Each morning I slow down, lower my windows and glare at them, my disapproval palpable. I’ve been doing this for months.
Coffee cup from my favourite neighbourhood café in hand, I normally listen to a podcast or the radio, singing confidently off key, as I drive to work each day. I am generally happy, though since I’m always late, there is a persistent cloud of guilt which hovers over my little car on my daily commute. But about a third of a cardboard cup of cappuccino into the commute, the fluffy grey cloud turns dark and thunderous as I succumb to my daily routine of narrow-eyed displeasure.
But as far as I can see, this morning ritual has gone blithely unnoticed by the men I target my heated gaze towards. They’re busy after all.
I’m talking about that police checkpoint along the moat in front of Lok Molee Temple. I don’t mind the slowing of the traffic flow. In fact, I sometimes take a detour to work, or even park around the corner from the office, just to finish my podcast du jour. It’s just the ugly daily sight of around a dozen policemen pulling over motorcyclists, referring them to a little table where two rather smug policemen (through my narrow-eyed squint they look smug, ok?) sit accepting lots of red bank notes all day. There is just something so cynical and vulgar about the whole setup. And in front of such a pretty temple too!
As you can see in my interview with the governor in these pages, this checkpoint is supposed to be part of a year-round effort to get people to drive within the confines of the law. There are too many road deaths and accidents in Thailand, he told me, and instead of setting up checkpoints and enforcing the law only for the lead up to or during festivals, it’s a good idea to do this year round so people will learn to abide by the law at all times.
A perfectly sensible plan…if it weren’t for the fact that havan’t seen more than a dozen Thai people stopped. Ever. I also haven’t seen anyone pulled over for actually breaking the law.
The governor insisted to me that the police were only stopping people with no helmets or those violating the law. My evidence maybe merely empirical, but the hundreds of bikers I have seen pulled over each month are definitely, for the most part, not Thai. I know, because they are wearing those ping pong helmets you get at rental shops. I have also never seen any of them do an illegal U-turn, drive on the wrong side of the road, or drive in any particularly illegal manner. Apart from a few helmetless thrill seekers, none have been in obvious violation of the law. The governor was surprised at my revelation and promised to look into it, govsplaining to me that the policy was for Thai drivers so it shouldn’t affect any tourists.
But in practice, this morning peeve of mine appears to me to be a way to intimidate foreign visitors to part with some baht.
It also makes one wonder why all those businesses renting bikes to people with no proper license seem to be operating with impunity while the bikers are fined. Once fined, they will leave and another tourist will arrive to rent a bike and eventually be caught in the Lok Molee net. Surely it would make so much more sense to stop the problem at the source? But then there would be less sauce to share…Yet another mystery which will remain, for now, subject of widespread speculation by the many of us who don’t enjoy seeing such blatant discrimination, double standards and corruption. I am not saying that anyone is corrupt, I am merely insinuating. Well, if they are going to be so open and shameless about stopping riders of rental motorbikes whose features do not resemble my fellow citizens and who are not breaking any law, but one which can result in a quick fine and little recourse, then I shall insinuate to my heart’s content.
So, each day, I feed my righteous indignation in a totally irrelevant act which affects no one but my rising blood pressure. I spend the next few hundred metres from the temple deep in the furrow of my frown wondering when the head of the traffic police will finally grant me my interview so we can all get some answers. Then, invariably, I will notice that the moat is looking rather pretty today, and ooooh, I can see a rainbow in the fountain, and the matter is forgotten, my fickle attention returning to my podcast.
Until the next morning, just about a third of the way into my cappuccino.
Citylife this month:
You will be reading a lot from me this month, as Deputy Editor Aydan Stuart took time off to get himself married. A huge congratulations to Aydan and Blu on what will be years of happiness.
Our main feature this month is a look at the arduous path so many people in Thailand have to take to gain citizenship and the people working to fight for their rights. I also visit two adorable villages in Lamphun’s Pasang, an area famous for its Lanna beauties and beautiful textiles, and hope that you go and visit their upcoming festivals. I managed to squeeze myself into the governor’s busy schedule for a short interview and Aydan Stuart, just before he abandoned me to go moon his honey, has written an article on the growing pains of Chiang Mai’s digital nomad community. Hope you have a good read!
We will soon publish online a full report of our earnings from the Citylife Garden Fair this year, but at this point we have raised 403,890 baht for our three chosen charities. A few auction bid winners have yet to pay. Thank you all!