit simply because tourists don’t) to Chaiya (a city where I was the only tourist there ever). I walked to the bus terminal located behind a massive bohdi tree. its roots cracking the tiled sidewalk into peanut brittle. The bus station was small and dirty; even the Buddhist shrine tucked in the corner needed a good dusting. I spotted the agent behind a newspaper. When I handed a piece of paper with the name of the temple, he just handed it backed and frowned.
A young man with who was sitting in the least dirty of chairs took notice.
“May I help you?” his asked.
I pointed to the crazy name on my piece of paper.
“No problem,” he smiled. He helped me with the ticket, getting me a safe ride to the temple in a new minivan with seat belts. Now the temple was stunning as it is unpronounceable. Crumbling pagodas over fourteen hundred years old.
More Buddhas than I could shake a stick of incense at–
including a few that like soft drinks.
But in spite of the beauty, after forty minutes I hit culture overload. I was ready to head back to Suratthani. But uh, how?
I approached a young girl in a colorful scarf selling eggs near the temple entrance. Her skin was painfully bumpy making her hard to look at, but her eyes were kind, probably from knowing what it’s like to be unaccepted. I showed her my bus ticket and asked, “Do you know when van to Suratthani arrives?”
She frowned and pointed to her phone, “No bus. You must call. Must have seat.”
“Yes.” She nodded, sad that she didn’t have a better answer. Just when I was ready to cry, the girl pointed across the road to wooden shack with a faded Coca-cola sign flapping in the breeze.
“Go to store. Man there help you.”
“Khob-kun-Ka,” I said thanks.
So I took my chances and crossed the busy road to the shack, not sure if it was closed or just not busy. I spotted an old man sitting behind a cooler and prayed that he understood English. I showed him my crumpled mini-van ticket and started limiting my inquiries to two word sentences.
He smiled, then frowned.
“Bus in town.” He got off his stool and pointed down the road. “Five Ke-oh-mah has.”
This is when panic wanted to take over but I wouldn’t let it. What if there was no bus station? What is there was no town? What if he didn’t understand me and was pointing down the road just to be nice? I left the store and started my way down the dusty road when an old lady on motorcycle slowed down. She waved me over.
Her teeth looked like a mouthful of crushed m&ms, dark and jagged. She said something in Thai then pointed to the back of her motorcycle.
What the hell. I hopped on.
This lady drove me to the Thai version of Hooterville, which was down the road, just like the old man said. A few dusty Quonset buildings selling rice, dried fish and red lanterns for New Years. But no bus station.
I scratched my head and wanted to cry. This is not good. I left most of my money at the hotel and I was positively in one of those places where Visa wasn’t accepted. That’s when I spotted a young lady who looked almost as out of place as I did, looking at her HuaWei phone.
“Suratthani?” I asked. “Bus?”
She grabbed my hand and led me down the dusty street to –not a bus stop– but a tuk tuk. It was bright blue tin with a plastic canopy covering two worn benches in the back.
“Tuk Tuk bring you Suratthani. Forty baht.”
I looked at the tuk tuk.
No seat belts. No air bags. No windows. No back door. No other choice.
That’s when I thought I would die.
But that’s when I decided not to panic but to enjoy the adventure. Things will work out, even if they aren’t the way that I’d expect.
As I bounced to Suratthani, all I could think about was my adventure. Not just the smell of bananas on my bumpy ride back, but my upcoming forever…my upcoming divorce and the uncertainty of my life afterwards. All I have for sure is a seven foot marlin in a storage unit and hope. I couldn’t look back, I must look forward.
I started laughing. I was on the same road that I was before but now I needed guts. I could either be scared or have a fasten your seat belt ride that is, if I had a seat belt to fasten. And that’s when I thought of the Proverbs 31:25
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
I’m not sure if my Charlevoix sweatshirt has dignity, but I am going to laugh at what’s to come. I’ll have faith to climb in the back of God’s tuk tuk and trust Him to drive.