16 December 2006
Today was unreal. Simply unreal.
I honestly don’t know where to start, which is why I will start at the beginning.
Fast asleep at 9:30 after a night out with the boys at the gay bar I was woken by a phone call from Trace! Always a nice thing to wake up to if you ask me. I talked to him for a bit and then went for tea with Lou at an amazing oasis in the middle of the city. It’s a beautiful old teak house with a courtyard full of green trees and grass (something that is impossible to find in this city) where they make delicious tea and snacks.
Afterwards I had plans to go house hunting with my future (hopefully) roommates and while we didn’t manage to find a realtor we did call a random number from a sign and should go looking at houses tomorrow.
Also, on our travels I was casually looking at motorbikes and found a really great and new(er) Honda Mio for 2000 Baht a month (about $56). This is quite good considering that most people I know pay 2500-3500 a month for their bikes. I can happily say that the reason for this wonderful deal is my new friend Mark, a Thai who has proven himself to be entirely helpful.
Which brings me to the unrealness of today.
Actually not yet, but that would have made a good segue. Mark drove the bike back to my place for me (I was not about to try it out during rush hour in the city, practice comes tomorrow) and our house-hunting was put off until another day.
This is where the shit tends to hit the fan.
We were headed to Tha Pae Gate to park the bikes (Mark and Heith on one, Noah and I on the other) but we took a shortcut through a pedestrian area and Noah’s bike got a bit stuck. I, being the helpful dumbass I can be tried to unstick it but in grasping the handlebars hit the gas instead (for those of you who don’t live in Thailand and don’t ride motorbikes on a regular basis, you give the bike gas by pulling the right handle grip forwards). This sent the bike flying into an older gentleman from Boston who was on vacation in Thailand. Of course this presented a problem. The man had a scratch on his leg and I immediately began to apologize profusely while he tended to his leg and we generally freaked out at my ridiculous ability to make a simple thing an ordeal.
While Noah and I were making sure the man was ok and checking to see if either of us were hurt (and if the bike was ok) a woman, who turned out to be the tour leader of the man’s group, snatched the key out of Noah’s bike. She then demanded that we give her our passports (which we didn’t have) and go to the police station. Luckily Mark and Heith stepped in an attempted to diffuse the situation. Mark spoke to the woman in Thai while Heith attempted to charm the farang traveling with the group (who were very friendly until they realized their tour guide was attempting to shake us down). Noah was looking very concerned about his bike and freshly opened wound (he had been the victim of a hit and run a few days earlier). The woman called the police after we offered to take care of the whole thing by going to a hospital and paying the bill. The American tourists kept on about how we had to call the police because of the liability of the tour company. At this point I wanted to laugh. Liability, while it is a huge deal in the US of A is pretty much nonexistent here.
A tourist police officer arrived and listened to Mark and this woman duke it out over what happened. The group of Thai people who had seen the whole thing were definitely backing Mark up and the police officer seemed to be laughing at the woman behind his hand. Even though I was freaking out and on the verge of tears I noticed how much of the conversation I seemed to absorb despite the fact that it was in Thai. The woman’s gestures and tone were indicative of someone who was being as ridiculous as possible while Mark’s body language was very calm, though frustrated. Eventually we (Mark, Noah, the man and the woman) went to the police station while Heith stayed behind because his Visa expired that day.
Throughout all of this the man I hit played a very passive role. Every time we asked if he wanted to go to the hospital he would say, “Oh, I don’t know, ask her” and deferred to the tour guide. It was quite odd, it seems to me that if you can’t assert yourself when it comes to your own body you’ve got some issues.
At the police station the woman monopolized the talking time and turned to me every once in a while to tell me that her sister was a lawyer and she was going to sue me for everything I own. Mark was being very patient and once again the police were obviously laughing at her when she wasn’t looking. One thing about Thailand is that although people get frustrated at each other is it very very rare for Thai to have public outbursts, especially in a way that could lead to the shaming of someone else. This woman was more of a farang than a Thai in this respect. At one point (while we were negotiating on hospital bills and fines) this conversation occurred:
Woman: Just give me $100 and I will take him to the hospital.
Kristen: No. I’m willing to pay for his medical expenses but I’m not going to give you $100. I don’t even have that much money.
Woman: I don’t know any tourists in Thailand who don’t carry $100 on them all the time.
Kristen: I’m not a tourist, I live here.
Woman: Well you don’t deserve to live in Thailand.
After paying a 1400 Baht fine ($40) at the police station (for reckless driving and driving on a sidewalk) we went to Ram I hospital, the most expensive in Chiang Mai. The man took my Michigan driver’s license to ensure that I wouldn’t bugger off (although as Noah mentioned several times on the ride to the hospital we could have done because the bill was sure to be more expensive than a replacement driver’s license) and we met up once we got there.
By this point the shock was wearing off and I was beginning to see how much bullshit I’d just been through. I know it seems right now that I had a very callous attitude through the whole thing but I was actually very concerned and felt very guilty. It is only after having been through the whole thing that I assumed this disposition. We waited with the duo until the man could be seen by the doctor. In the waiting room a nurse came up to us and fussed over Noah’s bleeding arm but was surprised when we said we were actually there for the man’s leg (which had stopped bleeding long ago and I’m convinced had started to heal). Mark, Noah and I began to joke about what we would like to do to this woman if we ever ran into her in a bar in Chiang Mai. Mark was clearly very angry with her and the calm exterior that he had exhibited while arguing was melting away as we waited at the hospital.
In the end I went up to pay the bill and it was ridiculous by Thai medical care standards. It was much less than a hospital at home, but when we realized that they had tacked on 850 Baht in pharmaceutical charges we confronted the woman about whether she’d asked for all of them. They gave the man 30 antibiotic tablets, 20 painkillers, and 4 packages of gauze that amounted to the size of a small pillow. The woman denied that she’d had a hand in it but when Noah looked her in the eye and asked again she said no. He then said “Jin jai” which means basically “Are you coming from the heart” and is a very serious way of checking someone. Her composure cracked for a short second before she continued to deny it.
Sick of all of the bullshit I asked the man if he honestly thought he would use all of it and if he would, I’d pay for the lot. He said he didn’t know and that it was up to the woman. He then said “Well it’s only $40” which is true, but it was more the principle of the entire evening. I paid the bill and the three of us stormed out of the hospital. Mark turned around when we were almost at the door to go back and give her some choice Thai words.
All in all it was an experience that we had a good laugh over later that night, mostly at the incredulity of the woman and the situation. I realize the whole thing was my fault and I felt incredibly bad for having put so many people through so much trouble just because I didn’t think about where the gas was. I’m convinced I’m one of a very small number of people who have crashed motorbikes without having driven one and also by not actually being on the bike. The bike is a bit damaged (one of the handle brakes is bent and there are scrapes on the paint) and I feel bad about that as well. I can’t imagine how I would have fared through the whole ordeal if I hadn’t had the support of Mark and Noah. Mark for basically taking charge of the entire situation and repeatedly telling me not to worry because he would take care of it. Noah for keeping me laughing and reminding me that it wasn’t as big a deal as the woman was making it out to be.
Thus endeth the ridiculous story with too many parenthetical interjections. I have told it many times and it has gained and lost many narrative elements along the way, but that’s the gist.