Saturday, April 4, 2009


The other day I was waiting for the SkyTrain and reading when suddenly I looked up and realized I was standing alone. All around me people were queued up in the fashion that the Skytrain's disembodied voice calls for sporadically and I was the only straggler. Meekly I joined the nearest line and felt a certain degree of terror.

What I've always loved best about Thailand is its pervasive jovial anarchy. It was annoying to wait in what I thought was a line at the Post Office, only to have people blithely usurp the clerk's attention without having served their time in the queue but that I decided is why Mailbox Etcetera existed and boycotted the PO in favor of the more expensive, less infuriating alternative. 

Bus stops were different--they were a game I couldn't avoid and had to learn how to play. When I first came here, I taught at a downtown bank and the class ended right in the middle of the evening rush hours. I would wait, and wait, and wait for a bus that would take me home, at last one would pull up, and then all hell broke loose. The scrimmage that took place as people shoved and pushed and scrabbled their way on to the bus would do justice to a hockey match in Detroit. It took months for me to stop waiting for a bus that I could board without receiving or inflicting mayhem, until I finally realized that in a society as rigorously polite as in Thailand, getting on a bus was a form of public therapy. Everybody, from sweet little old ladies to small children, could unshackle the tensions of their day for a couple of blissful, unregulated seconds--and when I finally gathered up the nerve to try it, by God it felt good. It was almost as relaxing as a dry martini and a cigarette, and I began to look forward to going home at night.

As I stood on line at the Skytrain station a couple of evenings ago, I wondered how the people around me were going to be able to get rid of the frustration that ten years ago would have been dissipated by crowding their way onto a bus. I looked at the smooth, polite, self-contained faces in tidy queues and suddenly I understood why lengthy and occasionally violent political protests have recently become such a popular Bangkok pastime.

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