That hammer dropped by a careless worker and falling from an unregulated high-rise construction site is not an accident. Step carefully in a land of destiny, says Nat.
Photo credit: http://www.strangecosmos.com
Living in Bangkok has reconfirmed my faith in the divine. How? I’m still alive. That’s how. Furthermore, although I have often come very, very close, I haven’t killed anyone yet. Yet. I’m not talking about murderous intent. Not really. I’m talking about nearly smashing someone’s head open and scattering his brains across the pavement when his motorcycle slips under my car. (Isn’t it comforting that, in Thailand, even if the driver is not at fault, he is automatically arrested if someone gets killed?)
Then again, let’s look at it from the motorcyclist’s point of view: how was he to know that if he swerved in front of my car while going 90 kilometres an hour in the rain, he would skid and fall over? It is obviously not his fault. It’s bad karma. And since karma can’t pay for a car but I can, I should obviously pay for his motorcycle.
At times like this, it’s a good thing I don’t keep a gun in my car. The accident may not have killed the motorcyclist, but that night he was even closer to his maker than he knew. I normally don’t contemplate shooting people, but, boy, can I be tempted.
It’s an unpleasant thought, but we have to face it: death pops up at our door with amazing suddenness and living in Bangkok can have it waiting right on the threshold. What puzzles me, however, is that no one seems to mind. Doesn’t it bother anyone out there that cranes just topple over onto passing cars? Or that fire can engulf a building, just like that? In Bangkok, hammers regularly fall from construction sites by mistake. But it’s okay. They didn’t mean it. They told off the person who owned the hammer. What more do I want?
Efforts to prevent disaster in Bangkok amaze me. Often during the rainy season the only thing keeping floods at bay is sheets of plastic held together with duct tape. And then they lock fire exits to a suburban shopping mall so thieves can’t get in. Just look at the huge investment in signs and billboards asking people to be mindful of polluting the air. We Thais are big on signs. Remember that ubiquitous slogan: ‘Safety First’? Hah.
See the decaying shophouses in every nook and cranny not devoted to a sprouting skyscraper? I can’t help noticing that beams often seem to be sagging under the weight of the extra three floors the owner decided to add on. But a friend walking with me will point out that it is all supported by a bamboo pole and we needn’t worry. Oh yes, the bamboo pole. Silly me. Here I was thinking that the building would fall over and kill us all, but now that I see the bamboo pole, I feel so much better.
Maybe I worry needlessly. It’s just that living here seems a lot more dangerous than other places like, say, Singapore. From daily routines to bodily functions everything seems fraught with uncertainty. Come on, isn’t there anyone who can relate to the fact that stopping my car on any of the flyovers on Phetchaburi Road fills me with the same kind of dread as squat toilets?
The basic conflict here is that I believe with a minimal amount of effort (like putting seats on toilets), accidents can be prevented. To most of Thailand, however, accidents are part of destiny. It was not anyone’s fault that the motorcyclist skidded underneath my car; it was his fate. And it also was his fate that he miraculously didn’t get killed. In Thailand the nature of accidents is more cosmic than elsewhere. Safety measures cannot be truly effective because when it is time for something awful to happen, it is your karma and nothing, no measure of safety, can prevent it.
Cause bears no relation to effect. Driving recklessly has nothing to do with accidents. If it did, then everyone would either be dead or maimed. Everyone drives recklessly in Bangkok and there are still about ten million people who survive it every day. Statistically, the number of times one has an accident is not commensurate with the number of times one drives like an idiot. Accidents just happen. See? I’ve proven it mathematically.
The fact is that danger in a place like New York is very different from danger in Bangkok. Unlike New York, one is rarely threatened on a personal level in Bangkok. While it could be argued that having a bus careen into the back of your car and inflicting whiplash is highly personal, no one here intends to harm you the way a gun-toting mugger might when demanding you hand over all your worldly possessions. That’s the difference. No one in Bangkok intends any harm. It’s just an accident.
Now, it isn’t that safety doesn’t matter. Thais actually go out of their way to be safe. When a parking ticket explicitly states that you have four hours of free parking, shopkeepers will insist on stamping it anyway because it is safer. It’s just in case the parking rules arbitrarily change the same way fate arbitrarily causes a crane to topple over at the very moment a car passes by. You see, other cranes have fallen and cars weren’t even remotely close. So next time you pass a crane, speed up.
The point is this: just as there are different kinds of danger, there are different kinds of safety. Is living in Bangkok any less safe than New York? I doubt it. It’s just different. What concerns me most is that the dangers posed by living here could be easily avoided but there simply is no public concern. So what do we do? Mobilise people? In Thailand? Unless there is an airport or a shopping district involved, I don’t think so.
One could be more careful, and indeed we should all collectively call for higher safety standards. But who’s to say those standards would be obeyed or are even practical? Ultimately we have to accept that for all our good intentions, we have no control over the actions of others and that rules change at the drop of a hat (or in Bangkok, a hammer). So stamp your parking ticket even if you have four hours of free parking and enjoy yourself. Trust your fate or whatever powers that be. You’re still alive, aren’t you?
14/08/2012 - 11:37