It’s not a long walk from the Sam Yan subway station to my student’s house, but a lot can happen in 800 meters. The first obstacle is Wat Hua Lamphong. It’s a very nice temple that includes an-all white building reminiscent of Wat Rong Khun in Chaing Rai. Temples draw crowds, and in Bangkok where there are crowds there are vendors. In this instance, food vendors are set up on both sides of the sidewalk. The vendors turn a relatively wide sidewalk into a narrow single file path. Now you have to negotiate people looking at food, people trying to get to the subway and out of the subway and of course the scourge of the pedestrian, motorcycle taxi drivers. Yes, motorcycles are allowed to use the sidewalks as a road. It must be legal as I have yet to see a cop stop them from doing this <It's not legal – Stick>. Of course, I have yet to see a cop do anything in regards to enforcing traffic laws in this country. After negotiating the food vendors you have the fortune tellers. Their tables are set up on the left. On the right are phone booths. I doubt the phones are operational, but the soi dogs use them as a place to get out of the sun. After the fortune tellers there is a Chinese shrine where you can make merit by buying a coffin for the less fortunate. That is only the first 60 meters.
This is the story of one especially eventful journey. I successfully navigate the vendors, fortune tellers, beggars, soi dogs and merit makers and begin the walk to my student’s house. About 400 meters down the sidewalk there is a three way intersection I have to cross. This intersection and I have some history. About three years ago I was taking a motorcycle taxi to my student’s house. Sombat the taxi driver decided to cut through the traffic to take a “short cut.” These generally are no shorter than the normal path, and usually involve even more dangerous maneuvers. One lane of traffic is stopped for the red light, an unusual occurrence in its own right, but the inside lane is still creeping along to make left turns at the light. My driver shoots the gap. We don’t see the ancient Japanese shit box until it was right on top of us. BANG!! Now I am flying straight up in the air. I fall directly on my ass in the middle of the road. There are about 20 people just standing around watching all of this. Not one came to help me up or ask if I was OK. Just slack jawed yokels, all of them, staring at me and the driver lying on the road. I survived the incident with a bruised ass and got on another bike to finish the journey. Get back on the horse and all that shit. I haven’t taken a motorbike taxi since.
On this fateful day I am walking through the intersection. There is a crosswalk (zebra crossing for the Brits), but these mean nothing to Thai drivers. I think they just copied the idea from the west but haven’t applied the meaning. I am halfway through the intersection when a Toyota Fortuner decided it could not wait for me to finish crossing the street. It cuts me off and makes the left turn. That shit really pisses me off. You really can’t wait 5 seconds for a pedestrian to get across the road? Bastards! I couldn’t let it go, so I hit the mirror and it bangs into the driver's side window. I think nothing of it. They cut me off. I banged their mirror. It’s just another passive-aggressive exchange on the streets of Bangkok. So I thought.
I’ve got my ear buds in, so I am pretty oblivious to what is happening next to me. My peripheral vision catches sight of the ominous blacked out SUV creeping along the street. I look over, the window comes down, and there it is. The Helmet! The Helmet is shouting something at me. I can’t hear her thanks to the Foo Fighters blasting away on my eardrum. She is not pleased. I do the natural thing any American male would do in this situation. I give her the bird. Holy shit!!! The look on her face said it all. This woman had never been treated this way in her life. Thailand is very much a class society. You have the Hi-So (High society) class who are the elite, a small, but growing middle class, and basically everyone else trying to eke out a living. The Helmet was definitely part of the upper class.
I just keep walking as the neighborhood I am in is a very Chinese-Thai area. I will not win any arguments around here. I turn around just in time to see The Helmet getting out of her SUV of death. What is she going to do, I wonder. I must have 40 kg on her. I certainly am in better shape. Is this going be become a physical confrontation? No, she hurls her shoe at me. Really? A shoe? I can’t believe George Bush and I now have something in common. She didn’t come close to hitting me, as she throws as well as a Chinese-Thai grandmother would be expected to. I thought about picking up the shoe and chucking it into a nearby construction site. Again, I remember where I am and continued walking. Apparently, this did not assuage her anger. She retrieves the shoe, gets back in the beast, and drives another 50 meters to have another go. Yep, she throws the shoe at me again. What the hell? All of this drama because of one little finger. The Thais are a very mellow bunch, but when they lose the plot, look out.
I have to laugh. 150 meters ago, The Helmet had no time to let me finish crossing the street. Now she has time to chuck her shoe at me not once, but twice. It really makes no sense. Logic is not an easy thing to find here even at the best of times. Traffic is starting to back up on this very busy street now. Horns are honking and of course taking in the drama in front of them. Thais love their drama. The window of the back seat rolls down. The Helmet’s husband is shouting at me now. He’s really giving it to me with both barrels. Once again, I am glad I can’t hear what he’s saying. He’s probably questioning my heritage or some such nonsense. He flings a water bottle at me. The tree catches the bottle. I think someone has called the cops.
A “cop” pulls up on a motorcycle and makes me stop. I put “cop” in quotes for a good reason. He has the helmet, no not that helmet, of a motorcycle cop. He has the Tiger Boxer motorcycle all the cops ride. He just doesn’t have the uniform. He grabs my arm and has me wait for The Helmet and Grandpa to catch up. He just gives me a smile and asks me to wait. Thailand is called the Land of Smiles. However, there are a multitude of meanings behind those smiles. I have found that most of the time when a Thai smiles at you they either want something, or something you aren’t going to like is going to happen to you. The Helmet finally catches up and pulls over. She is out of the Fortuner like a shot. She runs up to me screaming. She gets right in my face and gives me the finger right back. “You understand!” She shrieks in crazy person English. “OK, you understand?” She is a woman possessed. Nuts. Lunatic. She has completely gone off the deep end. Grandpa comes up to me, waves his finger in my face and gives me a shove. It wasn’t much of a shove, but a shove nonetheless. I guess he was hoping I would retaliate right there in front of the “cop.” I’m not that stupid. I just turn to the “cop” and tell him that I have just been assaulted. I want him arrested for assault. The “cop” is seriously conflicted now. I’m sure he saw a few hundred baht coming his way to help the two aggrieved parties come to peaceful terms. But now that I have been pushed and haven’t retaliated, the “cop” doesn’t really know what to do. I tell him again that I want grandpa arrested for assault. The “cop” only sees paperwork and spending more time with The Helmet, Grandpa and the crazy farang. Yes, I’m the crazy one in this whole scenario. He gets back on his bike and races out of there. He practically leaves flames in his tracks. Grandpa is a bit shocked to say the least. Now he has a pissed off farang staring at him. I make a move, and he is running back to the safety of the SUV. The Helmet has slunk away as well. They tear off down the street and vanish into the Bangkok traffic.
The last 300 meters are uneventful and I make it to my student’s house unscathed. Oh, her house is right across the street from the police station. I wonder if the “cop” saw me going in the house. I wonder if he was a police officer at all. I tell my student about the incident on the street. She just laughs and says the Thai police are no good. She also thinks she might know The Helmet. I give her description of the woman and her husband and my student tells me it sounds like one of her friend's family members. She is crazy. That is my student’s assessment of the woman. I have to agree.
1. The Toyota Fortuner is a very popular SUV in Thailand. It is big and can carry a lot of people. Both are very important things here in Thailand. However, I have found Fortuner drivers to be the biggest assholes on the road. I am convinced that to be eligible to buy one of the beasts you have to either fail your driving test, get a lobotomy, or run someone down during the test drive. It’s kind of like a gang initiation thing. To be honest, I think you have to do all three.
2. Once a woman hits a certain age in Thailand, her hair goes from long free-flowing locks, to a shellacked helmet of hair. I truly believe they are impervious to bullets, flying glass, shrapnel and blunt instruments. You can measure the woman’s status by the height of the helmet. I have seen some really impressive helmets at different events held in Bangkok.
OK, so I want to know what happens to you when you take a bus ride…that has got to be next!