On the road again

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I’ve never enjoyed commuting to work. Who has? But it is something you just have to do (unless you live AT work). It takes me between an hour (speediest driver, no fuel stop, no stopping for fried bananas and sweet potato chips for breakfast) and 90 minutes each morning. The minivan is comfortable (unless you sit in the back, where the motion caused by worn shock absorbers can induce car sickness) and air conditioned. So I just sit back and enjoy the show.

I’ve travelled the same road for a month now and I can see the colours of the land changing. After a few bouts of rain, the dry, dusty, brown and yellowed grass is gradually turning green. Fields have been prepared for cultivation using the “slash and burn” technique. Tractors have ploughed furrows and fingers of sugarcane have been planted. Farmers wanting an early start to the growing season have set up irrigation systems, and the new maize plants are startlingly green against the ochre, pinks and dark reds of the soil.

The fine detail of the hills of Myanmar to the west is usually obscured by haze, but after a rainstorm, there is more clarity and I love the misty clouds that hug the slopes. After a few hours of sun, the haze returns the hills to their default status.

I sit. I look out of the window. I have the luxury of not being the driver. I rest and enjoy the tranquility. I am so much less stressed here. I don’t have a dozen pressing problems that need solving; I don’t need to plan any strategies for the future. I can relax and enjoy the calm, entering a trance-like state. Zen and the art of commuting.

On the journey home, my mind is more active, reflecting on the patients I’ve seen. Could that patient have melioidosis? Might I have handled that situation better? So I’ve started downloading podcasts from the BBC which I listen to, and drown out my niggling uncertainties. My favourites are From Our Own Correspondent, Front Row Daily and Four Thought. I am branching out to listen to Channel 4’s Unreported World and the New York Times has some great short video clips of random stories, such as Lemons from Amalfi, Guinea Worm and the Pakistan elections.

When the minivan pulls into SMRU courtyard back in Mae Sot, I sometimes feel a twinge of regret. The podcast was just getting interesting and I want to linger a while until it finishes. I never had the luxury of doing that when hurrying about visiting patients at home in Leicester, with Radio 4 playing in my car. I was always too busy and I rarely got around to find the programme on “Listen Again” when I finished work.

So I’m not like Canned Heat, whose song provides the title to this piece. “Well I’m so tired of travelling, but I’m out, on the road again.” I don’t sing falsetto, and I’m not tired of travelling. But I wonder if this song is on the karaoke machine at that Japanese restaurant?

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