Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Calming My Nerves with Pepsi and Oreos

I mentioned earlier that Nee got a job.  The company is the same one I applied to for a position at the same time.  For me, they decided they didn't really want an auditor, but an accountant.  A pity, really, as the pay, for Thailand, was fantastic.  I had a friend take me to the place one day a few weeks ago on the back of her motorcycle and it took about an hour to get there through much traffic, smoke and the occasional dog.  As I had not ridden on a motorcycle before, the ride was mostly terrifying.  Fortunately our friend is an experienced rider and we had no trouble.
For Nee to get to work, she has to first take a red songtauw to the main market and then hop onto the white songtauw out to Sankampaeng.  The ride takes about an hour and, if you miss the white one, you could wait another 20 minutes or so.  Once at the other end, she has had to hitch rides with whomever she can as the place is another mile out into a rice field.  In the heat, that is not a pleasant walk.  She also gets off at 6:30 in the evening.  After hitching a ride back to town, she has had to wait a half hour for the bus to show up.  To add to the excitement, the last white songtauw leaves at 7:30 and once a week, she will have to work as late as 11.  She almost quit today.
We had talked about buying a car or motorcycle.  Her brother showed us how to drive his truck this weekend, sitting on the right side and shifting with my left hand.  We both succeeded however I decided that driving in Thailand for the first time in a pick up was too much for me.
If you ever watch the travel channel or maybe even have gone to Southeast Asia, you know that traffic is a nightmare.  In Chiang Mai, the volume of cars is much smaller than Bangkok but the randomness is just as bad.  Motorcycles seem to have no rules.  Red lights are more a guideline than a rule.  If you are one to pop the accelerator at the first sign of a green light, you would probably hit someone running the red each time you did it.  People also drive very close, almost just microns away from you as they pass by.  Nevertheless, we decided that I need to spend part of my time off between jobs learning to drive here.  And what better way to start than to rent a motorcycle.
I have never driven a motorcycle.  American cycles are more like two-wheeled trucks with all they engine and pipes.  Asian bikes are really scooters with their tiny engines and tires.  Still, there are so many of them here and riding one made my heart race every time I thought about it.
With that in mind, I walked out of the apartment two days ago to find a motorcycle.  I felt like a prisoner going to the executioner.  Visions of my brother's teenage buddy getting killed by one when I was only 7 flashed in my mind.  I walked into a shop and asked around.  The weather has turned humid and by the time I was at the shop, I was completely damp.  No one spoke English even though they are across the street from a mall.  I mentioned that I had never ridden before and the fellow seemed to understand that as he gave me the universal signal of "we won't rent to you."  Deflated, I walked home after regaining my energy.
Yesterday I walked through another shop and this time I didn't even talk to anyone though I did figure out how to use the accelerator.  I don't even want to consider a clutch so I only looked at automatics.  Then I remembered.  Our friend who gave me the ride also arranges rentals.  I walked to her place today.  She called the shop and they brought the bike to me.  She lives on a narrow deadend soi which was perfect for practice.  She showed me how to go, stop, turn, signal and then sent me out to practice.  I went back and forth for over an hour, checking my mirrors, stumbling in my turns, over accelerating and feeling confidently nervous. 
Chiang Mai downtown is a network of one-way streets, road construction, and other obstacles to my goal.  To get home, I had to first go left into traffic, move to the right lane, take the U-turn to the other direction, follow the road to the next U-turn to put me out into the main street.  Here I had to move again over to my left to go left up my street.  My entire body was dripping wet and I could feel my arms tensing and my heart racing.  All around me were vehicles of every shape and size, each aiming in my direction.  Fortunately, I was wearing a force field.
When you rent a bike in Chiang Mai, it has a big number on it as well as the helmet.  Being a foreigner, I also stand out like a sore thumb.  My friend told me that everyone will do all they can to avoid getting anywhere near me.  You know what?  That actually happened.  Even though I felt like my life would be over soon, I managed to make it home with a stop at the gas station first.  Bikes are rented empty and this one was no exception.  Gas is pumped by someone so he had a bit of a giggle when he had to show me how to open the seat to put in the gas.  On my way out, I over-accelerated again but I made sure I had a fairly clear path.  I parked it at our cycle garage and walked over to 7-11.  I bought a can of Pepsi and took it to my room.  In the fridge were some Oreos, too.  I sat for an hour, calming my nerve and replenishing my blood sugar.  The bike hasn't moved since 1 today.  Tomorrow is another day. 
Oh, and we also started looking for cars.  New and used cost about the same, so we prefer new.  Unfortunately the flood last year wiped out much of the inventory leaving us with a 5 or 6 month wait for something new.  I will see if I can take Nee on the bike, though I still prefer my body surrounded by steel and not just a force field. 


  1. Mmmm... I think my blood pressure is up, too.

  2. I need to get a helmet cam to show what I go through to get around town. Quite a ride.

  3. " Fortunately, I was wearing a force field."

    well put :)

    You are one brave soldier...

  4. Thanks, Mati. I haven't been on a motorcycle since.