( I wrote this two weeks ago around the time that my sister was leaving. After that, life showed up and got busy when I started my online teaching prep program. When I found this today, I decided to finish it up.)
When my sister Sara came to visit me last month, we needed a way for her to travel to Mae Sariang after landing in Chiang Mai. I also wanted her to have a bike for transportation for times I would be in school and unable to drive her around.
Invest has several vehicles for staff use. One of them is Jimmy, (also called Chimmy) a manual truck that is known for his temperamental behavior. Recently, a former IGo staff donated his old bike to the cause as well. This bike has now been christened Johnny, or Chonny. (PA Dutch speakers will understand the need to add the CH). I thought about calling him Eli, but my sister protested vehemently. So, instead we called him Chonny, since he made a very good partner for Chimmy.
Chonny managed to make it to Mae Sariang intact. He is aged and slightly stiff, but we took it slowly and managed to make it without mishap. Sara got along with him superbly, even with his quirks, or perhaps because of them.
Before I begin my story, there are several things that you need to know. Chonny only starts via kickstarting. Not only that, there are times when Chonny is loathe to start on cool mornings, and then you have to choke him to start him. Chonny also has only 100 cc’s of “oomph” to get him up mountains.
Sara drove him around in Mae Sariang for a few weeks, and then before she headed back to the States, she wanted to go back to Chiang Mai to visit our friend Amanda. Our original plans changed several times so instead of both of us driving to Chiang Mai, she took the bus to Chiang Mai and left Chonny sitting forlornly at our house.
My friend Max was getting married in Omkoi on Saturday. Max was a police officer I had met at the station in Chiang Mai years ago when I was working as a translator. Max is also a Christian from a Karen village in Omkoi. Sara really wanted to attend a Karen wedding, so she planned to bring the bus back from Chiang Mai halfway, meet us at the Suan Son pine forest for the night and then we would drive to the wedding in the morning. We would then drive to Chiang Mai doubling up on Chonny. Sara would then board the plane on Sunday night, leaving for home.
At first, I was leery of the plan. Driving to Chiang Mai on my well-maintained 150 cc bike is a long drive. Driving to Chiang Mai double on Chonny, who sounds like he is going to fall to pieces when you hit 80kmh sounded dubious. Not only that, I am attached to my bike and prefer to drive that. It irks me slightly to have to drive another one. (Don’t tell my sister).
But it made sense, and I needed to get Chonny back to Chiang Mai anyway. And it would be an adventure, I told my friend Abby, when trying to decide if we wanted to risk it. If you make something tedious an adventure with sisters, then it’s all good.
Amy and I left for Suan Son after school on Friday night. Before then, we stopped at the gas station to fill up with gas and fill our tires with air. At the air pump, a kind man offered to fill up my tires. He checked the front tire and was like, “Oh this doesn’t need any air. But…” his voice trailed off. “This tire is really worn. How far are you going?”
“Oh, to Suan Son,” I said airily. I didn’t mention Omkoi or Chiang Mai. I tend to downplay my travel with Thai people because many people get worried when they see this farang driving that far.
He got this funny look on his face. I thought maybe he hadn’t understood me correctly, but I was in a hurry and didn’t feel like I needed to clarify myself.
“The tire is very worn,” he said again.
“Ok,” I said, “It’s not my bike. I will tell the owner.” Somehow I felt like I had to make sure he knew it was not my bike.
I mulled over the meaning of the look on his face as Amy and I left for Suan Son, driving through the chilly mountains with the sun setting in resplendence on the right and a full moon rising over the mountains on the right. I was so distracted with the sun and the moon and keeping Chonny on the road that I forgot about the man with the funny look.
We arrived at our little homestay and then I left to pick up Sara at the Suan Son forest since that was where I had told the bus driver to leave her. I planned to pick her up there and drive back to our homestay.
But both Chonny and the bus driver had different plans. Just as I reached Suan Son, Chonny started limping and suddenly the look on the man’s face made sense. Chonny’s front tire was flat. Very flat.
Just like that my phone rang. It was Sara. “I don’t know where I am,” she said. “The driver didn’t let me off at the right place!”
Since Chonny was out of the running, there was no way I could go find her. And, it was rapidly getting dark. I figured out where she was and called Amy and Amy went to pick her up.
Chonny had graciously decided to go flat right in front of the police checkpoint and the policemen just as graciously loaded up my bike on the back of the police truck and drove me to the nearest bike shop which was the only one close along miles of wilderness. I was very, very grateful.
That was episode one with Chonny. Now, with a new front tire I was a bit more confident that we would reach Chiang Mai in one piece the next day.
The next morning came the test. It was cold so Sara offered to start Chonny up while I went to pay for the homestay. And then we started off for the wedding in Omkoi which was 55 kilometers away, with Sara riding behind me on Chonny and Amy driving behind us. The first hill we came to, Chonny groaned.
I did too.
If it took us this long to get up one hill, it was going to be a long drive to Chiang Mai.
We turned off towards Omkoi and I experienced a sinking feeling that sunk lower and lower the further and higher we went. Just before we got to a major pass, Chonny started going slower and slower. It felt like the more gas I gave him, the slower he went. Finally, I stopped. There was no way that we could make it up that hill in this condition. Sara jumped on the back of Amy’s bike and I decided to go up with Chonny by myself, but as I started off, I realized something was majorly wrong. Even with one rider, Chonny was struggling.
The wedding was supposed to start at 10. This was a little before 9. What on earth should we do?
We went back and looked for a bike shop. The first person said, “That way,” so we went “that way” and the next one said, “that way,” too so we went “that way”, and then the next one said, “this way.”
Our heads were spinning. I messaged P Tob, one of Max’s police officer friends who was coming to the wedding.
“How far have you come yet?” I asked. “If we leave the bike here, can you pick us up?”
“Send me a location,” he said. I will, as soon as I have one. The last guy sent us up over the hill, saying there should be an open shop past the hill. I held my breath and gave Chonny as much gas as I could and even put my feet on the ground to help him up. We got over, just like the little engine that could.
“Hmm, “ I thought to myself. Maybe we could get to the wedding. If we would just drive slowly and at least make it to Omkoi, we could leave the bike there at a shop and at least attend the wedding.
So, I told P Tob that he didn’t need to stop and pick us up after all. “But,” I said, “Just keep an eye out if you see us beside the road somewhere.”
About 2 hills later, I changed my mind. Saying “I think I can, I think I can,” may work in certain circumstances, but not in this one. We were not going to make it like this. It seemed every time I stopped Chonny, he did a bit better, but not for long. We decided that Amy and Sara would drive on. I would get Chonny checked out and then get P Tob to pick me up and try to at least come for the last part of the wedding. I drove him back to the shop.
As I drove in, there was the usual fearful apprehension about a foreigner coming into the shop. I spoke in Thai to one of the little Karen boys sitting in front and tried to explain what was wrong. I didn’t know how to say it, other than that it seemed Chonny had no power. He called the head guy. I went off to the side to figure out where I was and send the location to P Tob.
The man came over. He went to start the bike, and then said, “Oh, the choke’s on!”
The little Karen boys in front of the shop went into spasms of laughter.
I looked and couldn’t believe my eyes. I guess when Sara went out to start him in the morning, she forgot to turn off the choke and I never thought to check since the only thing I have ever driven with a choke was a lawn mower. It seemed like magic. Chonny was fixed. And I was escalating the embarrassment scale rapidly. I
I didn’t look at the Karen boys, who I am sure were absolutely splitting their sides with laughter. Instead, I got on the bike and raced away with surprising rapidity, howling and screaming with laughter myself. For the next 10 kilometers, I laughed out loud. And laughed and laughed.
We made it to the wedding a little late, but it was fine. And after the wedding, we drove to Chiang Mai on Chonny without incident, making chokes about Chonny not enjoying chokes.
And I am sure that evening several little boys went home and regaled their families around the supper table about the foreigner who came with the bike that “didn’t work.”
Above: Chonny safely in Chiang Mai