Little Green Bus Devils

I wonder whether other aficionados of traffic on the mean streets of the Big Mango will agree with me that it is the little green bus devils that are the most dangerous – dangerous for the poor customers clinging to their metal rails and vulnerable to all kinds of shock and awe – and dangerous to all other road-users as the drivers lurch from lane to lane on a nearly but not quite random basis? Well, as from today, the little devils are supposedly banned, after the period during which their operators were given grace to find alternatives has elapsed.

There is expected to be a rally today of those of the 700 buses who have not got around to making the replacement will be able to voice their opinions about the transportation policy of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

The Patience of a Boddhisattva

Driving in to the office this morning, we were met by a stream of motor cyclists driving against the traffic over the bridge on Ratchadaphisek Road – police roadblock I surmised with characteristic acuity.

So it proved, therefore: a gang of cops was hanging around at the other end of the bridge ready to nab (for, as some allege, revenue-raising purposes in the run-up to the New Year festivities) motor cyclists illegally using the bridge. They have been there quite often, recently, making this quite a risky short cut but one which plenty of people still seem to be ready to take.

In addition to this, in the course of a single seven km journey, we had the woman walking right across the front of the car without looking anywhere but to the front, the car (a Honda Jazz) pulling out right in front of us and very nearly provoking a crash, the usual Mercedes weaving backwards and forwards through the traffic and taxis illegally waiting by the side of the road for a fare and causing tailbacks.

This is all quite common, if not normal.

Ladprao Life

I’m not sure what was going on along Ladprao Road this morning when I was coming in to the office but the traffic going in the opposite direction all the way up to the Ratchada junction was completely choc-a-bloc – truly a snake eating its own tail and I did not see it move the whole time I was going past. There had been a little rain earlier on but not enough to cause this level of delay. Perhaps there had been an accident – these are, alas, common enough for the Bangkok streets. Perhaps also it was the traffic police who had set up another roadblock to stop certain categories of vehicle (usually motor cycles as the unwillingness of riders and their passengers to wear the prescribed helmets makes them an easy target) near to Ramindra Road, which is a place they seem to like establishing roadblocks.

Well, I hope that whatever the problem is it has dissipated now since I am shortly to take the same route back, unless the taxi driver wants to go via the Sutthisan route. It is best, I have found, to let them choose their own preferred route because otherwise they are likely to spend the entire length of the journey moaning about the traffic and clicking their tongues and so forth.

Apparently the land at the end of our soi is going to be used for a church of some sort – it has been vacant since pretty much all the time I have been hanging around Ladprao. For one period it was used for a kind of informal bar and a few people have tried to establish noodle stalls there. Most commonly it represents an opportunity for motor cycle taxi riders and anyone else passing by to go to an open air toilet. Well, no doubt the Christians will find some way of cleaning all of this up. Presumably it will mean an increase in traffic when services are being held and perhaps even some tiresome Christer evangelists will come around to try to persuade us to change our personal beliefs or just swan around acting self-righteously.

Strangers Do Not Exist

I have long assumed that the principal reason for the taboos that have become part of religious beliefs was a form of social control, which contained what was once useful information for society. For example, Jews and Muslims have taboos against eating pork because they were unable to process it properly in a desert environment. Christians were able to remove this taboo because they had access to Roman technology.

In addition to useful information, therefore, it is likely that religious lessons were aimed at areas in which the audience for them were most delinquent. So, Confucianism in China and Korea has powerful filial piety principles because of the strong incentives to discard unwanted relatives during times of difficulty, Christianity emphasizes tolerance and doing unto others because of the (largely European) propensity to resort to violence and Islam bans alcohol because its members are unable to control themselves where drink is concerned.

And in Buddhism: one of the main concerns is that people should show ‘mindfulness,’ which is the opposite of mindlessness and concerns the degree to which people are aware of what is going on around them. I was reminded of this again this morning when, during my journey to work, I saw two instances of people nearly being run over by motor cycle or car (including the taxi in which I was travelling) purely because they did not look around (or anywhere) before walking across the road. In the first case, a woman walked in front of a motor cycle taxi that was so close to her that even if she did not look around (which she did not) then she surely must have been able to hear it.

To some extent, this may be explained by the family system in society: a great deal more emphasis is placed on family connections in East Asia than in most of the western world and this is correlated with lack of trust in non-family members. Since Thailand has a very low trust society (everybody believes everyone else is about to rip them off, one way or another), only family members can be trusted and, indeed, acknowledged. If non-family members are acknowledged in public places, then that means that social status issues arise and people must behave accordingly. Since people do not wish to do this all the time, they simply ignore everyone else as if they did not exist. This happens in other countries too – in Korea, the person who has not been introduced does not really exist.

Oh the Joy of a Rainy Bangkok Morning!

Well, it began raining sometime after midnight and it was still coming down fairly strongly at 6 o’clock when I got up – oh joy, a Bangkok morning in the rain.

When it rains, the taxis are immediately seized with the fierceness of the liberated Soviet peasant seizing the commanding heights of the economy. My tactic is to go and wait close to the school at the end of the road – parents take their kids to school by taxi (some do, anyway) and then get out to take them inside. Then, as I lurk, the taxi approaches a few yards away and I leap in like a gazelle. In my imagination anyway.

However, unless it is my imagination, since the petrol prices have gone up so much, more and more people seem to be sharing taxis and just kick their tiny kids out on the street (OK – one parent will get out but the other will continue elsewhere and there are people outside the school anyway to manage traffic and kids).

The rain makes the situation worse because trips take longer as the traffic instantly snarls up and since 7 in the morning (by which time I was standing like a buffalo on Ladprao Road) is a common time for knocking-off and changing shift, a lot of taxi drivers were just evacuating their passengers and going home. I counted six doing this – unless they had very tiny passengers in the back, which is possible, or invisible people or ghosts (which is obviously not possible).

Now that the Bangkok Governor’s election is in full swing, large wooden boards advertising one or other candidate have started to be attached to every vertical object along the streets – lamp posts, telephone boxes, stationary dogs – which makes for a colourful spectacle when driving along but almost impossible to see what is coming from the pavement. Consequently, I had to peer around a board (number five, Apirak, I think) in order to keep an eye on potential taxi-white knights and that left me vulnerable to the drivers who think (or more likely do not think at all, ever) it is a good idea to drive at high speed close to the pavement and soak everyone and everything within several feet of the road.

So, by the time I arrived – and to skip over the anarchic who was here first mind battles that must also be fought – I was soaking wet, covered in mud and in no real mood to do any work.

To arrive at work in Bangkok in a good mood needs the patience of a Bodhisattva. Any of the candidates actually have any idea how to improve the situation? I mean, really?

The Friday Morning Dilemma

It is Friday morning and the usual dilemma rears its grotesque head for those of us living on Ladprao Road or any other problematic traffic area. . Indeed, the dilemma is worse than usual this week because it is the end of the month and so very many people are going to go out and spend their salaries on khao, khap khao and bia, Worse still, the sky is darkening and there is a pretty good chance that there will be a storm some time later this afternoon.

Put these factors together and we enter a twilight zone in which taxis, usually available in a plethora of choices, become rarer to find than maturity at a PAD rally. Those that can be found will inevitably take the opportunity to demonstrate their power over the poor pundit by refusing to go to Ladprao or in fact anywhere they do not want to go – which is most of Bangkok, as it happens. Going to the airport is probably OK but we can’t all go and sleep in the airport just because it is the only place a taxi driver is prepared to go.

So here is the dilemma: at what time should I plan to leave the office in order to make it home before midnight and without spending hours sat in a stationary taxi listening to the taxi driver moaning about the traffic. I could sneak out early and try to make it home before the traffic builds up too much – that would mean leaving by no later than 3:30 – but that means not being able to do much of the work I need to finish today and it will be no good anyway if it is raining then. Alternatively, I could wait until later – eight o’clock should probably be safe, although it is far from guaranteed. Another option would be to leave at normal time and then travel on the tube to Siam Square or somewhere and do some shopping in a hi-so place and then hope to get a taxi from Mo Chit around 7:30-8. Again, that does not work if it is raining and that would mean a journey to Ratchada and standing in the rain there. Sigh.

It is more than 7 km to walk and, in Bangkok, it feels a lot longer than that because of the various pavement issues. However, I have walked home before and am prepared to do so again, if I do not have too much stuff to carry.