We’ve seen the amazingly glorious results on Glee (well, I have anyways) when two different songs of totally unrelated genres are combined in a ‘mash-up’ of vocal styling and creative manipulations of music scores. It’s not so pretty when the ‘mash-up’ is a combo of expats, tourists and locals buzzing around a busy island on motorbikes, vying for the coveted spots in the narrow tunnel between lanes of cars.
Yes, I have to admit, my husband and I have succumbed to the heady lure of not having to sit in gridlocked traffic in the busier parts of the island, like Phuket Town, Patong and the dreaded traffic circle at Heroine’s Monument. We both have motorbikes and I do find myself giggling away as I blast by motorists, fuming in their cars as the third or fourth light changes to red and they still haven’t moved more than a few feet. It’s exhilarating!However, as I was carefully manoeuvring the twists and turns on the road from Bang Tao to Kamala the other day I found myself shaking my head at every turn and praying for ‘high season’ to end. It’s no wonder that there is a spike in motorbike accidents this time of year because the rules of the road and just basic common sense are broken more often than they’re followed.
So, after more than a year of ‘riding the hog’ (okay, it’s more like a scooter but allow me to dream), here are a few do’s and don’ts for both newbies and experienced riders, because we can all use a reminder:
• Do wear a helmet. I know it’s not as cool as letting the wind whip through your hair and the resulting ‘helmet-head’ is less than attractive but statistics don’t lie… helmets do save lives. And, you can get some pretty cool ones with any type of design your heart desires. I actually have several now and choose according to what matches my ensemble of the day and grab a colourful ‘do-rag’ to top if off!
• Do develop eyes on the back of your head or at least pay attention to everything around you, including what’s coming up from behind. I’ve learned to adjust my mirrors every time I get on the bike now because even if I had them in the perfect configuration the last time I rode it, someone has inevitably bumped into them or parked two inches away and leaned on them and knocked them out of kilter.
• Do wear shoes. Actually, long sleeves and long pants are highly recommended but, come on! We’re on an island that in the past few weeks has hit temperatures of 44 Celsius so I admit I certainly don’t but I have seen some nasty road burn that could have been avoided if a little more skin had been covered up. Wearing shoes is a no-brainer, as you never know when you have to plant your feet in a hurry and what sharp objects could be lurking below, not to mention the hot asphalt!
• Don’t drive on the gravel shoulder to pass a car unless you can see way ahead that there aren’t any obstacles, such as the humongous pothole I careened into one day and almost got catapulted into the ditch. Fortunately, I kept my wits about me, my hands on the handlebars and braked appropriately and thank God there was no one stupidly following close behind. It would have been ugly!
• Don’t pile the whole family on one bike. I know it’s the conveyance of choice for Thai families of four or five, but they’ve been doing it since birth so are more comfortable and competent with multiple riders.
• Don’t drive two or three abreast and have a conversation with your buds while going 60 km/hour while traffic builds up behind you. So … not … cool.
If you’re a new arrival and you’ve never driven on the left hand side of the road (like myself as I grew up in Canada, and the two other countries I lived in before Thailand also drove on the ‘right’ side) get comfortable with the concept before driving either a motorbike or a car. I’m not sure if my brain is wired differently but I find it more natural now after only a year and a half, to drive on the left. When I go back to Canada I have to consciously remind myself from one minute to the next to stay to the right.
It’s amazing what you can get used to when you have to. One of my favourite sayings is ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ which is often attributed to the philosopher, Plato. I wonder what Plato would say if he saw our motorcycle mash-up? Perhaps one of his famous sayings like: “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” Wherever you are in the world, drive carefully!
A published author and freelance writer, Anne O’Connell, has been an expat since 1993 when she and her husband escaped the cold of Toronto, Canada and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They enjoyed the sun and sand for 14 years, while she worked in the PR field, and then decided it was time for a new adventure. Heading for even more sun and sand, they moved to Dubai in late 2007 and then on to Thailand in 2011.
Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter and communications consultant since 2007, specializing in marketing, corporate communications, public relations, social media and website content. She and her husband have a passion for travel and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. You can visit her website at www.anne-oconnell.com or her blog at www.anne-writingjustbecause.blogspot.com.
Read more of Anne's Expat Focus articles here.