Tuesday, September 19, 2006

where’s my exosuit when i need it?

I love living in Malaysia, but I can not understand how people drive here.

I mean that two ways: a) I can’t understand how they actually physically perform the batsh*t loony toons insane manoeuvers they squeal and wrench and swerve their Proton POSes into, and b) I can’t comprehend how human beings can agree as a society that this is how motor vehicles should be driven.

I will say up front that we often ride in taxis, and taxi drivers in any country usually have whimsical little ways of making the drive fun for themselves, usually by treating the gas and brake like kick drum pedals, but this goes beyond the norm and a lot of this applies to our experience driving in normal peoples’ cars, too. This is an eleven-point breakdown of how our typical Malaysian road experience will go:

1. We stand on the side of the road for about a minute waiting for a taxi, choking and gasping in the noxious fumes as an endless convoy of cement trucks and work vans and other behemoths go rumbling thunderously by at about one mile an hour. I’m exaggerating the number of cement trucks – occasionally there will be a car, a motorcycle or a fat European in an SUV.

2. One of us makes an infinitesimal waving gesture towards a taxi hundreds of yards away, which a split second later swerves wildly to the side of the road and waits for us, causing everyone else on both sides of the street to have to swerve around him.

3. We dash across the street to the taxi, narrowly escaping being flattened by the caravan of roaring cement trucks.

4. The second we close the door the taxi driver swerves violently back into traffic, does a screeching u-turn with his eyes shut tight and speeds off, cutting off anyone who might have happened to be going in either direction during this process, and somehow narrowly avoiding the five other taxis who are doing the same thing at the same time.

5. We tear ass along the highway at speeds only limited by the facts that the car is a hunk of junk and that every single other motorist in front of us is trying to occupy at least two lanes via aggressive swerving and weaving tactics.

6. Our taxi driver attempts to counter this by swerving even more wildly, driving in between other cars, running motorcyclists off the shoulder, and riding people’s bumpers.

7. We almost die in horrible accidents about six to eight times, each time missing death by mere inches. At no point does anyone involved look in any of their mirrors or turn their head in any direction at all. Ever.

8. I begin to get nauseous. The keening Indian music on the radio, which seemed cute when we got in the taxi, now seems like the earsplitting death throes of a legion of demonic banshees. I pray for a swift death.

9. For a brief, surreal moment, the swerving stops and all is utterly still as the taxi driver hands over some toll money. Then we’re off and swerving again.

10. We almost die a further three to five times.

11. We reach our destination, toss some money at the cab driver, and stagger unsteadily out into the sane world, shocked to have survived the Auto Apocalypse once again.

The Malaysian government is apparently aware of the problem and are working on it through psy-ops because we are subjected to horrifying, maudlin TV commercials which are of the same genre as the old driver’s ed. standbys such as “Blood on the Dashboard”. There is even some sort of government website where you’re encouraged to post pictures of offensive drivers or something. I will leave you with this quote from one of that site’s forums, which I think puts the Malaysian pedestrian’s suicidal dilemma nicely and also, I think, captures some of the adorable, quirky style of Malaysian English:

It is sad to say Malaysian motorists will never respect pedestrian and zebra crossing. Try crossing them when pedestrian light is still blinking. The main culprits are the motorcyclists. They will zoom past you in every nooks and corner in a threatening manner as though as you are not existing, and continuously honking at you. Say me bad or whatever without sympathetic heart...if they were knock down by other vehicles, they deserve it.

Vehicles are no better. They just stop right on top of the pedestrian/zebra crossing while waiting for the green light to turn.

When Malaysian drivers and motorcyclists will learn?

When, oh when indeed.


Jinna said...

My favorite part: "pedestrian/zebra crossing."

Reminds me of Cairo -- traffic signals there are more like suggestions, less like rules of law.

Seriously, though, this would freak me out.

kimbo said...

Alex looked a bit white when we left the taxi last night. I had no idea he was going to lay it all out for you. But, I second his story. That's pretty much how it goes. This past summer I was actually scared to drive in the US because driving here had made me so nervous.

The lack of any sort of head-turning by any of the drivers involved (while we are swiveling back and forth like tennis spectators in the back seat) and the apparant uselessness of any and all mirrors is especially frightening. Basically everything outside the car is one giant blind spot as far as Malaysian drivers are concerned.

albtraum said...

jinna - I used my special powers to delete your double post.

Anonymous said...

You gotta get behind the wheel. That is where all the fun is. I love driving here because I can do anything I want. Have you ever noticed how few accidents you actually see. In the states, you see accidents on the side of the rode all the time...here rarely.

Wait till you get back from Vietnam. It will blow your mind. It is completely insane.

albtraum said...

beez you know you're right, it does seem like you see more roadside accidents in the States.

So... I just looked around on Google for a minute hoping to find statistics on which country, the US or Malaysia had more traffic accidents...

what I didn't expect to find is that Malaysia is THE WORST COUNTRY IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. At least it was in 2003. Yikes.

albtraum said...

Note: On second thought, looking at that chart I guess that's not every country in the world, just the major industrialized ones or something. Maybe those are the only ones that report traffic fatalities. But still.

And another thing about those statistics now that I look at them... among the nearest runners-up are Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus.

I assume that those are up there because all the drivers in those countries are hammered on vodka most of the day. Malays don't drink. So... what's their excuse?


kimbo said...

Oh my! I never would have expected the worst in the world! That's a scary thought...

Jinna said...

Sorry this is off topic -- how do you delete double posts?

albtraum said...

when you're logged in to blogger.com and you look at comments posted on your own blog or comments you've posted on other people's (I think), a little trash can icon should appear under each one.

Jinna said...

Thank you thank you!

Fiwibabe said...

Alex - you are seriously funny writer. Why oh why are you going into teaching????

No, kidding, you'll be fabulous. Nice to know KL traffic hasn't changed. It prepared me well for Manila traffic - not only do they drive on your side of the road, they are super spastic as well. I love it. At least when I give drivers the finger here, I don't really offend as badly as I did the Malays.