YEARS ago, after having just earned my first few pay cheques, I ended up at Khao San Road in Bangkok without having a clue as to what the place had to offer.
The only thing I knew about the backpackers’ paradise before I made a last-minute decision to catch a train to the Thai capital was that it is a must-visit place when in the city.
I learnt of the place through meeting the many ang moh (Hokkien for “white men”) who would often end up spending time in the limited number of pubs in Alor Star while on their visa runs to Thailand.
“You must go there,” they said. “It is the best place in the world,” they claimed.
So, there I was one day at Khao San Road, after spending endless hours on the 1,000km train journey from south Thailand all the way up to Bangkok.
I dare say it was the worst train ride I had ever experienced. It all happened because I had ended up listening to the advice of so-called “experienced” travellers, who gave me tips on how I could save a fortune by buying the lowest-class tickets on Thai trains.
“That way, you will also get to meet the locals,” they said, without mentioning that it would also entail me enduring an endless number of stops at every single station all the way to Bangkok.
Eventually, after reaching my destination, I realised that there was only so much one could take of Khao San Road, and after just a few days, I was taken in by yet another tip from the many seasoned travellers who hung out in the limitless number of bars there.
“You must go to Nepal... it is heaven on Earth,” they said, and I was sold.
The very next day, I booked a flight to Kathmandu, again, with no clue whatsoever what the place had to offer, where I would stay and, more importantly, what I intended to do in the Himalayan kingdom.
Nevertheless, after a few days wandering around Kathmandu, I somehow ended up in a place called “Lumbini”, which I found out was the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
While wandering around the beautiful garden amid the tranquil environs in Lumbini, I started snapping away. I came across a sacred bathing pool where I thought Maya Devi had given birth to her son.
I was soon surrounded by a group of excited Japanese tourists, who joined me in marvelling at the sight and took loads of pictures of the pool after I told them that Buddha had been born there.
It was only later that we were all enlightened by someone that the birthplace of Buddha was actually under a tree not far from the pool, and we had been taking pictures in the wrong spot all the while. Needless to say, I made a sheepish getaway from the group to avoid any more embarrassment.
Thinking back on it now, I can only say the chain of events that led me to take the unbearable train ride on a third-class ticket and the experience at Buddha’s birthplace can only be described as doing something based on the “herd mentality”, i.e. following the crowd or being influenced by people to adopt certain behaviours or follow trends without thinking if it is right or wrong.
In short, it means doing something just because everyone is doing it.
This brings us to what happened in Penang and Malacca recently, when two lorry drivers lost it and decided to bulldoze their way through rows of illegally parked vehicles. The reaction of Netizens immediately after the first incident became news was, unsurprisingly, not of anger against the lorry driver, but of support for his action.
Such “goodwill” was also seen after the second incident, when another lorry driver ploughed his way through rows of double- and triple-parked cars along the Sungai Udang-Paya Rumput-Ayer Keroh Highway, while the owners of the vehicles were watching a football match at the nearby Hang Jebat Stadium.
What the inconsiderate motorists did was more than just stalling traffic along the highway. Their action actually reflects what is becoming a daily problem affecting us all.
I call it the “everybody is doing it” syndrome.
Nobody cares whether it is right or wrong, but everyone just follows the “herd mentality”. They go ahead in not only committing an offence, but also inconveniencing everyone else in the process.
It is like the majority of wrongdoers who bully the minority of law-abiders justifying their actions by saying “everybody is doing it”.
I am sure many of us have experienced being boxed in for hours as illegally parked cars block every possible exit. Doubtless, the frustration of encountering selfish drivers who leave no note, no phone number, nothing, on the dashboard to suggest how they can be reached can be overwhelming.
It gets worse when such idiotic drivers also fail to show up despite the incessant, desperate honking to gain their attention.
Back to the cases in Penang and Malacca — police have arrested the lorry drivers, and in the case of the Penang lorry driver, charged him over his “indiscretion”. This is, however, not enough.
It is only right if those whose cars were damaged by the actions of the lorry drivers are also issued summonses for illegally parking their vehicles on the road shoulder.
In fact, if I were the lorry driver, I would counter-sue the owners of the illegally parked vehicles for causing damage, or whatever scratches that were inflicted, to the lorry while it was passing through the area.
But seriously, it is time police and other enforcement authorities, including local councils and the Road Transport Department, go all out and send a strong message that errant motorists who park indiscriminately and break traffic rules will have to pay — and pay dearly.
It is only by hurting habitual traffic offenders through constant summonses and other punitive measures that we will be able to regain our roads. And, perhaps, only then would we also be able to get rid of this ugly Malaysian habit of breaking the law just because “everybody is doing it”.
Sharanjit Singh is a veteran journalist who feels less talk and more action is needed to save planet Earth from mankind