Here I Am Lord

So what if you had this scenario happen to you. Say you decide you want to go up to New York to see your aunt. You’re in California and don’t speak much English, but you find me and say, “I’d like to go to New York City”

I sell you a ticket. Do I TELL you that this particular ticket only goes to Nevada and then you’ll have to take 3 or 4 more trains and several more days to get to NYC? One would certainly hope so.

That’s not what happened to us though. When will I learn that the smiling nod and spoken “Yes” in Asia doesn’t always mean “Yes” but often more of a “Keep talking, I’m listening even though I have no idea what you’re on about ” sort of acknowledgement.

For many years Tony and I thought it would be ‘romantic’ to ride the train down from Bangkok, Thailand to Singapore. Our friends had done it (years ago) but hey, we can do it now. Really, it’s no big deal, about 1000 miles,if memory serves me.

I checked into it and found a three day package deal on the Eastern Oriental Express. I glanced at the itinerary and it was everything you’ve ever dreamed of, and sounded very classy, so I thought ‘lets do it!” Then I checked the price, How much could it be?

Would you believe $3900 Per Person………….and it was sold out.

Off we went to the main train station where we found the token english speaker and she sold us two very nice tickets from Bangkok overnight to ‘Singapore’ or so we thought. We confirmed and reconfirmed, asked others, asked again, and it was all there, printed on our tickets and a sheet in mostly Thai, but every time we pointed and said “Singapore” we got smiles and nods.

And so on Friday afternoon, we arrived at the station, purchased a few ‘necessities’ because the dining car didn’t look that appealing (nor did the train station for that matter) and sitting in our assigned “upper and lower” pullman seats, we pushed off right on time. I was smiling like a cheshire cat, partially because the last time I rode this particular train for a short trip, the windows were too dirty to see out, but this time they were sparkling clean! That in itself had to be a particularly good omen, don’t you think? Here we were on our ‘dream trip’ and not $3900 apiece but more like $30 each!

We’re so smart we surprise ourselves.

We snacked, read our books, looked out the windows, watched the coconut palms and the water buffalo and the children fading into the sunset when finally the porter came thru and made up our beds. Mine was clearly intended for a younger person, since I had to scale a tiny ladder and vault myself onto what you might call a shelf, about as wide (and hard) as a dining room chair. Wrapping the sheet around me like a mummy, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t roll out and onto the floor, but needless to say, it was an uneasy night for me. Tony, below, slept like a baby.

Then we repositioned ourselves for 4 more hours, looking out at the beautiful scenery and munching on granola bars. By now I was transversing the cars across the little ‘bridge’’ where you can see down to the tracks and the train connectors, to the toilet ( if you want to call a hole onto the tracks a ’toilet’ ) with ease.

And then we arrived, as per schedule at the ‘border’.

Thats where the whole thing fell apart.

The “Border” was the Malaysian one all right,but it was the northern border,not the southern one that leads just a mile or so across the straights of Malacca into Singapore. We realized our tickets had ENDED a whole country away from the goal!

Of course NO ONE spoke even a modicum of English, but we understood that we’d have to wait several hours there to immigrate into Malaysia to then catch another train into Penang (several hours) or Kuala Lumpur (even more) and then on to Singapore, tallying up to about 2 more DAYS of train travel.

I haven’t felt this hopeless and stupid in ages. We hurriedly turned on our phone to ‘international roaming’ and called a friend we know in Penang and said, “Help us”!

And he did. About 20 texts later, we had covered every scenario with so many texts we’ll be paying the phone company for life, but none of them getting us to Singapore by Sunday morning. That would be problematic since Tony was slated to share his Anagaion program in the Japanese church and possibly another one as well.

Then we had an idea.

I texted the friend “What about Hat Yai?” It was a town, still in Thailand, that we’d passed thru about an hour earlier. Maybe they had an airport with flights to Singapore, it looked like a pretty good sized town.

“Yes”, he texted, “ There’s a plane for Singapore leaving there in about 3 hours”.

I ran into the rail office and asked about RETURNING to Thailand, and he said the train was leaving in 5 minutes.

I held up two fingers and he wrote “100” on a piece of paper. I said, “Dollars?” He shook his head. “Ringetts?” again no. Finally I said, “Baht?” and he affirmed it was 100 Baht ($3 USD) for both of us to stand for an hour on a hot train that is now leaving in about 3 minutes.

GREAT! We’d already told our friend to buy the air tickets online for us.

We started digging for money and could only find about 40 Baht. Of course there are no ATMs in places like this. I dug deeper and threw some ringetts on the table. We were still gravely short of $3 and the whistle blew. The ticket master shrugged his shoulders and pointed with his chin for us to get on anyway…….we didn’t argue.

As soon as we pulled out of the station on the race back to Hat Yai My friend texted, “Only one ticket available”. My answer was “Don’t kid me”

He wasn’t.

We texted him to book us the 7:AM flight the next day.  We’d miss the first church service, but we weren’t responsible for anything so that wouldn’t be a problem.

But as Hat Yai hadn’t really struck me as a lovely town to spend the night in, especially because we had a non-refundable booking waiting for us already in Singapore, I suggested that we just jump in a taxi after this hour long standing with the hot blast of wind in your face ordeal was over, and head for the airport.  Maybe they’d have a cancellation, or if not we could hopefully grab a place to sleep there.
We arrived and I sat down on some filthy concrete steps and spread myself out over our luggage (this town was practically at war when we lived in Bangkok in 2010, so I figured you can’t be too careful).  Tony started asking about the airport.
No one understood him.  We studied Thai for 8 months but for the life of us we couldn’t conjure up the word for Airport, so Tony resorted to swooshing around in front of the policeman making zooming sounds, arms extended, occasionally pointing skyward.  It worked and we were in a battered car and on our way.  We wondered that maybe they just wanted us out of the station, but we had an uneventful ride straight to the airport, safe and sound.
The Thai people have a way of greeting called a “Wai”.  You place your palms together, fingers pointing upwards toward your chin, and bowing slightly, you raise the hands to the level of your need to be humble.
I came into the airline office with my hands already reaching my forehead.  I would have bowed as well,  but by now my dress was so dirty and stretched out it was touching the floor and I was afraid of a faceplate if I did too much stooping..
“I conjured and pleaded our situation.  They looked at me and motioned for me to produce a ticket.  I explained (in gestures) that I didn’t have one.
Finally, our passports did the trick, and she found our reservation (that we’d never yet laid eyes on). She apologized that by changing the flight, we’d have to pay for a bag again. (about $10)
That seemed fair.  In a few minutes we were boarding a plane for Singapore.  I don’t know where they found the other seat, but I wasn’t asking questions.
Two hours later we treated ourselves to a real taxi and leaned back in the CLEAN leather seats and glided into Singapore to the smooth tones of “Hotel California” coming from the radio.
Life is good.  God is even better!
PS In case you’re still interested, the whole debacle probably cost us about $280 all up.  Anyone want to book a tour??

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