Paying It Forward From Thailand

story on Flickr” href=””>Thailand 010110 419I really want to get in a quick yoga session before I start my shift, medicine but he obviously has his hands full and has a station wagon full of groceries to bring upstairs.

I’m currently working in exchange for room and board in a hostel in Positano, adiposity Italy. I’m scheduled to work eight to nine hours each day, with one day off each week. The work is easy –cooking breakfast, doing laundry, checking people in and out, however, since I live here, I feel I never get a break from it because someone is always asking for something. Today it’s unloading groceries.

Technically, I don’t start work for another half hour and there are two other perfectly capable and available employees here, but I decide to help my employer carry the groceries anyway and forgo my one and only time of meditative solitude that I look forward to every day.

I am ashamed to admit it, but a former version of myself would have hid or let the other people handle it, but my outlook has changed ever since Thailand.

“Start. Go. Stop. Okay?”

That’s all the English she knew; my first lesson on how to drive a motorcycle took only three seconds and couldn’t save me from complete embarrassment…

I passed under the Rasta-style Bob Marley flag, which hung from the entrance to my beach hut in Bophut, a quiet fisherman’s village on Koh Samui, and crossed the rain-saturated street from the previous night’s storm, to an Internet services/motorbike rentals place.

I’d never driven a two-wheeled motor vehicle in my life, let alone ridden on the back of one, but for some reason I thought it was a good idea to teach myself in a place that is notorious for motorbike deaths.

Handing the woman my non-refundable 300 Thai Bhat ($10), I must have looked like I had no idea what I was doing. She pointed to two buttons and a lever on one of the handlebars and said, “Start. Go. Stop. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. My pits were sweating.

With a very slight rotation of the handle bar, I jolted out of her driveway. I looked back at the woman, gave her a cutesy smile and

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said, “oops.”

Somehow, I successfully made it out of her view and weaved through the heavy, humid air and narrow village streets to the main road.

Then, I saw the huge puddle in the middle of the road. It was not that I didn’t have enough time to correct myself, I just didn’t know how.

I soon learned a motorbike is not like a car. I discovered the hard way that the key is to shift your weight when you want to turn.

Through the water, across the road, and into a deep gulch I went.

The bike and I were sinking into quicksand. With all my strength, I tried to pull the bike out, but the mud was too thick and the bike was already too deep.

After ten-minutes of looking like a complete fool, a familiar song wafted in the muggy tropical breeze. It was the sweet melody of an ice cream truck putt-putting down the road.

The driver was a slight man in height and weight. He wore khaki fisherman trousers cinched in at the waist, which accentuated his diminutive frame. His small almond-shaped eyes observed me as I struggled with the bike.

I gave him a look of genuine desperation. He leaned out from the vacant doorframe of his truck and squinted at me, as if he was trying to confirm what he saw. I could detect his internal struggle: should I help her or not? So I smiled wider.

I must have projected the perfect amount of pathetic-ness because he stopped his cart, folded up the wide cuffs of his pants, and trudged into the dirt.

Without making a noise, he yanked the bars with all his force, but the bike would not budge.

Another good samaritan soon stopped, this time a salt-and-pepper-haired Australian expat in his mid to late 30s. His appearance was the very opposite of the ice cream man: muscular and imposing, yet not intimidating. He had with him his Thai girlfriend who sat expressionless on the back of his bike.

“Hey honey, are you okay?” he said in a thick accent as his flip-flop touched the pavement; his grip never left the handlebars.

“Yeah, I said drawing out the “a” sound, as if I didn’t even believe me, “just teaching myself how to use a motorcycle today, I got it handled.”

“Are you sure?” he questioned with sincerity and continued, “You should be careful, people get killed doing this all the time.” I imagined he was also struggling with his conscience: To get off the bike and help or not to get off the bike, that is the question.

I assured him we could handle the situation. Before leaving, he warned again,

“Really honey, be careful. I don’t want to have to scrape you off the road tonight.”

“Really honey, be careful. I don’t want to have to scrape you off the road tonight.”

If those weren’t words of encouragement, then I don’t know what is.

We soon made it out of the muck and back onto the street. I could tell my helper was pleased with his work. His eyes cinched together, like the waist of his pants, as he gave me a wide smile; I noticed he had a tooth missing.

Although he gave no indication of any expectation, I opened my wallet to offer him a reward, but it was empty; I used all my Baht to rent the stupid bike.

A failed attempt to communicate meeting me at 7-11’s ATM led to prayers I’d run into him again. My karmic conscience was in conflict. I had to repay this man who went out of his way to help me. But I never saw him again.

A combination of suspicion and confusion overcame the face of the bike rental woman when I returned her property covered in mud. With an embarrassed grin, I anxiously passed over the keys and hustled across the street to my abode and shut the door.

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I plopped onto the cement-like mattress. Looking through the window, beyond the silhouette of a tourist enjoying a coconut cocktail, the turquoise, rhythmic waves of the ocean eased my nerves as I fantasized about my potential ill fates if not for the rain and the kind ice cream man.

I look down into one of the grocery bags, which sits in the trunk of the station wagon, at the condensation gathering on the lid of an ice cream carton.

Gladly, I gather the heaviest grocery sacks in my hands and with a smile on my face I close the car door with the sole of my foot as I pivot toward the stucco hostel building.

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