No one likes to be called a hypocrite, let alone admit to being one.
And as horrid as it is to admit to, I am one.
I wax lyrical on these pages about social responsibility and rules of law…ad nauseam. But I must admit that I’ve not always practiced what I preach.
My father taught me how to drive in what is now Prasert Land, then a wasteland crisscrossed with dusty red-dirt tracks. I started my lessons the day I had my braces fit at 13, it was my consolation prize for the unbearable pain and the upcoming years of ugliness. Over the years we would go out once a week or so for driving lessons, and by the time I was 15 I was regularly sneaking out of the house during my folk’s afternoon siestas and driving the roads of Chiang Mai. By the time I was 17 I was doing it with a beer in hand.
My 18th birthday was rolling up and I was told that I could pay for driving lessons, which would guarantee me an automatic licence (the driving schools and authorities were in cahoots), or I could risk taking the test at the Land Transportation Department, sans connections. I did have enough integrity to insist on doing it the right way, and I remember driving into the rather deserted Arcade Bus Station all those years ago, where the official test was to be conducted. I was soon confronted by a harried examiner who declared that he was late for lunch with his girlfriend and that I only had five minutes. I was told to reverse approximately 20 metres around a corner and park. Without much fuss, I managed this monumental task and was startled to be informed that I had passed. Next, I was sent to sit the exam.
After being handed four sets of the actual questions and answers (you never knew which test was going to be in play on any given day), I was told that I had to do a quick eye test and had thirty minutes to memorise the exams. I sat next to a few Akha men who were also memorising their exams, only to discover that they couldn’t read. The authorities had told them to memorise which boxes to tick. It came as no surprise when I _ we all _ passed. I was handed a temporary drivers’ licence and a few years later upgraded to one for life which I still use today (pictured here). It is remarkable that that useless little test has allowed me, for life, to drive our roads.
Over the years I have had a few accidents (nothing big, thankfully), been driving while very very under the influence of alcohol, done more than my share of illegal u-turns, driven up the wrong way on a one way road, parked illegally, gone over the limit (I just found out today for the first time what the actual speed limit is: 60km/h in the city, huh!), driven without a seatbelt, texted while driving, and broken the law in a myriad of ways.
I’m better now. Much better. Maturity, exposure to the dangers of the roads, near-misses and other life experiences has me more cautious, and responsible. But I believe that I am pretty typical of a Thai driver. We were brought up in a different time and place. In a country where rules were there to be pragmatically navigated and negotiated; where laws were to be respected, but not necessarily followed. We believed that as long as we harmed no one we were living in the land of the free and that was what we loved about our sabai sabai culture.
But Thailand has grown beyond those lackadaisical days of mai pen rai. Intern Charlie Claxton has written a sobering piece on the dangers of Thailand’s roads this month which I hope you will all read. We rank only second in the world, after Namibia, for road fatalities. This is not an infrastructural problem, it is a societal and behavioural problem, and one which must be addressed urgently. We all have to re-examine and change an entire lifetime of attitude and behaviour. Pavements are not to be parked on, speed limits are to be adhered to, tuk tuks must be waved down after more than a beer, and rules must be abided by, and enforced. We have a long way to go until Thailand’s roads are safer and it is simply up to all of us now to make this happen, let go of the past, and start understanding the serious repercussions of our actions.
I have been trying for a few years now to be a more cautious driver. On the most part, I succeed, but occasionally I still find myself doing a quick u-turn on a quiet road, have that one glass of wine more than I should on the way home from work, parking obnoxiously where I am not allowed to and speeding my way to a meeting. I can’t promise it will stop, but I promise to try. Really really hard. And if I am caught breaking any law, I will accept any punishments which come my way. We all should.
Let’s all try to make that promise, I believe it will make a difference. Hopefully there won’t be 26,000 families who will mourn their loved ones because of our efforts this year as there were last year.
Citylife this month:
Lots of new voices here this month with intern William Glass writing about his experience as a Chiang Mai Football Club fan, intern Valerie Sauers joining forces with new Deputy Editor Dustin Covert exploring Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventure’s remarkable business, intern Charlie Claxton writing not only about the dangers of Thailand’s roads, but also about an exciting new art space and Dustin Covert heading to the jungles of Phrae to visit the last tribes to be discovered in Thailand, the Mlabri, a remarkable and resilient people who are now slowly finding their place in the 21st century.