Feudalism or masochism?

“Never say something like that to someone at home in Germany. Otherwise, they’ll believe that feudalism has been resurrected here.” When he asked during a morning phone call how I was doing so early, I replied: “Oh, it’s going to be just a normal, terrible day. Our maid got scrambled egg on my shirt and the driver seems to be seeking out every available pothole and then checks in the rear-view mirror to see how many times he’s managed to drive my head into the car roof!”

My friend was right. Who else in Germany has a driver except the Geisens or local politicians and bank CEOs who have to binge drink at night “for business reasons”? Wouldn’t my complaint then be understood even in my homeland as the arrogant doublespeak of the privileged?

The fact was that my reasons for having a driver in Asia were completely free from concerns for my luxury. The last time I drove myself I found a police officer and his service moped on my bonnet (he had ridden into the intersection against a red light, not expecting my German lack of respect for official authority). This experience taught me one important lesson: my Thai language skills are perfect when it comes to getting me in trouble. On their own, though, they are totally inadequate for talking me out of trouble of any kind. All that helped here was paying generous compensation for damages right there on the spot.

I have had a driver ever since. He gets to argue with his fellow countrymen while I can relax in the back seat of my Honda Accord and make a few phone calls!

But everything has its price. Especially the “luxury” of a private driver. This only becomes evident as you realize once again that the genius behind the wheel (yes, he has a driving licence) has once again lost his way. No matter how much I beg, threaten, or offer corrections from the back seat, my driver automatically switches on tunnel vision mode and just keeps on driving in the wrong direction, apparently hoping that eventually he’ll remember the right route.

In the best-case scenario, this will occur within 30 minutes of “city touring”, but usually far from the destination. One time I was left with no other choice than shouting an unequivocal “STOP NOW!” and ordering him to sit in the rear seat as I took over the wheel.

As you might imagine, my readily obvious doubts about his local knowledge presented themselves as the perfect opportunity to look for a new job once we arrived at my office.

There was a time when I had to ask the driver, who was nervously weaving in and out of traffic, to just let me drive a while. He in fact had to relieve himself at a soup stand on the roadside and would catch up with me later (since we weren’t moving much in the traffic jam). It worked, by the way. Several minutes later and just 300 metres down the road, I saw him running up to the car in the rear-view mirror, ready once again to take over the wheel of my Honda.

Okay, that works. A colleague told me that his faithful driver has on occasion relieved himself into an empty water bottle which he then disposed of at the next filling station. It was a good thing, he commented sarcastically, that he could manage to aim so well into the water bottle and didn’t need to carry an empty Granini bottle instead.

The fun we professionals have when exchanging such experiences is mutual, a fact which becomes clear when talk turns to other “little events”. For example, someone once used the marked company car to deliver stolen goods to his petty crook buddies during breaks and waiting times. At least, that’s what a friendly police officer reported, with a slightly reproachful look. It’s a good thing that he at least accepted that I wasn’t the leader of the gang.

So, whoever still considers having a driver in the paradise that is Asia to be feudalism is probably confusing two concepts: “Masochism” often comes closer to the truth than “feudalism”.

Incidentally, over the years I once had Mr Toi as my driver for a lengthy period, a little man from Bangkok who spoke English perfectly, and he not only became a true local guide, but also a real friend. He deserves all the glory. He left us one day, became a politician, and now probably makes more money than I do.

I seriously wonder if I should apply to be his driver.