Our daily work and the ethic behind it, the things we strive to improve on, or teach, or sell, or care for in some way can usually be tied to the daily occurrences in our lives in a not too circuitous manner. Rarely, however, can you be impacted by something on your commute to work and literally within an hours time, be sitting in a meeting with the people who have the power to potentially remedy the exact problem that just had a direct impact on your life. Let me explain further.
Two days ago, at 8:30 am and roughly 30 minutes into my multi-modal hour long commute to the Ministry of Transport, I was standing under the PhayaThai BTS rail station waiting for bus #59 to carry me the final 15 minutes to my office. I had my typical work outfit of dress pants and long sleeved dress shirt on (clothing that I accept because it makes me look professional and most definitely not a tourist, but which I loathe at a purely biological/climate/sweat level) and as the minutes ticked by I could feel my internal temperature both mentally and physically continuing to rise. Bangkok’s multitude of public buses, and there are literally tens of thousands of them, are amazing in the breadth of the city that they cover at low cost, typically no more than US .30 cents per ride. This being said the bus system has its fair share of downsides as well, one of the chief complaints being its unreliability. Even after living in one part of the city for many months, observing and riding the different lines, and trying to make a notation each day of when the bus arrived and how long I waited, it is almost impossible to find a predictable pattern of when the bus will come. This may seem like a relatively minor issue but planning your morning commute without knowing if that bus you are relying on will force you to wait for 5 minutes or 45 minutes makes getting to work on time and knowing what time you need to walk out your door almost impossible.
This being said, I was hot, sweaty, and about 20 minutes into my wait for the bus when upon a scan of traffic I suddenly caught a flash of the creamy orange bus screaming by in the far opposite lane of traffic, with obviously no intention to stop and offer its services!! I waved my left arm frantically in a feeble attempt to get the drivers attention but he was almost directly across from my at this point and within milliseconds it was clear my wait had been for naught.
I usually am quite apt at maintaining a cool heart, or “jai yen” as the Thais call it, but I was angry and stamped down the street seething at a bus system where the drivers could decide to stop or not stop on a whim, not to mention the complaints lodged in the previous paragraphs. Thankfully there are many alternate routes to my office and I walked the required 10 minutes to a different bus stop servicing a wider-range of routes and within a few minutes hopped on board one that allowed me to arrive to work only 25 minutes late.
I plopped down in my chair, booted up my computer, and basked in the cold air of my office when not 2 minutes later my boss knocked on the door and hurried me off to a meeting of unknown contents. I followed him down a long corridor and down a flight of stairs to one of the many meeting rooms scattered throughout the ministry. I took a seat, looked up at the large screen, and as I studied the introductory slide of the power point presentation, all I could do was smile. The arm of the Ministry of Transportation responsible for all of Bangkok’s bus operations the BMTA was giving an introductory presentation to the newly arrived permanent secretary! Here, seated across the table from me, were the men and women who controlled and shaped the Bus system that I, along with millions of others, had been at the mercy of a matter of minutes ago. I shook my head to myself, sat back, and listened to the bureaucrats talk Bangkok buses for the next 90 minutes. I’m not under the illusion that the BMTA is responsible for all its rogue drivers, shoddy buses, or that the contents of that meeting will help remedy my complaints. But I do consider myself to be truly lucky to be working in a place where I can see even a glimmer of hope that things decided in the rooms of this building can in some way positively impact the lives of the people in this city.