Posted by: Ted | May 16, 2008

We Met by Accident

“Excuse sir, you wife motobike? She accident maybe I no sure. Police say you go Kodak shop on beach road now pleese”. Regardless of what it might mean or whether there is a mistake, that phrase is sobering enough to ruin the most perfect Patron tequila buzz. I’m in the open air lobby of a local Ao Nang hotel using their Wi-Fi connection when synchronizing emails is no longer important. Cut to Ted cramming everything into a day pack and standing in the road flagging down the first empty Tuk-Tuk for a ride. No time to negotiate, just get me there. “Can you GET ME THERE? Does this thing have more than one gear?!?!”

Pulling up to the scene of what I hope is a mistake I see police directing traffic on the busy 2-lane beach road of Ao Nang, Thailand, a car and motorbike on the side of the road and Heather standing in tears with open arms awaiting a hug. She’s been in a motorbike accident and the car won.

Strangely , the bike is in perfect condition and except for a scrape, some bumps and a couple of minor bruises, Heather is fine.

It is moments like this that define love and remind you of what is important. Not the house or car. Not the new shoes you got on sale at Nordstroms. Not the decadent dinner and wine you enjoyed last night at the most incredible restaurant in town. LIFE, LOVE, HEALTH and the JOY of being alive. Luckily, we still have all of them so let’s sort out the situation. During the next thirty minutes, Heather, the Police and the driver of the other car explain the scenario to me. Trouble is, they are all slightly different and I am being forced to make immediate decisions on the differing data.

In Thailand, a traffic accident scenario is very different from what we are used to in the United States. First, there are different classes of insurance. Technically we have no insurance since the bike was rented from the hotel, but it is covered by their 3rd Class Insurance. This covers people but no property or vehicles. The other driver, a Polish citizen on a 12-month temporary work visa, has borrowed the car from his Thai mother-in-law and also has 3rd Class Insurance. Second, the police are asking for an immediate resolution on the scene. Either agree to the amount of damages on the spot and pay them or we all go to the Police Station for reports and further negotiations. It has been determined that the accident is ‘at-fault’ to Heather so they want us to make amends. We’re not Thai so the odds are stacked against us. Luckily, the other driver is not Thai so it’s an evenly fitted match. The question is: How do you resolve this on an accident scene? Simple. The Police officer calls his buddy “Mr. Mechanic” to come onsite and give an estimate. So after about an hour, we have an estimate of 10,000baht for damages or roughly $330. Sure, you’re thinking pay it and get the heck out, right? Wrong. We’ve been in country long enough to know that this is the opening bid and your worries are not over yet. If you agree, they will rethink it and decide it was wrong. Before you know if you’re paying two, three, four times that amount and let’s not forget the kick-back going to Mr. Police Officer who called his buddy “Mr. Mechanic” for help. We refuse the offer and he leaves. Now the Police are irritated. Chances are they won’t make any money on this deal, no Thai citizens are directly involved and they really don’t want to waste their time while a couple of “Farangs” (westerners) argue over collision settlements. This doesn’t really concern them now so they just want the 2-lane road cleared. It’s nearing the busiest time of day, traffic is picking up and we’ve got 50% of the road blocked. So everyone moves to the Police Station down the road to talk further.

Waiting at the Police Station, relatives start arriving. Any social event in Asian cultures is a family affair. As more and more relatives start arriving we call the owner of our hotel who graciously tells us “don’t move, I’m on the way and I will handle this”. For the next hour we sit inside as more people arrive. The other driver has about eight family members onsite for support. Everyone is negotiating in Thai, accepting and rejecting offers. The brother of our hotel manager arrives who has a mechanic friend and insists that the 10,000 baht estimate is grossly over priced. Fourteen people are staring at the wreckage and suggesting solutions. The police finally take a report and tell us to basically go figure it out ourselves but we cannot leave until we have an agreement. The agreement? Let’s all go to the mechanic to get a final estimate and we will pay that amount. Problem is, it is located in the next town 30 minutes drive away. So what do we do? Heather and I actually get IN the wrecked car with the driver of the other vehicle and HE drives us 30 minutes to the mechanic! Imagine the awkwardness of holding a 30-minute conversation in the car of the guy you just hit while in the middle of financial negotiations! “Uh, so. Uh. How long have you, uh, been in Thailand? Oh, that’s nice. And, uh, you say you, uh, have a little girl, huh? Oh, that’s sweet.” This has to be the most unintelligent conversation you have ever attempted but you figure it’s better than sitting in silence and maybe, just maybe he will like you more and be a little easier to negotiate with. Sure. Whatever helps you keep going.

Arriving at the mechanic, nearly four hours have passed, it is after 7pm and he has closed for the day to attend a wedding. You have no choice but to pack it up and try again tomorrow. Where does that leave us? He has to drive us thirty minutes BACK to the other town to drop us off at the Police station! He even has to stop for gas! Talk about awkward situations; are you supposed to pay for some gas or offer to help out with the cost? We opt to shut up and ride. “Uh, wow, gasoline is more expensive here then I would have imagined. Gee. Uh, and you, uh, said your daughter is almost two, huh? Well I bet you are proud of her, huh?” Back at the Police Station, we exchange numbers and agree to talk by phone the next day. He will get the estimate, we will verify the amount with the brother of our hotel owner and pay it. Next day we get a call from the hotel, not him. They tell us that the owner has “handled” the situation. The final agreement is 6000 baht (about $200US), not the original 10,000 baht and that we are not to talk to the other side. We are instructed to bring the money to the front desk and they will handle everything from that point. Relieved, we rush downstairs, pay the amount requested and exhale a long sigh of relief. There is obviously some sort of settlement and ‘pay off’ buried in this amount but how can you argue too much about a $200 accident settlement? The door, front fender and bumper were smashed and in the U.S. we would easily be at about $2,000 with a $250 deductible. After paying the $200, the only question was “Where’s the bar, it’s celebration time.”

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