Phuket Opinion: Going with the flow

PHUKET: When riding my motorbike home yesterday, I found myself lost in thought. With my mind wandering off I’m not sure where (dinner? the weekend?) I missed my turn. Seconds later, without even a moment of hesitation, I turned the bike around, drove 100 meters back, against the traffic, took the missed turn and headed straight for home.

The realization hit me few minutes later – I just broke traffic rules without even thinking about it, as if it were something completely natural. I can’t say I was overtaken by remorse, but it got me thinking.

Some years ago I came to Thailand from the not so wild west, a mystical place of strict rules (not just the traffic ones) and obedient citizens. For what I discovered first in Bangkok and then in other parts of the country, I could at that time find only one word in my dictionary – chaos. People going about their business without any visible restrictions or limitations, a complete lack of rules or at least anybody to obey them.

It seemed that Thai people always chose the same way to achieve their goals – the shortest one. I remember telling stories to my friends of all the “incredible” things I saw. The family of five driving on a single motorbike, the unsolvable riddle of wires hanging above most, if not all, streets in Bangkok, the motorbike helmets that often don’t make their way onto drivers’ heads and end up in front baskets or in road-side ditches.

Not to mention the street food stalls, which make dealing with hunger easy and walking impossible. After all, opening a restaurant – which elsewhere means a lengthy process of gaining endless permits – in Thailand, it seems, only takes setting up a table on the street to get the business up and running.

And now here I am driving against the traffic. Long gone are the days of shock and awe. What used to be new and foreign became part of my everyday life and part of me. I acquired some of the less desirable qualities of the local population: I admit, I do forget to put on my helmet from time to time.

Luckily, some of the good stuff stuck to me too: I can’t remember ever smiling as much back home as I do now, for example.

And when I think about life back in the west, more and more often I find it quite unbelievable.

— Matt Clemens

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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