Stories from the borderline
February 18th, 2013
I'm starting to get pretty used to exceedingly long bus rides by now and the trip yesterday was no exception.
Starting early in the morning with a three plus three hour trip via the small town Trang, I landed in the larger metropolitan Hat Yai. When I step outside I'm being told that the next bus is not departing until five hours later. Hat Yai is known to be Thailand's most dangerous and violent city, having had numerous bomb attacks from terrorists during the last couple of years. That's exactly the place one wants to spend his complete afternoon. Perfect.
Five hours later, and without any mishaps, the bus departures for Malaysia and I can now look forward to familiarize myself with the motion of it for the next twelve hours. I also realize I've miscalculated my allotment, and so preparing myself for paying the one day overstay fee of 500 baht (around \$15). At the border we're being ordered to leave the bus for passport inspection and the inspector sends me to a separate building where the payments are collected.
As soon as I'm entering the room I hear a loud conversation flying back and forth, a young couple (seeming to be from Canada according to their passports) is discussing something with the officer at command. After my mind comprehends the dialogue I understand they don't have enough cash to pay their fee.
They ask despairingly if there's an ATM nearby or someplace where they can get money since they can't use their card in there. Instead of being helpful in any way, the officer is rather mocking them for not having the money in the first place. He's obviously enjoying his moment of power. Since I'm having a couple of baht over that I won't need anymore I'm handing them the 300 they miss so they can pay and move on. That's how I'd wanted to be treated, should the situation had been reversed. They're thankful and say they will pay back later in another currency. I know I won't see the money again but that's fine, and so they leave.
Then it's my turn and the officer is executing his paperwork tremendously slow. Just as if he wants to test my patience. The phone rings, he leisurely picks it up, talking to the person at the other end and occasionally looks at me, his eyes smiling as he stretches the time. The lines for the passport inspections outside are thinning out and I'm thinking about the bus. I hope they won't leave without me. But I have my bag and all my things here so where I end up doesn't actually matter. I may have to sleep on the floor of the borderline inspection office for the night. It's okay.
The bus driver shows up outside the window and gestures me to hurry up. I ask the officer if he please could finish it soon, so I can get on the bus. He shhhh me down and asks me where my friends are since there seem to be some problem with their previous paperwork. I tell him I have no idea. "But they must be on the same bus as you?" "I've never seen them before." "So you gave money to complete strangers you never met?" "Yep, I did," I say in a cheerful manner and see how his jaw drops to the desk when he can't grasp the incomprehensible.
I can only hope that moment learned him something about how to treat his fellow human beings with a certain respect and dignity henceforward.
At last I get on the bus and after doing a verifying, random check I see that the Canadian couple is not on this bus. Finally I can catch some sleep.
It's still dark and early in the morning when we reach Kuala Lumpur, but as the bus draws close to the station I can clearly make out the regular outlines of a huge group of taxi drivers, gathering together systematically like hyenas in search for their next prey. I.e. every person on this bus.
I saunter around by myself for a while and after having some breakfast I decide trying to hunt down my hostel. Preceding with some trial and error, getting lost over and over and asking countless of people for the way in this giant maze; I finally find it.
I check in, and as I'm walking through the big adjacent open space to get to the showers I see something familiar. Having a cup of tea at the breakfast table is, believe it or not; the Canadian couple. What are the odds? That in this vast, populous city we're ending up at the exact same place right in the outskirts of Chinatown? Cheerfully waving me down, they're offering me a cup of tea and we share our different point of views from the escapades of last night.
I have no clue what the whole thing meant. Why were we so magnetically linked together? When I'd given up the thought about ever seeing them again, how come they get back in such a strange manner? I haven't the faintest idea. But in that moment I get overwhelmed by an elated feeling, saying that if I only do whatever I feel is correct, settle with that, and let go of all the speculations and vanity for controlling situations; the right outcome will always reveal itself. And that makes me happy.