We were so anxious to explore the city of Bangkok upon arrival, we hired an Uber—after finding the building in which we were staying—in an attempt to get early exposure to the city. I suppose that we could have rented a motorcycle, but that seemed a bit extreme.
I understand that most people don’t like to be out of their element. It was in the moment we stepped out of the UBER, I realized that I was no exception. I never really gave that much consideration back in the States. I always thought that I was a very flexible person. Perhaps I am flexible, but as I sat there looking out the window I couldn’t help but notice the differences. We entered a different world. I may as well have been on Mars. The shock made my heart wrench for home. We had no currency and no idea if anyone near us took anything but the Thai Baht, Thailand’s currency. We walked to an ATM and withdrew funds. Ahh. There was a connection to home. We saw a little restaurant across the street that announced, in English, as plain as day, “Noodles”.
Noodles sounded ok to me.
We walked around the corner, took a peek at the outdoor kitchen. This was probably as good as it was going to get, I thought. Angela motioned around the corner to the entrance and I followed. The hostess pointed to a table and we sat. I never really considered how important it is that restaurants have picture menus. Before long we ordered, finished our meal, and then sat there and talked for what must have been a while.
The Size and Speed of Thailand
There are many people. A city the size of Bangkok, at nearly 9 million, it is very large. It isn’t like China or Hong Kong, either. People are crammed together, but not vertically, or at least not as much as I had assumed. Unlike Hong Kong, they are there in person. They are all on the same level. They are a very tightly knit people who are right there next to you. I became very comfortable with that.
I felt very safe riding in a car in Thailand. The drivers here are amazing. I suspect that years of conditioning their reflexes have honed skill like that of NASCAR. Moreover, I don’t yet understand it. I’m not sure that I want to. Perhaps the cars in Thailand are more maneuverable. Maybe there is an unspoken gesture or two when merging, or some subtle clue that I am missing when it comes to sharing a lane with a motorbike on either side. I’m not sure. But the speed and grace of the auto here in Thailand was visible. Not once did we see evidence of an accident, and at the speed at which we traveled there was sure to have been at least one. I never became comfortable with the motorcycles weaving in and out of, and around traffic. From what I could tell, they move at roughly twice the speed of cars. We saw multiple people on motorcycles and scooters.
Speaking of speed, there are basically two speeds when riding in a car in Thailand. There is the speed at which your driver will ease into fast-approaching traffic. That speed is just a little slower than a turtle nesting along a peaceful stream. Then there is the other speed. The one they don’t tell you about because time passes at a different rate once you travel at that speed. It is like the moment when Superman reverses the rotation of the earth to turn back time. The only way to upright the temporal rift is to return the way you came. At any rate, we found capable drivers, and they all seemed relatively young, but again, I can only attribute that apparent youth to their rate of speed.
What Shook Me to the Core
Nothing prepares you for seeing a baby on a motorcycle. I experienced an absolute shock moment when I glanced over and saw a baby nestled snug between front and back rider traveling along the streets of Thailand. No helmet, as if that would have mattered. I’ve never had a moment where I was both that surprised and that accepting at the same time. So absolute was my reaction that I felt a sort of slumping resignation. It was like when I was told as a kid that swallowed gum would just stay in your stomach forever. It is like that moment that someone at work tells you, “This is just the way we do things around here, there is no sense in trying to change it.” The moment kept haunting me throughout the week, and it would return a couple more times since.