Today I went running
with a couple of guys. A nice long easy run, in preparation for the track meet
s coming up. We went all over the outskirts of Taichung
, almost to the mountains
. Then we ran back. We were almost done with our run.
Accidents in Taiwan, especially scooter collisions, are as common as roadkill in the North Atlantic region of the United States that I come from. They are something you pass by quite regularly, sometimes resolved, sometimes fresh. They are something you sometimes dramatically witness. They are not something you want to be involved with.
As we approached our starting point, we were running down the shoulder of a wide, mostly empty road. One of the two guys was running on the outside, apparently looking ahead at an intersection. A scooter approached from behind, zooming down the road in that characteristic scooter way.
That's when my running buddy, looking ahead, decides to dart across the road. Directly in the path of the scooter. I have no more time to shout a warning than the scooter rider has to react. He simultaneously brakes and swerves horrifically. He wipes out completely. Scooter and man slide sickeningly across the pavement, coming to a stop a few yards in front of me. I am subliminally reminded of so many physics problems... Mass, velocity, force, momentum, gravity, vectors, coefficient of friction. (Wang Chi-Ho weighs 55 kg. He and his scooter wipe out on asphalt pavement with a 2 degree grade travelling at 80 km/hr. At what time will Wang come to a stop and what will his displacement be? Ugh!)
The three, no, the four of us are completely stunned. Here we are, on an almost empty road, dressed out in our running clothes, only somehow none of us are running anymore. Directly before us, motionless, lies the twisted, still form of a man, lying face-first on the road, his scooter on top of him. The situation seems utterly beyond me, utterly detached. This is something that happens in movies, on highways, to bus-drivers and gravel-trucks and drunk drivers. Not to a couple three high-schoolers taking a run. For maybe ten seconds we stand there, taking the situation in, stunned.
Finally, we begin to collect our wits. One of us picks the scooter up, that had been pinning the man's leg. After half a minute or so, the man began to stir. Another scooter, with a woman, pulled to a halt. She asks us in English, "911?" and pulls out her cell phone. She stays away, but makes the call. With the scooter out of the way, we shield the traffic and help gingerly move the man into a better position. I see his face; he has a large, swollen, bloody gash under his eye. He tries to get to his feet. Very carefully, by degrees, we support him until he attains a standing position. Betelnuts spill out of his pocket all over the road. None of us feel qualified to handle the situation. All we ever learned about first aid, procedure, and whatnot now seems lame and useless. The man can't seem to put any weight on his right foot, so we help him to the side of the road. We try to get him to sit down, but he never does. He examines a hand; it is a little bloody too, but seems intact. We apologize in Chinese, but that again seems so impossible. None of us has excellent Chinese, mine was the best of us three. Yet had this Taiwanese man understood English, I would have been just as at loss for words. What do you say? "Dui bu chi," repeats my running partner who caused the whole incident. Sorry. It's all he can think to say, in Mandarin. "My God. Damn," I mutter to myself in English. "Pai say," I repeat to him in Taiwanese. It's one of the tiny handful of Taiwanese phrases I know, but it is the best phrase in my vocabulary for the situation. "Shr wo men de tswo." I say in Mandarin. It's our fault. He hobbles. He examines himself, he examines his scooter. The few rubberneckers who had gathered zipped off, not wanting to get involved. The lady with the cell phone remained, talking to an emergency dispatcher. "Foreigners," she said in Mandarin, "three foreigners." Still the man is silent. He makes an ambiguous motion at us, and plops back on his scooter. We protest in our lame Mandarin. He revs the engine, which growls back to life. "Shr wo men de tswo." I tell him. "Bu shin," I tell him. The women gabbles a couple phrases at him, but he ignores her and slowly eases down the road. We watch as he stops at the next light, then disappears.
The lady with the cell phone has already called off the ambulence. "Dze me le?" I ask her. What next? She shrugs. The three of us remain standing silently at the side of the road as the woman buzzes off. Traffic continues blithely by. There is no sign of anything abnormal, other than perfectly good betelnut strewn across the road.
Somewhere in the city, there is a middle-aged Taiwanese man. He's got a terrific gash on his face. He has cuts on his hand. He can't stand on his right leg. Who knows what abrasions and burns he has under his clothes, what bruises, strains, sprains, tears, even breaks he has. He will minimally be in pain for days. He will have a visible scar on his face for life.
Why did he drive off? Why wouldn't he? Nobody witnessed his accident but three foreign males. Three unscathed foreign males. Probably he didn't trust us. Probably he was intimidated. He just wanted to handle his misfortune on his own. We might have claimed to had nothing to do with his accident, we might have teamed up and said he wiped out completely on his own; there would be no evidence to the contrary, none at all. We might have done worse. Probably he was on betelnut, possibly even alcohol. He could have got in trouble. I don't like to think so. Maybe he had no insurance. But it was clearly our fault, or I should say, my companion's fault. And the man just left. Never said a word, never even whimpered. Hit and run in reverse. And there was nothing we could do about it.
After a while, we stopped standing there, staring at the traffic running past, staring at the clouds in the sky, and at the lights changing from green to amber to red. We started running again.