To the foreign and the furious: Best to park that temper
Sure, hassles like, say, gender-based parking restrictions, might raise one's ire, but it only takes a bit of perspective to realise that smooth riding in this Kingdom means keeping your passions in neutral
It's pathetic, I know, and had I seen somebody else doing what I did I would have pointed at me and said: ''Look at that stupid farang arguing with that poor security guard.''
Two years ago in this column I wrote about what I call Melting Moments, which I defined as any time a foreigner has a complete meltdown in Thailand over the stupidest thing.
For me, it usually happened with a Robinson sales staff member who took an amount of time equivalent to a lunch break to ring up my pair of socks purchase.
Or the Tops supermarket shelf stacker who, after I asked the whereabouts of Campbell's pea soup, said ''No have'' in a voice as long and drawn out as it is lacking in any human emotion. One minute later I found Campbell's pea soup in the adjacent aisle.
I don't have such tantrums so much any more. Perhaps it is the result of advancing age, senility, my brief Rhonda Byrne phase (the author who believes that believing will allow you to achieve your wishes and dreams) or simply the realisation that no matter where I live in this world, there's going to be a shopgirl wearing Korean big-eye contacts who will whisper ''No have'' at me when really she does but she's too damn lazy to go get it for me.
That acceptance is exhilarating and liberating. But I am human, dear reader, and now and again I crack. Like I did this week on the Lady Parking Floor.
Thailand is not just the Land of Smiles. It is also the Land of Lady Parking. Go to any major department store (no, don't look down furtively at your textbook like that, Central, I'm talking to you) and you'll find an entire parking floor devoted to ladies.
The first time I saw one I was flabbergasted. The last time I saw one (ie last week) I was furious. Neither of those two emotions _ fury or incredulity _ is enviable and I try to avoid them at all costs, but this week was a special circumstance.
I was in a rush. Late for a public engagement where your esteemed columnist was a judge. I got there five minutes before the competition was about to start. I needed to park fast.
Despite being handed a parking ticket by a very friendly, though slightly overweight, female parking attendant on the ground floor, the entire car park was full.
Save for one floor.
I'd gone up and down all six floors twice and the calm that normally envelops my life, thanks to deep breathing techniques and medication, was faltering.
My mobile phone started to ring. I knew it was the nice competition organiser and she'd be asking where I was so I ignored the call.
I was tempted to pick it up and scream into the phone: ''WELL IF YOU'D SET ASIDE A PARKING SPACE FOR ME I'D BE SITTING AT THE JUDGE'S DESK BY NOW,'' except that in the back of my mind I remembered her asking me that two weeks ago, with my reply being a cheerful: ''Oh no, don't worry, I'll take a cab to the venue. What sort of idiot takes his car into inner city Bangkok on a weekend?''
I was on my way down when I hit the half-empty Lady Floor.
This is a regular car park floor only the pillars have been painted pink, since that is the colour of ladies, apparently, even in this day and age.
Not only that, but the writing is in flowery script, which seems to be a font that goes well with parasols and crinoline hoop skirts.
I'd had enough. It was outrageous enough to be given a parking card for a car park that was full; but to have to be subjected to a half-empty Lady Floor on the way up and down?
The entrance to the Lady Floor is partitioned off, and a female security guard guarded it in case male vermin tried to enter. Like me.
''I'm in a hurry,'' I said in Thai, briskly and reeking of self-importance. ''I'm a high-ranking judge for a very important high-class event about to start on the ground floor in full view of hundreds of people.''
The middle-aged lady in the security guard uniform smiled back at me. ''Only ladies,'' she replied, rather sweetly.
''Yes, I know, but _ look, the whole idea of this floor is ridiculous. It is gross sexual discrimination of the worst kind. It's probably even illegal according to United Nations equal rights statutes. Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.''
She looked back at me blankly. She had a better chance of seeing the last episode of Raeng Ngow than ever seeing that UN tome.
''Sorry, lady only,'' she said in English. Normally she would have received a nod of approval for that attempt at English but I was in no mood to be affable.
''How do you know I'm not a lady?'' I asked. ''Seriously. There are plenty of women who look like men. Ellen DeGeneres, Janet Reno, Demi Moore. Do you stop them from parking here?''
''I don't know those names,'' she replied, still smiling, which only made matters worse.
''The point is, do you strip-search women who look like men? Why don't I just keep a wig in the back seat of my car and put it on and shout khaaaa at you as I drive in? Would you let me in then?''
I thought I had a valid point. But of course I had to go and push it too far.
''And what about transsexuals? Is Chaz Bono allowed to park here? He's a woman, you know.''
''If he's a woman, he can park here,'' she said.
''Well that's not fair,'' I said, as my mobile phone went off again. I ignored it. ''Please let me in. I can't find a space anywhere else.''
''Sorry, lady only,'' she said in English, and then in Thai: ''It's a safe place for women to park.''
''Oh, so Thai men are so dangerous you have to cordon off entire car park floors to avoid them?'' I shook my head incredulously. ''Maybe that guy from the Evil Man From Krabi video was right.''
''Kha?'' she asked.
''All men are bad and all women are good? Well I've got one word for you: Lucrezia Borgia. All right, it's two, but would she be allowed to park here? And what about Medusa? Lizzie Borden? Ann Romney? Can they park here? If so I'm taking my business elsewhere.''
''If they are women, yes,'' she replied, clearly confused, though perhaps, in retrospect, not quite as mentally thrown as myself.
My mobile phone was going off again. In anger and helplessness I picked it up.
''Where are you, Khun Andrew?''
''I'm on the Lady Floor trying to find a space in this godforsaken department store since the whole place is full but still the morbidly obese parking attendant on the ground floor gave me a ticket and ... ''
''Khun Andrew, we have a space reserved for you on the ground floor right next to the parking ticket booth. Just drive back down. There's an official waiting for you there.''
I looked at the security officer in front of me; a woman who earns 300 baht a day to stand in a stinking hot, carbon-monoxide-filled car park for 12 hours, but still manages to be friendly and smiling, even at ugly farang who are fluent in Thai.
''Sorry, lady only,'' she said again in English.
''And you are, indeed, a lady,'' I replied in English, as I drove off down to the ground floor to my preferential, and thoroughly undeserved, treatment.
About the author
- Writer: Andrew Biggs