A Thai Driving Test
Having been the proud owner of a set of four for a couple of years, I’ve amassed a fair sized tomb of experiences which have conjured images well beyond the twilight zone
on the barometer of reality.
Logically, we should start at the beginning but as this is Thailand and logic has been detained at customs for a prolonged cavity search, I will start some way into my saga – snaring that little piece of paper known by the judiciary, in their moments of high jest, as a license to control a weapon of mass destruction (check the injury and death tolls after major holidays). Firstly, there is more than one office of issue and the way through is to identify the office allocated to serve the area in which you reside. This, I discovered, after shlepping up to Mor Chit, jumping through all of the hoops, queuing at various windows and frittering away a nicely scammed morning off!
Next comes the big day. Finding myself on the darker side of Pinklao and with a year or so (cough, cough) of Bangkok driving experience on my side, I was ready to show ‘em how advanced our standards are in England. I was basking in confidence as one of my student’s from Chula had taken her test a year ago and had put me, fully, in the Rembrandt, so to speak! The conversation went something like this – (me) “Make sure you move your head around when you check your rear view mirror so the examiner can see you look.” (Her) “What do you mean?” (Me) – “They can be very strict and fail you if you don’t show that you are looking in the mirror, so moving your eyes is not enough”. (Her) “Who’s going to fail me?” (me) “The examiner.” (Her) “What examiner?” (Me) “The guy that sits next to you for the emergency stop” (Her) “What emergency stop?” (Me) “ You know, the guy sitting next to you who slams his hand down to tell you to stop” (Her) What guy?” All was revealed! This must be like the British motorbike test where some dude hangs around at a difficult junction, working his way through a pack of Capston Fullstrength, a flask of gut rot and grades you as you negotiate the observed obstacles. Wrong! I was informed that one drives out alone into the rush hour traffic for about half an hour and if you haven’t smashed your car up when you get back they give you the paper – if you have had an incident you just drop a purple into their bin and your problem’s solved. However, being as this is Thailand, even this is considered too serious and so one drives out of the center, parks up around the corner, catches some well earned kip and drives back 30 mins later – bob’s your uncle and away you go to rack up your tally of road kill!
The events of the day unfurled in this amazing fashion. As we went through the rigmarole of completing forms and the huffs and puffs of the clerk who commented many times, that we’ll have to wait a long time and he wasn’t going to make it any quicker, I finally got into the classroom for the ‘highway code lecture’ (stop laughing in the cheap seats!). I was surprised to be given a book of questions and answers in English. After passing the written test, (27 and over out of a possible 30) I strolled to the mini-circuit with those that made the cut – this included driving into and reversing out of a bay marked by traffic cones, parking in a white lined box (standard car park size) driving around a few soft bends, stopping at a junction, negotiating a round-about and coming to a controlled stop on the apex of a hump back bridge. Where’s the test in this, I hear you ask! Well, the real challenge is that only one vehicle can be on the course at any given moment and you know how Thais hate to be alone! It’s a very steep psychological demand on drivers from this culture!
My challenge was not the course but the language barrier. The instructions were given in Thai. My wife, who shames me with an astonishing command off the Queen’s English derived, purely, from our relationship and who is a non- driver herself, was unable to identify and convey the very subtle test requirements of this course. We lined up for a Le Mans running start and took turns from a very dubious line up which could be called a queue based on a weird Thai hierarchy. The initial obstacle presented no problems and I was feeling confident. However I made a fatal mistake of applying logic to the next obstacle – the parking bay. Yes you guessed it! I made the mistake of thinking that I had to park in the parking bay! TIT! When one parks in the parking spot one is required to drive the front end of the car over the white line at the end of the box and stop without the front end of the car passing over another yellow line painted about 2 feet parallel to the end of the box – God knows why! It may explain the shocking parking in the Realm, perhaps? At any rate, I blew it and would have to come back in three months. Hey, Ho!
Time marched by and I found myself back on the same track, determined to salvage some self respect and stick it to the old bints who judge performances and, obviously, impart the specifics of the test with as much clarity and transparency as Thaksin’s political manifesto – how else are they going to create a demanding situation with which to justify their bribes? (Believe me when I tell you that my wife confirmed that many of the Thais appeared to lack total understanding of the full requirements of negotiating this particular obstacle). You’ll never Adam and Eve it, I struck out again and on the same task – the parking in the box!! This time I’d made sure that I’d driven into the box, nice and squarely, and driven the front of the car out of the back of the box to park my nose between the white perimeter of the parking box and the yellow line some two feet beyond! Perfect! Except that regardless of the marking of the box one had to park within 20 cm of the kerb!!! I would be a liar to say that I didn’t check around for the Candid Camera or check the bone structure of the Cruella Deville (her out of the Aristocats Disney Movie) who was installed in the judges box – could it be Jeremy Beadle? (A British comedy show where this twisted dude dresses up like someone else and gives some unsuspecting victim a dose of the shits).
On the third try I cracked it – a clear score card and a license to kill! I was finally legal and would now have a chance of defending myself when stopped by a crooked traffic cop or blamed for any prang I became a victim of as I was the farang with no driving card! I’d gone some way in levelling the playing field so the hassles were worth it. (I have to say that coupled with my school i.d. card, my license has saved me heaps of cash which would have been relieved from my underburdened wallet by a pervasive band of footpads known as the constabulary!! They gather like hawks at specific areas of driving confusion – usually just before a long week-end, a public holiday or the due date for the payment of annual school fees! However, the two cards combined in presentation generally provoke a brief exchange over the bogus traffic crime and I’m sent on my way rejoicing!)
The final kicker came when I pulled into that garage I’d talked of earlier – the one where I had received directions to the test center. The same guy served me and we got onto the subject of the test. I explained my disbelief at such a screwed up system that took me three attempts to pass. He was amazed and asked me why I didn’t hand over a purple one? I tried to explain that I wanted to go through the experience, although not to the extent that I had and anyway, I didn’t know who to give it to. His retort still echoes through my mind and you’ve just got to laugh after all that I’d been through “You have to give it to the clerk when you fill in the application. Didn’t he tell you it would take a long time and you’d have to wait for a few hours?”
Fantastic story! My experience was bad, but not quite this bad… I wish they would simply say, farangs pay 500 baht here…