Thursday, December 01, 2005

Car Wreck Top 5. Number 4: Car vs. bicycle

If you think the Mini Cooper is small and cute, you should see the mini cars people drive in Japan. Absolutely adorable. The cars are so small, you might be tempted to say something like this: "Man, if one of those things hits me, I don't know what will sustain more damage, the car or me." Soon after you say that, you will learn something about karma or fate or some other Asian philosphical principle that teaches you to keep your mouth shut and not invite trouble.

I said those exact words one afternoon seven years ago while walking the streets of Numazu with my new roommate Colin during my first week in Japan. I had just moved there to "teach English," which actually turned out to mean "to learn Japanese pick-up lines." Things rarely mean what you intend them to mean in Japan.

Colin and I were walking around, trying to figure out the quickest way to the train station from our apartment building. Or were we trying to find our way back to the apartment from a bar we had just visited at 11 in the morning? Either way, we noticed all these little cars driving around and I thought it would be funny to jump in the road to see if I could stop one the way the Incredible Hulk would stop a tank. I didn't do it, but the very next day it was done to me.

The next morning was drizzly, and for some reason I was heading to work late, so I jumped on my bicycle and peddled to the station. At one intersection I saw a car pulling up to the stop sign so I kept going. The driver didn't see me and drove right into my side. Turns out stopping a mini Japanese car is not so easy. I flew off my bike right into a puddle. The driver, a middle age woman, jumped out, hysterical. I had no idea what she was saying. Was it, "I'm so sorry, here let me take you to the hospital" or was it, "you idiot, give me your passport so that I can report you and have you deported"? Both of those phrases sound suspiciously similar when the only things you know how to say in a language are "can I buy you a beer" and "where's the bathroom"?

Anyway, I jumped up and picked up my now-wobbly bike and managed the only other Japanese word I knew: "sumimasen," which is roughly "excuse me" or "my bad." I cycled off before she could grab my passport or stuff wads of money into my pocket, whichever she was trying to do. When I got to work I laughed about the incident with the Japanese staff. They thought I was in shock. An hour later, my elbow stiffened up and I couldn't bend it. The Japanese staff insisted I go to the hospital, immediately. Fine, I thought, and allowed myself to be escorted by one of the cute sales staff girls to the hospital right across the street, where I was given two things: an x-ray and the opportunity to flirt with the nurses. Oh, and some drugs of some sort that didn't have much effect, maybe as much as a bullet might have on the Hulk.

Months later I was looking for a promotion. My superior had one concern. In my first week of work for the company, apparantly I had an unexcused absense. Why hadn't I come in on such-and-such day, he asked. I had already forgotten about the accident, but when I didn't get the promotion, I realized it must have been karma or fate or some such thing.


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