Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Always an Accident Somewhere

Nice day, Monday. Took my son to the university with me and on the way we witnessed two small accidents, of the kind that happen every minute on The Beautiful Island. The accidents occurred within a 200 meter stretch of the same road in Wufeng that winds along the base of the mountains of there, connecting houses, factories, warehouses, and ultimately, Chaoyang University.

The first accident was almost a stereotype: an old man on motorcycle hits large expensive car.


The second accident was opaque to me when I first saw it. Couldn't figure out why it happened. Looking at the picture, I realized he must have been going fairly fast when he hit the pole, which is why he bounced into the road at that funny angle.


The passenger of the second car was walking up and down the road, banging on windows, asking if anyone knew the number of the tow truck....

Why does Taiwan have so many accidents? One reason is, of course, land use laws. Another is the lack of police enforcement of the law, except on the highways, where the police do a pretty good job. Awful driver's training, and indifference to the needs of others, are additional explanatory factors. Yet another reason, though, is the problem of rewarding behavior that is then repeated...

A couple of years ago I went out to eat with a friend, Charles, who, like me, has a daughter in the local school system. Charles brought along an assignment from school. The question discussed a young man who was studying at home for an important test. The people next door were playing music loudly, and the lad couldn't study. Should I call the police? he suggested to his father. Dad berated him for being impolite.

In most of our home cultures, to impose on others is an impoliteness. But in Taiwan, politeness runs in the other direction: when someone else imposes on you, you're supposed to give way. That's politeness. Probably everyone here has noticed the incredible difficulty that Taiwanese have in saying "no." Their definition of politeness is different than ours, and the result is the incredible tolerance they have for foreigners.

On the roads, though, it simply encourages lawlessness. Everyone drives knows the daily frustration of waiting patiently in a line of vehicles for a light or an exit, while some jerk passes the entire line and squeezes in at the front. Incredibly, someone always lets them in. Every day we see similar impositions on the politeness of others on the roads. And we've all said to ourselves: that behavior would never be tolerated at home. Somebody would certainly abuse the perp. Not here in Taiwan, where one must accept impositions. As we know, since that behavior is rewarded, it is repeated. And thus, it continues....

4 comments:

Red A said...

I was told by a professor that most fatal accidents involve 18 year olds hitting 82 year olds.

Now, since I know you aren't from California, I should let you know our slogan: Courtesy is contagious.

And they need stop signs here, bad.

Michael Turton said...

LOL. Think anyone would pay attention to stop signs?

Courtesy is contagious. Hasn't worked for me yet....so I find myself becoming more and more like them. Aaaaauuuggh!

Anonymous said...

I find driving in the States ... rather dull anymore...

--the former native driver

s.v. said...

I really think that driving is one of the few forms of true self-expression here in TW. It's a chance for the average "Taiwan people" to be creative and really let their inner asshole take over. I just imagine your average TW driver venting all their pent up hostility out on the road where they are relatively anonymous. At least I hope that's the case as the only other possible cause is utter stupidity.