Seriously though, would you encourage someone to drink and drive? Would you ridicule them for not jumping into a car with someone they’d never met before, no seat-belt and no idea if that driver was sober. Would you then join in laughing as they told many ‘hilarious anecdotes’ of how they were a passenger in that vehicle as it careered along roads at breakneck speed with no regard to other road users? I’m guessing no.
So what happens to some travelers when they get to Asia that suddenly hopping on the back of a random moto, with an opportunitistic unknown driver, no insurance, no helmet suddenly seems to be a grand idea that will lead to an hilarious traveler’s tale? Not only do many make that choice for themselves, those who like me shun it, are regarded with a mixture of pity, incomprehension and sometimes disdain. I feel enormous amounts of peer pressure to ‘join the fun’, but one of the few advantages of being older is that it is easier to ‘just say no’ – Zammo’s mates would be proud of me.
On the one hand I do get it. It is a sort of rite of passage in Cambodia and Vietnam and Thailand too probably. From the back of a bike is the ‘best’ way to experience the intensity of the traffic and the surge of adrenalin you get charging through it is definitely addictive. I’m not against being on the back of a motorbike per se. I’ve done it in Vietnam a lot – but always with a helmet, and always driven either by local friends who were sober and sensible, or with an organised tour – that bike out of Hue tour was the best thing ever, period. I just wouldn’t jump on the back of any passing motorbike rider who opportunistically offered a ride as they happened upon me. I accept the chances are it’d be fine, but the consequences of that ride where it isn’t would be way too high for me to countenance. I’m just saying that, for me, it’s not a risk worth taking
Others can do as they choose, but I’m getting really irritated by a constant chorus of ‘you should‘. Why? The difference is I suppose that I am still feeling the daily consequences of my head injury of a couple of years back. Every day I notice memories being erased, like an image that is slightly out of shot, I realise that synapses (or whatever they are) in my brain are fizz popping and dying (niche EWFM reference) and that’s another little bit of my past vapourised. The speed of it scares me, and I don’t want to risk another head injury that might accelerate that process. I know I can still function fine day-to-day, but I also know that this thing in my head is creeping up on me. Maybe my next blog will be about my experiences of the steady decay of my mind? That would be jolly! I don’t know at what point I’ll seek advice or help, but right now I’m inclined to think my existing coping strategies of cementing memories through my blog(s) and avoiding risk of future head injuries are probably the way to go. Maybe though it will stop. I notice that despite the constant erosion of my memory bank I am left with all the excruciatingly embarrassing/ humiliating and other unwelcome memories that are indelibly imprinted on my mind from decades back, so I’ll never be left with nothing. I think the phrase I’m reaching for is ‘cold comfort’. Cold Comfort Farm is a fab film and book by the way, catch it if you can.
For now though, if I say I choose not to go on the back of a moto, on the streets of Phnom Penh, with a random driver, no helmet and my own inexperience of balancing on the back of a bike thrown into the mix, please just accept it and move on. It’s becoming tiresome. It may seem strange to you as you can’t see it, but I’m really concerned about how my memory keeps slipping away from me, I can’t afford another head injury. Death would be fine and dandy as I don’t have adequate funds to ever retire anyway, but an even more raddled brain would be horrible.
I’ve decided not to us one of my google image hits for ‘moto accident in Cambodia‘ too graphic. Here is a traffic scene instead. Be careful out there…
And yes, I know I’m at best inconsistent and at worse hypocritical for not wearing a helmet on a push bike. Difference is, I’m in charge of the speed and direction of the bike, I know how to ride a push bike and so that’s a known risk.
I keep thinking of that olympic judo woman who came off the back of a motorbike in Vietnam. I don’t want that to happen to me. You shouldn’t want it to happen to you either. I’m not in a position to dictate to anyone what they should and shouldn’t do, but I think I’d try to persuade you to trust your instincts. If you wouldn’t do it at home because it is inherently unsafe, then it probably isn’t the best idea to try it for the first time here where you don’t speak the language and can’t access health care. If you don’t want to do it, hold your ground, there are plenty of other adventures to be had along the way, that doesn’t have to be one of them. And, if you do decide you want to hop on that bike and into the unknown, please respect the decision of your fellow traveler who chooses not to. Their decision is OK. Leave them be.
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in Cambodia according to at least one report, it isn’t hard to believe. Just saying.