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September 27, 2012

Local Voices from Around the Globe: There's no speed limit in Thailand

  “Excuse me, sir, aren’t we speeding?” I’d asked the cabby in Bangkok as we shot from the airport in the dead of night.

  The speedometer read 120, startling me, the novice American in the backseat. Of course, my nationality had everything to do with my mistake since the speedometer read in kilometers per hour. Nonetheless we were driving 76 miles per hour and not speeding at all, I’ve since discovered.

  The only genuine speeding that I’ve felt has been my overall time that I have spent here since that thrilling taxi ride a month and a half ago.

  Really though, 120 kph is not extraordinary in Thailand. We, my host mother, brothers and I, exceed it every morning as we race to school, swooping in and out of traffic, honking and probably breaking every American law of the road that exists. Arriving late, I join the slow procession of drowsy students making their way down the school driveway toward the nine-hour day looming ahead.

  The rigor of school and the extra classes that seemingly every Thai student has leaves many exhausted and “panda eyed.” They take school extremely seriously here and spend the majority of their free time doing school related work. Ironically, though, some students will ignore the lessons in school on account of their extra classes. In my class, one can find two or three students asleep or listening to their iPods, playing games on their iPads or reading comics to pass the time. The teachers pay them no heed and occasionally indulge in similar behavior themselves. Coming from the place that I do, I can do nothing but laugh at the situation. Laughing has been my go-to resolve to all situations, be them humorous or not.

  Being the new kid, and American, I have risen to a position of remarkable stardom here at my school of 3,400. Wherever I go, I receive a barrage of greetings, waves, handshakes and “Harry Potter!”s. Yes, I am called “Harry Potter,” on average, four times a day and “Peter Parker” (Spiderman) once a day, as well. I must confess, I love the popularity here!

  My being American, I know, contributes to my fame in ways being Mexican, or French would not. America is a very trendy idea in Thailand. Teens have purses and phone cases with the American flag emblazoned on them, or the flag itself attached to their backpacks. Many things trendy here that aren’t American are American inspired. For instance, my favorite Thai iced tea vendor at school wears a Yankees hat, and I comment on it, saying “Glad to know I’ve got an ally out here!” knowing that he has never even heard of the New York Yankees before. Beauty, too, is gauged predominantly on how western a person looks (whitest skin, straightest nose, etc). Having now lived so far from America, I can comprehend it’s dominance on the global stage, a reality that doesn’t always comfort me.

  Being so far from home, too, I am asked whether I am homesick, or missing my family at all. The answer is no, I am not homesick at all. The city I live in is simple and dirty and I adore it. I’ve accepted this place as my home for the next nine months and I only wish the driver would stop speeding.

 Zak Aldridge is a junior at Milford Central School. To read more from him, visit

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