Dated March 9, 2011
The Chao Phraya teems with life, a sibilant surface dark and deep, punctuated by flashes of silver as something has something else for breakfast. A heron floats by, perched on its own raft of water weed. Four feet above your head, the air is thick with spirits.
Madness? This is, Krung Thep!
I have rediscovered the meaning of fear. Fear is not exams and it is not pregnancy, fear is not skimming across the ground in a ramshackle go-kart, thousands of miniature explosions propelling you forward until your neck hurts, your arms hold on for dear life and the horizon lurches towards you like a unpleasant drunken acquaintance.
Fear is a lurid pink Toyota Corolla Altis piloted by Mr Bangkok Taxi driver hurtling along the streets, locked in battle with a Honda Cub going at around the same insane velocity, which is twice as fast as any self-preserving, civilised person would go in these circumstances. Also, Mr Honda is not wearing a helmet.
There’s an accident on the left, I see the cop standing around (Thai cops are suspiciously military looking with their khaki and white, Sam Browne belt and boots) and the usual cloud of trauma ghouls/affected. It looks like two Cubs have tried to mate head on, and I see a slipper on the floor along with a strange half piece of wood. I try, and fail, to make sense of that. An ambulance takes up the rear and like every accident, I hope everyone is alright.
That’s fine, really, because I end up at my destination in one piece. It occurs to me to put on my seatbelt but I want to be able to leap out in case anything happens. I arrive in one piece and am happy with my wholeness.
There is a method to the madness. Like Italy, or a prison, go for any hole you think will fit, and sometimes those you think will not fit anyway. It is a given that at any moment a tuktuk, motorcycle, bicycle, thingy will erupt from your peripheral vision and present itself, lemming-like, as an obstacle to break yourself upon.
The fact that Thailand is perhaps the most dangerous place on earth for motorcyclists contrasts the friendliness of the people: Bangkok, twice the love and half the law.
Our return journey is considerably more exciting. We leap into a cab whose tyre pressures and suspension were last looked at when it left the factory as a brand new Toyota Corolla Altis. Now I begin to understand and see the depth of Toyota’s engineering expertise. It’s not about snob factor or cost, it’s about not falling apart in conditions German engineers would never in a thousand years think of. The biochemical abuse of the Southeast Asian subcontinent.
Our guy is Jarno Trulli, ‘cept he doesn’t know it yet, so accelerator is not a precise instrument to be modulated, but a lift button. Press and wait for results. When nothing happens press again. When bored press again. Jarno only knows one speed – full ahead. We rip out onto the highway, crusted and dirty, and the engine protests, then the gearbox and then the entire vehicle. It feels like we are running on wood rollers, the air threatening to rip the car to pieces. My Hornet is quieter than this thing equipped with springs made of egg noodles. The tyres and wheels feel like hula hoops revolving around bearings that are barely holding it together.
It feels like we are going at light speed, or at least a speed twice of what the Altis is rated for, probably 335kmh. I ask my friend to peek, he says 130km/h. Only 50 above the limit then, time to fasten the seatbelts then.
There are no buckles.
In Bangkok, no one can hear you scream.