Meg Schmidt is off for the month, so please welcome today’s guest writer, Hannah Bechtold. Hannah (’13, international development studies) currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she works as a youth pastor at an international church. While she may be unqualified, she loves walking alongside her students through the mess of life as we grow in our faith.
I learned the hard way that some things are worth spending more money on while living abroad.
I had only been in Thailand a few weeks when it was discovered that I didn’t have the right visa for my work. As a result, I needed to visit a Thai Embassy to obtain the correct visa. Having just moved, I didn’t feel like I could spend lots of money on this trip so opted for the cheapest place and route: an overnight charter van to Vientiane, Laos. I’d visited Vientiane before and wasn’t thrilled about returning, so convinced a friend to join me. Ironically, our time in Vientiane was great—it was the getting there and back that was dreadful.
Being the last to load into our van, I had the privilege of sitting on the raised seat over the engine directly beside our driver. My friend had a little bit more space in the seat beside me, but we were both in the unfortunate position of witnessing our driver’s exploits.
It first started when he climbed into his seat, tucked a coin into his ear and fired up the engine. My friend leaned over to me and whispered, “That better not be fare for getting over the River Styx.” I nervously chuckled and nodded my agreement. These overnight drivers are not known for their safe and careful driving.
We got out of the city and were flying down the highway. From my elevated position I could see we were going a solid fifteen or twenty km/hr over the speed limit. Too soon I saw the looming Buddha on the hill outside town. As we zoomed by it, our driver made a quarter turn of his upper body to squarely face the Buddha, took both hands off the wheel to raise them to the prayer position, and bowed his head to show respect to the Buddha. My heart jumped to my throat and I prepared to either brace for a crash or grab the wheel to keep us on the road should his inattentiveness cause problems. When his hands returned to the wheel and his eyes to the road, I turned to my friend wide-eyed and said, “Maybe we are on our way to see Hades.”
Adrenaline coursing through my body made it hard to attempt sleep. Just when I was calm enough to sleep, we got to the mountainous portion of the drive. I snapped alert to keep myself from careening into the driver anytime he took a curve too fast—every time. Additionally, we almost had a couple head-on collisions while passing large trucks on these curves, putting me back on edge.
As the night wore on, I noticed the driver sniffing an aroma stick to wake his senses more and more frequently. Later he stuffed it up his nostril and left it hanging for a few seconds before putting it away! “This is it,” I thought. “This is how I die. He’ll fall asleep at the wheel and we’ll go flying off the side of a mountain.”
We survived the mountains and made a pitstop. Our driver purchased at least four energy drinks that are like those Five Hour Energy shots in America and downed two right away. I relaxed a bit—maybe he wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel after all. As we got back on the road, exhaustion finally overtook my body and I drifted to sleep.
I awoke to our driver speaking in an urgent and concerned tone while tapping the horn. I opened my eyes to see stray dogs chasing each other and fighting in the street. The driver began to slam on the brakes but changed his mind and barreled ahead. It looked like we were going to clear the dogs. At the last second though, one darted into our path the driver tried to swerve, but it was too late. Shocked, my friend and I turned to each other to confirm that yes, we had really just run over a dog.
The relief we felt once we finally reached the border and had to switch to a Lao van and driver … we praised the Lord we hadn’t met our maker. While our trip back to Chiang Mai was less eventful, it was still miserable as my knees were at my chest (I had the wheel seat) and my friend kept falling into the luggage or having luggage fall onto her each sharp turn we took.
When I switched jobs this year and was so forced to obtain a different visa, I happily paid more to fly.