Growing up and working in London, walking was a big part of my life.
Whether it be a brisk stroll in the park or the urban commute; walking in London was a joy.
Take a look around Liverpool Street Station during the Monday morning rush hour and you shall observe hundreds of thousands of commuters all walking in perfect sync. Everyone knows exactly where they are going.
They’re also aware of the dozen or so people around them and so anticipate their movements, telepathically aware of both their own line of migration and the invisible, yet to be travelled, path of others: polite, precise pedestrians going about their day. Down in the tube station at midday, a perfect row will single file to the right side of the escalators, allowing those with more pressing engagements to pass them on the left.
Collectively considerate and concise; if Londoners are good at one thing, it’s walking.
Now, compare this to Bangkok.
Where shall we start? How about the BTS?
An elderly lady decides to stop and organize her handbag at the foot of the mass transit elevator. It’s cute at first.
But cute can turn to outrage fast in the big, bad city.
You wait and wait, as she – without a care in the world – decides to now carry on her merry way in the OPPOSITE direction.
Moving up said elevator, you stand listening to the trains arrive and depart – trains that you could quite easily have caught had the two rows of elevating commuters ahead of you realized that the signs telling them to keep to one side actually suggests a proven and workable system.
Out on the street, you soon realize that walking without a mobile phone in your mitt is awfully passé.
You feel kind of naked without one. Everyone’s got a phone and their eyes are bloody glued to them.
Universities have even now installed mobile phone lanes on their campuses but, frankly, how many Facebook narcissists and compulsive gamers have the time to look at signs?
If you’re reading this on your phone while walking in public, SHAME on you.
Phones have taken over the city, but phones are not the reason Bangkok ranks as the world’s most pedestrian-challenging city.
I remember a world before smart phones in Bangkok and the city was just as much of a hazard for the conscientious pedestrian as it is now.
Then, there’s the roadside shopper. A pair of shiny shoes or a flashy dress will catch her beady eye, and she’s all over it, arms flapping as she seals the deal, oblivious to the line building up in her wake.
But it’s not just the shopping carts that slow the citizens of Bangkok down.
How about the pavement itself?
Let’s take a look. Uneven slabs, open drains, shards of rusty metal protruding from broken pipework.
Perhaps the proven safest game in town is to watch the pavement surface itself rather than watching the other people walking on it. I’ve heard stories of the unaware being swallowed by manholes, electrocuted by live cables, fronted by pythons rearing up from the depth of the sewers.
Perhaps there’s more to life than being to that meeting on time.
Maybe we have it all wrong in the West.
Perhaps the pavement isn’t somewhere we are supposed to traverse in the most direct and courteous way possible.
No; perhaps the pavement should be somewhere to rent to traders, to host conversations, to have a meal or have one’s fortune told.
Perhaps it adds color and character to the city to have all these fun and games around us. And why should we always be in such a hurry for everything? Everything will happen in its own good time anyway and forcing our future twists our karma on the Sukhumvit Road.
So be calm, collected, and wait for the crowd to part before Pave Rage sets in. See the pavement as more of a playground than a transit network.
Enjoy the craziness why it lasts.
Featured image is by Mark Fischer and used under a Creative Commons licence