Scooter Wreck! Bloodshed! Carnage! Explosions! (Part II)
And so there I was, at 10:30 in the morning, lying facedown in the street in the middle of a giant intersection in Taiwan. Behind me lie two fallen scooters, engines still futilely churning, like two wounded horses gasping for air on a battlefield. And next to me lie the woman who’d gone down with me. She was still facedown on the street, motionless, and whimpering in agony.
I was on my feet before I knew it. In moments like that, I guess, you don’t really feel pain unless you’re incapacitated. So when I got up and noticed that she was still facedown on the ground, moaning in pain, I was a bit freaked out. But she pointed, and I saw that her scooter had fallen on her ankle. While still a big deal, I was nonetheless relieved she wasn’t pointing at a white light. So I raced over and lifted the scooter off of her and parked it upright. She sat up, and I asked if she was ok, but she just stared through me. Apparently, she wasn’t in the mood to talk to me. In any language.
Less than a minute later, a young Taiwanese couple stopped and ran to help us. The girl (whose name, ironically, was Susan) spoke wonderful English and helped translate between the police and me.
[Sigh] Yes, the police came too. They arrived right after the young couple did. This complicated things a bit. You see, a lot of times over here, people get in wrecks, and the police aren’t called, and the folks involved just get to figure it out for themselves. This is usually the easiest and most preferable way, especially for foreigners. But I guess when someone gets hurt, or if the wreck looks particularly nasty, someone will invariably notify the cops.
Now, for a foreigner to live legally in Taiwan, they need what’s called an ARC (Alien Resident Card); once you have a job in Taiwan and can prove this to the government, you apply for your ARC; and then you wait. It takes anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months; usually it takes right around a month, which is about exactly how long I’ve been waiting. Because Taiwan’s not technically considered a country or some such, most foreigners have to go to Hong Kong or the Philippines to apply for their ARC. But my boss has certain connections, and I haven’t had to go anywhere.
But, I’m still waiting for said ARC, and so I obviously didn’t have it for the cops after the wreck. Also, you have to submit your passport when you apply for your ARC, and so I didn’t have that for the cops either.
You’re also obviously supposed to have a Taiwan driver’s license to legally race around the streets on a scooter here; but 99% of foreigners choose to bypass this formality – this is because most of the police here don’t speak English, and if they pull over a westerner that doesn’t (or pretends to not) speak Chinese, it becomes too much hassle and paperwork for them to bother with; so most of the time, they’ll just let the westerner go with nothing more than a stern look. Now, my school does actually provide outings for new teachers to go get their driver’s licenses, but mine just hasn’t happened to take me to the license shop yet.
So, to recap, very soon, I will have in my possession: 1) my ARC, 2) my passport, and 3) a Taiwan driver’s license.
But, on this particular day, as the morning sun intensified and the woman told the cops she couldn’t stand up, I had to stand there and tell them – through sweet Susan the translator, of course – that I did not have a driver’s license; then, that I didn’t have my ARC yet; and then, that I didn’t even have my passport. All I could give them was my Texas driver’s license, and I don’t think they had any idea what to make of it. They were pulling it close to their eyes and squinting at it, then holding it at arms length, moving their sunglasses up and back down, trying to understand just what the hell this little card said. Obviously, I was starting to get a little worried.
And then the ambulance showed up, singing it’s somber song. Two paramedics jumped out, ran to the back, and pulled out a stretcher. They rolled it over to the woman, hoisted her up and onto it, and whisked her away to the hospital. “Holy crap,” I thought. “This is not good.”
That’s when Susan asked, “Are you hurt? Do you need to go to the hospital, too?”
“Nah,” I answered. “I think I’m fine.” But then, for the first time, I noticed that my lower left leg was stinging a little. I looked down and saw that a fairly large portion of skin down there (maybe 2.5″ x 1.5″) had been burned away. During my flight through the air, my leg must have hit the muffler on the woman’s scooter. Those suckers are hot, and even the briefest moments of contact with them can do some serious damage. My leg couldn’t have touched it for more than a half-second, but the top layer of skin was gone, and the bottom layer wasn’t looking so great either.
I’d also skinned up my left elbow pretty badly, and lost a chunk of skin on the bottom of my left hand. But, thinking like an American, I didn’t think any of it warranted a trip to the hospital. I just planned on going to the nearest pharmacy and getting some ointment and bandages.
Also, to be honest, I was pretty broke that day. After traveling through Europe and Taiwan for three weeks, and then having taught just one class a day for two weeks (and only getting paid for one of those weeks to that point) and paying two months rent on our deposit, my cash situation was dire. I got paid the next day, so don’t worry, faithful readers. But since I didn’t have my ARC, I didn’t have my health insurance card, and so the hospital wouldn’t be cheap. (Well, it still would be incredibly cheap compared to America, but not for me at the time. You get the point.)
The cops pressed on and asked me a few more questions, including, “Have you been drinking at all?” In hindsight, I guess it’s a totally fair question, but it took me aback a little. I laughed and said no. Unconvinced, one cop ran to his car and came back with a black plastic briefcase-looking thing. He opened it up and pulled out a breathalyzer machine.
I lived in New Orleans for seven years, and Austin for another four; in all those years, I never had to take a breathalyzer once. But six weeks into the great Taiwan adventure, there I was, at 10:45 in the morning, on the sunny corner of Cingnian and Mincyuan, blowing into a tube to see if I’d been drinking. I hadn’t, by the way, and I blew a zero.
One of the cops spoke a tiny bit of broken English, and he asked again if I needed to go to the hospital. I again said I’d be ok. Then he said that he’d like me to follow him to the hospital to see the woman in the emergency room. I was a bit perplexed, but as it turns out, this is fairly customary over here. It’s really an astounding thing – if someone gets hurt in an accident, the other person many times will visit them in the hospital, sometimes staying by their side for hours or even days.
So I bid farewell to Susan and her boyfriend, climbed onto my scooter, and followed the cop to the nearest hospital. Now, you may be asking, “Weren’t you a little afraid or gun-shy driving your scooter mere minutes after a nasty accident?” The answer is YES. Holy crap I was skittish. I was also afraid I might run out of gas, since I hadn’t quite made it to the gas station earlier.
But I made it and followed the officer into the emergency room area, to the bed where the woman was lying. He spoke to her a bit in Chinese and then asked if I wanted to say anything to her. Again, I just said, “I’m very, very sorry, and I hope you can accept my apology.” Again, her icy stare went right through me. Then the cop said we could go, and so we left.