I moved to Thailand just about a month ago. I wake up in an air-conditioned condo apartment, take a shower in my own shower room and smoke a cigarette on my own balcony. I then walk to work. It takes me right about 10 minutes, so by all measures of modern working life, I am lucky. During the 10 minutes, I don’t think that I am lucky. It’s a strangely mindful experience, because I am so scared. I am not necessarily scared that I will be hit by a car. I am scared to be doing something for ten minutes that I view as a punishment for my weakness.
I don’t know how to bike and therefore I have to keep walking on the side of the road with no sidewalk. Hear the cars and scooters zip past me. Give way to stray dogs running by. Walk on dirt and gravel in my pretty teacher shoes.
I don’t know how to bike. Knowing how to do it does not only involve the concepts of pedaling, balancing, and accelerating. It relies on the rider to trust oneself, to believe in oneself, to be brave. Those are not the things I pride myself for. Rather, those are my long-term plans for when I am old and wise.
I don’t know how to bike because I am scared. I am terrified of relying on my own body for my safety. I lose control of my extremities when I panic. And I panic every time I am on a bike and have to let go of the ground. Whenever you are the passenger, you trust the driver/the pilot/the captain to take you where you need to go safe and sound.
I don’t know how to bike, because I can’t handle the sharp feeling that I have when I am the driver. It’s the tingling sensation in my fingertips, down my spine, inside my intestines. I think that’s what it feels like to own the body. This feeling is new to me. I don’t ever feel that I own my body. I never feel present, or even here now. It is something that has been robbed from me long time ago. Now, I am scared every time that feeling washes over me. I feel in danger, because my body feels in danger.
I don’t know how to bike, but I will, because I have to. To be happy, to see other people, to be free in Chiang Mai means riding a bike. Means owning a scooter and a helmet and a driver’s license, if you are very thorough.