Over the last 15 years I have traveled to South East Asia on a number of occasions visiting 8 different countries, most recently Indonesia over Christmas and new years, and there is something that these countries have in common that continues to amaze me.
No, it’s not the fact that the term Occupational Health & Safety is more foreign to them than Polar Bears and Viking invaders. Anyone who has seen 12 story high bamboo scaffolding will vouch for that. I simply put this down to a widespread belief in reincarnation that causes them to care less.
No, it’s not the region’s rock solid commitment to smoking. I thought the Indonesian smoking baby was a one off. I’m pretty sure that was just a random snap at a daycare facility. If smoking were an Olympic event the region would have taken gold, silver and bronze since Athens in 1896. I honestly think it would be easier to fill the air with cigarette smoke and sell viles of oxygen for anyone chasing some relief.
What gets me every time is each individual’s innate knowledge of physics. No wonder Cirque de Solei spends so little time touring the region, there are more amazing feats being performed each day on every road in every city and every town. Their weapon of choice? The moped!!
Present an Aussie with 2 wheels and a lawn mower engine and he’d say, “what the f#@% am I supposed to do with this?” Fly north for 6 to 10 hours and the sky’s the limit. Navigating your average Asian roadway in any vehicle is a perilous task. It’s a form of organized chaos that coalesces into a terrifying yet road rage free experience. Do it on a moped and the excitement levels go up a notch.
Forget licenses, forget helmets and forget road rules. Following is a list of things that I’ve seen on a moped whilst in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
For ease of reference I will break them down into the following categories:-
A passenger. Not so surprising we see them all the time. But they don’t stop at one
Two passengers. Now we’re getting a little crowded
Mum, Dad and two kids. Yeh and you thought the hot vinyl seats in your parents old Holden were uncomfortable. Imagine a road trip squashed between Mum and Dad. Hang on and shut up or you’ll be face planting into the road at 70km/h!!
But the family winner is Mum and Dad and three kids!!!! Yes, on a moped!! The configuration as follows – Dad at the controls, Mum up back nursing a little one, an older one squashed in-between them and the baby in a home made hammock that hangs from the handle bars at Dad’s legs. Pure genius. I can’t wait til the kids grow up a little – one starts playing hockey, another javelin and the third takes up the tuba. School pick up should be fun……but I guarantee you, they’ll make it work!
Two dogs. Not the cider – two actual dogs. One at the driver’s feet with the other squashed between him and the pillion.
A cage full of kittens. And yes, they were as cute as they sound. About a dozen gorgeous little kittens cruising at 60km/h separated from the road by a wire cage and 30 inches. The thought of the moped hitting a small bump in the road thereby sealing the fate of the kittens made me speed off and say a prayer to the kitten Gods.
A fat back TV
A flat screen TV
A vanity unit
A mini bay Marie
A Trundle bed folded in half
And of course, a kitchen sink.
These are feats so amazing they have to be seen to be believed. It’s to the point where it would not be beyond the pale for someone in one of these aforementioned countries to start up a furniture removal business owning only a moped.
“Do you need a hand with the grand piano?”
“It’s ok my brother is bringing his moped over. We’ll be fine!”
“And the fridge freezer?”
“No problems. There’s plenty of room on the back.”
A gate. It was either being transported somewhere or the driver and his passenger hit it at high speed and just kept going.
Four bags of cement. Safe to say this baby was riding low!!
Wood paneling. Held sideways so the moped kind of resembled the Griswolds’ Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
A ladder. If I’d watched for longer I’m sure 6 or so passengers would have taken up residence on each of the rungs as it cruised down the highway.
A car tyre. I hate to be mean but I followed this guy, with his passenger, hoping they’d get a flat so I could watch them try and fit the car tyre to the moped.
A 12 foot piece of bamboo being carried sideways!! The spatial awareness of the driver was like nothing I’d seen. At full tilt he managed to avoid cars, mopeds, trees and trucks but when he arrived home I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a cage full of kittens hanging off one end and a baby off the other.
On a jam packed but free flowing 5 lane freeway in Bangkok I witnessed something Pythonesque that required great skill, great strength and a fair dose of blind confidence. A man riding a moped, sans helmet, with a passenger on back who was casually gripping a car windscreen!
Were they delivering the windscreen to a wealthy car owning friend?
Or were they just pretending they were in a car?
“I’ll pick you up at 8”
“In your car”
“Yeh sure. My car”
“Is it a car?”
“It has a windscreen”
“OK, see you at 8”
In countries where not everyone can afford a car people are forced to think outside the square. And in South East Asia they absolutely maximize the capabilities of these two wheeled putt putts. I find myself wanting to applaud and yell encouragement but to them it’s just another day in the office.
The only time I’ve looked at a moped operator and thought ‘this is wrong’ was in Bali. The driver was wearing a Bin Tang singlet, no helmet and smoking. His passenger was also wearing a Bin Tang singlet and was carrying a carton of bin tang. Aussie bogans doing us proud and probably displaying the extent of this countries capabilities on a moped.