Sunday, April 29, 2007

The STAR Mariachi Van

We were on our way to Perlis for the SBP School Northern Zone English Drama Competition. We were heading north up the North-South Highway, following the bus from Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), which is only about 25 kilometers from our school.

Each SBP school usually has three school buses: A small van for getting sick students to the clinic or going to town, an older bus to get more students around, and a traveling bus. The traveling school buses for the SBP schools are not your normal yellow school buses. They are comfortable, with air conditioning, captain chair type seats, and a TV and dvd player. They are more like the overnight buses that go to Singapore or Thailand, than a school bus. Here in Malaysia, appearance is everything, and you want to make a good impression when going to a sister school.

One of the kids brought along a DVD of "Ghost Rider", and everyone settled in to watch it. Me? I was more interested in reading the Malaysian Star newspaper, and doing the Sudoku on the comics page. I did see enough of the movie to see that it wasn't worth the six Ringgit ($1.75) the student paid for it.

When we got up around the tollbooths near Butterworth, I put down my paper, and noticed a strange little vehicle between us and the bus from MCKK. We seemed to be in a convoy. It looked to be a van from another SBP school, but I couldn't really be sure. If it was, it was barely big enough to hold the fifteen students that would be taking part. There was absolutely no room for any props or backdrops. Hell, if they had any luggage, they would have to be holding it on their laps.

The paint was worn and faded, and the windows were open because there was no air conditioning. I was surprised that the back tires weren't wobbling like drunken belly dancers, or that there wasn't thick black smoke pouring out of the back.

In the back of the vehicle were a couple of signs: One saying, "Go Pablo", and the other, "Wowee" or something like that. One of the guys in the backseat was playing a guitar, and either had a big curly hairdo, or was wearing a wig. The others were dressed in colorful shirts. It gave the rather startling impression that we were following a destitute itinerant Mexican Mariachi band up to the Thai border.

We pulled up next to the poor little van during a rest stop, and it was from another SBP school- STAR (Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman), in Ipoh. This is a picture of it after we reached our destination.

STAR is an all boys school, like MCKK. That luckless group had to endure a four hour ride through tropical heat in a bumpy little van, with no air conditioning.

Once we got into Kangar, the driver from MCKK got lost, and we had to travel around on some dusty dirt roads while finding our way, and the poor guys from STAR had dust pouring in their windows. By the time we pulled into the school in Kangar, those poor guys really needed a nice long shower, and maybe a nice long hug from their Mommy.

Just to give you an idea of how small the van was, here is a picture of it sitting between the traveling bus, and the everyday school bus from the school in Kangar.

It was only after saying something to Mr. Wong, that I found out that we very well could have been doing the same thing. I didn't know that we had to sign up to use the school buses. Luckily, Mr. Wong has been at SERATAS for twenty three years, and knows how everything works. He reserved the nice traveling bus as soon as he knew when the competition was taking place. Otherwise, there would have been two van loads of dirty, sweaty students pulling into the competition, not one.

All I can say is:

Thank God for Mr. Wong!

He saves the day once again.