March Paragraph Diary 10

Defensive

In earlier paragraphs I wrote a bit about my Thai leaning process and progress. I assessed my learning positively – giving myself internal feedback. I’ve gotten some external feedback in the form of complements about my ability as well. The most common being how clear my speech is. I usually respond with something self-depreciating (and true) like “it’s easy to be clear when you only know a few words / have been saying the same handful of phrases for years”.

I was given a compliment by one of my nieces about a different skill the other day: my driving. She said (in Thai): “Wow, it’s impressive that Uncle Matthew is able to drive in a different country, if it were we I’d be freaking out”. (Understanding her, I said “thanks!”, to which she responded “huh, his listening skills have improved too!”…yay, more language feedback to boot!). We’ve been borrowing my brother-in-law’s car mainly to drive up and down from my wife’s family home in the mid-south and the Bangkok suburbs where he lives. And when we’re home, here down south, I drive around on rural roads mostly. It’s easy…is what I didn’t say to my niece. I’ve had a few opportunities to drive into Bangkok proper but opted for public transportation. I’m adventurous, I’m brave. I’m not a sadist. The trip from Ken’s to home down south is essentially tie lefts, straight for 5 hours on Phetkasem Road, a u-turn and a left. Phetkasem is full of trucks but it’s not too hairy once you’re out of the industrial zones in Bangkok’s orbit. This means I’ve been able to ease in, with Phetkasem as my Thai driving classroom. It’s not the first time I’ve driven here, but it’s the most I’ve ever done. It takes a day just to really internalize the flip to driving on the left, etc. Then it takes a week to get a sense of how Thai drivers float around from lane to lane. It also takes a while to get out of the habit of yielding for pedestrians! It was my mother who mainly taught me how to drive and she stressed a full-on “defensive driving” approach. Thais typically hand amulets and flowers on the rear-view mirror for luck and protection in the car. When I hang a fresh garland (bought from a seller hawking them at a long red light) with a quick ‘wai’ and prayer I think of her who I lost in 2002 but is still with me slamming her own feet against the passenger-side floor when I get within 25 feet of the car ahead…

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