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Riding the rails

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Today I reminisce for no especial reason about riding the trains in Thailand. Two stories, if you’ve got the patience for them.

We were standing on the platform in, if memory serves, Lopburi en route to Sukkhotai. Laden down with all of our luggage, including Joe’s large backpack full of heavy recording equipment and a less-than-wieldly tripod slung over a shoulder, we looked about as much like two weary tourists as anyone ever could.

Now, most of the places to which we traveled had even-more-adequate-than-expected signage in English, so it was actually pretty easy, if English is your bag,  to work out where you were and where you might be headed. This station, however, was smaller, perhaps not as heavily traveled by visitors, or who knows why, but platforms here were not labeled in anything but Thai. We had learned nowhere near enough about Thai characters to hope to decipher any of the postings, but we thought we had figured out the right spot, and hoped that the right train would be obvious when it arrived. Perhaps since our destination was, in fact, a popular one with tourists, it would have a sign in English? We were waiting to see.

We had been standing there for a few minutes when we were approached by a youth who was working at a juice stand on the platform. He was maybe 13 or 14 years old, and he strode up to us with an eager smile on his face. In broken English, which he was clearly very excited to use, he asked where we were going. He then asked if we knew which was the right train. We told him we hoped we would know it when we saw it, but we’re fine for now, thank you. He then asked us a few conversational questions like what were our names, where were we from, how old were we, stuff like that. He was pleased to introduce himself and, satisfied with the encounter, he went back to his post.

A train came chugging into the station a few moments later. We were pretty sure it was not the one for us, since it was still several minutes before our scheduled departure. We made no move to shift our position out from underneath all of our luggage, but just in case, our new friend darted out from behind the juice stand and ran toward us waving his hands in a gesture that, in context, obviously meant “don’t get on this train! It’s not going where you are!”

Twice he did this, with each train that pulled into the station. When the third train arrived the timing lined up and we sincerely thought we had followed all of the available clues correctly (hour of departure, number of platform), so we waved farewell to our juice-peddling comrade (who was presently embroiled in a squeezing transaction) and gave our goods the old heave-ho onto our backs, crossed the tracks, and climbed aboard. No sooner had I found a place to stash my backpack when I saw the top of his head bobbing below the open window, his arms waving overhead. Well that’s curious, I thought. What does he want? He burst, breathless, into the aisle of our train car. “No! Not this train!” he exclaimed, and indicated the overhead sign which, apparently, indicated a destination other than the one where we were headed. We worked out the confusion and he, still beaming ear to ear, helped us carry all of our heavy luggage back to the waiting area.

When the next train pulled in we looked over at him, still pumping citrus juice from behind his station, and he smiled and waved in confirmation. We waved again in thanks and, regretting that we didn’t buy a juice from him, boarded the correct train.

I told this story once to someone whose first reaction to me was “well, I suppose he had his hand held out, expecting something in return.” It is hard to explain to someone who does not view international travel as a hospitable venture that there is still a surprising abundance of kind people in the world. This kid didn’t ask us for anything. There was never any implication that he wanted a tip or any kind of hand out, and he certainly did not pick our pockets. He saw some folks who looked a little bemused and wanted to make sure they got on the right train. I wish I would have bought some juice from him, but only because I appreciated him, not because he expected that I owed him anything. It’s important to be on your guard when you’re traveling and yes, train platforms are notoriously easy places for thieves to get you, but it was so affirming to have the experience of this young man making sure we were taken care of. We felt very well cared for indeed.

Actually, I’m not going to tell the second story right now. I will save it for part two. 🙂


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One Comment on “Riding the rails

  1. Pingback: Always pack a snack | The Intrepid Herbivores

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2012 by in thailand, travel stories and tagged , .