I heaved a huge sigh of relief after leaving Thailand – not because I didn’t love much of it but because negotiating its traffic with my children was over.
Not only do Thais drive on the left side of the road, but with two small children, the speed and habits there made me jumpy and left me feeling agitated and exhausted. The steady flow of bumper to bumper traffic with few pedestrian crossings meant adjusting to one aspect of Thailand I hadn’t anticipated. Cars, trucks, vans, bikes, tuk tuks, mopeds, and motorcycles casually overtook shoulders, sidewalks, and rode in between lanes to pass and manoeuver as their drivers saw fit.
It was obvious there was a flow to the traffic that made it work. Also that Thais have developed impressive habits of attentiveness on their busy streets, calculating speed and distance on the fly.
I reassured myself that because Thailand’s population is younger than Canada’s, the drivers there should have better reflexes and eyesight. And, I reminded myself, drivers mostly stayed in their designated lanes while moving forward, unlike in Egypt where cars habitually drove between lanes. Experiencing that I had prepared myself to die on my one and only taxi ride in Cairo.
But knowing that if I wanted to go anywhere I’d have to adopt the Thai style of crossing the street – namely to trust the drivers and confidently stride into the flow of traffic while also resisting the urge to hesitate or speed up. That would throw the drivers off their rhythm and their anticipation of my move. One time – thankfully when I was alone – I felt the draft of a motorcycle that nearly knocked me over because I hesitated, confusing the driver and his trajectory through the traffic.
This reinforced the lesson not to hesitate. And so, when it was time to cross the street, with one child in each hand I stepped out into the traffic using all my powers of faith and concentration to take them across those streets – my heart pounding inside my chest – trying not to reveal to them my great relief and stunned assurance upon safely reaching the other side.
Thailand’s side streets were much saner but usually didn’t have any sidewalks. This meant it was safest to walk single-file, putting a cramp on the children’s playfulness but oh-so crucial to survival. Time after time I felt compelled to warn my children to pay attention, walk in single-file, and stay close to the edge, much to the annoyance of my 10-year-old who felt I didn’t trust him and the exhaustion and agitation of myself. Going out – especially at night made me edgy and impatient from the challenge of balancing my impulse to remind them to be attentive and my desire to show them I trusted them to do so.
But we made it out of there alive and unscathed and although the traffic in our next port of call, Taiwan, was equally fast and voluminous, it was more rule-bound and obedient – a reflection of the different cultures and habits of the people themselves and each with their own pros and cons.