How to survive driving in Asia: biggest vehicle has right of the way

Fri, 12/30/2016 - 02:05

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 memorise.

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 parts of India. I speak of hijras, people born male who grow up to wear make-up and sarees. They have traditionally been paid to congregate outside the homes of tax-dodgers, who race to the inland revenue offices to pay up before neighbours 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.
(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments his Facebook page)

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