Thursday 29 October 2009

Two wheels bad

I spoke too soon about the boy next door: vrrrm, vrrrm, it's the throaty roar of his motorbike again, the sound bouncing off the wall of his house straight at our living room windows, just a few metres away. I'm hoping that he'll soon decide that he's fixed whatever he thought the problem was, and turn it off - although I suspect he really just wants to rattle his teeth with the noise, and that could take much longer.

I spent many years of my youth clattering around Christchurch on a Vespa 90, then on the back of a rattly Triumph 500, and then whining around Gloucester on a Honda 50, so I'm not totally anti-bike - although my experience in Bangkok earlier this year did leave me feeling a little jaundiced.

>>> ...Although the SkyTrain on its elevated track snakes efficiently through the city’s CBD in a futuristic, streamlined world far removed from the snarl of traffic below, no visit to Bangkok is complete without a hands-on tuk-tuk experience. The hard-edged clatter of so many two-stroke engines is cheerfully familiar, recalling the heady days of my newly-independent teens when I buzzed around Christchurch on an elegant Vespa 90; but the machines that duck and dive along these clogged city streets are no-nonsense work-horses compared to that show pony. With three wheels, a roofed cab and seating for three slim passengers — or, obviously, just one of me — it’s only the scooter handlebars, the unmistakeable noise and the cloud of blue smoke trailing behind that give away the tuk-tuk’s origins.

Hovering hesitantly on the footpath, I’m daunted by the prospect of hailing one from the horde barrelling past, but another Thai characteristic comes to my rescue. Friendliness is endemic, even in the big city, and a smiling lady stops to ask what I want, beckons a tuk-tuk out of the throng, bargains with the driver for a fare to my destination, and sees me settled on the slippery plastic seat before waving me on my way. Hardly have we gone a hundred metres, however, before it all goes horribly wrong: tilting to one side, we lurch drunkenly off the road, where the driver sighs and tuts over his flat tyre and I guiltily remember all those marathon dinners I’ve eaten, the extravagant breakfasts, the sweet, gaudy cocktails and the glasses of Singha beer. Popping a button after over-eating is one thing: bursting a tyre is in another category altogether...

Pub. Press 13 July 2009

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