Minivans are one of the greatly overlooked and wholly underappreciated forms of transport in the modern world. These sleek white monsters of engineering achieve feats that you wouldn’t quite believe without having witnessed them yourselves.
Understanding then the impossible task it is to tell you about the joys the vans bring to travel, I’m going to tell you a story instead. All in good fun (as is Thailand) of course.
Jessica had been looking forward to her upcoming trip with as much trepidation as she had excitement. The school term had been hard towards the end of the year, with coworkers running completely dry of meaningful conversation but never of enthusiasm for the act of talking itself. Others of her colleagues chose Skype conversations to pass the time between class and commutes home and Jess wasn’t sure if the obnoxious one-sided conversations were better or worse with just half of the dialogue. Nevertheless a sturdy pair of earphones and an experienced grasp of when to avoid eye contact and when to throw back well-crafted smiles and nods, had dragged her across the finish line of the school year. Jessica suddenly realised she’d let her thoughts drag unpleasantly across the long day in the office and so instead returned to the act of packing and the exciting thoughts of the journey ahead.
It would be three weeks before Jess would return home and that meant while she would liked to have packed lighter, her backpack still bulged along the zips. Jess couldn’t quite understand how her bag had filled so quickly with shoes dangling precariously from their laces which had been tied awkwardly to straps certainly not designed for that purpose. Finally she managed to cram the last of her clothes down into the backpack with an awkward maneuver that required her to place all of her body weight on top of the backpack while at the same time pulling a cord sideways to tighten. As Jess lay flat on her back, slightly out breath from the exertion, she made the promise to herself that she’d stop being stubborn and find roommates to live with next term. The wild-limbed struggle with the backpack was quickly forgotten as Jess posed in a flurry of positions for her pre-travel backpack Instagram snaps.
When the taxi arrived Jess lugged her bag to the passenger door and was met by the kind but bemused face of the driver who quietly wondered what kind of incident with the foreigner would make this short trip to the bus stop memorable.
“Bai nai krub” the driver cautiously put to the flustered farang in his backseat.
“Um. bai…. miniwan kaa. Rot miniwan? Bus station? To the bus please!” Jess bumbled awkwardly through her limited Thai vocabulary.
The driver smiled “You want to go to the bus station? No problem, where you going?”
Immediately Jess simultaneously relaxed and felt a wave of foolishness roll over her as she realised the driver had an entirely better grasp of English than she had of Thai. “Oh… thanks… I’m going to Krabi.”
The rest of the short journey went without glitch with Jess sitting in the back of the car mentally remarking how along with new roommates she’d also make a concerted effort to learn more Thai this time around. Slight rain began to fall just as the driver dropped her at the minivan station and pointed her in the direction of the Krabi ticket counter. She handed over the cab fare with a tip certainly inflated by her embarrassment and ended their time together with a “thank you kaa” for fear of a repeat performance in language skills.
Immediately Jess was swept up in the frantic energy of the bus station, blue shirted men guided her towards a ticket stand where a price was thrown at her and a little plastic yellow ticket was placed in her hands marking her number on the van. Jess had only previously been in a private van where more experienced travelers had sorted out the details and people had politely offered her a seat in the front row where she had been able to stretch her legs. She worried a little over what seat she might have but as her ticket said “2” she was quietly confident that would put her somewhere at the front of the van, although if not she couldn’t imagine it making much difference.
Another man in a blue shirt pointed at set of plastic chairs next to the minivan and Jess was happy to plant herself down away from the swirl of chaos that was the ticket counter. Jess noticed she was the only foreigner in the station, all around her Thai people sat quietly looking at their phones seemingly oblivious to the goings on around them. Outside the rain had begun to fall a little more aggressively and most people were huddled under the bus station roof while the more unfortunate ran back and forth between the road side shops and bright yellow taxis unloading people in the downpour.
Jess had lost her train of thought in the pouring rain, imagining her first cold drink under a warm afternoon sun with her feet up at the beach. Her day dreaming was interrupted suddenly as a flurry of activity burst out around her. Unsure of who or what had given the signal, she sat flummoxed as the once placid looking Thai people around her bee-lined quickly for the minivan doors. She did her best to find her place in line but the heavy bag at her feet slowed her down. Jess finally stepped up into the van and looked inside to see a group of expressionless faces staring back at her in the murk of the van. All the seats had been taken except for a small spot right at the back.. She hefted her bag in front of her, desperately trying not to knock people in the face as she crammed herself through the narrow aisle. The other passengers turned their eyes away as she passed by with her heavy luggage, perhaps ashamed for taking advantage of the early seating but more likely to avoid having to communicate with the flustered tourist. For a moment Jess wobbled precariously as she stepped over a bag in the aisle, before plopping down in the back middle seat with her bag pressed on top of her.
As Jess adjusted to her situation she took in her surroundings; to her left sat a younger petite Thai lady with her face illuminated by the screen of her phone, and on her right an older man who shuffled over politely but looked straight ahead the entire time. Jess’ seat wasn’t quite as comfortable as her last journey, but it was far from unbearable. A small metal bar must have run under the seat at some level as Jess could feel a small bump as she shifted her bag under her feet. To Jess though the seat seemed padded well enough and she couldn’t imagine vans used for journeys of five hours and longer would have such an obvious design flaw. All in all things could certainly have been worse and Jess relaxed back into her seat, she fished her headphones out of the top pouch of her bag, closed her eyes and plugged herself in to the top of her Spotify playlist.
Jess opened her eyes to a firm but polite tap on her knee, in front of her was a very awkward looking teenager in an ill-fitting uniform with a bright green drink in his right hand. Jess smiled, pulled an earphone out and shrugged apologetically at the inquiring look on the kid’s face. The young student pursed his lips and politely pointed at the small gap between Jess and the older Thai man on her left. Jess followed the direction of his gaze but saw nothing on the seat that could possibly belong to the young man. Jess glanced over to the Thai woman next to her who raised her eyes from her phone just long enough to make eye contact but not long enough to offer any guidance on what the boy might want. Perplexed, Jess shifted sideways to give herself a better view of anything that might have rolled under her person. Before Jess had time to shrug her shoulders or attempt apologising in Thai, the boy slipped into the space left beside her. Now it was Jess’ turn to purse her lips as she attempted to re-position her self awkwardly between the student and the woman whose thumbs tapped rapidly over the glowing screen clasped between her hands.
Despite the unexpected seating change which, along with considerably less elbow room, had moved the metal bar from an even spread across her bottom to just the one cheek, Jess knew better than to let a little shuffle affect her mood. There was no one to complain to, no way to vocalise her complaints in a language that would be understood and almost certainly nothing to be done about any of it anyway. Jess’ nostrils momentarily took in the pungent smell of cigarette smoke permeating from the clothes of the kid next to her, but decided consciously not to engage with yet another barb in her peace of mind. She took a deep breath, wiggled herself into as comfortable position as possible and closed her eyes to the world again. The brightly lit screen next to her faded away, and the smoke drenched green-drinked student fell to the back of her mind as her favourite playlist again filled her ears alongside thoughts of sandy beaches and cool-breezed sunsets. Jess let a small determined smile cross her face as she decided that things could certainly be worse. In that moment the van doors slid shut with a thud that shook the seat below her and the van rolled out into the storm.
To be continued.