Road rage is rife in this country where emotions tend to be kept bubbling politely under the surface. It’s odd, but drivers are like road-trolls, we behave in ways we would normally find appalling.
While on the most part I am happy to smile benignly at tourists wandering around aimlessly up and down Nimman’s sois where I live, as they wave, giggle and take photos of my pug who has a penchant for sticking his wrinkly face out of the window like a B rate celebrity. Catch me at the wrong time and I can be as nasty as the next person; honking, flashing lights and swearing like a trooper. It’s ugly.
I have also been caught out over the years unknowingly flipping a bird at an acquaintance or sticking my tongue out at someone I later find out I know (sorry, mum).
But there are lines that I don’t cross. After all, who hasn’t read about all the incidents when road rage goes to really dark places, really quickly? Just yesterday a 69 year old songtaew driver was arrested for brandishing a sword out of his window — who keeps a sword in their vehicle? — at a passing car that had cut him off. It is simply not worth the risk.
Yet over the past two days I have found myself almost apoplectic. Not once, but three times! Each incident involving an ambulance. Each time I heard the familiar sirens in the distance, I saw the lights in my peripheral vision, and my eyes began darting left, right, left, right, making sure that I wouldn’t get in the way of the emergency. I pulled over, ahead, backward, whatever it took to allow whoever was inside to get to the hospital as soon as possible. It’s the only thing to do. And yet, each time I saw cars parked at traffic lights unmoving, vehicles refusing to budge from their lanes and people chatting on their phones on motorbikes without any concern nor distress the flashing lights and screaming sirens next to them. It just sent my blood boiling. There are trolls, but this is next level trolling. Lives are in the balance here.
Suddenly everyone seemed to be concerned about the rules of the road; not pulling over to the curb, not straddling a lane, not crawling up into an intersection at a red light. The one time when you can actually take matters into your own hands, the one time when your actions could make a difference to a life, and they just sit there. Still. Checking phones.
It’s just not on.
I’d been muttering about this to anyone who would listen for a few days but the last straw came when I was parked at the Huay Kaew-Sirimankalajarn Intersection. An ambulance was coming down Huay Kaew, signaling to turn right heading to Suan Dok Hospital but was blocked by about four cars refusing to budge. So, as I was about to storm out of my car and start directing traffic myself, red faced, hair wild and looking like a banshee, I remembered something.
My friend Paul Sullivan had given me a Christmas present which I thought rather odd at the time, but kept in my car as instructed. They were two cards, one yellow and one red.
I don’t watch football, you see. I get the gist; the yellow card means you have been naughty and the red, well, tsk tsk. So, finally the ambulance managed to wiggle its way through, with me and a couple of other vehicles hoking our horns in encouragement, and drawing the attention of a crowd of tourists walking by. The right hand lane was still waiting complacently for the lights to change, and as I drove past them, I held up my red card. Suddenly there was a burst of laughter, some applause even, from the tourists and as I scowled at the apathetic drivers, I noticed their chagrined grins, and I couldn’t help but grin back. They were shamed, but they saw the humour and a few even waved back, in apology, I’d like to think.
What a wonderful way to diffuse a situation. And it was powerful. The best part was the lack of aggression while still getting the message across.
I know for a fact that many of my expat friends here, and I guess many of you readers, also suffer from some form of road rage or another — I feel you, it can be frustrating driving these roads. And I urge you to follow in Paul’s footsteps, order a set of cards online, or find some way that you can control the situation without finding yourself facing the sharp end of a samurai sword.
Our roads are dangerous. So I suppose my rant this month is to urge you to keep calm and have a sense of humour. And always make room for ambulances. (Those siren-blaring VIP cavalcades, meh, not so much!)
Citylife this month:
I learn about the crypto-community here in Chiang Mai, which is surprisingly vibrant and full of promise. Thank you to all for being so generous of your time and knowledge, it was fun and fascinating. I also write about the Gay Pride Parade, which unfortunately I missed due to a family funeral, but it is time we remembered what happened ten years ago today and celebrate how far the LGBT community has come, while being cognisant of all the challenges it is yet to overcome. Young Tus Werayutwattana meets an inspirational young student who is facing the world head on as well as writing about where we are in our bid to become a UNESCO living city…we are closer to that reality than I had previously thought. Have a lovely March and breathe easy.