Friday, May 21, 2010


The decision about whether to take Son to school for a maths exam on Wednesday was tough. He’s been working towards these GCSEs for two years and not taking them – particularly if this is our last year here – would have major implications for him. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just an exam and putting yourself and your child at risk for that is ridiculous.

The problem was knowing how to a calculate a risk that’s not possible to quantify. How far is this fear? How far about fact or just about what is sensible? There were fires burning and fighting to the north, south and west of us but things to the east looked clear.

As Husband told you here we don’t have a car. This is hardly ever a problem. We live near both a sky train and an underground station and taxis are plentiful: crap but plentiful. However, the sky train and underground services had been terminated since the trouble had escalated so I considered the possibility of staying down near school overnight.

In the end I knew getting there was the easy part – the route was clear of trouble- and that’s what decided me. I’d worry about what to do after the exam…. well, after the exam.

Traffic was heavy but we’d got plenty of time. Almost as soon as we left home, Husband called to say there were new fires and they were getting closer– one in the road next to us, one the road beyond that and several others visible.

We arrived and I settled myself into the coffee shop next to school. Son went off with his friends into the campus. I tried to work. Other parents came in. It’s exhausting meeting anyone because all small talk revolves around the state of Bangkok and while it’s all that I can think of, it isn’t all I want to talk about. An ongoing, low level anxiety has been with me for two and a half months which sometimes peaks into high level fear; yet more chit chat about it doesn’t help.

In the taxi and the coffee shop, Husband and I been communicating about the possibilities for getting back into central Bangkok. In the end we decided to book a hotel near school for Son and I… just in case. I tried to get back to editing my novel. Then phones started ringing in the café. Rumours of martial law and a curfew began to spread. No-one knew what time it would be but if it was six o’clock, as was being touted, we couldn’t be sure to get home after the exam. At least that would be the decision made: we would stay at the hotel.

Son’s exam was due to finish at 5.15pm. Following news of the curfew the café manager told us they were closing at 3.30 (actually, he told us ‘three and a half’ but I knew what he meant!) so we packed up and went into school, where we found the library open. Phew. I love libraries; they’re my spiritual home. I opened up my Mac, looked at my novel and closed it again. I got my book out. I looked at some magazines. I didn’t want to talk with anyone. The library was due to shut at 4pm. They let us stay until 4.20ish. One of the other mothers received confirmation that the curfew was 8pm. I was back to worrying about trying to get home and or deciding to stay at the hotel.

Just as I’d moved to the reception area some teachers came down to the front of school. Through the glass I saw the senior managers and then a number of students. The core maths students’ exam is half an hour shorter than the extended maths exam so I wasn’t surprised until I spotted Son, some 45 minutes earlier than his finish time. He looked shocked.

“I tried to call you,” he said. “None of our ‘phones work… does yours?”

Mine didn’t either. I spoke to some staff to find out why the students were out early. Worried about the deteriorating situation in Bangkok and getting hundreds of students home before a curfew, they had taken the decision to stop the exam part way through. The students were told to write a declaration on the front and inside their papers stating that they have been instructed to stop at x time. As long as at least 50% of the paper is completed IGCSE (the i stands for international) have informed the school that they should, given the exceptional circumstances, be able to award the students grades, though there is no guarantee of this.

We went out on the road to get a taxi. I tried and failed to phone Husband. There were hardly any cabs. Those that came past refused to stop and the two that did stop listened to where we wanted to go, looked frightened and said the Thai equivalent of ‘Not bloody likely.’

I kept trying to phone home: Husband’s mobile, Daughter’s mobile and the home phone. Absolutely nothing. It looked as though I had service but nothing was connecting.

I am so bad at making decisions. I wondered about the hotel. It was a trek but we could walk it but I wanted to be at home with Husband and Daughter too, not trapped in a hotel because we couldn’t get back. One of Son’s friends was waiting for his car and he offered us a lift … about half way. Half way home? Was that the stupidest decision ever? Neither near home nor near the hotel. I tried the phone again. I emailed (thank god for my Blackberry) and smsed. I still couldn’t get Husband. Eventually I decided that half way home on Sukhumvit Road we’d be more likely to get a taxi willing to take us the rest of the way. It would’ve been a helluva walk, but we could have done it. I wanted to ask Husband what it was like locally before making a decision (I wanted him to make a decision, actually) but I still couldn’t get hold of him.

Then Son’s friend hailed an approaching cab that I’d not seen. I opened up the passenger door and with a heavy heart, I told the driver where we wanted to go. He was eating chicken legs and sticky rice. He didn’t say no outright. I thought about offering him double the fair as I was getting desperate. I didn’t know how to beg in Thai. He was a ‘wide boy’ speaking enough English to do the deal, some duckin’ and diving. “Ooh,” he said, chomping on the chicken leg, “it’s going to be dangerous for me.” He told me he’d do it for 600 baht (four times the going rate.) In the spirit of negotiation I offered 500 but my heart wasn’t in it. I was just relieved to find someone kind/crazy/uninformed enough to drive towards the centre of Bangkok.

And so we got home.

As I’m checking this over before I post it, it’s Friday morning and I’m back sitting in the coffee shop outside school while Son does a biology exam. As we drove down Sukhumvit this morning it’s beginning to feel a bit more normal. On the outside, at least, Bangkok is looking more like itself.


SpiralSkies said...

God. That has brought tears to my eyes. My brute has his Biology this morning and the biggest crisis he faced was whether I'd made enough pasta last night for him to take some for lunch to feed his brain.

I don't think there's anything good to be said for feeling unsafe when one's children are involved.

Glad you got home safely X

Queenie said...

Woo. I was scared just reading that. So glad things seem to be calming down a little, at least for now.

Ange said...

JJ that must have been horrible! So glad you got back home safely. I'm well out of it where I live, but know a lot of people in the danger zones... some of whom have been trapped there for a week. It's such a sad, sad situation.

liz fenwick said...

JJ - my heart was with you and i know that dilemma about being apart from your loved ones...

I am sure the exam board will take it into account. Hope he feels okay about his bio today. DS1 has chem AS this morning I think.


Chris Stovell said...

Sheesh! I've got nothing to moan about. I've huge admiration for you. So glad to hear from you.

HelenMHunt said...

I'm so sorry you're having to go through this. And your son. Important exams are difficult enough at the best of times without this extra anxiety.

Debs said...

Blimey, what a frightening time for you all. I'm so glad things seem to be a little calmer at the moment and hope that they do mark the exam papers after you/your son had to go through so much for him to take it.

Hope you have a good weekend.x

Helen said...

My heart was in my mouth as I read this. I'm glad yoo got home safely. xx

SueG said...

I'm sitting here reading this with my hand over my mouth. Thank Good you guys are okay and things seem to be getting back to normal. There are so often times when we have to make decisions (not as frightening as yours were, but still), and we don't know how to make them. Especially when our kids are concerned. When there's no longer a "right" and a "wrong", what can you do? Just your best, I guess, and it seems like you are.

Denise said...

I'm so glad you got home and things are looking up. What a terrifying situation to be living through.

This is scant consolation but reading that made me feel I was absorbed in a wonderful novel. You can really tell a story JJ, it's just unfortunate you had to live it too!

Carol said...

I'm so sorry you two had to go through that!! Sounds absolutely awful!!

Still, I'm very glad that things seem to be settling least in terms of the's going to take a lot more to deal with the divide that led to the trouble in the first place!!

Thinking of you all

C x

Lane said...

How awful.
That was a day you're all going to remember for a while.
Glad you made it home safely. Those were difficult decisions. x

DOT said...

Bet son thought it all a bit of a lark, except the exam bit.
Nervy for you though.

Sara Crowley said...

My goodness. The hesitating to make a decision felt real familiar to me, the circumstances surrounding them are nothing I have ever experienced. Weighing up the importance of GCSE exams vs. safety must have been extraordinarily difficult. As for going half way home or not, wow, there's no way you could know. what a tough decision to make.

I'm so glad to hear you are ok.

JJ Beattie said...

Jen, thanks lovely. It does feel strangely normal to us now... odd hmm?

Queenie, yes, things feel calmer now but not necessarily comfortable...

Ange, you're lucky to be away from it. I hope all your friends are okay. I'm so very tired of it now.

Liz, thank you. I know you do. I don't know how you do it when there's trouble or upset. It's very tough.

Chris, thank you.

Helen, the rest should be a breeze eh? (Assuming nothing else happens just yet...)

Debs, thank you. Oddly we went to the cinema yesterday. What a very normal thing to do...

Helen, thank you honey.

Sue, I don't know why I feel so unequipped to make decisions. I joke it's because I'm Libran but I don't really believe that.

Denise, while I sit struggling with my novel, that is a lovely thing to hear and makes me want to go right back into it. Thank you.

Oh Carol, you're so right. This... lull...peace... still fills me with anxiety.

Lane, absolutely. And oddly, the telephones not working were the most terrifying bit about the day.

DOT, thank god Son is the personality type he is (his Dad's son) He was a bit spooked but mostly cool.

Sara, nice to see you here. I never know whether there's something I'm not seeing when it comes to making a decision. So glad it worked out.

kanishk said...

some of whom have been trapped there for a week. It's such a sad, sad situation.
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Talli Roland said...

You're so brave! I'm sure I would just cower in my flat and have a drink or five! Well done to your son for being able to concentrate in the middle of everything that was happening.

Nicole Khoo said...

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