Cambodian traffic is something to behold. (Is behold the right word?) This is because you pretty much can drive in any direction you please. Now, in Thailand, I thought it was crazy when you saw a renegade motorbike going against traffic, hugging the shoulder and occasionally I did it, too. Sometimes it makes sense, especially if you are going a short distance or if it’s a bigger hassle to go down the right way and turn back.
But here? There isn’t just a driver or two going the wrong way, everybody is driving against traffic. It’s a fucking free for all. Two lanes might as well be four. It’s normal to be cycling down the correct direction and have a swarm of motorbikes, bicyclists and even cars moving towards you. And to add insult to very possible injury, I’m often the one who has to move blindly out into traffic to avoid being hit. I hate bicycling here. I hate being bullied on the road.
The only redeeming factor, it feels like, is traffic is forced to go slow. But there are also SUVs speeding up out of frustration and Khmers driving faster louder motorbikes. It’s a future problem, ripening and developing as I type. I fear I can never complain about the way people drive in America ever again…
Overall, I’m a fairly easy going personality. I’m polite, funny, courteous, yeah, in general, and I feel many of my friends would agree.
But driving has been my nemesis whenever I have quested for calm and peace of mind. It was a challenge in the States and it sure as hell has been a challenge in SE Asia. I don’t know what fucking happens. Now, it’s not like I floor the gas, weave in and out of traffic and try to hit anyone. Occasionally, I take safe risks. I have a good driving record. I’m a good driver. It’s just. I don’t know. Driving brings out the American in me.
Of course, you might be like, “What? A female driver! An Asian female driver!?!” And I’d still nod and say, yes. “But, I don’t understand. What’s going on here? Women can’t drive. Asians can’t drive.” Blah, blah, blah.
I was taught by a Caucasian male.
So, it’s not like my dear mother taught me (which would have gone badly for the island of Oahu). She has the most speeding tickets of anyone I know. My mother’s first husband was a police officer so maybe she feels some sort of affinity for the law. Although, my dad taught her and he was sure to be careful. In fact, she didn’t even want to learn in the first place. And now look at her – she’s a Thai Speedy Gonzales.
But my step-father (mom’s boyfriend technically) taught me in the California desert when I was 13. I learned in a little blue and white Toyota truck. It was a stick-shift, and I remember how frustrated I would get and how patient he was with me. It was god-like, really. I’m surprised he didn’t snap at me or give up. I was such a whiny mess.
Somehow I persevered though. I even had to take a Driver’s ED class in high school. But perhaps I took away more than I realized from my parental figures because I remember two instances where my mom and my step-father – how can I say this – “lost their shit”.
Let’s start with mom. I was working at Little Caesars Pizza during my community college days and she didn’t like me walking home at night after my shift was done. Even though Mililani is a safe town, she insisted on picking me up. Well, one night, my step-dad shows up at the back door of Little Caesars Pizza to whisper, “Your mom’s been in an accident. She’s at the Kuahelani intersection. You better walk over there.”
“What? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, but she’s pissed. She won’t stop attacking the Korean who hit her.”
“What! Why can’t you take me home?”
“Cause you need to go see your mother.”
“Wait. Where are you going?”
He laughed, “I’m going home.”
It was a short walk, but I could see the police lights. Everyone was still at the intersection. Our champagne colored Honda Accord looked okay, it wasn’t totaled or anything.
After assessing the situation, which was indeed my mom hurling pontificated profanities at the poor Korean woman, I went to sit in the car. The Korean had hit my mom when she was turning to get on the road which led to the shopping center, and my mom was letting the woman know exactly what she did wrong.
Usually it’s funny to hear my mom swear because English is not her first language, but I was tired, smelled like a dirty kitchen, after all, I was still wearing my green and white Little Caesar’s uniform (sans visor) and wanted to get home. As I stared out into the night, I felt bad for the Korean woman who had no chance of defending herself against my mom. My cheeks blushed over how nasty she was being. I wondered how long they were going to fight – or in this case, how long my mom was going to yell.
Then the police officer came to my window. He was a typical local, tanned, Asian and in cop-fashion, a little donut heavy.
“You da daughter?”
“You’re mom’s crazy.”
“Yeah, I know.”
We talked logistics, then basically he said we could go home. I was relieved. But before he walked away he said something I’ll never forgot, “You’re cute.”
The other instance was when I was still in high school. I worked with my step-father for a construction company. No, I didn’t do any construction. I just followed him around counting nuts and bolts and doing data entry next to obscene amounts of boxes of Twix candy bars, which I ate in sickening quantities.
He always drove a white work truck. One in particular I remember having to slide all the way down the seat to try to reach the clutch because that truck needed to have the clutched pressed all the way down in order to attempt to start it. It wasn’t an easy truck to start. I certainly couldn’t see out the window while I was trying to will my self to floor the clutch and turn the ignition.
In any case, the automotive incident that I’m about to refer to might have happened in this truck.
I was too busy eating my French fries from McDonalds to see what happened, but I was unfortunately seated between my step-father and the other driver so I got to experience the full blown force of my SF’s ferocity as he uncharacteristically shouted at the driver. (You have to understand that this was the only time I had ever seen my SF get angry. He’s a quiet man. He’s never yelled at anyone in my family.)
The other driver was an old man, his features frozen in horror and shock as my step-father told him just what a bleepin’ idiot he was. I don’t think he was aware of what he did wrong. I felt kind of bad for him because he looked so surprised. It was probably the worst tongue-lashing he ever received in his life.
I sat there was calmly as I could. After the light changed, I reached down between my legs for the bag of fries and popped one in my mouth.
So, I don’t know. Maybe I inherited these fits of freeway fury from my family. Monkey see, monkey do. I remember when my friend Maile and I were headed to Pearlridge Mall. I was driving my mom’s brand new Honda, as opposed to my exhausted and overused Isuzu Impulse, so I felt confident, perhaps a little cocky with the horsepower I was working with.
As I was merging, the asshole in his 80s sports car wouldn’t let me in and there was hardly anyone around, so, I stuck my arm out the window and raised my middle finger high above the roof in full glory.
This was a bad idea.
He wouldn’t let me pass when I swung over to the diamond (aka fast) lane. In fact, we began to play a high speed game of he drives in front of me and slams on his breaks while I try to get away from him and slam on my breaks so I don’t crash into him.
I gripped the wheel and gritted my teeth, determined not to let this jerk fuck with me.
Maile sunk into the seat and kept saying, “Pull over. Lani, pull over. Take the next exit.”
It was dangerous because: 1) I was afraid someone would slam into me since I had to break so hard in the fast lane and the road is not straight. 2) He was with his girlfriend or what appeared to be a female figure that he was probably trying to show off to. And 3) This was my mom’s new car and I was with my best friend.
And oh, yeah, people’s lives were at stake.
Eventually, thankfully, he took the Waipahu exit, his passenger probably telling him to stop it and our hearts returned to their normal pace.
Look, I’m not proud or trying to show off, dear readers. I’m just trying to figure out where this anger on the road comes from. For years I worked on being a calmer, less reactionary driver and it worked! Then I moved to Thailand…
When I lived in Chiang Mai, where I drove a moto, I felt like I couldn’t possess the sabai sabai good natured disposition that most Thais have. Thais (and Cambodians) don’t get road rage. If you hear someone honking like crazy or acting like a fool, chances are, its a foreigner.
I drove a little Honda Wave, just 125ccs and I kept it away from 4th gear as it forced me to drive slower. Driving in Thailand took some getting used to, it looks like there are no rules, but there are rules (rules Cambodia could use) and there was a time when I drove quite a bit.
So here is what happens. Whenever a bike, car, tuk tuk, gets too close to me, I swear. Whenever someone doesn’t let me into the lane or does something I perceive as wrong, I curse! Of course, I swear under my breath, behind the safety of my helmet shield. Then I feel immediately bad, like an idiot, for letting external forces bring the bitch out of me. I apologize, laugh, shake my head and keep going. I like to think I have more control, but swearing at other drivers is my knee-jerk reaction.
Thankfully, I never gave anyone the bird. Well…
Ever drove in a foreign country? What’s your driving record?