Ya-ba

Mark, my man-about-town pal from Koh Tao, was back in Bangkok for a few days. He’s English, and has the groovy air of a Sixties fashion photographer. He suggested an Irish bar in Silom, perhaps as a concession to my unglamorous travel wardrobe, where we were unhappy to discover New York bar prices after two months of dollar beers.

In the taxi on the way back, the driver didn’t know Si Ayuthaya Street.
   ‘Take us to Silom Center, I show you from there,’ said Mark. We thought he agreed, but at Silom Center he wanted us to get out.
   ‘No, straight-straight ahead,’ Mark pointed, ‘I show you.’
   ‘You say Silom Center! I take you Silom Center! I not know Si Ayuthaya. You want drive back with me show me way back? You say Silom Center!’ He was visibly upset, and Mark was annoyed.
   ‘How long you driver? This not good. Si Ayuthaya big street, major street.’
We paid him, got our of the cab, and hailed another. As we walked towards it, the first driver leapt out and shoved Mark. Hard. Mark turned to square up to him. He was much bigger. The driver paused, then darted back to the trunk of his taxi and pulled out a length of metal piping. Mark stood there, confused, as I yelled at him to come on, get in the cab for Christ’s sake. The second driver was scared and wanted to drive off, but I hung off the back passenger door. Mark slammed the front door shut just as the crazy taxi driver reached us and banged on the bumper.
   ‘Drive! Drive!’
Our new driver lurched forward, wondering what the crazy falangs had done to provoke so.

Speed is sold (it’s said) directly by the government for 5 baht (12 cents) a pill. Bus-drivers are notorious for it, particularly long-distance drivers. So are songthaew drivers and taxistas. In a country where visible anger is seen as loss of face, I’ve seen a screaming Thai woman punch out a German tourist for refusing to rent a motorbike that was clearly broken. In Koh Samui, a songthaew driver chased my friend Andy with a machete over a ten-baht fare dispute. Waking up on a night-bus is a white knuckle experience as you realize just how fast you’re going.

   ‘Ya-ba, mate. He’s on ya-ba,’ Mark told the new driver, who shrugged. Who isn’t?