Friday, June 1, 2018

A Migrant and a Farang on a Scooter By Loïc A. Mercier

From June to December 2017, I was living in the town of Mae Sot, on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Along with three other students from Bishop’s and Champlain, I was living in a traditional Thai house while teaching English to Burmese migrants. The person who influenced my experience the most there was an ex student from one of the learning centers where I was teaching. From our first encounter, we realized we had very similar interests. At the time we met, he was battling severe depression and was recovering from a suicide attempt. Through the sharing of our stories and life experiences, we quickly became brothers. I was amazed to realize that even though we had grown up in completely different social contexts, we had an extremely similar personality and sense of humour. When I think about the feeling of riding a motorbike, I imagine myself with AK in the back, wind in my face, wearing nothing but flip-flops, a t-shirt and still-wet board-shorts going 105 km/h at full throttle on the highway. During our first weeks together, we did several scooter trips. During my interview, when I asked him which trip was the most memorable, his answer didn’t surprise me. About one month after our first encounter, we decided to rent a 125cc Honda Click scooter and ride 350km through the mountains to the great fortified city of Chiang Mai.

AK & I
Why was it so memorable? “The fact that we were just two guys who without much forethought decided to hop on a scooter and ride until we reached our destination.” -AK This is a memory that we both cherish fondly; there was no stopping or turning back. We left right after school so around 10:30, we had over six hours of riding behind us. In the distance in front of us, saw police lights and what could either have been ambulance or fire truck beacons. Knowing that the legality of us riding without much of a real motorbike licence and the fact that AK’s documentation doesn’t allow him to wander into the country could put us in a delicate situation; we clenched our shoulders and slowed down. As we got closer, it became more evident that the beacons came form an ambulance and that there had been an accident. It is important to know that AK has a particular fear of ambulances due to past trauma. I remember driving by slowly and suddenly feeling AK dig his fingers into my shoulders, I looked to the side of the road, merely meters away and I understood why the sudden shock. There was a very dead man lying awkwardly on the pavement. His skull had been heavily damaged. Though we only saw the image for a fraction of a second, neither AK nor I could ever forget it. After driving past the site, I remember feeling wide-awake. My average speed dropped to 60km/h and I could hear my heart pumping. It took several minutes before AK unclenched his hands from my shoulders. I remember having shivers running through my whole body for several kilometers after the incident.

Coffee Anyone?
“It was weird low-point in our trip. It really made us aware of the risks of what we were doing; aware of how fast one can go from being alive to very, very dead.” – AK I remember the last 100km with quite vivid detail. Until then, we had been switching drivers every hour but around midnight, the adrenaline rush from seeing a dead body had really drained AK and he was much too tired to drive. Pumped on M-150s (most popular Thai energy drink.) I remember feeling cold and tired, the cold night air hitting my chest full force and seemingly going right through my blazer. The most tiring part was that AK was falling asleep on the back and his helmet was pushing against the back of mine, pushing the visor and obstructing my visibility. When we finally arrived at our 200 baht per night pre-booked motel (200 baht = 8 CAD,) we just couldn’t go to sleep. We still had an hour before the bars and nightclubs closed their doors. We wiped the road-tar off our face and hopped back onto the motorbike, destination Differ Inc nightclub. “We couldn’t just go to bed. We had finally arrived.” –AK That thrill of having reached our goal in itself was to exciting to let us sleep.

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We spent two days in Chiang Mai and rode back at the end of the weekend. The sun was shining and we managed to cut two hours off of the time it had taken us to get there. Somehow though, the exhaustion of riding at night past police checkpoints and the sight of a deadly accident made the expedition there feel much more rewarding than the trip coming back. The situation of Burmese migrants does not always allow for them to have such traveling experiences. The lack of documentation, and even lack of budget makes experiences like these rare and hard to come by. Doing trips like this by bus or taxi would be impossible. The motorbike made this experience possible. Like a kid exploring the block on his bicycle for the first time, “We felt independent. We were alone. This was our project.” -AK With that sense of independence, came a very big feeling of responsibility. It made us understand how rewarding it feels to free ourselves from our daily routine and at the same time, gave us a sense of the fragility of human life. AK and I have come to the conclusion that life is precious; and if we are liable to dying at any moment, dying behind the handlebars of a scooter in Thailand seems like a fulfilling way to go.


A special thank you to AK for taking the time to reminisce with me and help me complete this project.

About Loïc A. Mercier

Loïc A. Mercier studied at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. A Migrant and a Farang on a Scooter was written as part of a class activity for a course titled Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Studies in the Department of Humanities.

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