A blaze of colours swirled around her folds like a box of Cadbury’s Roses. Golden sandals adorned a set of large, hairy feet; lovingly styled with brightly painted crimson toenails. Wide, purple trousers were slung around her extremely round middle, and a white frizz of hair tumbled down past her shoulders.
“Bus to Pai?” a gruff, low voice asked.
Cue the double take. I was almost certain the Cadbury’s sweet wrapper was a woman…but there was a strong possibility my instincts had deceived me.
“Urmm yes…to Pai,” I replied quietly, trying to disguise my shock.
I glanced over at Becky whose mouth had dropped to the floor. In an attempt to suppress my giggles I focused on staring straight ahead. This turned out to be mission impossible. Mrs Multicolour was trying to climb into the back of the minivan. Which is a rather difficult task when you weigh roughly the same as a hippo. After a tremendous effort that must have lasted at least half an hour, Mrs Multicolour was securely positioned in her seat. Or rather her two seats. And Becky and myself had mastered the art of remaining impassive as her stomach pressed into the back of our seats, tilting us slightly forward at an uncomfortable angle. The colourful lady breathed heavily as she tried to catch her breath. She was clearly even more uncomfortable than we were. I wondered if her personality were as colourful as her costume. Who was she? Why was she here? What was her story?
My wandering mind was interrupted as a large group of young American girls began to fill the remaining spaces in the minivan. It soon became embarrassingly apparent that there would not be enough room for everybody. It looked like Mrs Multicolour had accommodated one seat too many. Running through some possible solutions in my head, it never occurred to me that this would turn into a full blown vicious attack by a set of small-minded little princesses.
“Oh my God, this is ridiculous!” shrieked a tall girl in grey sweatpants.
“She has to move…it’s not fair!” whined a girl who looked like a weasel that had been hit with a frying pan, “We booked this ride like an hour ago”
“She has to get off”
“There is no way I am sitting like this”
“We can just move up” I insisted, “There’s plenty of space, don’t worry!”
Becky and I shuffled along in our seats. After 7 months in Thailand we were used to cramming into small spaces for extended periods of time. The weasel girl took one look at us and made a face as though she’d just taken a large swig of gone off milk. I mean- I know we didn’t look particularly stunning at that moment in time. 12 hours on a bus followed directly by 12 hours on a train does kind of give you the appearance of a sewer rat. But come on! We cant have smelt THAT bad! I couldn’t help feeling offended, especially since she herself looked like she’d smeared her hair in chip fat.
Weasel girl looked directly at Mrs Multicolour and barked viciously: “I really think you should get off this van. You’re too fat”
“I have been all the way to the border today” groaned Mrs Multicolour, “Please…I’m tired…I just want to get back”
But Weasel girl was having none of it.
“Its not my fault you’re so fat! Just get off!” she screeched.
I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing. But Mrs Multicolour stood her ground fuming:
“You don’t understand!”
At that point the Thai lady who had sold the bus tickets came to calm down the American girls and escorted poor Mrs Multicolour off the bus. Which took another good half an hour. Meanwhile, weasel girl (looking rather pleased with the fuss she had managed to cause), happily stretched out her legs across the now empty space. I wanted to punch her in the face and knock that smug grin of hers right into next week.
The next day, Becky and I happened to come across a bike rental place. We waited to collect a moped, both keen to explore a little slice of Pai. During our wait, I had a strange impulsion to root through a random pile of leaflets that lay untouched on a dusty, old table. When I picked up the pile, a small card fluttered out towards the floor. I reached to grab it…and to my utter shock, it was her…
A photograph of the colourful woman from the minivan was staring back at me! And it pointed to an Internet documentary on this strangely fascinating person; a transsexual ex- prostitute from Israel who makes objects from bamboo and lives with a hill tribe just outside Pai. Well, at least I managed to find out her story!
People come to Thailand for many reasons. And people stay for many reasons. Most of the locals I have been fortunate enough to befriend show a mature and refreshingly open, accepting attitude to those who may have different backgrounds to themselves. They accept people from all walks of life. Accept their choices. And accept their views without question. It doesn’t matter what size you are, what gender you want to be, or what clothes you wear. Who cares if you believe in God, the Buddha, or if you think that a giant purple sheep rules over the land? If you sit at a table with a Thai family, you may eat without being judged. All you must offer in return is your own open mind. Something told me that there would be many rich life experiences that would pass by those girls that I saw back on the mini-bus. Travel can be such a rewarding and amazing time, but one has to approach it in a certain manner in order to gain anything from it. Barging onto a bus and kicking off somebody who has lived there happily for the last 10 years is not in my opinion a great way of making the most of your opportunities!