The answer: To get food, of course.
As our apartment does not include a kitchen or a refrigerator, Bjorn and I have been eating most of our meals out (read: at food stalls.) Unluckily for us, some of the best food stalls are located on the other side of the street. I say street, but “four-lane behemoth full of death machines (cars and trucks) and appendage-maimers (motor bikes) that whiz by mercilessly with little regard for human life” also describes it nicely. In addition, cars drive on the left-hand side of the street, but I’m used to them being on the right-hand side, so I am perpetually looking in the wrong direction when I try to cross.
I’m not the best street-crosser in any case. Once, when I was around 6, I was crossing a large street with my brother, Jason. Halfway across, the blinking red hand came on. Thinking that it meant we had to stop crossing RIGHT NOW, I panicked, jerked my hand out of his and ran across the street —in the wrong direction. (If nothing else, I am at least rule-abiding.)
However, crossing the street here doesn’t abide by any of the rules I know. Crossing the street here is a disorderly and chaotic event, even under the best circumstances. People cross wherever it’s convenient. No helpful street signs with red hands/white men light the way; there aren’t even any blinking yellow lights to warn motorists to slow down. Crossing the street here can’t even be done in one continuous motion. Each lane must be negotiated, with the pedestrian usually having to stop in the middle, with cars barreling past centimeters away, both in front and back of you, while some drivers have the temerity to honk angrily at you for courageously risking your life on this highway of hell. Oh, the humanity!
Anyhoo– We have been fortunate that most of the times we crossed the street, other people had been crossing as well, so I could leave the timing and frantic hand motions to stop cars up to them while I crossed safely in their wake. (Pro tip: In Bangkok, when crossing the street in a group there is no such thing as personal space. Feel free to get up close and personal. I nearly trip on the person’s feet in front of me, that’s how close I get.) At the least, I always crossed with Bjorn, my amazing and wonderful husband, who I’m certain would be willing to sacrifice himself for my safety even if I didn’t push him in front of me first.
But then Bjorn got food poisoning.
Surprisingly, I have been spared the agony of losing bodily fluids out of unexpected places (really surprising, considering that most of our trips outside the U.S. have included me writhing with pain and once, after a trip to the Dominican Republic, foul deeds in a farmer’s field). In order to adequately deal with his illness (buy clear soda, bread, cleaning supplies, etc.) this meant I had to cross the street.
Really alone, as for some reason, no one was daring to cross the street at the same time I was. I looked hopefully at people on the sidewalks, willing them onward and sideways, but they stubbornly remained on my side of the street. With a heavy heart I sallied forth and looked to my left.
Wait, no, NO! I told myself, look right, RIGHT! With that auspicious beginning, I stumbled into a gap in the first lane. A taxi was fast approaching in the second lane and I wildly windmilled my arms in what I hope was international for “Please stop” but probably looked more like “Crazy person, better slow down anyway.” I made it to the middle of the street and paused to catch my breath as I had lost most of it emitting a high-pitched screech while crossing. Cars rushed past me on both sides now and I could feel the rivulets of cold sweat trickling down the back of my neck. A brief gap appeared that more or less encompassed the third and fourth lanes. I decided to risk it and ran as fast as I could, eyes nearly closed, screaming softly all the while — and nearly crashed into the side of a parked bus.
Well. As you may have figured out, I did make it back across the road, even with my arms full of supplies. However, the close brush with death did not give me any answers to life’s big questions or strike me with any epiphanies (unless “shrieking while crossing the street does not really help” counts.) I have no great moral to impart. Even now, my heart thumps wildly at the thought of crossing that street.
But I’ll still be doing it, ‘cuz this chicken needs to eat.
If you have any helpful tips, please leave them in a comment!