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ON THE BUTTON

By Andrew Biggs

A brand new community mall opened at the end of my soi in leafy Samut Prakan.

It transformed the community. Suddenly I had a KFC, Au Bon Pain, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, MK Suki, Pizza Hut and Domino’s within walking distance of my home. Why would one need to venture into the city ever again, other than to check for cholesterol levels and diabetes?

Driving into the car park the first time, there was a big shiny automated ticket dispenser in front of a boom gate. On the machine was a prominent red button, and the words PRESS HERE in oversized Thai letters.

Standing right there, between myself and the machine, was a woman in a security guard’s uniform. She flashed me a warm Isan smile as I wound down the window, then pressed the prominent red button.

A ticket popped out. A recorded female voice from inside the machine announced, in Thai: “Please take the ticket.” The happy security guard did just that. Then she passed it the good 200 centimetres over to me.

“Khob Khun Kha,” she said.

“Khob Khun Kha,” came a much louder recorded female voice from inside the machine.

The boom gate opened. I drove through into the parking lot and found myself a space.

The experience left me a little unnerved.

It felt like the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, and when I visited the Gents bathroom immediately after, I expected Rod Serling to appear from one of the cubicles and announce  in earnest: “Submit for your approval: A young handsome Australian makes a journey to a brand new mall for the first time …”

There was something eerie about it. Perhaps I was over-reacting, or just feeling a little out of sorts; it was 4 pm after all and I was still completely sober.

Every time I visited that mall after that, there she was. The pleasant Isan security guard, flashing me the best smile in the world, pressing that prominent red button and wishing me the very best in life as she passed the parking card over to me, in unison with the recording from the machine.

What was it that weirded me out?

I guess it was the fact the management of this mall, despite the investment in an automated car park machine, figured I lacked the cerebral capacity to look at a sign which screamed PRESS HERE on a prominent red button — and press.

Or even more sinister was theory #2; could it be the average driver in this country is unable to make the connection between a sign reading PRESS HERE and a prominent red button? Drivers may be stranded by the perplexity of the task in hand.

There is a third theory: Management is just being courteous. The customer is God, according to every sales manual that has rolled off the press over the last century. God should be afforded every convenience when He rolls up to the strip mall on a late (and temperance-filled) Monday afternoon. This includes installing a security guard at the automated ticket machine, because God help Him if He’s expected to roll down His window, extend His right arm, press a prominent red button and retrieve a ticket all on His lonesome.

I suspect it’s a combination of Theory #1, #2 and #3 with an emphasis on the middle one.

There are no limits to man’s idiocy when he gets behind the wheel and in this country even those boundless limits get pushed further outwards.

The entrance to the expressway is the clearest example of this. There are two ways to get onto the freeway; hand over cash or buy a pre-paid Easy Pass. The Easy Pass alternative is meant to facilitate better traffic flow. It also cuts down on manpower, as the Easy Pass lane requires nobody sitting in the booth.

And yet, Thailand must be the only country in the world where the Easy Pass lanes are >>slower<< than the cash lanes.

Why? Well, there are a lot of drivers out there who just haven’t managed to figure out that to use an Easy Pass lane, you must acquire an Easy Pass first.

Drivers rock up to the Easy Pass lane, wind down their windows and hand over the 50 baht to a toll booth operator. Imagine their surprise — if indeed surprise is an emotion that can be found within their cognizance  — when nobody is there. The boom gate does not rise.

The cars bank up. A security guard must rush over and explain their predicament and then begin the frustrating task of getting them to reverse out of the lane and use an adjacent one, which means the car behind has to reverse, and the next, and the next.

Then there are those able-bodied drivers who see a sign which says “Parking for the Disabled” and choose to park there.

Just last Monday night I witnessed this at the Starbucks in the strip mall, when a so-called “supercar” parked there. The driver even moved the sliding barrier away to facilitate his park. This driver was clearly not disabled, and I’m not including his obesity nor his ill taste in expensive but badly-fitting black clothes. But it does take a special kind of human being to feel entitlement in brazenly parking in a space designed for the disabled.

It is these two groups — the idiots and the self-obsessed, which by the way are overlapping Venn diagrams — who are the ones causing havoc on the roads, and could very well have been the catalyst for installing a security guard right next to the automated traffic card dispenser at the mall. The idiots can’t work the damned thing out, while the self-centred can’t imagine anything more beneath them than pressing a button.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but isn’t this a fault in our education system?

The education alarm bells must start ringing if the average Thai is unable to read a sign saying PRESS HERE without realizing that one cannot progress forward without, well, pressing there. One can only hope there is a small corner of the National Core Curriculum that covers such a topic, and while we’re at it, let’s incorporate a little understanding of the rights of the disabled, particularly in the curriculum of wealthier schools where supercars are more ubiquitous.

But listen to this; my story isn’t finished. In the third week after the mall opening, the woman disappeared.

I’m talking about the happy lady security guard dispensing the cards.

This filled me with hope.

I’m serious. It dragged me out of the Twilight Zone, because in that TV show the episodes never ended well. The absence of that woman, namely her transferal to another station, meant that the strip mall, and I, had restored our faith in humanity.

I felt a sense of achievement by pressing that prominent red button myself, and pulling out that card from the machine all on my lonesome.

 

It felt good. The fact there was no pile-up of cars, like in the Easy Pass lane at Bangna on a daily basis, meant that other drivers were getting it too.

You see? Education really does work. All you need to do is to educate and demonstrate, and people will get it.

This is positive. This is progress.

It was an uplifting thought while it lasted … a good three days … before my theory shattered around me.

On day four she was back.

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“I caught a cold,” she said.

Cheers,
/Andrew

 

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