Never judge a book.....
It's been a long time since breakfast and I'm sat on a train crossing Thailand in the rainy season. So far I haven't experienced much rain in the 10 days since we arrived but rainy season also brings stifling temperatures and high humidity. Nowhere, so far, has been hotter than this train. Even the Thais sat opposite me in the packed carriage have beads of sweat running down their foreheads and usually locals seem comfortable regardless of the conditions. It doesn't help that the seats are solid plastic and the only thing close to air conditioning is a ceiling fan that feebly tries to push around the stagnant air. We optimistically booked the 'express' train to Bangkok, but so far it really hasn't lived up to it's suggestion of speed and promptness. 4 station stops, a few juddering halts, a lot of creeping along and only occasionally do we reach anything approaching express speed.
Yesterday, as we have been for several days, we were trekking in the tranquil beauty of Thailand's oldest national park. Stunning rainforest, tumbling waterfalls, scary looking wildlife and evenings enjoying the banter around the campfire before the chatter of the jungle lulled us to sleep. On some evenings we've had amazing electrical storms and while others have offered clear skies with stunning stars to gaze at. So, today's noisy, polluted and sweaty journey seems a rather vicious contrast but I'm loving it anyway. It is these contrasts that attract me most to travel and sometimes the starker the contrast the more I enriching it is.
One of my favourite preoccupations when travelling is people watching and this carriage is full of interesting characters. Directly opposite me there's a trendy dude. Young and casually yet tastefully dressed in jeans and a T-shirt that fit well and match his skin colour. He may be a student but if so he comes from an affluent Thai family. He has been texting for the whole journey and occasionally lets out a little cackle of laughter when he reads the latest message to come through. To the side of him a lady is sat with a striped cotton dress that is light and flowing and ideal for the conditions. Interestingly, it has the word 'Monday's' written across the chest in large print. Maybe that's a restaurant or cafe but I suspect it is one of those random words designers often seem to put on clothes for no reason at all. I wonder if she knows what it says? Across the carriage is a young woman with a substantially older looking man. They are clearly a couple but they are a strange match. She has been breast feeding a tiny baby periodically while he has spent the whole journey eating sticky rice from a bag and devouring cooked meat from a bamboo skewer. Unfortunately the only napkin he has available is his jeans. Another man in the seat nearby looks sinister. He actually looks like the stereotypical drug dealer character you see in films. But I love it when preconceptions are shattered - at the last stop an old lady climbed aboard with 2 large bags. He quickly leapt up with a smile on his face to help her put them in the luggage rack and they've been nattering away happily ever since.
There are various others that have caught my attention and I'd love to find out more about them all. The child contentedly chewing a cob of corn or the pretty young things glued to their mobile phones. The businessman. The soldier. The old woman who looks lost in the world. But of particular interest, and the person I've found myself drawn to study most closely, is a man tucked in the corner at the end of the carriage. He runs a small concession selling drinks and snacks. His wares are stored in 2 cardboard boxes and a large battered cool box. I've watched him a lot during the journey. It is a strange existence and I hope he is happy. I also know for sure he's a terrible businessman. During the journey several very vocal traders have hopped on or off the train selling noodles, rice, snacks and drinks. They are bustling with energy and noisy sales pitches. Their sales performance is confident, everyone knows they are coming and they sell a lot of product.
My friend in the corner doesn't move. He waits for customers to come to him but few seem to even notice he's there. Even when they see him, and assuming they also decide he's worth visiting, there is the physical difficulty of actually getting to him along the packed carriage and also the uncertainty about what he actually sells. He needs to get up and take his goods to people and he needs to advertise his products better. Having also watched him eat almost constantly I'd say above all he needs to stop eating the majority of his stock himself!
At least I know he has sold one bottle of coke today and that's because I deliberately ignored the pushy sellers and battled my way to the spidery lair in the corner. Getting down the aisle was like thrutching up a classic gritstone chimney climb, but I eventually got to his corner and asked for a coke. He felt into his cool box and handed it to me and I soon realised something I couldn't have known before. The seller was blind. Even if he'd wanted to take the products to his customers it would have been impossible on this packed and wobbly train. He was doing the best he could by waiting patiently in the corner. As I sat back in my seat and rolled the chilled bottle across my forehead I felt happy that I'd made the effort to go to his stall. I also had cause to reflect on how dangerous it is to judge someone without getting all the information.
Posted by Paul