Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Courtesy On The Road (And Sidewalk)

A slice of the morning commute activity at the Victory Monument roundabout in Bangkok

While watching drivers in foreign countries - especially countries where there may not be as much emphasis put onto, say, learning to drive properly before being granted a license - it's easy to fall into the trap of saying "Jeez, the drivers here are nuts" without giving some credit where credit is due; especially when we momentarily forget the drivers we have to deal with back home.

I took the lead photo today one morning while people watching during a morning commute around one of Bangkok' busier transit hubs - Victory Monument- as I've done more than a few mornings .

I have no way of knowing how many people pass through this area in any 24 hour period during the working week. It's not only a BTS station, it's also one of the main points in that part of the city to catch transit buses and vans, bound for almost all points of the compass, so I'm going to guess hundreds of thousands per day, give or take a few bus loads. Two friends of mine pass through this area regularly on their way to and from work. One catches a van to a spot by Don Muang airport from an area beneath the elevated walkway there. 

A quieter moment at Victory Monument, with the elevated walkway to the BTS on the left.

While this constant flow of humanity moves through the area at ground level and on elevated walkways, it moves with a purpose, and in an orderly fashion. I just rode the BTS around a couple of mornings, stopping to look around at several of the busier transfer stations and I couldn't help but feel somewhat like just another living cell, being carried along by the current through the veins and arteries of the city. I'd compare it to walking around through MBK Mall, but in all honesty that's more like being in an ant farm - and another story for another day.

While it's not often safe to make generalizations I'd venture to say the people you'd encounter on a walk through a commute rush in Bangkok are - by and large - polite. It's not a matter of them having all day to get where they're supposed to be, but there's a more resigned (if you will) attitude; something along the lines of "we all have to get someplace... let's just cooperate and get there". Call it a facet of the "mai pen rai" attitude that can often make things run more smoothly or whatever you wish, but it's a help.

Can you tell this photo was taken on a Monday morning before yellow shirts took on the implication of being a political statement?

Even on the sidewalks and assorted walkways people seem to be aware of what's going on around them, most of the time. In the USA too many - especially in urban and busy suburban areas - are so wrapped in our own little worlds that a sense of entitlement sours many of our social skills. That's not as dangerous while on foot, but when you're sailing along in four thousand pounds of over-sized land whale it puts everyone around you at peril.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the Thai are good drivers - I've more than a few times seen cars and tuk tuks actually driven on the sidewalk, for example - or even that the majority of them behind the wheel of a car (or the handles of a motor scooter) know the true rules of the road, but there's less of what I call the "Me First" mentality in evidence. Maybe it's that they don't want their cars or motocy dinged up, but I'd say there's less "pushiness" going on, overall.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I'm well aware that many countries in Asia have no idea of what "line up and wait in an orderly fashion" means (that's queue, to some of you), but that's not quite the same thing.]

Unless it's a farang driving you're not as likely to hear a prolonged blast of a car horn there; a short beep or two to indicate something basic usually does the trick. Here in the US people lay on their horns as though each extra few seconds gets them a rebate of some sort on their auto insurance premiums. It's too bad we couldn't learn a little from the Thai about patience. I guess that's the observation today.

Maybe we could teach them something about sidewalks being more for pedestrians at the same time.

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