Just Wait A Moment, Please
For me, it’s not the scheming ways of the bar girls. It’s not the traffic or the maniac drivers. It’s not the heat. It’s not the dual pricing. It’s not even the creative approach to law and order presided over by the police and the government.
The thing that gets me about living in Thailand is the interminable waiting.
I swear I will die in Thailand either standing in a queue or just standing around waiting.
My recurring nightmare is one with me standing outside Central Bang Na waiting for my wife. I’ve been standing there for three hours. It’s thirty eight degrees in the shade and she calls my mobile to say “Won’t be long now darling, I’m just going to get a new handbag”. My chest tightens, my eyes bulge and I collapse to the floor. Dead!!
I’m terrified. I want to die in bed with a couple of raven-haired beauties from Buriram. Second choice, I’ll take The Windmill Golf Club after I’ve just written ‘seventy something’ on the scorecard. I do not want to die whilst waiting around outside a shopping mall.
The crux of this issue is the fact that my wife doesn’t drive. I tried to teach her once but it was hopeless. She simply could not grasp the concept that turning the steering wheel was directly related to the direction in which the car moved. She also got the accelerator mixed up with the brake. These are common enough traits among Thai women drivers but when she drove my Audi head-on into a quite stationary tree in a restaurant car park, I decided her driving career was over. I sometimes regret that decision but in the interests of not adding further to the mayhem on Bangkok's roads, I believe my decision was probably the correct one.
We are all of course, the products of our own experiences. Some people love dogs for instance, and there is nothing wrong with that. If however, you were badly bitten by a neighbour's pooch when you were a child, you are likely to be wary of man’s best friend for the rest of your life. That’s how it is with me and shops…and by association with waiting.
Some of my earliest memories are of my mother dragging my sister and me to the supermarket on a Saturday morning. My mother never learned to drive either and in those days, the family supermarket was in the town centre. We had to walk there. My mother would spend hours in this pokey little supermarket that only had two aisles, doing the weekly shopping. My sister and I would wait…and wait. If it wasn’t raining we would wait outside. Next door, there was a toy shop and we would look in the window. Sometimes we would go inside but the owner didn’t like kids much and would chase us out once it became clear we didn’t have any money to actually buy anything.
If it was raining, we had no choice but to wait inside the supermarket or tag along while Mother analysed and double checked the price of every single item in the entire store. It seemed like an endless process to us and god forbid, she should meet someone she knew. The exchange of gossip would last an eternity and I can still hear her saying to us “Shush, I’m talking” should we try to interrupt or plead with her to hurry up.
Why the hell my mother saved this purgatory for us at the weekend, I never figured out. The damned shop delivered the groceries anyway. It would have left us much less emotionally scarred if she had done her damned shopping in the week when we were in school.
Anyway, time passed and my sister and I grew up and took our places in society. To this day, neither of us are any good at waiting or standing in queues.
Learning to drive was very important to me and I secured a full driving license within a couple of months of reaching the minimum age. By now, there was a new supermarket in our hometown. Tesco had arrived and this shop was quite something. It had four aisles and a clothes department upstairs (gasp in awe). It did not however, do deliveries. I had to drive my mother there every Thursday evening after I finished work and wait while she did the bloody shopping. I spent countless Thursday evenings sitting in the car for hours on end listening to the radio, smoking cigarettes and watching the rain make patterns on the windscreen.
Now, as an adult when someone mentions the word “supermarket” I start to sweat and my hands and knees tremble.
I have tried to share these life-shaping experiences of my childhood and youth with my dear lady wife. She simply cannot understand why I start sweating and shaking when she asks me to drive her to The Emporium or to Villa Supermarket. I just don’t want to spend my day-off waiting around while she does the bloody shopping. Still, I spend hours standing around in Bangkok’s shopping malls while she does whatever it is that women do in these places.
If I’m not standing around in a shopping mall on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you can be sure I’ll be standing around outside a bleeding temple somewhere in the city. I spent the afternoon of New Year’s Day sitting outside the temple at Chachoengsao. I spent a whole Songkran afternoon standing outside a temple in Ubon Ratchathani. If you add the hours together, I must have spent weeks standing around outside that shrine next to the Grand Hyatt Erawan. Am I a saint or a lunatic?
Don Muang airport also puts a considerable strain on my cardiovascular system with it’s seemingly endless queues and waiting. To be fair, it’s not so bad arriving (except when there are no taxis) but trying to leave is when I get stressed out.
I am a seasoned traveler, so I am up to all the tricks required to short circuit the system. Unfortunately, Don Muang is equal to all my tricks.
Last week I was trying to check in along with hundreds of other travelers. Three THAI desks were open out of a total of about twenty and two of those were blocked with passengers either with the wrong documentation or trying to check in an object that was just too big to go on the plane. In my opinion, the check-in desk is for checking in. It is not somewhere you hold lengthy discussions with passengers who forgot their ticket or are trying to check in a ten foot china vase. These people should be ejected from the queue and dealt with at another location so that those of us with the correct travel documents and a toothbrush can just get on the frigging aeroplane. Boy, if I was in charge at Don Muang there wouldn’t half be some changes.
My travel experience has taught me a thing or two about choosing the right line to get into at passport control too. This doesn’t always work but it sure helps.
A) Don’t join a queue that has people in it who look like they are from India, Pakistan or any other South Asian country, even if it appears to be the shortest. There will be a lengthy hold-up when they get to the immigration desk.
B) Avoid queues with people from mainland China. There won’t necessarily be a hold up at the desk but hundreds of other Chinese people will join the queue in the middle and you will steadily move backwards. It will do you no good to protest, they will claim not to understand you and there will simply be too many of them.
C) Choose a queue where a male officer is on duty. The women are constantly chatting to their colleagues at the next desk or running off to the toilet. The guys just stamp the god-damned book and send you through.
Last Friday I ventured out to pay some communications bills. I have a mobile phone, two landlines and an internet connection. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know but I had in total, seven different bills covering these services. Three from TOT, one from True, two from CAT and one from AIS. In order to pay these bills (which were all a few days past their due date so the bank or the post office would not accept payment) I had to go to no less than five different offices scattered around the city. I had to stand in five different queues and pay five different cashiers. How comical is that?
I think, this week I’ll get my blood pressure checked again. Just hope the queues at the hospital are not too long.
Waiting in Thailand is especially bad because 5 minutes NEVER means 5 minutes!