Intimidated by the fast one-way traffic in Chang Mai, (Northern Thailand) I ask a Canadian “How on earth do you cross the road? These drivers are crazy.”
“No, they’re not. You live here a year like I have” he tells me “and by then you’ll learn to just step out into the traffic. They’ll move around you. Just don’t run and don’t stop or they don’t know what you are going to do. There is nothing worse than a farang (foreigner) on the road; they don’t know the rules. Locals hate seeing you front of them, they know you are unpredictable”
Sitting over a coffee, I study the busy intersection then, as I don’t have a year to spare, and with my heart pounding, I step into the apparent confusion to put his words to the test. The traffic continues to travel at the same speed, they divide, parting like water around a rock, some to the front of me, some to the back and, heart beating even faster, I walk slowly and evenly across the road.
Pulse and breath slowing I realise I’m safely on the other side, no blood! The drivers here seem more aware of the traffic – driving according to conditions rather than rules.
This has led to my-theory-about-Asian-driving. Although it appears to be chaotic, its actually safe, sort of organised chaos: my theory is the school-of-fish-model.
It’s like diving or snorkelling in a school of fish, they absorb you, move around you and carry on just as this traffic is doing.
Safer? I don’t know, but the longer I’m in Asian and Middle Eastern countries the more keenly my senses are in tune with my surroundings.
Perhaps us western drivers need to be sent to Cairo for driving lessons among 20 million people and we’ll learn to drive with our eyes everywhere on the five lanes of traffic on a three-laned street: driving with centimetres to spare and where I rarely saw a prang and crossed the roads with confidence.