Many years ago, I was traveling on a local bus to the city of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was a weekend and the bus was full with a few foreigners, but mostly a lively group of Thai people chatting away. I suddenly remembered a story that I had read a long time ago by my favorite travel writer, Paul Bowles, and I could not help but laugh out loud.

In the story, Bowles was describing a bus trip he took from the old capital of Ayutthaya to Bangkok, in 1972, accompanied by three monks he had befriended. As the story goes, it was a crowded bus and as it began to move, a passenger in the back started to scream every few minutes. None of the local people seemed to be bothered by this. As the screams continued, Bowles asked the monks if they thought the passenger was all right and why he was screaming. The monk answered: “Sunday. Busy day.” Bowles contemplated this response for a minute and thought that this was a very “serene and compassionate” answer.

In Bowles’ mind the poor man was obviously not well, quite possibly disturbed. As the bus approached Bangkok’s terminal, the screams became louder and more frequent. Bowles was somewhat shocked by the lack of concern for the man’s wellbeing by the other passengers. After everyone had exited the bus Bowles asked the monks one more time: “What was the poor man screaming about?” The monk replied: “He was telling bus driver to slow down, put bus in second gear, car coming from right, truck coming from left and so on. He is the bus driver’s assistant.” Bowles asked why, as the bus driver’s assistant, he would not sit in the front next to the driver? The monk replied: “ Driver in the front, assistant in the back… this way the whole bus protected.”

I suppose as a traveler, the moral of the story is to open our minds, let go of our pre-conceived notions and assumptions, and just enjoy the beauty and humor we find along the journey. A lesson learned and remembered in Thailand.