Published: January 28th 2012January 27th 2012
Get well cards
Get well cards Tara received from her students when they found out she was out with injuries from the crash.
Thailand is, in many ways, a land of informalities. Nowhere does this present itself so strikingly as in the traffic system - with the traffic laws, or lack thereof. When traffic lights go out, the biggest and / or fastest go first. At a five-way intersection, proceed with caution. If you get knocked off your bike, get yourself up quickly. Don't get me wrong, there are traffic police, some traffic lights, and some laws governing who is at fault when there is a major accident, etc. By and large, however, the roads in Thailand follow the laws of the jungle. You must at all times proceed with extreme caution...
...Nothing could have seemed farther from our minds last weekend as we rode to the bakery with our friends Jenn and Kristen - who was visiting from Bangkok. We had just woken up after a night of eating and drinking with our friends at a large roof top party. It was an absolutly beautiful day, blue sky and a cool breeze. We were on our way to a local bakery that serves iced coffees, smoothies, western-style foods and breakfasts, as well as delicious deserts and Thai food. We turned down a
side street on our way to the bakery, Tara and I in the lead, Jenn and Kristen following on a bike behind. As we approached a black sedan, we stayed to the left as is the custom with motorbikes (please recall that in Thailand, we drive on the left side of the road) and stayed about 10 - 15 meters behind the car. Because there are so many motorbikes here, the mechanics of traffic are very complicated. Motorbikes ride all the way to the left in their own defacto lane. Cars do not customarily drive into or pass through this space without signaling. Nevertheless, suddenly and unexpectedly the car, without a signal or even a flash of the brake lights, took a turn right in front of us and stopped. As I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the side of the vehicle, the bike skidded and gave out, sending me crashing onto the pavement, Tara landing on top of me and the bike landing ontop of her legs. I had dumped the bike once before, but I was moving very slowly and landed ontop of the bike. Therefore, this was my first time being thrown from the bike
This kept Tara limping around town for about a week.
and we were both quite shocked. I stood up and realized that I was ok, and Tara stood up too, though her ankle was in a state of quite considerable pain. We were both decently bloodied and bruised but neither of us had any major sprains or breaks. Immediately, Thai people started approaching from every direction.
Now keeping in mind that Nakhon Sawan is a very Thai town, and almost no one speaks english (literally, you can walk the city for days without encountering a Thai with a decent capacity for speaking the language) it was quite a shock to suddenly be surrounded with many english-speaking Thais. The driver of the car - clearly university educated - spoke english very well, as did his two sisters. The woman next door, who claimed to be an "english tutor" also spoke english quite well, as did the doctor and his wife, whose office we just happened to crash in front of. "I think we will take you to the hospital," "quick come to my shop, I clean you up," "wait here, I have bandage," suddenly the entire town was out, picking up our motorbike, bringing us medical supplies, offering us advice.
Very itchy and very painful
Tara at this point was quite shaken up and she wanted to go home to clean our wounds. I tried to communicate to them that we were ok, that nothing was broken, that our motorbike was not damaged, that it was my fault as well. No one seemed to want to hear any of it. Finally, Tara basically insisted that we leave, and the self-described english tutor pulled me aside and said "please, you need to let them make right. It very important Thai culture."
For as long as I have been reading about Thailand it has been ingrained that in Thailand, the culture revolves around the principles of keeping a "cool heart," maintaining social harmony and, above all else, saving face. While all of these principles are mutually reinforcing, the idea of "saving face" is perhaps the most important to the Thai people. In layman's terms, the idea of saving face is the concept that if a Thai person wrongs another, intentionally or not, they have to offer some type of condolence to return harmony to the situation. Anything from speaking harshly or sarcastically to stealing and assault can lead to a Thai person losing face, and action
A star wars fan for certain, but notice the top of the card. Split-personalities?
must be taken to prevent the entire family (or possibly even clan or village) from losing face. It is a very complex process deepy woven within the fabric of Thai society, and the simplicity of my description cannot possibly begin to shed light on the intricacies. Nevertheless, I am quite certain that I caught a glimse into the interworkings of the system last weekend, standing in the middle of a street in Thailand, trying to reestablish my bearings.
The young man and his two sisters, by partially causing our accident and leaving us injured, albeit moderately, felt they had an obligation to us that they simply could not turn their backs on. Not quite knowing what to do with the farangs
who were absolutly insistent that they were okay and trying to drive off, they asked us to please wait while they ran inside the small doctor's clinic to grab some supplies to clean us up. Then they arranged for the doctor and his wife to clean us up, which they were happy to do free of charge. While the doctor woked on us the driver purchased several more wound care products to send us home with. Finally, when
all was said and done, and several more apologies had been issued, the young man who had been driving came and pressed 2,000 baht (about $60 - nearly a quarter of a month's salary for a middle-class Thai) and insisted I take it should I incur any expenses with the bike. I tried to make him understand that it was fine, before realizing it was absolutly necessary for him. "Please," he pleaded, pressing the bills into my hand. He waied
(the traditional Thai greeting, parting and thanking gesture) and the family drove off.
Tara and I are still quite sore from the accident. It was a good reminder of how careful you need to be on a motorbike in South-East Asia. It was also a true glimse into a process which had existed to me only in the realm of the intellect, but had never been truly experienced. Both of us suffered some relativly painful road-rash, and Tara's ankle has been a source of pain all week, causing her to miss a day of school. As for me, I do have some very sore areas extending around the left hand side of my ribcage, and I think I may
have either bruised or fractured them, but am hoping they will heal on their own. One of Tara's wounds began to get an infection, and we went to the hospital for anti-biotics. The private-hospital was very modern, yet still somewhat informal and very cheap. Tara's school health insurance covered her, including the 60 cent anti-biotics. The best part about Tara's injury though - the day she stayed home, her students were asked if they wanted to make get well cards for her. Her friend Jenn came home with a pile of nearly one-hundred. They are a reminder of the light-hearted, good-natured personalities of the Thai children we work with. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. And besides, as my friend Ryan said, "S@!t man, I'd take a skid for 2,000 baht!"
There are more photos below