Take a walk on the right side
Everyone who can drive might take this rule to heart. You have to take the left lane when you slow down and use the right lane when you want to speed up. You do the same when you drive in certain countries such as Britain and do the opposite when you drive in the US. That is the rule, with a penalty if you break traffic law. You are risking your own _ and others' _ safety, having your driving licence confiscated, a fine or even facing criminal charges if you and your vehicle are involved in an accident.
But what are you going to do when you walk on the street _ Bangkok's cramped footpaths and public walkways _ or escalators or moving walkways at the airport?
Should you stand idle on the right or left side? Which side of the path should you take when you want to increase your speed?
I have been facing this dilemma for decades _ when I walk on the moving walkway at Suvarnabhumi Airport or mount escalators with a handrail on both sides, or stairs without handrails at all, or those with a handrail on the right. Which side should I take if I want to run up the stairs? Upon the escalator (with a handrail at both sides), I start questioning myself again.
It does not matter whether I take the right or left side. It does not matter whether my dim-wit question gets the wrong or right answer, I usually end up zigzagging. Walking on public ways in Bangkok has always been a perplexing experience for me. People seem to do what they want. At Suvarnabhumi Airport, people often stand idle on both sides of the moving walkway. It's the same on escalators at shopping malls. On streets, people bump into each other. Should we take the left if we walk slowly as we go along the street? Or should we do the opposite?
It is not that we are not informed. At Suvarnabhumi, there is a small sign telling us to stand on the right and use the left lane if we are in a hurry. Still, I have to zigzag to make my way to the gate. On some flyovers there are dirty arrow signs reminding us to take the left when using them. I wonder why the City Hall even bothers to provide this sign at all.
I know you are assuming that my brain is on the wrong side of my skull. The left side of the brain in the right side of the head and vice versa.
But never underestimate this simple act of side taking. Other countries _ Japan, for example _ have a clear rule for commuters as to which side of the road, stairs and escalators they should take. I always love walking in Japan as I know which side of the road or walkway I have to take. I always remember the scene of Japanese commuters forming a long line on the left side of an escalator with an empty path on the right side where other commuters in a hurry can run up. And look at how they evacuated when the tsunami struck their country last year. Before they knew where to run, they had to make sure they took the right side of the road in order to avoid hitting those running from the opposite direction.
Never underestimate the simple rule of taking left or right. How can we manage to establish and apply more complicated regulations when we do not know whether to take the left or right side when walking on the street? Taking the left or right side reflects our collective understanding and vision of how society should function and how space sharing should be regulated and observed. Yes, we can walk confusingly and still manage to reach the destination but it is not the kind of walking or journey we should make in life.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of confusing ground rules for using and sharing public space in Bangkok. At skytrain stations, commuters always run into the train, blocking the way of those who are leaving the carriage. A similar thing takes place at elevators. It is no longer a question of left or right. We always run amok. We know our behaviour is not noble but we might miss the train and have to wait for another if we are too slow. Other commuters who are more competitive, more ruthless will always get ahead.
And on Bangkok streets, it does not matter which side of the street we take _ left or right. Perhaps, I am wrong, all of us know which side we are taking. Indeed, we always take a walk on the wild side.
Anchalee Kongrut is a feature writer for the Bangkok Post.
Assistant News Editor
Bangkok Post's Assistant News Editor