Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A Serious Attempt On My Life

Coming back from the zoo in Bangkok the other day we saw a most amazing zebra crossing. There’s lots of elephants in Bangkok and Thailand’s supposed to be amazing but this time the zebra had no legs. It was just that the Highways Department and Parks and Gardens were clearly not communicating with each other. Someone hadn’t replied to the other’s memo.

On a broad two lane avenue the left hand had painted a zebra crossing but in the central refuge the right hand had carefully planted a substantial hedge to stop pedestrians crossing. The zebra crossing was almost unusable.

You can see it near the Suan Lum night bazaar which has recently become a big hit with foreign tourists. While the crossing and the hedge will probably endure, Suan Lum is soon to be closed so that billions can be spent on another glittering shopping mall, on yet more retail space and lonely vistas of marble floor.

Bangkok seems a little ambivalent about zebra crossings. The other day I was using one on the way to the Phra Khanong Skytrain station when I had a near death experience. I looked left and it was perfectly safe to cross as I was well clear of a distant taxi. The taxi driver only had to maintain his speed and direction and I could cross safely without inconveniencing him.

But did he maintain his speed? Oh no! Seeing a long-nose on the crossing ahead he accelerated hard, switched lanes and came straight at me, flashing his lights and hooting loudly. Had I not been agile enough to run for it, he’d have got me.

I’m really not sure what the law says about zebra crossings. Talking about traffic rules in Bangkok’s hardly relevant, I know, but drivers here do totally and absolutely disregard them. The pedestrian has no more priority than crossing anywhere else, only a fast-track stairway to heaven.

But why was that particular taxi driver so aggressive? What had he got against me? Were there extra points for knocking off a farang on a pedestrian crossing?

It’s said that tens of tourists die here every year from as they don't understand the dangerous reality of Thai zebras. Americans in particular with their high regard for jay walkers and the cost of liability insurance must get cut down in droves. They must wonder what exactly zebras in Thailand are for.

I guess somebody important once said that as of now Bangkok should have lots of pedestrian crossings, just as someone has recently decided that there should be cycle lanes. Sadly it appears they’ve failed to address the question of where to put them.

I have several mad tourist friends who cycle around Bangkok who've so far all survived to tell the tale, but being a long-term cyclist here is a death wish. At least you needn't bother about the pollution though… cyclists won’t live long enough for it to be a problem.

They’ve now painted some rather nice cycle lanes along the pavement in Sukhumvit Road where it’s swamped by the stalls of the tourist market. The bicycle motifs painted on the pavement are quite pretty when not covered with stalls or pushcarts and yes, it’s a lovely idea. Go green, get on yer bike, go bananas. Bangkok freestyle! I suppose it looks good on some departmental director’s annual report.

Trouble is, much of the time it’s difficult enough making headway through the market along Sukhumvit on foot and it’d be a real laugh to try it on a bicycle.

I’d thus like to ask the desk-based drongo who claims the credit for the extra miles of new cycle lane to come and ride them himself. He could also try jumping over the hedge at Suan Lum, if he survives the cycling that is.

No, Bangkok’s certainly amazing and never pedestrian. Bangkok, I truly love you. Well, I do when people aren’t trying to kill me and when I don’t truly loathe and detest you, that is!

As well as the zebras, there are elephants in this urban jungle and at night they have a flashing red light attached to their tails which you can see up ahead swaying from side to side. A year or two back new regulations were boldly announced that in the interest of the elephants, they were banning them all from Bangkok but strangely they’re all still here!

And so of course are the zebras.

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