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Two Wheels (and no motor) Good; Four Wheels Bad

This government is beginning to get up my nose.

Why can’t they stick to what they do best?  Like barging into TV stations and telling them what they can and cannot show.  And then saying they don’t do censorship. 

Or resurrecting a xenophobic rewrite of the Foreign Business Act that will stop these filthy foreigners from controlling their own investments.  And then buggering off to international meetings and telling foreigners that we just love your filthy money so please keep investing here. 

Or asking for the public’s opinions on reform.  And then arresting anyone who says that they want what the authoritarians in charge don’t want you to want. 

Reactionary narrow-minded ignorance leavened with breath-taking hypocrisy.  That’s their core competence.  That’s where they should be focussing what passes for their brainpower.

But no.  Daddy-knows-best Prime Minister Prayut now has to come out and say ‘cycling is good for you.’

I know that.  I bought my bike months ago.  Before the coup, even.  Now every time I risk life and limb against the homicidal traffic of Bangkok, I have an extra worry.  People might jump to the mistaken assumption that I’m doing this in support of the General.

I never had this trouble that last time I took to two wheels.  My knowledgeable regular readers will already have the date of 2 August 1990 indelibly imprinted on their memories.

But let me remind those who have perhaps only just started reading this column (and that includes you there scratching your crew-cut in the military censor’s office) that this was the day that Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait.  So I bought a bicycle. 

And promptly got run off the road and into a tree on the pedal back from the shop.  Clearly, if I was to survive both the inevitable oil shock and the ‘up yours’ driving habits of Bangkok motorists, I needed to learn fast.  I then realized I had never seen any of those Yakult ladies spread-eagled on the tarmac with their life’s blood and liquid yoghurt draining away from under a mangled bicycle. 

So I followed one or two of them around for a while, noting that sometimes they cycled down the wrong side of the street (safer to see the threat coming at you than have it demolish you from behind), sometimes they pedalled on the pavements, and sometimes they got off and became temporary pedestrians.  An invaluable lesson.

But it doesn’t work now.  For a start, the Yakult ladies are now on motorbikes and so have become part of the opposition.  And motorcycles are quite definitely the opposition.  Decades ago, there was a kind of camaraderie of the gutter.  We took turns sidling down the inside of blocked traffic.  Motorbikes, for whom acceleration means nothing more than a twist of the wrist, even gave way to push bikes, in recognition of the fact that any loss of momentum had to be made up by straining muscles.

But no more.  The BMA in its misguided wisdom has painted a bicycle lane down the wrong side of Sukhumwit (the narrower side, with more sois to cross and far more pedestrians and roadside clutter).  The fading logo painted on the floor seems quite clear to me – handlebars, 2 wheels and no motor. 

But this lane is used far more by motorbikes than bicycles.  They are forever forcing you (and pedestrians) out of their way.  When you get to a crowded section where they can’t get past you, they even start peeping their horns at you, cheeky sods.  So I normally drop a gear and dawdle.

And get ready to stop on a sixpence.  Years back, following the Yakult ladies down the footpath, you had to ring a minor rhapsody on your bell to ensure anyone walking didn’t accidentally step into your line of flight.  No point now.  The most of them have something stuck in their ears and wouldn’t hear the crack of doom.

One thing that has not changed is the idea stolen by J K Rowling.  Bangkok cyclists achieved invisibility long before Harry Potter disappeared under his magic cloak.  You’re pedalling down a leafy, deserted back soi, when a condo guard steps out with his Darth Vader light sabre, carefully looks this way and that, and nonchalantly waves out the chauffeur driven limo right in front of you.  It is only the stream of verbal invective that makes him aware of your presence.

Cycling is, you see, a very noisy game.  No point screaming at car drivers whose Blaupunkt is deafening the when they not on their phones.  But you’re shouting thankyous to pedestrians who get out of your way, words of encouragement to other cyclists, plaintive pleas for a smidgen more space from bus drivers, and the best curses you can muster at motorbikes.

Now all I have to add is a repeated explanation to all and sundry that I’m not pedalling for the General.


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).

 

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