As an American driving in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’ve encountered a unique phenomenon that, at first, left me completely baffled. There are so many motorbikes on the road, and their riders seem to have no sense of caution or regard for their own safety. They pull out in front of my car, change lanes without looking, and often don’t even glance behind them before entering traffic. It’s like they’re playing a game of high-stakes chicken with their lives.
Initially, I was frustrated by these reckless drivers. Why don’t they care about safety? Don’t they realize they’re putting themselves in danger? And what about me? Don’t they care about my safety too? I felt like they were intentionally slowing me down and making my drive more difficult.
But then, something dawned on me. This was just their way. In their culture, there is a certain level of trust and reliance on others that I wasn’t used to. They have no fear because they believe that I, as a driver of a larger and more powerful vehicle, am looking out for them. They trust that I will see them and slow down or move out of their way if necessary. It was a realization that changed everything.
In America, we’re used to a certain level of independence and self-reliance. We’re taught to look out for ourselves and not to expect anyone else to do it for us. But in Thailand, it’s different. There’s a deep sense of community and interdependence that permeates every aspect of life. And it’s reflected in the way they drive.
As I started to shift my perspective and slow down a bit to accommodate the motorbikes, I began to appreciate this aspect of Thai culture more and more. It’s a beautiful thing, really, to trust others so completely and to feel a sense of interconnectedness with those around you.
It’s also a lesson that Jesus taught us in the Bible. In Mark 12:31, he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This means not only caring for our own well-being, but looking out for the well-being of others as well. It means putting the needs of others before our own and showing compassion and empathy, even in situations where it might not seem necessary.
Driving in Chiang Mai has taught me to be more patient, more compassionate, and more aware of those around me. It’s a lesson that I’ll carry with me long after I leave Thailand. And it’s a reminder that, even in the midst of frustration and confusion, there’s always a way to find common ground and connect with those around us. Whether we’re driving on a busy street or navigating the complexities of life, we can always choose to have each other’s backs.