Thursday, September 25, 2008

Commuter Profile - Terri Hartley - Thai Style

A few months ago I noticed that Bike Jax had one regular reader in Thailand. Not long after noticing this lone individual in my daily stats and wondering what or who would find Bike Jax of such interest, I received an email from them. Since then we have corresponded frequently and she has become a regular contributer to Bike Jax and I thought it only fitting that Bike Jax go international with our commuter profiles.

Her name is Terri Hartley and she is a Jacksonville native currently living and working in Thailand. Here is what she says about herself:

"After working about fifteen years in the medical field and another ten in the corporate financial sector, I just chucked it all. I gave away most of my stuff, took a severance package from Merrill Lynch in 2007 and made plans to travel to Thailand for six months to film a documentary on volunteering/social activism. I will be returning to the states in October 2008 and plan to return to college to pursue a degree in journalism. Looking forward to my second half!"

What do you use your bike for?

Absolutely everything. It is my only means of transportation, other than walking. Nong Khai is a pretty small place, so there isn't much that is not easily reached by bike.

How often do you ride?

Everyday, as long as the monsoon-type rains are not pouring down.

How long have you been commuting by bicycle?

I've been here in Thailand for six months now and have a renewed passion for biking in general. It could be because this is the first time I've ever been in a place where biking is so integrated into everyday lives. Although the vast majority of people here drive moped type scooters, bikes are also very common on the roads.

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to go for it?

If its someone who has not been riding for a while at all, get back on and ride on weekends. Get familiar with being on a bike again. Know your roads and watch traffic patterns whenever you are out riding because it's a different world on a bike. Do your homework and find safe routes, but definitely go out and ride. The more people are out there, the more visible we all are.

What could the City do to make biking better?

SAFE BIKE LANES and MORE OF THEM. Parking lanes are not biking lanes. Really enforce existing traffic laws as they pertain to biking. EDUCATION is also a huge factor, for both motorists and cyclists, so community education and AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS could help. More positive MEDIA EXPOSURE, promoting biking as an everyday transportation alternative. Actively publicize the fact when bike lanes are going in on new road construction so people are more aware of them. (There are really too many things to list here...)

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?

The best thing about commuting by bicycle for me is that it is free. My Honda Civic is sitting in storage right now and when I think of how much I may be paying for not only gas but the insurance and maintenance of it, well I get a little ill. The next best thing about it is the simplicity of biking, and the green factor of having so little impact on the environment compared to depending on an automobile. Also, I suffer from fibromyalgia and the drug-free health benefits in keeping the systemic pain under control is amazing!

Where are your favorite places to bike in Thailand? Least favorite?

I've been strictly in a small village called Nong Khai, right on the Mekong River on the border of Laos. So within the village, I love to bike down to the main park in the evenings. I think the entire population shows up there for everything from the biggest outdoor aerobics class I've ever seen, skateboarding, soccer, weight lifting, walking and jogging around the track, paytong (volleyball using your feet), picnics, and paddleboats. Its amazing! I don't have a least favorite place to bike around here. I might add, there are zero bike lanes here where I am. Bikes share the road equally with motorbikes, cars, trucks, and tuk tuks. Its just understood that bikes are as much a normal transportation option as anything else here.

What do you like about biking in Thailand? And dislike?

I love the fact that every single age group here in Thailand rides bikes. I've seen people so old I might doubt they could stand up on their own without assistance out riding bikes everyday. Bikes are a normal and integrated part of their culture. Most people are too poor to own an automobile, let alone afford the gas. As far as what I dislike...maybe it is that I am spoiled by the attitudes here about biking. It is so fundamentally accepted, I don't look forward to being back in the minority, fighting for such basic things as practical accessibility when I get home.

Have you ever combined transit and biking or used a bus bike rack?

Not yet, but I will be making trips back and forth between Okeechobee, Florida and Jacksonville by train, and I see on the Amtrak website that for about $10 I will be able to put my bike on a train car for transport. That is pretty cool.

Do you commute in cycling or street clothing? And if cycling clothing, how to handle the change to street?

That is a great question for me here in Thailand. Its street clothes, all the way. The bikes are designed for it. I've never seen anyone in cycling clothing here, or even wearing a helmet. When I asked about wearing a helmet, all I got were laughs. To them, wearing a helmet on a bicycle would be like wearing one when they were walking. HOWEVER, most of the people here don't wear helmets when they are on their motorbikes, either...and that is actually against the law. They will ride holding an umbrella in one hand to shield them from the sun, but no helmets.

Any bike gadget/gear cyclists should not go out without?

After really living my life on a bike for transportation for half the year, and being in a very simplified society here, I absolutely could not live without my bike basket (don't laugh!). Every single bike here has them, so it would actually look strange not to have one. For back home in the states, if I had to pick just one single item, I would say helmet first, followed by anything that makes you more visible to drivers when you are out there amongst them.

Favorite or Funny bike stories?

Well, I'd have to say the first time my bike was "borrowed" here in Thailand was pretty funny. I had not been here long, so was still learning a lot of the cultural nuances. I went downstairs in the blistering 115F heat with all my camera gear on my way to a shoot, when I discovered my bike was gone. (no one locks bikes here because there is virtually no kind of crime like theft going on) My bike is bright orange and the only one like it in the parking area. When the apartment manager saw me standing there, turning in circles looking bewildered, she said in very broken English "She take. Get ice. Be back." I'm thinking "She who? What ice? When the hell back?!" I was on a schedule and needed to be somewhere! And sure enough, within about two minutes, here comes the young woman riding up on my bike with a bag of ice in the basket, smiling. She handed over my bike without a care in the world and I felt like I wanted to throttle her. But I later learned that such "borrowing" is generally not frowned on here because life is very communal. Yeah, it took me some getting used to.

Scary bike stories?

Well, its probably pretty typical in many ways to other cyclists, but years ago, I was out on a morning bike ride alone around Old St. Augustine Road/San Jose area. I was coming up on an intersection with a traffic light. I had the green so was proceeding through it when a big Cadillac just came right out into the intersection from the cross street. The lady hit me on the right side and I went rolling up the hood of her car first, then thrown back out into the road when she slammed on brakes. My head hit the pavement so hard, my helmet cracked straight through. My clothes and gloves were torn through to my skin where gravel got embedded in my flesh. And I was literally afraid to open my eyes because I just knew I was either about to be hit by another oncoming car that would not be expecting a body to be lying in the middle of the road, or I would see my own body parts lying here and there and everywhere. The lady got out of her car, came around to the front of her car and actually yanked me up by the front of my shirt yelling at me, "What's the matter with you, didn't you see me coming?!" That is when I figured, dead or alive, I was still pissed enough to look at her and say "F*** You!" Other motorists stopped, called 911 and I was whisked to the hospital without so much as a broken bone. But trust me, I know everyday how lucky I am to be here to tell the tale.

Anything else you would like to add?

Yeah, I'd like to just encourage people to get out and ride, whether it is to commute to work or just get out for an afternoon on the weekend. If you need to make a quick run to the store for a loaf of bread, can you make it on your bike instead driving the car? Ride with your kids, get them out of the house. Be a real life advocate for cycling and hold your city leaders accountable for maximizing safety and access for us all. We pay their salaries and vote them in, so make sure they are the stewards they should be for the communities they serve, and let them know we are out there.


Shek said...

That is a cool profile.
I have seen bicycles and rickshaws (pedicabs) being the preferred mode of mass transit in Calcutta mostly dictated by economic conditions. There is a similar sense of community. Everyone knows everyone else and the feeling of personal space is much smaller.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, its a forced condition of the economy here in many ways, but its also part of the culture they never let go of in the first place. Only the biggest intersections even have traffic lights (picture the intersection of Atlantic and St. Johns Bluff). No painted lane divisions, no street signs. People just know how to look out for each other here...for the most part. :-) You still gotta watch for those cellphone using scooter drivers, and people who are also driving drunk.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and I said the name of the odd, thai style volleyball was paytong. I was in error. It is called takraw. Paytong (or patong) is another game played with metal balls on the ground.

(my bad)


GhostRider said...

Awesome profile.

Matt, I'm really starting to like your questions better than the ones we use! I may "borrow back" from you one of these days!!!

Bike Jax said...

Thanks Ghostrider. It's easy to have a great profile when you have someone as awesome Terri to profile.

I have noticed however that none of the profiles we have done here at Bike Jax are employed in the field of IT, unlike those done at Bike Commuters. What do think that says about Jacksonville?

Jack, feel free to "borrow" anything you want from Bike Jax. We are all in it for the same goal. To Kill Whitey!!!.... No wait. That's wrong... Kill the car!! Yeah, that's it. Kill the car.

Notice: Bike Jax does not condone the killing of anything. We however are fine with minor maiming and/or the occasional laceration or contusion. Carry on.

Shek said...

Most IT people are the Indians in my neighborhood. My people have the majority market share! They are perfectly content in their Civics, Camrys and Corollas.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this profile. Ah, good work people.

GhostRider said...

What does it say? Hmmm...less nerds in J'ville? Mysterious, to be sure. I am amazed by the number of IT folks who are also bike commuters -- someone tried to explain it once to me but the reasoning just didn't make any sense.