Other than riding on the back of my Dad’s Kawasaki in my teens, I don’t have much of a relationship with motorbikes. I like a nice leather, but not helmet hair. I took my first motorcycle taxi at the end of school term. I was running late to collect Abe, the sky turned dark, which meant imminent downpour. I flagged a bloke in an high-vis vest to take me to the top of our long street, then I’d get a BTS (sky train) and a taxi car – call me Phileas friggin’ Fogg.
I’d seen slight Thai women riding side-saddle, handbags on their laps, perfect hair blowing in the breeze, straight backs – invisible books on their heads. I perch, side-saddle, “tongue pie” (“dtrong-bpai ka”) I instruct (straight on). Whoosh! We’re off weaving through the traffic. It’s fucking horrible! I clench my toes to keep my flip-flops from falling off. The fear of God is in me as I wobble like a weeble. Not wanting to grab the waist of the driver in front (it’s bad enough I said “tongue pie” to him, never mind groping him – and it’s not the done thing) I clutch the seat behind me with my left hand and swear all the way down our soi.
My driver laughs as I suggest “chah chah” (slow – slow) and goes quick quick as though my instructions were Foxtrot related. I close my eyes but that makes it more difficult to balance and its ineffective, like breathing in to fit through a narrow gap when you’re driving a car. I soon realise I’m not built for side-saddle, I need to work on my core first. My friend Anna says she rides side-saddle so she can jump off easier if heading for a collision but I won’t know anyway, what with my eyes closed.
As I alight I stumble onto the curb like a drunk and pay double the cost to get away as fast as possible. My junior kickstart driver looks bemused. I shan’t be doing that again, side-saddle, no helmet, my Evel Knievel days are over before they’ve begun, but the thing is it’s the norm here – everybody’s at it.