The sound of life
You may experience it once in your lifetime when you travel either by bus, train or aeroplane. While you're seated in your cramped seat and trying to rest, a baby passenger starts to cry. Minutes pass like hours and the baby doesn't stop crying.
Crying infants can be annoying. Brawling can make some people angry and that might lead to an ugly circumstance where the baby and the parents are forced to abort the bus.
That scenario happened to the family of Mongkol Thongboran just recently. He and his wife took their two young sons to board an inter-provincial bus of the state-run Transport Company from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal at 8pm. Their destination was Koh Samui in Surat Thani, about 765km south of Bangkok. But the family's 12-hour trip was cut short to two hours because of the crying baby -- their 17-month-old youngest son.
According to Sitthiporn Sriwarom, a witness seated in front of the family who revealed the story on his Facebook page. The journey went peacefully for awhile until the toddler cried in the middle of the night. The howling was non-stop for 30 or 40 minutes, and Sitthiporn saw a bus attendant approaching them. The bus later stopped at a petrol station in Cha-am district, Phetchaburi province.
He saw the father unload their luggage, but didn't realise the family was forced to get off the bus, because he had his earphones in when the bus attendant, Wanchai Kaeocharoen, approached the family. Later, the bus attendant came to talk to Sitthiporn to ask him to be a witness that the crying baby disturbed other passengers as well as the driver to the point that no one could rest. This could risk passenger safety, according to Wanchai.
But Sitthiporn declined to act as witness. He realised that the action was unjustified. He felt pity for the family and wanted the Transport Company to take action against its staff.
The child's father, Mongkol, later told local media that he and his wife tried to console his son to stop the crying. He insisted no passengers complained about the noise. Even a foreign passenger approached him, asking if the boy was sick and if he needed help, he said.
Nevertheless, the family was left at the gas station. They felt humiliated, confused and angry.
Mongkol said after the family stayed in the petrol station for five to 10 minutes, his son stopped crying. "If the bus driver gave us a short break at the petrol station, we could have continued our journey without any problem," he said.
The Land Transport Department quickly took action after finding that the two bus drivers, Sathaporn Youkerd and Kittipong Saisut, as well as the bus attendant, Wanchai Kaeocharoen, had offended the passengers and violated the land transport law requiring service providers to send all passengers to their destinations safely.
The two bus drivers and the bus attendant were fined 5,000 baht each and had to attend three-day training. Mongkol's family, on the other hand, received a letter of apology and compensation of 4,740 baht, covering the expenses of bus fares, a night's stay in a hotel not far from the petrol station, train tickets to Surat Thani and ferry fares to Koh Samui.
If you still feel angry with the bus drivers, will you feel better to learn that this kind of incident doesn't occur only in Thailand? Surprisingly, kicking passengers off public buses due to crying babies also happens in developed countries like the United States (Oregon) in 2011, in England (Kent) four years ago and in Ireland (Dublin) last year.
I wondered what those drivers would have done if they had been in a situation in which they couldn't order parents with crying babies out of a vehicle, such as while flying an aircraft 35,000 feet above ground.
Or perhaps they can learn something from American low-cost airline JetBlue Airways.
Last April, the airline offered a 25% discount on future airfare for passengers every time a baby onboard cried. The promotion was called FlyBabies and was launched to celebrate Mother's Day in the United States. It was only for passengers who took the flight from New York City's JFK airport to Long Beach in California on April 15 last year. After a cabin attendant announced the promotion, the noise of crying babies suddenly became music to passengers' ears. The more they cried, the happier the passengers became.
Five babies flew the 6.20 flight. In the end, it was a happy ending for all 140 passengers to have four babies crying on their flight before the aeroplane touched the ground.
The initiative, applied more widely, could help change people's perspective toward fussy babies. Perhaps it could even lead to an appreciative understanding that a baby's cry is the sound of life.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Karnjana Karnjanatawe is a travel writer for Life section.