Vancouver reminded me of Bangkok!

People who have been to both Vancouver and Krungthep Mahanakorn will surely think I am hallucinating. Well it was not the city but the traffic which reminded me of Bangkok. It was hot last Saturday after a long and persisting cold weather. I thought happily that it is almost like Bangkok. We were on the highway at that time as I thought of Bangkok and minutes later the traffic came slowly to a halt! We had just seen a police car parked on the emergency lane. Probably that should have cautioned me. Anyway as we waited patiently, I said to myself, it is really like Bangkok now. We were stuck in a spot from which there was no way out.

Sundeep who was in the other car walked across to tell Rohini that he had heard on the radio that a car had caught fire ahead of us but we should soon be moving . We finally did move after an hour and it was another hour before we gained normal speed. We learnt that cars had backed up for eight kms. and were merging to one lane. Finally, as we entered a bridge, I saw the spot where the vehicle had caught fire. To me, it was not clear why that lane was not open. May be due to the oil slick which had spilled out of the burning vehicle.

It was also surprising, to see the traffic moving very slowly hours later when we returned, luckily we were going in the opposite direction.

It is a mystery why we were not diverted to another road earlier. Actually the police diverted the traffic later once the ramp we were on became full! People were in good humor and joked that the police should have diverted the traffic earlier instead of giving tickets to those who tried to get off the ramp by driving in the wrong direction! The radio kept encouraging us by announcing that one lane was clear and the traffic had started moving again! They also consoled us by speaking about four more roads which were slow or non-moving. It seemed that the entire Vancouver population was on the road for their first sunny weekend.

It also taught us to carry some water and some snacks in future. We were all hungry and no enterprising vendor to sell us water, mango and peanuts. I did not hear the radio channel talking to drivers stuck in traffic as they do in Bangkok. It would have been interesting to learn how the Canadians reacted to bad traffic situations. Probably some traffic policemen should visit Bangkok and learn a few things about how it is handled in surely a more experienced city.

This reminds me (there you go!) of my 12 working years of being in the infamous Bangkok traffic. I remember I had written a very emotional piece about it at that time! My record being stuck in one spot is five and a half hours on the expressway just after entering it! I suppose I could have walked out and taken a bus. Luckily I did not as that was the day when the whole city was one mass of jammed cars on roads. People took several hours to reach home and many missed flights! I do not recall if they ever gave a reason for this colossal grid lock, but I faintly recall that it was the day that the British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher was in town!

Anyway, I kept busy reading my office papers, eating my lunch which I carried and had a nap! I claim to have personally supervised the making of the expressways, tollways and highways in Bangkok as each meter was made. It was my luck that the road to the factory was always work-in-progress. My jocular comment that I would retire the day the traffic flow to my work was smooth also proved to be prophetic.

I calculate that in those 12 years I have spent around 20 -25 percent of my waking life in Bangkok traffic, around 50% of it stationary. That is two to three years of just sitting in a car. On hindsight I suppose I could have used the time better than I did. Apart from thinking about work I tried to while away my time with inane activities. One was to count cars which were with interesting number plates. One day it was to count cars with serial numbers, the next day it was double numbers. I am not sure if seeing a car with the same number as my car or four numbers of one kind, had any bearing on my luck for the day, but I used to look for them.

Another ploy to kill time was to note down all those one liners on the rear of the car. I do not recall any of them at this moment, but some were interesting, especially for their quaint English. But there were no 'Mother's Blessing' or 'Let the face of the evil eyed one be blackened' we see on Indian trucks. I suppose you would expect similar sentiments on the backs of the sleek Mercedes and BMW, but I did not see any. The pick up trucks here had some macho or sexy images painted on them.

One frustrating memory was to watch traffic light changing to green without the cars moving an inch. Another was the split second switch of light which allowed just one car to pass. It was maddening when an unwary driver did not react to this change of light and missed an opportunity to move on and thus held us back waiting right behind him! The worst was to just miss the green light and then wait forever for it to change back again.

It is said, I am sure it is true, that people get off the car for a meal in a road side cafe while waiting for the traffic to move. I have seen once a lady get on to a taxi ahead of us in traffic and getting off after half an hour at the same spot. I am not sure if she had to pay!

It also had its moments of drama when a woman developed labour pain and had to be rescued by a helicopter and taken to a hospital. It needed a lot of innovation to create space to land the helicopter. I read recently that a few policemen are trained to help women deliver as they are stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital. A skill the Indian police would be needing soon, if not already, in the cities. Here is a story which tells it well

While these are heroic stories, we also read about Police going berserk, shooting at vehicles whose drivers violated traffic rules. There is also a sad story of one traffic policeman going literally mad at an intersection and dancing wildly on the streets. It surely is a tough job to be a traffic police as it is frustrating to be stuck in a traffic jam in this city of angels.


Sriram said…
Sriram gives an update from Bangalore!

"Am at Bangalore right now, experiencing its infamous traffic! Went on a KSTDC trip to Belur, Halebid and Shravanabelugola couple of days back, and we probably spent more time in Bangalore traffic on the way out and way back, than we spent for the rest of the trip! It was very bad on the way back, took us two hours to get from Peenya to Subhash Nagar. The Volvo bus did not have air-conditioning, as the accessory belt running the alternator and a/c compressor was broken and the driver was driving with no headlights and flashers on. Windows could not be opened on that bus. People would try to squeeze into any available space in their small cars and two-wheelers, sometimes getting totally sandwiched between the massive buses and trucks.

Other countries have some lane discipline which at least keeps the whole thing orderly when the traffic does get moving, but here the bottleneck just keeps getting worse.

I had an experience similar to yours when I was picking up Tara last year from a summer program at Boston, and ended up calling Nikhil for help as I couldn't get there before the allotted time. People were forced to get down from the vehicles and use the cover of the bushes/trees on the side!"


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