The day after Sangkrang dawned warm and DRY, and that was good! Our primary agenda for that day was to ride the bikes up the highway out of Pattaya to the Thai version of The DMV where I would hopefully easily qualify for a Thai driver’s license (fingers crossed).
The day before the national holiday that closed every government agency down while people squirted each other ruthlessly with water, Don and I had already obtained the necessary formage from immigration that essentially documented me with a local address, along with a medical certificate from a doctor avowing that I wasn’t about to fall over dead (as well as medical proof that I could distinguish between green and red).
I have driven motorbikes here in Angeles for almost ten years, but usually for just five or ten minutes at a time, rarely reaching speeds over 40 kph. A time or two a year I’ll drive onto Clark where I might occasionally get the speedometer up to 60 before I get nervous and reflexively back off. Don had warned me that we would be hitting a motorway on the way out to the licensing place, speaking of it as a “fun” experience. I didn’t buy that at all. The man recreationally rides his big cross-country bike across the length and breadth of these islands all the time. Riding motorcycles fast is as natural as breathing to him.
Much as I feared, the moment I followed him onto the onramp he took off like a jackrabbit. I goosed the throttle as far as it would turn and immediately my heart was in my throat. I I forgot to mention that the Thai’s drive on the left side of the road, so to me, to make matters worse it felt like we were in the fast lane. Forcing myself to keep the throttle full out, I was too anxious to even take my eyes off the road for even the second or two required to see my indicated speed.
All I had for a helmet was the cheap thing that came with the rental; it wasn’t much more than a loosely fitting bump hat. As I got a little speed up the air began to whistle loudly through it and soon the wind stream forced it to the back of my head where it rattled around up there in a most disconcerting way. I had no choice but to reduce my speed and hope that Don would check me in his mirror. I was able to maneuver the helmet back to a more suitable position but to keep it there I had to keep my chin down. By the time we got to the off ramp I was stressed out and trembling. I mentioned my disquiet to Don and he looked at me with complete disbelief, saying that just for me he kept it well under 100 where as he usually goes as fast as traffic, passing all but the fastest cars. He’s a wild man that one.
About 25 minutes after we left the hotel I was happy as can be to finally get to our destination, doing my best to shake off the shakes that the ride had left me with. By the time we walked up the steps through the main doors my apprehension was replaced with no little curiosity as to how the process would go.
So here’s what I love THE most about how the Thai’s do things when it comes to government functions: they are no nonsense, completely professional, and best of all, they are forceful to the max. By that I mean from the moment I entered that building someone acknowledged us, asked what our business was, and then proceeded to assist and direct us every step of the way.
From beginning to end of the process, where I had a Thai drivers license in hand, all of which took 45 minutes in all, I knew exactly what was expected of me and what line to wait in. If my attention wandered, someone immediately noticed, corrected me and sometimes physically manhandled me into where I was supposed to be. It was wonderful! It’s the exact opposite of what I’m used to here, where bureaucrats have made lackadaisical an art form, where I have waited in the wrong line for a half hour and then practically had to beg someone to direct me to the correct one. The Thais that day operated with a sense of urgency that I have missed so terribly since I retired from the military. In other words, they rock!
Once we had all our paperwork inspected and put in good order by the clerk receptionist on the first floor, Don and I were instructed to go up the stairs to the second. We checked in with the receptionist there and she gave us a number. We didn’t really need it since the next step was to have our reflexes and depth perception checked. We did this as a group with about a dozen others, being run through the devices one at a time. I watched the three or four people who went through before me and had the tests figured out before my turn came.
Depth perception was easy enough; two pegs, one near and one far, slowly traveled towards each other; when they became side-by-side the examinee stopped them by pushing a button. The reflex machine involved sitting in front of some lights with a mock accelerator pedal and a brake pedal. Press the accelerator to get a string of vertical lights to light up in sequence from top to bottom, when a red light comes on, press the brake as quickly as possible to provide a reaction time. It was easy. No one failed it.
I stood in line with another foreigner who revealed himself to be an Aussie when he crossly asked rhetorically, “What’s all this have to do with driving?”
Surprised, no, dumbfounded at his crabbiness, I retorted offhandedly, “Well, so we can drive here for one thing.”
We didn’t speak after that exchange, which was just fine by me. Here we were, in a country not our own and these fine people were going to allow us to have a license to drive on their streets. In fact, a Thai license is honored in several other countries in the region as well, I believe in Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Malaysia. Pretty cool. So instead of being a cranky pants the snooty old coot should have been thankful for being extended the privilege. I’ll never understand some people.