And sometimes, Taiwan eats you [Part 1]
So there’s been quite the saga unfolding for me here over the past couple of months. But due to the nature of said saga, I’ve chosen to be hush-hush about it on our little blog. But it finally came to its ultimate resting place yesterday afternoon; and so now I can finally open up to you, the dear readers, about what exactly has been going on, and why I’m suddenly quite a bit lighter in the pocketbook.
As you’ll no doubt recall, I was in a bad scooter accident a little more than two months ago (it was a riveting three-part series on this very blog!). Long story short, I was driving through a big intersection where the street narrows – from having scooter lanes on my initial side to not having them on the other side. I was angled left to accommodate this narrowing; I also briefly entertained the notion of getting gas at the service station on the opposite corner from me, so I may have been angled slightly more left than normal. But this woman comes flying up beside me on the left, too close and too fast. We both notice that we’re headed for disaster, she tries to angle more to the left, but her back tire clips my front tire, and it’s all over… She falls immediately to the left, her scooter crashing onto her ankle; my scooter hits her fallen bike, and I go flying off, burn my leg against her muffler mid-air, and land on my head in the middle of the street. I jump up immediately, help the woman’s bike off of her leg, and the next few hours were a blur of cops and hospitals and breathalyzer tests (it was 10:30 in the morning, so no, I had not been drinking, thankyouverymuch). Anyway, if you want to read the full account and you have some time to kill, I highly suggest you do. (Part I, Part II, Part III). It’s compelling and rich. Or some such.
There was a little paragraph in Part 3 that, at the time, might have seemed a bit innocuous. Let’s revisit it, shall we…
I have heard time and time again (and even noticed myself to a small degree) that the Taiwanese are notorious for looking for and pouncing on any and every opportunity to get money. They’re wonderfully nice, happy people, but when money gets involved, they apparently turn bloodthirsty and will exercise any and all methods to obtain said money. And maybe my [Western] friends are paranoid, but they’ve told me that this is true especially when the Taiwanese think they can get money from a white person, because they assume we’re all rich saps.
In fact, this little paragraph was quite the foreshadowing nugget of doom, and the emotional tumult over the last two months has been decidedly un-fun.
Less than a day after I’d written this, I received a call from a private number. Never one to turn down intrigue, I answered. A woman in broken English asked if I was Nick. I confirmed, and she proceeded to tell me that she was a friend of the lady that I’d “hit” with my scooter (let’s call her Lying Vengeful Sourfaced Lady Phyllis henceforth, because I don’t know anyone with that name to offend). The friend said that Phyllis worked at a department store, where she was on her feet all day; she had broken her ankle in the wreck, and the doctor said she wouldn’t be able to work for four months. And so, the friend said, Phyllis wants to know how much you’re willing to give her as compensation.
In a rare instance of intelligent reticence from me, I told the friend that I would have to speak to some people first, and that I’d get back to her the next week. I wasn’t avoiding the issue – I was just blindsided, stunned, saddened, and a little guilty; but I was also a smidge incredulous.
So many emotions were flowing through me after I hung up the phone. I felt horribly for this woman’s alleged injury and alleged loss of earnings, especially since my only keepsake from the wreck was a badly burned spot on my leg.
I also felt incredibly helpless, since I wasn’t exactly rolling in the dough at the time (still not); even if I decided (or it was decided for me) to give Phyllis some money, I didn’t really have any money to give.
And then there were the echoes. The echoes of all of my friends telling me to watch out for just this sort of thing. “Yeah,” I could hear in Simon’s British accent. “Watch out. She’ll probably come after you wanting money, no matter what the truth is. She sees you – you’re white, you’re young, you’re handsome [his words], she’ll think you have a lot of money. All of her friends are telling her to get everything she can from you. Just be careful.”
I actually saw Simon that night. I told him the tale. Using some choice words I don’t care to repeat here, he said that Phyllis was almost assuredly an unsavory character up to no good. I told several other people that evening and over the course of the next few days – not in an effort to earn their pity, mind you, but to seek their advice. One guy told me that he’d gone through the same thing in Taipei and ended up having to pay the Taiwanese person a hefty chunk of change.
The thing is, I didn’t know how to feel. Do I believe this woman? Do I accept that she has a broken ankle and offer her some money? Or do I follow the advice of every single one of my friends (my Taiwanese friends included), which was to tell her to kindly go elsewhere and hassle me no more.
I ultimately decided to go with Option B, and there were two pretty substantial reasons: 1) Remember, I visited her in the hospital 45 minutes after the wreck. I knew her bike had fallen on her ankle. And so, while seeing her lying in her ER resting bed, I made a point to look at this ankle and take some mental notes, just in case. I mostly was looking for swelling, and I saw none. Not a bit. If her ankle was really broken, that thing would have ballooned up in a matter of minutes. But still, it could have been broken. She could have had a magical delayed reaction to the break. And that brings us to reason #2) Even if Phyllis was hurt, even if her ankle was broken, there was one major detail that I had to be reminded of: The accident wasn’t my fault. I was probably angled a bit too far left, and she was definitely speeding and passing too close, and boom… it happened. The police report said it was both drivers’ faults, and they wouldn’t assign more blame on one than the other. So while I could feel badly for her and hope inside that she was back on her feet soon, I felt I was under no legal – or moral – obligation to pay for her bad luck. And the fact that she and her friends were acting like it was an agreed-upon conclusion that I had hit her and caused all this ruckus made me all the more reluctant to play nicely at all.
I told the appropriate people at school (my Chinese staff, my boss, and the big boss), and they had my back, 100%. They told me to redirect anyone who contacted me on Phyllis’ behalf to the school, and they would guide me from there.
That was indeed a blessing, because as anyone reading this can attest, it’s hard enough dealing with the aftermaths of a wreck in your own language and your own legal system and your own culture. Dealing with one here includes a different language, a different legal system, and a completely different culture. The Chinese staff at school dealt with the brunt of the back-and-forth over the next month or so, and I’m pretty sure they only told me what I needed to know. It was the biggest of favors, and one for which I will always be in their debts.
I actually pushed the whole ordeal to the back of my mind and didn’t worry about it all that often. As far as I knew, things were under control, my school had my back. It looked like I, unlike so many westerners before me, might avoid being visited upon by the Scooter Wreck Demons and their money-sucking Dustbusters (which are no doubt made in Taiwan).
And then I got the summons in the mail. Phyllis apparently had the taste for blood, and she’d decided to get the government involved. I was to appear at the main district police station on October 14th, whereupon we would have ourselves an official “mediation.”
And, oh, what fun it was…