How to sur­vive driv­ing in Asia

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines - Nury Vittachi Send ideas and com­ments via the au­thor’s Face­book page

IM­POR­TANT NOTE TO MO­TORISTS If I turn on the wind­screen wipers of a rental car, this in­di­cates that I am turn­ing right or left; please me­morize.

Mind you, I have just spent time in China, where the High­way Code ap­pears to have only one rule: the big­gest ve­hi­cle has right of way.

Trucks take prece­dence over cars which take prece­dence over mo­tor­bikes which take prece­dence over bi­cy­cles which take prece­dence over hu­mans. If an alien in­ter­ga­lac­tic moth­er­ship landed in that coun­try, all 1.4 bil­lion res­i­dents would au­to­mat­i­cally be found guilty of break­ing the Fail­ing to Get Out of the Way of a Big Flashy Con­veyance Or­di­nance.

Not long ago, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment pro­mul­gated a law re­quir­ing driv­ers to stop at yel­low lights. I hope one day they’ll try to make mo­torists stop at red lights, too.

Yet a cre­ative streak can be seen among the coun­try’s traf­fic cops. In the scooter-dom­i­nated south­ern Chi­nese city of Sanya, po­lice don’t just stop bad driv­ers. They FOL­LOW THEM TO THEIR OF­FICES. They then as­sem­ble the en­tire staff of the com­pany, from bosses to clean­ers, be­fore giv­ing the mo­torist a se­vere scold­ing. The idea is to use the Asian hor­ror of “los­ing face” to scare driv­ers into be­hav­ing. If this hap­pened to me, I’d be on my knees, stuff­ing bribes into the of­fi­cer’s pock­ets. Please! Ex­e­cute me in a sta­dium on live TV in­stead! I beg you!

Re­moval of face as a social tool is also used in In­dia. That coun­try has a le­gal third sex called “hi­jras”, peo­ple born male who grow up to wear make-up and sa­rees. They have tra­di­tion­ally been paid to con­gre­gate out­side the homes of tax­dodgers, who race to the in­land rev­enue of­fices to pay up be­fore neigh­bors ques­tion their mas­culin­ity. But hi­jras are be­com­ing so­cially ac­cept­able, which is surely a good thing, al­though some are an­noyed at the loss of a fun, paid job, and you can see their point. Imag­ine re­ceiv­ing tax­payer cash to hu­mil­i­ate chau­vin­ists!

This colum­nist once in­ter­viewed ac­tor Michael Palin who said that one of the most ter­ri­fy­ing mo­ments of his life was play­ing a hu­mil­i­ated Pon­tius Pi­late fac­ing a huge, laugh­ing crowd. In­stead of start­ing wars against despots, we should just send peo­ple to laugh at them, he said. I know this hap­pens in In­dia, where peo­ple do gather to chuckle as a protest against pow­er­ful cor­po­rate evil­do­ers. Note: Only do this in large groups. Solo ses­sions of politically di­rected hys­ter­i­cal laugh­ter will only get you la­beled “lu­natic”. I know this now.

But go­ing back to driv­ing prob­lems, it is a fact that mo­torists now have an extra chance to get on the right side of traf­fic cops. COP: We saw you driv­ing er­rat­i­cally and hold­ing your phone. ME: Sorry, I was play­ing Poke­mon Go and saw an Ar­ti­c­uno. COP: It is against the law to --- you say you saw an Ar­ti­c­uno? Where ex­actly was this Ar­ti­c­uno?

In­ci­den­tally, please note that talk­ing to traf­fic cops is an art in it­self. If you re­mem­ber noth­ing else from this col­umn, re­mem­ber this: When a cop says: “Do I look stupid to you?” it is a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion. I know this now. You’re wel­come. —

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