Saturday, May 16, 2009

Xe Om Drivers and the Lessons They Have to Teach Us

Both Thursday and Friday, various people at school asked me, "Were you and your xe om driver fighting this morning?" because the place where he drops me off is highly visible - the only entrance (not good fire safety at this school).

My answer: "Yes, we were fighting." Here's a breakdown of the end-of-week fighting:

Wednesday our staff has an all-day meeting with the people at the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) at a very nice hotel (AIS is seeking accreditation). I forget to tell Nam that we don't need to leave until 8 (instead of 7). I call him in the morning just to say "8:00" but his phone is off. I'm actually relieved and am hoping to have the morning free of him -- really looking forward to taking a nice air-conditioned attitude or questions, just drive me where I need to go. Well that is not to be because my mother comes to the castle at about 7:40 asking Tarn for "Mari."

When we get to the hotel, I tell him to pick me up at 4, which is the end-of-meeting time that has been quoted to us. But the meeting ends at 2:30. I call my mom again, but his phone is still off. Being free so early is fun; I take the opportunity to shop further downtown with another teacher - knowing that drama is surely coming. But what else am I to do?

The next morning, when I get out to the street, Nam - looking very put out - tells me that he left his spot at 3:30 and waited until 5:00 outside of the hotel. I have my phone in my hand, so I make the gesture of calling and say, very patiently, "2:00" and then make the negative hand gesture. Again, he tells me he waited for me until 5. Again, I make the negative gesture with my phone, telling him that I tried to call him.

When we arrive at school, he beckons a poor, unsuspecting student I have never met over. He has the student tell me (surprise, surprise) that he left his spot at 3:30 and waited for me outside the hotel until 5:00. I have the student tell him that the meeting was over early and that I called him, but that his phone was off. The Repeater has the student tell me again that he waited for me until 5. I tell the student to tell him that if he would just turn on his phone, he wouldn't have this problem.

I am feeling sorry for the student - who is looking quite uncomfortable - so I thank him and tell him he can go and I tell Nam to pick me up at 6:30 at the gym, trying to drop the whole thing. I didn't even ask for my money back (I pay him for the whole week ahead on Mondays). At this point, I am still being very patient, but it is clear to all who are passing by that there is a conflict. As I walk away, though, he puts up his freakishly long five fingers and gets in one more "5:00" at me, kind of shoving his open palm toward me with attitude. Of course, at this, I lose it. Without - not needing - a translator. I am pointing at him as I am speaking to him harshly:

"Nam. This is YOUR fault. YOU didn't have your phone turned on. DO NOT TELL ME AGAIN that you waited for me for so long. That is YOUR fault." I make a dramatic turn away from him and I don't look back, although I do catch a glimpse of his puppy dog face.

When I tell Alice this story, as I am still hyperventillating from irritation, she says, "Maybe he is someone from a past life and you are supposed to work something out with him in this one." Which makes me laugh all day (in between telling everyone, yes, I had a fight with my xe-om driver this morning...")

When he picks me up in the afternoon, I hardly look at him or speak to him, even though he has brought me a rain coat like a good mom.

The next morning, I am late getting out to the street. To be honest, I am by nature kind of a late person and I have changed considerably so as not to perturb this person who supposedly works for me at a very good wage despite tons of tough, cheaper competition. I usually arrive out there between 7-7:10, but it is running about 7:25. As I leave the castle, I hear my phone ring and know it's Nam, but it's buried in my backpack and I don't want to take the time to get it out. As I am walking up the street, I look up to see my mother standing in the middle of the road, hands on hips, glaring at me. When I reach him, he points at his phone and holds up two of his freakishly long fingers and kind of shoves them at me like he did his palm the day before. He's saying, "I called you twice and you didn't answer!" So this is what I do (me, who is SO TIRED of being chastised by a mother...):

I am harsh. I say to him, "What is your problem? Do you think you have the right to treat me so rudely? Well, I will tell you what. I will take a taxi today." I say it loudly, and everyone - my sandwich lady and all of the other people I see on a daily basis - stop what they are doing and watch as Nam's face falls and as I begin to walk across the street - motorbikes swarming around me. I'm walking to the other side because I need to go the opposite way of traffic, and as I cross, I am hailing taxis.

Two cabs pass, but they are full. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Nam half riding half walking his bike across the street, the way he makes his bike look like two wheel legs, coming after me very sheepishly. He is looking at me with such a desperate expression; it is a big deal for him to lose face in front of all of his corner people. He makes the negative gesture and says "Don't know." He doesn't understand why I am mad at him. He gestures me to get on the back of his bike. I hesitate, start to get on, then hesitate again. Finally, I get on. All the way to school, he turns around and looks at me, so unbelievably bewildered. When we reach school, I tell him I don't need him to pick me up - I am meeting friends, but I don't bother to tell him that. He just continues to stare at me. He calls after me, "Minh!" and I know he will get his nephew later and he will come to communicate about what happened.

The thing is that I know he is devastated. I know he is home this weekend just thinking about the whole thing, worried sick about losing me as a customer, embarrassed about losing face.

I wonder who he was in my past life and what I am supposed to learn. Any guesses? Or is it perhaps that it has been a long year of being totally dependent on another person - a person with a quirky personality who likes to be Da Nam. Either way, I am ready for a six week break in the beautiful, clean city of Seattle where I have a Jetta that I can get into and drive wherever I want any time I want.

Yeah, I think that is it.


The Norris Clan said...

And let me just tell you that WE are ready for YOU to be home too!! I am so sorry I have been absent lately... have no doubt, I AM catching up :-) Had a few things going on here... babies being born, new puppy arriving at my house, last quarter of RN school... I know... no excuse. Can't wait for you to be this side of the world!

Mungo said...

Did you have a pet that you treated poorly as a child?

Did you perhaps make fun of a childhood friend's freakishly long fingers?

Did you maybe have a locker partner in high school who, prior to being his locker partner, made attempts at wooing you into a dating relationship, but you continued to turn him down?

Wow, smarj, sounds like you have a lot of people/animals from your past that Nam is representing...


Brian Bowker said...

Did you have a little brother that you used to tickle torture and sing the Titanic song to until he cried? If so, that would be my bet.