I thought I’d write about a couple of incidents I’ve seen in the past week which confirms one stereotype of Thailand and dispels another.
Last Sunday I was sitting outside a small coffee shop reading a book when I hear the sound of metal hitting concrete accompanied by screams. Two motorcycles have collided, four people are lying on the road and there isn’t a crash helmet in sight. I have a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I get up from my stool to go and help. A Thai man is already there and is helping to pick one of the injured off the floor. The lady from the coffee shop also rushes out to assist. All those involved are teenagers, around 14-16 years old. Fortunately, the injuries turned out to be relatively minor cuts and grazes, helped by the fact that the impact was at low speed and all were wearing long trousers and jackets.
Motorcycle accidents aren’t unusual in Thailand. The combination of the sheer volume of bikes, young riders and the apparently cavalier attitude towards safety all play a part. What sparked me to write about this is the way the two drivers reacted. Once it was apparent that there were no serious injuries, the one who must have been at fault waied the other driver in apology. Apology accepted there were smiles (nervous smiles of relief I would say, but smiles nevertheless) all round. It would be a cliché to put it all down to the Thai mai pen rai and jai yen (cool heart) attitude. Nevertheless, it was interesting observing the calm interaction as the youngsters all shared a coffee whilst their cuts were dressed by staff from the nearby fire and rescue department.
Today, in almost the same spot as the first one, there is another accident, but the outcome is very different. A pick-up driver is turning into a small side road and clips a motorbike as he turns. The lady on the motorbike isn’t hurt and manages to stay on the bike. The driver in the truck is probably aged around 50-55 and the lady motorbike rider is a similar age. The male driver gets out and an argument then ensues. There is much finger pointing and waving of arms and both seem to be blaming one another. I don’t know who was at fault, but there was clearly some damage to the motorbike and the lady driver was asking for reimbursement. The male driver was having none of that and was blaming the woman for not looking where she was going. Meanwhile, the lady in the coffee shop is tutting at the dispute and lets out a few “oooo-weees” and “phut mai dii“ (“speak no good”) as the exchange becomes more heated.
So it isn’t always calm and collected in the Land of Smiles and don’t believe anybody who tells you it is. Even the calmest of people can lose their temper and the famous jai yen (cool heart) is replaced by jai rawn (hot heart), so don’t be surprised if you do witness it on your visit here. In fact, don’t be surprised by anything you see here. It’s all part of what makes Thailand such a fascinating place to visit.