When news came that a bridge outside my office would be undergoing construction for two years, I died a little on the inside.
Construction promised to bring with it progress, plus the promise that we'll be commuting in this area more easily one day. Well, today is not the day. As we wait for the promised convenience, we now live with the daily horror that comes from traffic jams, which have gotten much worse since the flow of automobiles was redirected a few months ago. For someone who lives in Nonthaburi (which has its own construction going on right outside my soi) and has to commute to Klong Toey for work, I'm now losing 30 minutes each day that I can never get back.
As I got myself stuck in this daily mishap, I began to think more and more about days when things weren't like this. For many years, I lived and studied in Australia, in a faraway town called Armidale, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane.
There, I operated on a 15-minute timeframe. I was a 15-minute walk away from lecture halls, and a 10-15-minute bus ride from the city centre, where I could do grocery shopping and dine at local restaurants. I remembered having a lot more free time than I do now.
These days, on the other hand, I need 15 minutes alone to try and exit my busy soi. Fifteen minutes no longer holds the same value for me, and perhaps for other urban dwellers too.
We spend hours each day on the road. And this loss of time affects different aspects in our lifestyle. More and more, we seek and pursue different means of convenience to make up for time lost.
I rarely cook for myself nowadays, despite doing it all the time during my study. For the past five years, since moving back to Thailand, my meal options have consisted mostly of restaurants at nearby malls or eatery joints and pushcarts outside my place. After a long work day, plus traffic time, having something quick and easy just works. No washing-up needed, either. At the same time, my wallet also feels a lot lighter.
And then I discovered the convenience that comes with food-delivery services.
It wasn't just the occasional pizza order either. With different mobile applications available at the tip of our fingers, we can get almost anything we crave day and night. Bubble tea. Ramen. Meat skewers. Fried chicken. Why make a trek across town for food and drinks when someone can deliver it to our office and home for a small fee?
A lot of people have been enjoying these services. Some call it a solution to our pain points, and in many cases it is. But how did these pain points begin at all? How did we get so busy that we don't have time for these things anymore, that we would pay to make things easier and quicker -- more convenient?
Imagine that we can have more time in a day. Imagine us not having to be stuck in traffic. Imagine that everything is 15 minutes away. Think of the level of productivity it could bring. How would that change our lifestyle with extra hours on our hands?
Would our lifestyle and behaviour change from how they are today? Drastically or not at all? What would we spend our time on? Watch more episodes on our streaming services? Take on more jobs? Finally go back to cooking?
Wishful thinking, yes. But how do we go about reclaiming our time anyway? What could we have done in today's situation and lifestyle that has wrought itself so tightly around road traffic? Is it even possible?
I did consider moving houses. To be closer to my workplace would be a dream. To be able to spend 15 minutes commuting between home and office seems tempting, until the price of housing in Bangkok slaps me in the face.
What's the alternative solution? Changing jobs? Not so practical when most of the jobs I would seek are in the Bangkok area.
Is town-planning to blame? Or public transportation? Centralisation? Why are we losing so much of our time each day stuck on the road? Is this the only way for a Bangkok lifestyle? Can we ever find an alternative?
What can we do differently? What can the state do? Do we still have hopes or is it a lost cause? Or do we continue seeking services for convenience to save time in other dimensions of our life, since maybe the traffic issue is just unfixable?
Melalin Mahavongtrakul is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Feature writer of the Life section
Melalin Mahavongtrakul is a feature writer of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.