Yesterday I was on the road 108 in Chiang Mai, towards Central Airport Plaza. Suddenly the traffic opened up, and there was plenty of open road to drive on. I speeded up a bit. And then, to my horror, a man was running out in the middle of the road. With a whistle in his mouth and the palm in my direction, I realised this was one of the security guards from Toyota suddenly standing in the middle of the road.
Fearless, it seemed like he was at least 20 metres tall, blocking the road to enable his staff to cross it. I hit my break on his order, and with the same speed that he ran out to the street, he was already back in the safety of Toyota.
In a second, the traffic flow was on again. A whistle and a uniform take you a long way in Thailand. There is no doubt that Thailand loves its uniforms, and the security guards adore their whistles.
Culture shock meeting the security guard culture
Coming from informal Sweden, it took some time to get used to gated communities and security guards saluting you with a loud – Sawadee krapooom every time you enter and leave. A taxi driver even questioned why I would say hell to them. In our community, the bike around and help out with everything, including catching snakes and removing dead (unknown) cats from your garden.
Sometimes I find them highly stressful, though, when they overuse their whistle at the parking lots. Sometimes you don’t even know it, but there is suddenly a guy in uniform behind you blowing the whistle while you are backing out or giving you directions on how to back the car into the parking space.
Thai people always prefer to back into parking spaces to drive straight out. And the security guard, the so-called “yam”, is there to make it possible.
The security man that is everywhere
At one particular market, the guard is everywhere. I tend to forget every time I go to my favourite cafe that I have to endure while enjoying my coffee. Last time I got even conspiracy about it. Thinking that he worked for the coffee shop to make sure the customers leave asap. The same guy keeps running into the massage place. I like shouting out numbers of registration plates. The massage lasts for two hours for many, which is the maximum time you can park!
The Yam phenomenon gives me mixed feelings in Thailand. On occasions, they scare the shit out of my daydreaming with their salute and clicked heel whilst screaming out the “krapoom”. But they have heroic patience in an often monotonous work. I admire anyone with ambition. But a bit less of the whistling wouldn’t hurt.
According to Alex Kerr and Very Thai – Everyday Popular Culture in Thailand, this industry comprises 2,000 firms and 200,000 personnel. I don’t doubt it; only in our community we have been through at least ten firms since we moved in 15 years ago.
Yam the song by Labanoon
When I was new to Thailand, this song was so popular. I was still learning Thai and asked friends about the “yam” that Labanoon was singing about. It is basically a love song where the man waits patiently for his love like a 24/7 security guard.