The daily commute: It’s a jungle out there

One of my favorite parts of the day, by far, is the daily commute between my home and Pla Pak Noi Elementary School. Set just a few kilometers outside of “downtown” Pla Pak (which consists of a small fresh produce market, some government buildings, stores, pharmacies, and food shops), the road leading to the elementary school passes through a patchwork of rice field plots belonging to many of my students’ families. The drive has always been a calming and peaceful experience for me, but now that the rainy season is in full swing it has become even more enjoyable. Farmers are growing rice and the fields are green and lush. After heavy rains, the standing water in the rice patties function like an enormous mirror, reflecting blue skies and white clouds as if the world was suddenly inverted. My students are often absent right after heavy downpours such as these because it is ideal planting weather and their help is needed in the daytime.

Yesterday afternoon when I was settling into the passenger seat of Pi Tuk’s car for another ride home, I began to reflect on the fixed amount of time I have left to teach, live, and yes, enjoy the scenery, in Thailand. Before I was able to withdraw too deeply into my own thoughts, however, we abruptly maneuvered around a group of stray dogs unwilling to budge from their comfy lounging positions in the middle of the road. I had to laugh at myself because, as I’ve said before, there is something special about my life in Thailand; I’m usually given present-focused reality checks when they are most needed, and often least expected. Not that reflecting about wrapping up my year as a volunteer teacher is a bad thing, I just don’t want to miss out on experiencing my next month here, either. As if some higher force were trying to further prove this point, about a minute later Pi Tuk had to slam on the breaks as a three-foot long snake slithered across the road in front of us. She exclaimed joyfully “Chok dee!” (Good luck!), as snakes are viewed as such in Thailand. Then not one minute later, Pi Tuk plowed through a bunch of chickens (yes, trying to cross the road), running over at least one unlucky fowl. “Not die,” she announced, looking in her rear-view mirror with a curious amount of amusement in her voice. I honestly think she sped up when she saw them.

After this, I couldn’t help but again laugh to myself. Not one, but three reminders of the virtues of mindfulness and present-focused thinking, all in such a short drive home. I’m sure I will continue to ponder how I should go about saying goodbye to my students and work colleagues, as well as prepare for life back in the States after living in rural Thailand for a year, but hopefully I won’t be too distracted from what is happening in the moment and run over any wildlife in the process.

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