When I tell people I want to try living car-free, they are skeptical. And then when I tell them I’m going to try it in Detroit, they all but say it’s impossible. Sure, Detroit has its challenges (and public transportation is certainly one of them) but what city doesn’t? To be fair, I have relatively easy access to a friend’s vehicle when my timely arrival is crucial (i.e.: job interviews) but for the most part I’m holding myself to bus-only travel in the Motor City.
This week I was tired of scrambling for quarters at the bottom of my purse, so I walked over to the new Rosa Parks Transit Center and purchased a weekly pass for $14.40. Considering I already used it three times today, I think it will prove to be a good investment (as a regular bus fare would run me $1.50). This new transit center is great; there are 13 docks with electronic signs listing the upcoming bus departures and times, as well as the current time and any important travel advisories. This is also the downtown drop-off point for the Megabus and SMART buses, which are shuttles that run to and from the suburbs. In addition to the arrival and departure docks, the Rosa Parks Transit Center also consists of an indoor complex with a ticket window, bus schedule brochures, and a waiting area.
The majority of my bus rides thus far have gone by without a hitch. Well, there was that one time last week when the 53 heading north on Woodward stopped abruptly about three blocks from my destination. After five minutes or so, passengers (me included) began to stir impatiently. After a lethargic game of telephone ended where I was sitting in the rear, everyone already knew that the bus had broken down. Unconvinced by the driver’s reassurance that the mechanic “would be here in a minute,” I disembarked and walked the rest of the way to work. I’d say I got $1.25 out of my $1.50 bus fare that day.
Then there was the time a few months ago when I needed to get back downtown from Café con Leche in Southwest Detroit. Detroit’s Department of Transportation website gave me a bus route and pick-up location at a nearby intersection, which I thought would be easy enough to figure out. When I got to the cross streets as directed, however, I realized that the bus signs were not marked with route numbers; I had a total of eight signs to chose from! As I narrowed it down to two possible stops (after using my questionable sense of direction and gauging the cardinal points by the positioning of the sun in a dreary, overcast November sky) I realized that Detroit’s public transportation system had some work to do. Then, to top it off, my bus pulls up, unmarked. Yep, there was no indication that the bus at the curb was in fact the eastbound 27, until such information was confirmed by the bus driver.
Like I said, there is work to be done.
A view of my room from the yoga mat
Today I pay tribute to the mosquito nets I’ve slept under for a year. It has long become second nature to tie up my net each night before going to bed, and unfasten it every morning to avoid hitting it during my sunrise salutations. More than keeping the mosquitoes away from me while I sleep and protecting my bed from the gecko droppings that fall on everything, my mosquito net has become a part of my daily routine that truly distinguishes my life here from the one I left a year ago in the States.
I am quite grateful to have lived in a house with so many amenities, like running water, electricity (and Internet, usually), screens on my bedroom windows, a shower head and a washing machine with spin dry. Most Thai houses lack window coverings, so mosquito nets in those houses are even more of a necessity than mine is to me. I don’t have to take bucket showers if I don’t want to, and even though cold water still comes out of the shower head, it is quite a luxury to have two free hands while bathing. Also, most women in the villages wash their laundry by hand, which is an incredibly manual-intensive job, in case you’ve never tried it yourself. Now I don’t think twice about having to manually rinse my own laundry and line dry everything because I know I have it much easier than most. In addition to these differences, other things like squat toilets, fans, and floor mats are a few more examples of what makes my life here so unique and sets it apart from what is waiting for me at home.
I am so excited to come home to the family and friends I have not seen for a year but I am also nervous about many aspects of the re-entry process that will be more challenging, like eating foods my body is no longer accustomed to, washing laundry in gigantic machines, and falling asleep without the safety net I have grown to love.
Touring the dinosaur museum in Kalasin with my neighbors Katjang and Pi Khom
One of the best things about living in teacher housing for the past year has been living in such an inclusive community. I live in a two-family house and our neighbors are Pi Khom (above), Pi Prayat and their adorable but mischievous daughter, Katjang (also above). This picture was taken at the end of our trip to visit Pi Prayat’s family in Surin, when we took a quick detour to see the renowned dinosaur museum in Kalasin on the way home.
After moving to Pla Pak last year, I quickly realized that family structures in Thailand are a bit different than what I’m used to in the States. Neighbors seem to be family by default, as everyone takes part in caring for each others’ children. Katjang loves to run up and down the street on our “block” and all of the neighbors perform a sort of caregiver relay, passing her from one person to the next until she is safely back in her mother’s arms again. One of my favorite aspects about living in this community is its openness, literally. Doors are open from the time everyone arrives home after work until well after the sun has set. This allows for people to easily run into their neighbor’s kitchen to borrow an egg, as Pi Khom often does when she doesn’t have time to go to the market. I also love how this living arrangement allows for conversations through the concrete block walls; for the first month or so, Steph and I were really confused when Pi Yok (our roommate) would talk to Pi Khom while they were in cooking dinner in their own respective kitchens, because we thought she was trying to speak with us! I’ve now acquired enough Thai to hold my own brief conversations with Pi Khom and Katjang when they hear me in the kitchen.
Tonight is a perfect example of why I will miss living in this neighborhood. Around 5:00pm, Pi Yok shouted up to my bedroom window to come downstairs, and when I stepped outside I was surprised to find a Korean barbecue dinner set up as a going-away party. Several of our closest neighbors and high school teacher friends were there and we ate delicious grilled meat and boiled vegetables. And whoever passed us on the way home was also invited to the table, because at a Thai dinner there is always room. My favorite part of the evening, however? I heard Katjang call me Bai-Khao for the first time.