“That’s not the same sign we saw yesterday.” I protested.
“Yes, it is.” Peter and Steve both chimed in at the same time.
“It is not! Yesterday’s sign had Udon Thani on it.”
“I think you’ll find that this is yesterday’s sign.” Peter replied, on his own this time. “ Now, I’m getting out of the car to take a picture of this sign. You can stay in here if you want.” He opened up the driver’s door. “What do you think, Steve, shall we go take a picture?”
“Yes. “ Steve opened the passenger door.
“You guys can take all the pictures you want. That sign clearly says Mukdahan, Roi Et and Ubon Ratchatani. There is no mention at all of Udon Thani. That is just some sign on the road, not the one we saw yesterday.”
Steve gave an exasperated chuckle as he rose. “Come on, Brett.” He said in an encouraging voice. “Let’s get out and take the picture.”
“Oh, I’ll take the picture, all right. But, I’m doing it under protest because that’s not the right sign!”
Though the three of us had collectively been in Thailand for quite a while (and this was in 2006), our experiences in the northeast- Isaan, as the Thais say it- had been limited. At the time, we all worked in the bubbling metropolis of Bangkok. Though we had visited Isaan before, it had been a while. That’s why Peter urged both Steve and I to take this trip. Fly to Ubon Ratchatani, rent a car there, drive up to Mukdahan and Nakhorn Phanom, then head back through Sakhon Nakhhorn, Kalasin, Roi Et and Yasothon. It was while driving on the first day of our trip that Peter pointed out the sign. “I’ll tell you what, lads, you won’t see a sign like that in Bangkok.”
Steve, from his accustomed position in the passenger’s seat, and I, from the back, both nodded in agreement. It really was a sight. Places we had heard about so often, but spent so little time in. Almost embarrassingly little, considering how much a part of our lives Isaan actually was. In Bangkok, it’s quite common to meet young people from the economically less well-off northeastern provinces, come to the city to hopefully make their fortunes. Both Peter and I had, in the past, had girlfriends from Udon. Yet, as much as we tried to pretend we were old Isaan hands – I didn’t want to admit that before this trip I had never been to Ubon Ratchatani – deep down, we knew we weren’t. That’s what made the sign so significant. We didn’t think of taking a picture of it that day, but rushed back to the scene the following morning.
Now, twelve years later, I spend every day in Isaan. I work for SINE in a high school in Khukhan, Sisaket province, and have been for almost three years now. Once exotic road markers have now become more routine. In a nod to that time, I put the Khukhan version of that sign- one pointing to Surin, Buriram and Nakhon Ratchasima-on Facebook when I first arrived. Even got one ‘like’- though not from Peter or Steve.
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