Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Drivers of Bangkok

For all of my readers' benefit, I have identified the top five worst (categories of) drivers in Bangkok.  I have researched this personally, putting my life on the line to gather information.  Much cursing and some hand gestures were involved while interpreting the data.

This is actually interesting to me -- other than its obvious humor factor -- because there are some very clear, consistent stereotypes here.  I have not seen such clearly defined types among drivers in other places I've lived.  For example, Chinese drivers (in China) are pretty much ALL jerks, but that just carries over from the non-driving aspects of their lives.  And it's not niche behaviors like we have here in Bangkok; it's just ALL of them.  And in Ethiopia, almost none of them really understand basic driving etiquette (such as vehicles going one direction stay on one side of the road and vehicles going the opposite way stay on the other side of the road).  Again, it's just ALL of them.

Without further ado, here are the worst drivers in Bangkok:

1) City buses.  These guys seem to be incapable of staying in the left-most lane (where they are picking up and dropping off passengers (remember: Thailand drives on the left)) -- even if the lane is completely clear.  In almost every case I observed, there was exactly NO reason for them to move out of the lane most appropriate for a frequently-stopping bus.

2) Motor bikes.  These A-holes (and there are thousands of them), despite being among the most fragile vehicles on the road, play chicken with any and all comers since they know that the larger vehicle with invariably be at fault in any collision more serious than a bump.  I'm actually okay with them splitting lanes, because it generally gets them the hell out of my way.  It's when they come the wrong way down a lane and expect you to move for them, or when they just putt-putt along in a precious car-sized space (these are very precious in Bangkok) which generally leads to cars cutting in front.  Which leads us to:

3) "Gap Man."  This guy (yes, an individual) gets his own category.  I call him Gap Man.  He happens to be another American somewhere in the diplomatic mission here (I recognize the diplomatic license plates), and lives on the same street as we do, because we see him regularly on our morning commute.  Gap Man has earned his name (and my anonymous ire) because we tend to end up behind him and he LEAVES GIGANTIC GAPS in front of him while driving.  I do appreciate safety and allowing for stopping distance (my wife may disagree) but Bangkok traffic never moves faster than like 20 mph -- and those 3-5 car lengths Gap Man leaves allows everyone and their sister and her uncle and his grandma to get in front.  And then he just eases back some more.  I have yet to run a time trial (as I lack the patience) but I am convinced that Gap Man allows enough people to get ahead that it can increase the time required for a commute by at least 25% (and possibly more like 50%).

4) BMWs.  I have a theory that BMW drivers in Thailand are required to swear an oath to try to be the biggest A-holes they possibly can be on the road, before they are allowed to take the car off the dealer's premises.  Any BMW here is at least five times more likely to cut you off or refuse to move for you when they could than any other vehicle make.  I would try to pose as a potential BMW buyer to try to find proof of this "I will surpass all other A-holes" contract, but I don't think I could pull it off.

5) Mercedes.  These drivers consistently exhibit excessive caution, drive overly slowly, and are notorious gap-leavers.  Though not quite as egregious in terms of sheer acreage as Gap Man, they are greater in number and are therefore encountered more frequently.  Not as annoying as any of the previous entries, but enough to make the top five.

One last thing of note: I have seen more high-end cars (Lamborghinis, Ferraris, etc.) here driving on city streets than any other place I have lived.  The most interesting part about that to me is these drivers don't seem to exhibit any of the problems listed above.  They're not over-cautious; they're not A-holes.  They seem to be regular, average drivers just trying to get from point A to point B.  In a Lamborghini.
  

Friday, December 04, 2015

Ah, Asia

Just wanted to share some of the hideous offerings made by Pizza Hut here in Thailand.  Just one of many horrors we've encountered across Asia over the years.



Friday, April 17, 2015

Nothing Much, Just the Best Vacation Ever

Last post over 5 months ago.  Seems like I don't have nearly as much to write about as I used to.  Or I'm just a lot more jaded about things I encounter overseas and less seems worthy of writing.

Bangkok is good, but we don't get out as much compared to other overseas posts.  Might be two four-year-old reasons for that; most of our "outings" are to Funarium or other places to appease the bros.

But D-What and I are traveling a fair bit for work.  She's gone almost two weeks every month, and I have to make periodic visits to four posts in the region covered by my office.  Despite all that, we've managed to make a couple of trips inside Thailand (a long weekend in Hua Hin) and a pre-Christmas vacation to Phuket.  It turns out that Hua Hin was skippable, but it let us practice our driving as we did it road-trip style.  And, after many vacations to Phuket, that was likely our last.  Too many other places in Thailand we've never seen.

Most recently, we scratched a major item off our bucket list: the Maldives.  Over-water villa at Centara Grand, with easily the best snorkeling we've had.  The bros loved the beach and the swimming pool, and collectively we managed to see spinner dolphins and even a hawksbill sea turtle.  It was definitely among our top vacations.  Ever.

Our all-inclusive package even included 30-minute spa treatments every day for both D-What and me.  For the first time, after many years of spa treatments in many different places around the world, I had a male masseur.  And I'm a little embarrassed to say that it felt wrong.  His were not the smooth, slender fingers of a female masseuse that I automatically associate with a massage.  His were rough, thick fingers that - while skillful - just did not feel right.  I was actually a little bit uncomfortable.

So yeah.  I guess I don't like another dude's hands on me.

Anyway, for those of you in Minnesota: clear your late July / early August calendars -- we're coming!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Three Months in Bangkok

It has been three months since we landed in Bangkok.  This post may not be as mind-blowing as I had originally hoped, but perhaps there is something of value among the following observations.

The Malls
Considering the population density in most Asian urban centers, one might think that shopping mall designers in these areas would pull out all the stops to create paragons of efficiency for getting people in, helping them find what they're looking for, getting them around, and getting them out.

But instead, the malls here tend to be convoluted warrens that are neither intuitive nor efficient.  Paths through stores are complicated.  Restrooms are embedded at the backs of those stores or hidden away down winding corridors that require expedition-like preparedness and possibly a rescue party on standby in case you don't return in a reasonable amount of time.  Escalators are stacked in such a way that you can't just turn and take a few steps to the nearest escalator to continue your ascent/descent of multiple floors; you must walk the long way around on each level to the desired escalator.  Mostly I'm just curious what goes into the thinking for design decisions like that.

The Heat
I had heard long ago the claim that it is easier for people to acclimate to heat than to cold.  As a Minnesotan who found excessive heat more unbearable than excessive cold while growing up, I didn't believe it.
However, I think it may be true.  We've only been in Bangkok for three months, and already I feel somewhat less affected by the heat.  Oh, I still sweat, but instead of gushing and dripping it is now beading and trickling.  Perhaps in a few more months I won't even notice -- until I feel cold at anything below 60°F.  Then I will cry because I will have become one of the wimps I would have laughed at in days past.

The People
Thai people seem to be very polite when directly engaging them one on one.  But when it's an anonymous situation or indirect interaction they seem downright rude, almost seeming intentionally so.  It's probably a symptom of living in any densely-populated urban area that can affect anyone, so perhaps this is unnecessarily critical.

One particular instance, although pretty insignificant, really annoyed me.  As you may know or can imagine, Bangkok is rife with motor bikes.  And the sidewalks are as much their road as are the actual streets.  Anyway, while I was walking on said sidewalk-road one day, a particular motorcycle taxi came up behind me and beeped its pitiful horn.  Obligingly, I stepped aside to let it pass, then resumed walking -- only to have it stop just three paces ahead and unload its passenger, thus blocking *my* path.  Seriously -- they couldn't wait three seconds for me to clear that distance.

The Sidewalks
Some of the sidewalks seem meticulously crafted out of a material that becomes ridiculously slick when wet.  Not sure the purpose of this, but it really tests your balance (and the traction of your footwear).  Couple this with motor bikes using the sidewalks as well and it seems a miracle that collisions and wipeouts are rare.

If Left is Right, I don't want to be Wrong.  Or is that Right?
We've had our car for a few weeks now, and I think we're adapting fairly well to the right-hand drive on the left side of the road.  We even took a road trip out of town to Hua Hin for a long weekend.  It went well, but GPS navigation is more than handy.  Old habits die hard, though: still often approach the wrong side of the car no matter who is driving, and the turn signal vs. wiper control battle will wage until the end of time.  Thankfully, we have an automatic transmission, though I've done manual shifting with a right-hand drive car in the Seychelles and we lived to tell about it.


With my job here, I've already traveled to Frankfurt, Chiang Mai, and Phnom Penh, with a trip to Vientiane later this month.  Definitely keeping busy and seeing some new places along the way.

The next entry in the logical progression would happen at "Four Years in Bangkok."  I suspect that is unlikely to happen, as even if D-What extended, one generally leaves post a little short of the last full year to allow for Home Leave and training.  The four-year mark would be August 6, 2018, and we would probably end up leaving in June or July.  But if we added in the weeks and days we've spent in Thailand here and there for vacations in the past, we might be able to hit four years total.  Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Two Weeks in Bangkok

This evening (well, close to midnight) will mark two weeks since we landed in Bangkok.

Still living out of our suitcases, and will be for another month or so according to the people in the shipping section.  And that will just be the stuff going by air.  Our HHE (household effects) are traveling by boat (though they were supposed to go by air out of Ethiopia) and will take even longer to arrive.  Sounds like we'll get that stuff in November.

Not a whole lot to write about; D-What has already dived into her Regional Environment Officer role, and my (interim) clearance came through so I'll be starting on Monday.  Had kind of hoped to have a little more time to explore the neighborhood and greater Bangkok before starting work, but so it goes.

Ro-Ro and Tho-Tho have started school already, and seem to be having no problems adjusting.

Supplemental furniture was just delivered while I was drafting this, so now we can actually put our clothes away into dressers!  And I'm off to do just that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By the Numbers (or, Am I a Robot?)

I am beginning to understand how people are sometimes seen as numbers (rather than people) to employers, governments, etc.  What I am about to say probably seems horrible (of me), but I am feeling more emotion over selling our Honda CR-V than I am over saying goodbye to the household staff we employed in Addis Ababa.

It seems justifiable to me: the car served us longer and better.  It was much more reliable than our staff, and never disappointed or infuriated us.  The only times it underperformed were when it had a punctured tire, but those problems were easily addressed and set to proper operation.  The same cannot be said of our staff.  They underperformed regularly and never seemed to improve despite us attempting frequent "repairs."  Furthermore, they destroyed significantly more (of our things) than reasonable expectation would allow.  I suppose you could say the car destroyed fossil fuels and left its own carbon footprint, but it didn't outright leave us with less than we started with.

Finally, perhaps the most significant factor: cost.  The cost of using our CR-V for 4 years?  Zero.  (Well, fuel and maintenance had costs, but those are to be expected -- my point is we got all the money we paid for the car back when we sold it.)  The cost of employing our household staff for 22 months?  Close to the purchase price of the car.

As I've felt for a long time: you get what you pay for.

On a vaguely-related note, do you know what is the best thing I ever bought?  No, not my Waterford Crystal Death Star.  No, not the Spice Girls concert tickets.  Okay, maybe it's the third best thing: an uninterruptible power source (UPS) for the DSL modem and wireless router (and to a lesser extent, the TV and disc player).  Now that the UPS has been packed up to be shipped to Bangkok, it's really noticeable now when the power goes out.  The generator still kicks on, but that momentary switch-over is enough to shut down the TV/player and force the modem and router to reboot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I Really am Pro-Government, but Sometimes...

It seems the good old USG is going to even greater lengths to make certain aspects of the Foreign Service life more annoying.

A few months back, whoever is in charge of it decided to change the routing of our mail by adding a leg - in the wrong direction.  So now it takes an extra 2-3 weeks for stuff to get here (on top of the original ~4 weeks).

Well, we're leaving soon so we won't have to deal with that any more.  Excited for APO service in Bangkok!

What we do have to deal with is traveling on USG money.  For the first time in over a decade of traveling on Foreign Service assignments, we have been told that we have to fly into the rinky-dink airport in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  Never before have they told us we had to fly there.  We've always flown into MSP airport.  Why LaCrosse?  It is geographically closer to our official Home Leave address (in Winona, MN) and - the real deciding factor - get this: somehow the USG fare is cheaper to LaCrosse than it is to MSP, even though the flight to LaCrosse connects through MSP.  That's mind boggling enough, and I still don't understand the why now after all this time part.

So now, instead of the four of us conveniently flying into a large airport with our 8 suitcases plus carry-ons plus car seats plus stroller into a city where we have access to a borrowed vehicle, we have to tack on an extra connection via a tiny plane that won't accommodate much for carry-ons into a tiny airport in the next town over from where people live that could come pick us up, AND where there is no vehicle available for us to borrow.  That's 140+ miles away, up near MSP airport.

Good times.