June 14, 2006

Road Rage Scooter Style

One of the scariest and most cringe-inducing sounds you will hear is the sound of a car smashing into the plastic shell of a scooter. Following the crunching sound, you will often see someone sitting in the middle of the street, looking dazed, their scooter fallen over nearby. (If you are unlucky, then that person is you.) Most of the scooter accidents I have witnessed have been at very low speeds, and may leave no more than a bruise. However, every time I hear the sound of plastic being crushed, it's as if I'm hearing bones being crushed, and I fear for the worst.

Naturally, the scooter rider is always the victim when a scooter and car crash, regardless of whose fault it was. However, last weekend I witnessed one person's attempt to even things out in an incident of severe road rage. Until then, the only offensive action I had seen a scooter rider take against a car was when one guy threw some batteries at a car.

I was waiting at a red light when I heard the familiar sound of a scooter getting smashed. When I looked over to see what happened, strangely enough, I didn't see any fallen scooter, I just saw a very angry young man, about 17-20 years old, already standing up. His friend pulled the scooter around directly in front of me. The scooter must have been bumped without being toppled, but it had probably knocked off the angry youth who had been sitting behind his friend. He hurriedly pulled something long and thin off of his scooter. As his friend on the scooter looked on expressionlessly, he pulled off the sheath (probably cardboard) of the object to reveal a watermelon knife (西瓜刀), which is a 12-15 inch square blade attached to a wooden handle. He yelled out in rage--I'm not sure if he said something or if he was just yelling. He lifted his blade as if he would bring it down on his victim any moment. I imagined body parts being severed any moment as I looked on.

The car that hit the scooter was farther down the alley. With a bit of relief, I thought, maybe no one will get hacked up, the kid will just hack on the car a little. My first impulse was to follow after the guy with the knife and see what happened, but I would rather keep all my fingers and hands, so I don't know if he caught up with the car or not.

Seeing someone with a 12-inch blade held in the air is a lot scarier than seeing someone pull a baseball bat out of a car. When someone pulls a bat out of a car, he is making a decision to forego the best weapon he has--two tons of steel. With a blade, there seems to be no decision to limit the amount of force. As if compensating for his vulnerability, the scooter rider chose a weapon more dangerous than any car owner is likely to have. (However, if you aren't concerned about looking cool or instilling fear, it might be a good idea to wrap the blade in a sheet of newspaper, as in Hong Kong movies. At the very least, this will lead to a moment of hesitation in the victim, perhaps even convincing him that he can stop the blade with his hands.)

I read at least one article in Taiwan's newspaper a few months ago about youths on scooters (in Hsinchu) randomly hacking at pedestrians late in the night. But the incident I witnessed was even more persuasive in convincing me to avoid provoking other people on the road, even scooter riders, and as a corollary, it's rarely a good idea to gently nudge a fellow scooter rider in the ribs with the scooter's mirrors when he gets way too close. (The mirrors only extend about an inch and half beyond the edges of the handles, but it's still possible.)


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