I used to be punctual. I was never late. I was never late because I was respectful to others. I usually arrived five to fifteen minutes before scheduled appointments. For my job I’d arrive 30 to 60 minutes early and read a book in a quiet corner before beginning my shift.
In Thailand, there’s no need for any of this.
A few weeks ago the villages in my community had a sports day with soccer, volleyball and other Thai sports being played throughout the day. I was told to arrive at the field at 8 a.m. on Thursday. Being in Thailand for almost 10 months now, I thought, I bet I really don’t have to be there that early. Five months ago I may have fallen for this, but I’m learning.
I arrived at 8:30 a.m. There were supposed to be hundreds of people there. There were five. They had just begun to set up. I biked home, got my computer and went to the office. The woman who told me to be there at 8 a.m. asked me why I wasn’t at the field. I told her there wasn’t anyone there. She said I was wrong. There were many people there. How do I argue with this? It’s like a four-year old telling me I don’t like pancakes. I think I’m a little more knowledgeable on the subject – thank you.
She was eventually convinced by others the real events would begin the next day. She then told me to be at the field tomorrow at 8 a.m.
Friday morning arrived and I didn’t feel like getting up and arriving on time after Thursday’s debacle. Showing up and having no one there felt like a trick was played on me with all the Thais in the bushes giggling at the silly foreigner arriving to an empty field. Instead of arriving at 8 a.m., I woke up at 8 a.m. This time I arrived at 9:30 a.m. – 90 minutes late in America. In Thailand, I was still a little early. The festivities began in another 15 minutes.
This is not the only instance of Thai punctuality, an oxymoron. When told to be at an event at a certain time, I’ve learned to arrive at least 20 minutes later after months of arriving on time and then sitting in the corner alone for an hour while being asked repeatedly if I’ve eaten yet or if America has rice.
Now that I’ve figured this trick out, I’m okay with it. I don’t care if things start on time or not; I just want to be in on it. However, I will have to change my ways upon my return to the states.