We love our new house. Every day at least one member of the family does a little sigh and says, “This is such a nice house”. We’ve even baptized the house with the first batch of chocolate chip cookies. BUT, we are ready to pull our hair out every time we try to leave it.
Google Maps, Check Your Work
The first issue with trying to go somewhere is ordering the ride. We request Uber or GrabTaxi, which is a service just like Uber but a little more popular in Asia. We go on the app, order up a car and wait. And wait. And wait. And we watch. From the first time we ordered a ride, we noticed that the app would always direct the driver into our neighborhood the wrong way. They get to a main road that is very near our house, but there is a brick wall that blocks entrance into our neighborhood because it’s gated and there is only one entrance…. through the gate. And that main gate is around the corner on an entirely different main road. So we watch the little car on the map just start spinning, trying to go the way the GPS says to go but not being able to. Sometimes the drivers end up canceling, other times they figure it out. We try to send a text message saying which road to take, but we never really know if there is any understanding, or if they even get it. I spent about 20 minutes working on a graphic to send the driver showing them the right way to go, but then I realized the apps don’t let you send graphics, only texts. So when we need to go somewhere we have to plan at least 20 minutes for the car to get lost and then somehow find us again.
Dan has contacted Google Maps AND Uber about the wrong map. Who knows if it’ll get fixed.
The location of our house can also be confusing even when we are in the car. Recently I was coming home in the Uber by myself and thought it was going to be a long drive so I was catching up on Facebook. The driver turns into the neighborhood and I start directing him to the house but everything was a little off. The streets were not where they usually are! Turns out when I used the map function on Uber that was mostly in Thai, I had directed him to a neighborhood several miles north of ours but on the same main road, that looks EXACTLY like ours from the front and has one word in the title that is the same as our neighborhood. When we pulled in, I noticed that the guards were wearing blue shirts, not yellow ones like our guards, but I figured it was just a shift change. I finally figured out that we were in the wrong neighborhood (um, security let me in, how does that work?… it’s called “she’s a farang so she must belong here”!). When I finally found the right neighborhood down the road I tried to show the driver how similar they looked but he was just laughing at me, in a very polite Thai way of course.
The Secret Pick Up Spot
But the list of challenges continue… The Uber and GrabTaxi guys have a bit of a disagreement going on with the Tuk Tuk and Songthaew guys (those are the red trucks that function like mini buses). So although Uber and Grab will drop you off at the main entrance to the mall, when they come to get you they have to pick you up somewhere else so they don’t get harassed by the guys on the “other team”. Sometimes they want to pick us up in the parking garage, sometimes it’s on the sidewalk in front of the mall, sometimes it’s where the buses park. Each mall and location has a different “safe” pick up spot. Sometimes the Uber guy will get close, wait somewhere and text you to tell you where he’s waiting. It’s like a secret handshake but it’s different every time. Honestly, why can’t we all get along? And frankly, if Tuk Tuks were safer for long distance freeway trips and didn’t charge double what Uber does, maybe we’d take them more often!
The other day when I left the mall I tried to throw some business to the red truck service. The driver was napping with his feet out the window. My house is literally around the corner from the mall, about 1/4 mile, so I thought maybe he’d like to take me. I had groceries so don’t get all judge-y about why I didn’t walk (and it’s HOT. And it’s more like a Vegas 1/4 mile, not a country road quarter mile). Anyway, I walk up to the sleepy driver and ask, “Taxi?” and he says, “Where?” and I tell him and he says, “I don’t go there”. Hate to break it to you, Sleeping Beauty, but you don’t seem to be going anywhere. So, OK. If he’s not interested in my Baht I will simply give it to someone who is… like, say, Uber. If I can find the pick-up spot.
Another time we came out of the mall and started to call an Uber ride but there were several taxis parked there. Ok. Great! Let’s take a taxi! So we showed the driver where we wanted to go and he gave us his price… which was more than double what Uber charges for the same distance! And in a ratty, beat-up old car, to boot! So we walked away from the taxi and went off to hunt down the secret Uber-waiting spot.
It’s usually at this point in our errands that Dan digs in and starts pushing buttons on his phone with more force than is necessary. The girls go very very quiet and I start my Worldschooling Rant #3B: “Are we the VERY FIRST people who have ever done this? Why is this so difficult? What don’t we know?” Everyone in the fam knows not to answer. It’s best to just get me home and get me into pajamas.
Stamps and Salutes and Prayer Hands… Oh My!
When Uber or GrabTaxi finally figure out how to get TO our neighborhood, they have to get INTO the neighborhood which entails getting past the guards. There are TWO sets of guards at two gates, for our protection against… I dunno what. It’s extremely safe here anywhere in town and at any time of night. Anyway, the cars come in, give the guards their ID, the guard hands them a little piece of paper with some info filled out, and the car proceeds to our house. Then when they get to us, we have a Very Special Stamp that signifies our approval of this visitor. We have to stamp the little piece of paper and – even though we are in the car – the driver gives it to the guards on the way out in exchange for his/her ID back. Zoe is in charge of the stamp and absolutely loves to stamp everyone’s paper. It works pretty well for the delivery guys too. The first few days we forgot the stamp but once we got the hang of it, we got some big smiles from the guards.
Speaking of the guards, they do this funny salute thing. We are just getting used to the bow and what we call the “prayer hands”, but now there is a salute? Do we salute back? Wave? Smile? Bow? It’s so confusing. We usually do all of those motions, sometimes in a combined fashion that looks like we are having a seizure. The guards know us and sport big grins every time they see us. We made the mistake of saying some words in Thai once when we were walking by (the only words we know, really) and they said some other words that we didn’t know. So then we smiled and nodded and tried not to make any more eye contact for fear we’d do something very wrong, somehow.
So, yeah. All of this means:
We are getting a car. But first Dan had to get a Thai driver’s license, which involved some forms, watching a 1-hour video, getting a health check-up and paying a small fee. Well worth the cost of driving. Dan reports that the video (in English) spent an inordinate amount of time advising drivers to stay calm, do not express intense emotion while driving and do not get angry at other drivers. You could actually be fined if you are too angry while driving. In addition, take note of the year of issue and expiration of the license above. Thailand mainly uses the Buddhist Era which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian year. The year CE 2017 is indicated as 2560 BE in Thailand.
We used our friendly expat service Chiang Mai Buddy to help us find a good car to rent. I keep thinking that in the next new country we will not need a car but we keep getting a car, and I keep thanking Dan for getting a car even though I’m not thrilled with us getting a car. Got that? Someday I should just give up saying we’re not going to need a car. That might be easier. Definitely easier than trying to get an Uber.