Two nights ago, Kelly, Matt and I took an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We were feeling pretty self-congratulatory during the day that we’d brushed off the jet lag. We’d all slept on the plane for several hours, and then at the hotel for another few hours. Still, by the time we reached the train station at 7 pm, we were each walking in a haze of drowsiness. Kelly drifted in and out of sleep on a hard plastic chair in the train station. Once on the train, she curled up in her seat and immediately fell back asleep.
A girl from Holland was her seat mate. Since Kelly wasn’t talking, she turned to us to chat. We talked for an hour or so about life and politics. She was 22, graduated, and exploring the world for a year on her own. We asked if it was lonely, and she said she’d picked up friends along the way until this leg of the trip. She’d just arrived in Thailand. “To be honest, yesterday was my first day alone,” she said. She sounded confident, but her eyes showed a little flicker of fear. Traveling alone in the US when you are fluent in English is one thing, traveling alone in Thailand is another. It’s very safe, and relatively easy to get around. Still, when you get off a train and twenty tuk-tuk drivers are crowding your personal space, begging to drive you to the next guest house, it’s nice to take it as a team.
The train worker set up our sleeping bunks, and Matt and I settled in to watch a movie. The girl from Holland rustled through her bag. “I can’t find my ticket,” she said as she began to dig through her wallet. “Oh no, bummer,” we murmured sympathetically. I watched her a bit longer, unsure what to do. “I just had it,” she said, her voice cracking a bit, “it was right here. I showed it to the man before I got on the train.” Her face started to look a bit sick with worry as she searched the ground. “Maybe it fell under the seat when they made your bed,” Matt offered. “I already checked under the mattress, and behind the seat,” she said.
I know that sinking feeling. You know it will be alright eventually, but at that moment, all you can think of is being deposited at the next stop at 11 pm with no way to find a guest house. You know that you don’t have the words to speak your case, to tell them why you don’t have the ticket that you need to be on this train. I’ve never lost a ticket, but I’ve had my moments of panic, when the train, or plane, or bus ticket seems lost. In those moments, you just want someone in it with you, someone you can make it okay.
I watched her, helpless, unsure what to do. I was pretty sure they would just have her pay for a new ticket, perhaps let it slide, but you can never really know until you ask. In travel, it feels so frightening that little slips of paper hold so
much weight. Eventually, after giving up the hunt for the lost ticket, she did ask. The man she talked to just told her to go to sleep, told her that it would be alright. I sighed in relief on her behalf, and checked my bag again for our tickets. And passports. And future hotel reservations.
I thought about foreigners, and what it feels like to be one. I hope that I will always help.