I’ve been home from Thailand for a few weeks, but I think I am still running on Thai Time.
Thailand runs on its own time. Though Bangkok’s streets were always congested and crazy, there still didn’t seem to be the same kind of tension and stress in the air as other large cities I’ve visited. Upon my arrival “Thai Time” was one of the first things I was informed about Thai culture. The programs I worked for warned us that while the foreign teachers were always expected to be on time, most things in Thailand never begin when they are scheduled to. I noticed it fairly straight away. When they said the first orientation session began at nine, people started trickling into their seats around then. There was rarely pressure to adhere to strict time frames. One of our program advisers said people are very in the moment, so it’s not really an issue when they are ‘late’ for something. I certainly felt that time was more relaxed. Sometimes I still stressed out about it, being too late or too early or if arriving at a certain time would be considered rude, but that might have been my innate Western mindset shining through.
When traveling, we hardly looked up bus times. Occasionally it was necessary when there was only one bus through town, but for the most part we just showed up at the stations and figured it out from there. Only the most popular tourist destinations had set departure and arrival times for the buses even posted. Usually, though, there was some wiggle room on those times. It’s definitely not a Swiss or German system. That being said, while living in my small town when other teachers or people offered to take us or pick us up from places, they were usually on time.
I also took Muay Thai lessons intermittently. My instructor would usually tell me a time, and whenever I showed up on time I had to wait. One day I waited for an hour. I was worried that if I promised to meet him and then wasn’t there when he showed up I’d be doing something rude or insulting. Then some days when I was two minutes late, he’d already be there with his other students. When I apologized he didn’t seem too worried about it.
In my school in my small northeastern town there seemed to fairly little regard for the bell system. The period schedule didn’t allow for transition between classes. First period ended at 9:25 and second period began at the same time. So when teaching, I would give my students some leeway on arrival time. However, it was quite common for the students to walk in fifteen or more minutes later. Sometimes their previous teachers would keep them late, or sometimes they just showed up late or didn’t care. They came to class when they felt like coming to class. The better students tended to show up more on time than the less motivated students, as to be expected. Sometimes even the Thai teachers would be late for class, for no other reason than they were reading the paper and didn’t notice the time. One day I was in the library grading papers during a couple free periods, and one of the other Thai teachers was sitting at the same table. I think I asked her if she was free that hour. She told me she taught second period. Me: I think it is second period. She glanced at her watch, declared that she was late, and then left for her class. No big deal! Mai bpen rai!
I must have adopted more of this laid back attitude than I realized at first. Since I’ve been home I’ve found myself running late for appointments much more frequently than I used to. I look at clocks and notice on some level that it’s getting close to time, but I don’t worry about it. I don’t fret about being on time nearly as much. Which may not last very long back here in this very time-conscious, appointment and deadline orientated environment. It’s nice, at least for a while, to have this more relaxed sense of time. I’ll arrive when I arrive, and everything will work out. No worries. Of course, I don’t want to be late for work or interviews, as that is still pretty unacceptable here. I just don’t feel the same sort of anxiety as I used to about departing, arriving, and travel time.