I don’t much like cars. Well, that’s not exactly true. I do quite like cars as a concept. I like them as something to look at and admire and discuss with my friends but I don’t much like the reality of cars. Well, at least the reality
of cars in Bangkok.
No, again that’s not quite right: I don’t really see the need for cars in Bangkok, well not central Bangkok anyway.
The noise, the pollution, the morons behind the wheel sealed up in their little hermetic world, isolated from the reality of the world outside their layer of fibre-glass, steel and plastic, unrelated to the external effects of their actions from within their own sound-proofed and temperature-adjusted environment.
I know why they have cars, these people. There are lots of reasons, many of them justified I’m sure, but I would much prefer to get the skytrain, or the MRT, or a taxi, or walk. If I need to go on a long trip I can use the airbus service. I have even rented a car when that was the best option. However, I have no wish to own a car myself.
Now, my girlfriend: She loves cars. She knows all the manufacturers and models and I’m not just talking about the Benzs and BMs. She knows the Hondas and Toyotas, the Fords and Mitsubishis, whether it’s a Camry or a Vios, a Focus or a Fortuner, 4-wheel drive or two, manual or automatic transmission. She can identify the make, model and year of production at 100 paces.
She doesn’t get all this information just from the adverts on television; she visits websites, collects brochures and goes to showrooms. She is, what I would term a ‘car nut’.
It would seem to be fairly obvious from this information that she would, of course, want to be a car owner herself but I have made my position quite clear, that I would never have a car without real justification, i.e. living in the suburbs (not within 100 meters of a skytrain station, as we currently do), or when her job required her to commute routes that were not on the skytrain, MRT or established bus routes. And I believed that she understood my reasoning that it was quite unnecessary to add to the already polluted and snarled up streets of Bangkok.
So, I found myself at a loss for words when, in the taxi from the airport after she had come to meet me on my return from my last 3-month contract overseas, she dropped the bombshell that she had just bought a car.
A car! A Toyota Vios to be exact, one of the new ones, in black (well let’s be thankful for small mercies). She told me that the cost for one of these little polluters is 739,000 baht. This can be paid for over a period of 4 years at a cost of 16,158 baht per month with a 10 % payment of 73,900 baht deposit (not including extras).
I mulled on this for a while. She could tell I wasn’t impressed but then you have to wonder whether she really thought I would be jumping for joy.
The following items were amongst the things that I was considering at the time:
1. I don’t want a car.
2. If she could afford the monthly payments herself out of her monthly income, comprised of her fairly meager salary plus my not-quite-so-meager allowance, then I was obviously giving her too much allowance, however comments to that effect wouldn’t have gone down too well at this particular moment in time.
3. She doesn’t know how to drive a car and has no driving license, which means that I would be designated driver until she learnt how.
4. A car would have its uses but I really don’t want a car.
5. As a new driver there were bound to be scrapes, which would have to be paid for – Dear god! What if she killed someone?
Eventually, I came to the decision that the car would be hers. She had to pay for it herself, including the deposit. I would contribute no additional monies above her regular monthly allowance other than to pay for her to take driving lessons. This was a must.
Surprisingly she agreed. She knows me quite well and (in retrospect) I’m sure she must have planned this and probably expected this very outcome. “Ah, that deceit should steal such a gentle shape”. Well not deceit really, more like cunning, feminine wiles perhaps?
Anyhow, we took the bus to Surin to collect the car. Apparently this particular dealership in Surin has far less stringent requirements for obtaining finance. I was told that she had looked at five different showrooms across the country (she has been a busy girl hasn’t she?) and they all had quite wildly varying conditions for obtaining finance. This one was the best one.
We, (I) then drove the car to a remote temple, close to the Cambodian border, where the head monk; drew some squiggly lines on the ceiling above the drivers seat – automatically reducing the resale value of the car, liberally splashed holy water all over the dashboard – let’s hope none finds its way into the electronic ignition, tied some magic string around the steering column – where it was later to get caught on the mechanism and had to be removed by force, and then tootled on the horn three times. He revved the engine into the red too. These actions will ensure that we never have an accident.
As an aside, I used to know a highly respected guy in Samut Sakhon who did traditional tattooing (no electricity). People would come for miles around to get some of his very intricate, quite beautiful (and, I’m sure highly painful) spiritual protection tattoos. He was, of course covered in these images himself.
Well, he met his end one rainy night, plastered across the radiator grill of a six-wheeler after driving his pick up straight into it. I think I’ll put my faith in seatbelts!
Ok. Back to the story:
So it was that we, ahem she, became car owner(s).
Well, after driving back to Bangkok a new era began. One of driving absolutely everywhere and obsessive car cleaning. Of course, it was muggins here who was under pressure be chauffeur all the time.
“Let's got to Lotus.”
“Ok. Got your skytrain card?”
“No. Let’s go in our car.”
“But Lotus is only down the road.”
“Ah yes, but our car needs cleaning.”
“But we haven’t used it since Tuesday afternoon, when it was last cleaned.”
“But it rained last night and now it looks dirty and I want you to drive me to college this evening.”
You will note that the car is now being referred to as ‘our’ car. This is part of the girlfriend's deliberate strategy to sucker me in to responsibility for the car by means of suggestion. If she says it enough times it’ll become true, more feminine cunning? Well I’m hip to that so it won’t work with me.
Although, I should state here, for the record, that I do like driving: I’ve been able to drive a car for nearly 20 years now but for one reason or another I’ve never owned a car, so having a car at my beck and call can be quite fun. And I do admit that the convenience of being able to just hop into a car and go wherever the whim takes me, or to Tesco Lotus, is very seductive.
Still I will not be suckered into taking responsibility (by which I mean financial responsibility) for a vehicle that I do not really want.
Anyway, on the afternoon of the above conversation, I drove the girlfriend to college. Being a Thursday, the traffic was unpleasant to say the least, and after dropping her off and fighting my way back onto the expressway, avoiding the suicidal taxi drivers, oblivious office girls, indicator-less pick-up trucks and I can’t even think of any suitable adjectives to describe those buses (unpredictable walls of death, anyone?), I made it back to our soi unscathed.
With a certain feeling of having accomplished a great feat I turned the corner onto the drive-way ramp up to our apartment buildings forecourt parking area, only to feel a sickening sideways bump, accompanied by a dull crunch.
I parked the car and inspected the offside. I found a long series of scratches at exactly the same height as the low wall, which borders the car park area – low enough to be just below my field of vision as I rounded the corner. Oh, man. This is not going to go down well!
Fortunately for me, the car was supplied with a small tin of touch-up paint for just such a purpose. I had no paint brush and not being inclined to get back in the car and drive to Lotus again I decided to improvise by using a small piece of rag wrapped around a chopstick. Clever eh?
I still have black paint on my hands as I type this. Man that stuff dries quickly!
Thing is, the touch-up paint provided seems to be matt black whereas the car is definitely of the shiny black variety. There’s no way I was getting away with this, so I decided to come clean when she got home from college that night.
Well, needless to say, she wasn’t too impressed at my attempts to explain that as I had inadvertently “popped the car's cherry” as it were, things would go much better and now we wouldn’t be continuously on tenterhooks scared that we would damage the nice, shiny car. It was almost good luck, what I had done. You can hardly see the difference in colour, etc.
And despite her initial exclamations of “Oh! What have you done to my car?” and the no-sex for a couple of days, she did take it a lot better than I thought she would. Of course she still brings it up from time-to-time and, naturally, when she has her first scrape I will be unable to comment.
Oh, yes, note the change in personal pronoun as soon as ‘her’ car was damaged. That would be the silver-lining part.
So if you are one of the millions who drive a car in Bangkok. Look out. There’s a new addition to the driving community and I’ve got the air-con on, the stereo up loud, tinted windows and I am wearing sunglasses.
Oh, and there will be another addition next week after she takes her driving test – well, that is if she passes. Oh come on. Who am I trying to kid?
I had to laugh as I have experienced much of what you mentioned in this story.
Thais really do believe that once they have a car it is the ONLY mode of transport for them from then on. Even if they live on the skytrain and are going somewhere else on the skytrain line, the car will be the chosen method of transport.
Having a car is useful, for sure, but you have to plan your journey carefully and there is no shortage of occasions when an alternative means of transport is recommended.