The Success of the Flags on our Bikes

It was an afterthought that we bought the flags.  Nervous of the notorious Thai traffic I wanted us to be visible and I was browsing Amazon cycling safety for rear lights that I could pin all over the back of the bike to light us up like a pair of Christmas trees when I saw one of those small flags that you pin on the back of a child’s bike for visibility and that’s where it started.

It was a short leap from there to the adult version and then I found this one on Amazon.  At 6ft tall with a small selection of flags it seemed to be just what we needed, so be bought them and packed them in the boxes with the bikes.

We also bought 8 cheaper lights, 4 each, to complement the 3 bright Lezyne lights we were already fitted with.

Flags on BikesOf the selection offered in the pack, it seemed obvious to fit the Union Jack as the flag behind the bike, but after our first small shake-down ride, it also felt a touch crass and jingoistic.  Maybe it was the influence of Pattaya and some of the ostentatious nationalism expressed by a section of the ex-pat community there, but it didn’t sit well.

So, on one of our lazy days where we were just pottering around town in the heat and humidity we went into the Pattaya Night Market looking for small Thai flags to match the Union Jacks.  It was only about 20 mins into the browsing when we saw exactly what we wanted, not just something similar, but an almost perfect size match for the Union Jack!

The Thais are really friendly by nature and, generally, they love to banter, but in heavily tourist areas they can get understandably a touch jaded when dealing with the Farang.  The Pattaya Night Market is one of the key tourist magnets in town and you can tell, nothing anywhere near unfriendly, just not as warm.  The girl on the stand selling tourist tat was as jaded as any there and when I asked how much the flags were her response was an offhand “100 Baht”.  Usually a little Thai can help bring back a little warmth into the conversation and I feigned not quite understanding and held up my index finger replying “Roi?”, the Thai for one hundred.  She replied in clear as a bell English, “yes, one hundred” and I looked a dick.

Flags on BikesAttempting to bargain and asking “How much for two?” just compounded my dickness when she looked at me as if you would a simpleton who couldn’t multiple 2 x 100.  “Two Hundred” was the patronisingly toned curt response.

I paid 200THB and left with my ego a little bruised and Siubhan smiling but we had our brace of Thai flags to match the Union Jacks.

Walking over to the large Central Festival Shopping Mall for some lunch we had the conversation about whether there is any implied superiority about whether we should position one flag above the other but, over a glass of wine, we decided that we were being over-sensitive and that in the 8 years of many trips to Thailand we had never yet seen a Thai offended by anything that wasn’t meant to cause offence.  It was all in the intent.

So Union Jacks, or Union Flags if you want to be more precise, to the top and the Thai flags below.

Flags on Bikes

Two Fold Success!!

And WOW!!! what an immediate impact.

Flags on BikesFirstly, the visibility thing seemed to work really well in traffic and I swear that it bought us an extra 9-12″ of passing space from vehicles, but more than that it seemed to make the trucks and pick-ups wait just a little while longer before passing.

We discussed this and other Thai driving habits at the end of the tour and we have come to the conclusion that the Thais get a justifiably bad press for their driving standards but it’s their risk assessment, poor attention (a mobile phone seems to be permanently attached to every driver’s hand) and their basic vehicle handling skills are lacking.  But they are courteous.

If you could take an average Thai driver and an average British driver I would say that the Thais are more courteous, more accommodating and less aggressive than their British counterpart.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re still more likely to kill you by mowing you down whilst going for a closing gap and distracted by their latest Line notification.

But this is where the flags come in and it’s our hypothesis that the flags made us more visible earlier and then, once we were noticed, the natural courtesy kicks in.

Flags on BikesNow lets talk about the second and unforeseen benefit.  The Thais are both a hugely proud nation and sociable in equal measures but, in common with most humans, they can be a little xenophobic and the sight of two Farang, both at about 6 foot tall, pedalling at a pace that’s closer to moped speed than the indigenous human-powered two-wheelers all clad in lycra can be a bit daunting.  But the flags acted as a hook, they’re a way in.  They’re a common ground for initial contact and the Thais took the opportunity to express their natural joyousness at us with gusto.

I had only sat on this bench a few seconds before the first Thai man walked up to me point at the flags and saying “Welcome to Thailand, where you from?”.  For us this was wonderful as we can also suffer from a degree of xenophobic shyness.

Everywhere we went people shouted a variety of “Hello”, “SawadeeKap” or the very common “Welcome Thailand”.  Vehicles hooted horns or people shouted from windows.  In the rural communities children came to school windows shouting at us when they saw us approaching and, because the flags were usually the things they pointed at, we have to attribute more than a little of this enthusiasm with those little cloth symbols of nations.

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