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Saturday, March 2, 2002
Metal horse, stun gun: I'm ready to roll
By AMY CHAVEZ
I have always been hesitant to drive a car in Japan. I'm afraid I'll run over pedestrians. I'm from the countryside in Ohio, where we have no pedestrians, just possums and raccoons. You're allowed to run over them. Sure, I had seen pedestrians before, but they were always on signs. They never actually walked off the sign and crossed the road. So when I came to Japan, I was surprised to see many pedestrians crossing the street.
Then I considered learning how to drive a motorbike. I figured I couldn't run over too many pedestrians, since I could hear them shout, leaving me enough time to swerve and avoid them. Besides, learning to ride a motorbike must be easy -- it's just a horse on wheels. I imagined riding my metal horse on the road with other moving hunks of metal, like a metal horse race. It must be similar to what rush hour was like before they invented the automobile: workers stampeding home on horses.
I had an opportunity to learn to ride a motorcycle when I was in Indonesia, a more chaotic place to learn but more convenient because you don't need a license. When I saw 10-year-old Indonesian kids driving motorcycles, I knew that whoever came up with the idea of vrooming around on a piece of metal must have been a genius.
The first thing I learned is that the less developed the country, the more likely livestock will cross the road in front of you. Indonesia is a country where you experience your food before you eat it. You can be driving along on your motorbike when suddenly, a whole herd of steak will cross the street. Chicken cordon bleu will be blocking traffic. Tomorrow's eggs benedict cackles alongside the road.
The reason for this is simple: free advertising. You have never seen a commercial for rice, have you? That's because the scenery along the road is just one big rice commercial working on your subconscious. It's practically brainwashing. No wonder we eat three meals a day! That's also why there are so many pizza commercials. Pizza doesn't grow in fields, so people don't order it until they see a pizza commercial on TV. These ads are most often aired at night, when no one can see the free advertising for rice and steak anymore.
Once I learned to navigate around livestock, the next thing to learn was how to follow directions. In Ohio, we have landmarks. Even in the middle of the countryside anyone can understand the simple directions: turn right at the Disney Store, then left at McDonald's. Any child in any part of the world who watches TV could follow the directions around Ohio without ever having been there. But in Indonesia, there are no landmarks, because there are no buildings. Directions tend to be, "Go that way." So I tried to make my own landmarks. "Remember to turn right at that food cart," I told myself. But I soon realized there was a food cart on every corner. Was that a right at the fried banana cart, the fried tofu cart or the fried rice cart? Finally, I changed my strategy to potholes and puddles: turn right at the double-wide pothole, then left at the kidney-shaped puddle.
Everyone in Indonesia uses the horn when riding a motorbike. Although I have found the horn to be very useful, when it comes to deaf Indonesian chickens and dogs wandering across the road, a stun gun would be better. With a laser stun gun mounted in the headlight, you could stun them before they even put a foot into your lane.
I came back feeling very confident with my motorbike driving skills and ready to hit the streets in Japan. With my new stun gun, I'm even ready to navigate the pedestrians.
Contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com