Call it what you will: pavement, footpath, sidewalk or ‘tang tao’: the meaning is the same, right?
My dictionary defines it as ‘a surfaced raised walk for pedestrians at the side of a road’. But those who regularly travel on foot in our towns and cities, myself included, will attest that a Thai tang tao is often used for anything but its supposed purpose!
Let me just say that I am a passionate walker. Perhaps that’s why the abuse of footpaths here in Thailand rankles with me so much. I walk to work, I walk to the market, I walk to the supermarket. If the place I want to go to is within about a 30-minute walking distance of my home – roughly 3km – then I will walk. It’s probably because of my upbringing in rural England. If you’re a youngster in a village in England then there are only two ways to get about: bicycle and on foot – there’s no public transport and motorbikes have never been popular in the UK. Now I’m in Thailand, but I can’t and won’t break the walking habit. But there doesn’t seem to be too many people here who share my preference for bipedalism.
There are just so many transportation options for potential pedestrians who want to make a short journey that walking always seems to be the last resort. Here in Korat, even if you don’t have your own vehicle, there are songtaews, tuk-tuks, motorcycle taxis, pedal-powered samlors and metered taxis: why bother walking? Considering the state of the footpaths it’s sometimes difficult to argue with that sentiment.
My short walk to work illustrates well the typical problems encountered on our problem pavements. It’s a journey of just half a kilometre along one of the main roads in the city centre. First up is the Chinese temple. It’s the vegetarian ‘J-food’ festival week and tables and impromptu kitchens have appeared on the footpath. It’s impossible to get through so I have to take to the road. I can’t walk next to the kerb as cars are parallel parked, so I have to walk in an actual traffic lane in order to get past the temple. Next up, a restaurant is undergoing renovation and a ton of sand has been dumped on the pavement for the purpose of mixing cement. Again, there’s no option but to leave the public right of way and use the road.
Having no luck on this side, I decide to cross the road – more fun! It’s rush hour and the traffic is moving very slowly. Despite this none of the motorists seem interested in stopping to allow me to cross safely. Eventually, I make it as far as the middle of the road. I could now become stranded with traffic on either side but one kind driver slows down and waves me across, but BEWARE! This act of generosity can be very dangerous as drivers in this situation almost never look into their left-hand wing mirror. As he cheerfully waves you across he could be waving you straight into the path of a motorbike coming up the inside. Being serious, I’ve nearly been killed by trusting the generous motorist in this situation. Always check
for undertaking motorbikes and tuk-tuks.
Anyway, I survive crossing the road to try my luck on the opposite side. Here there is a row of shops and businesses. The staff at most of these companies have come on motorbikes and have used the footpath to park their machines. Some have thoughtfully left a gap for pedestrians but many have parked their bikes directly across the path at right angles to the road.
I’m nearly at work now and just a few more obstacles to negotiate. Signs and pot plants are positioned in front of many of the shops. I’ve no problem with this – it’s nice to see a bit of greenery in the city – but be careful of the dog mess as you avoid the plants. Also, it rained during the night and water is still dripping off the gutter-less roofs. So you’re not so much walking as performing a strange dance as you step and slide and duck and dodge the puddles and dog poo and plants and
signs and motorbikes and sand and tables and chairs!
Maybe I’ll buy that motorbike after all.