This is my second month in Thailand and we are now in Chiangmai, looking for a place to live. There are lots of people who want to help with this process and we are welcoming all the help we can get. The first day of house-hunting, we used the CVT (Christian Volunteers in Thailand) van and three of the staff from the Ministry of Education. The van proved to be too large for some of the little lanes – soi – that we ventured down. The next time, we took a small SUV and the same three people from the Ministry of Education, but that was also a tight fit for the small lanes. The third day, we took a Toyota sedan belonging to “A” – one of Mom’s adopted granddaughters who teaches at Payap University – and that worked well. But the fourth day, we took a vehicle that is known as the “workhorse” of Thailand – a songtaew. Our driver that day was I-Daeng, who lives in a suburb of Chiangmai called Bahn Den, a suburb we lived in when I was in elementary school.
A songtaew is a small pickup truck that has been customized to have two long narrow seats that run the length of the bed of the truck and a top that protects the occupants from the sun and rain. [The word ‘song-taew’ means ‘two rows.’] Six adults can sit on each of the long narrow seats, putting twelve adults in the back – though often one or two more sit on the bed of the truck and one or two more stand on the open tailgate and hang on to the top. If each of these adults is carrying groceries home from the market, or baskets purchased in a store, or books from school, the little pickup rides very close to the ground and sometimes the extra baggage is strapped to the roof. Some of the songtaews are painted a particular color and dedicated to a particular route (Central Market to Nearest Small Town, for example). Others just pick up anyone who flags them down and carries them to where they want to go – in the order they were picked up. I vividly remember my sister accidentally putting her hand through a glass case and slicing open her wrist when we were children. The four-inch gash was deep and bleeding profusely, so we cleaned it as best we could and wrapped a clean flour-sack dish towel around it to put pressure on the wound. Then, two of us flagged down a songtaew to take her to the emergency room. The driver took us to the hospital – after he driven through town and dropped off everyone he had picked up before he picked us up. [She lived to tell the tale, though she still carries the scar on her wrist.]
This particular songtaew is painted red and has a sign on the top to inform everyone that its primary purpose is to take children to school and pick them up afterward to bring them home again. Since school is not in session right now (Summer holiday, as the hot season is March, April and May), I-Daeng and his songtaew were available for daily rental. My hostess on this particular day was Nutda, who was my babysitter when I was in diapers and cared for us until we moved from Chiangmai when I was twelve years old. Now 73 years old, she is still a fun-loving, talkative companion, as evidenced by this photo of her hanging onto the back of a songtaew – something she has not done in at least 20 years. Nutda convinced I-Daeng to spend the day driving us around to look at various houses. By the end of the day, he was sitting in the living rooms with us, chatting away with prospective landlords about the weather, the price of commodities, or idiosyncrasies of the house. The cost for five hours of his time: 700 Bht or about $20. I enjoyed getting to know him that day. Nutda later shared with me that I-Daeng takes some people in Bahn Den to church on Sundays and has been known to sit in on the worship services as he waits to bring them home. We trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in those hours.