Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Never In Sri Lanka - The One About The Vicious Circle

I get into work early, about 6 - 6.15 AM normally. I do it for a number of reasons.

One is the fact that I can get in and get through a lot of things in those early hours that would take much longer to do later in the day, what with interruptions from phones, people and natural disasters.

Another is that the journey takes me about fifteen minutes at that early hour and would take almost an hour if I did it in the rush hour, thirty to forty minutes in non rush hour but with some traffic conditions.

And also because I like the feeling of being in control, of being in charge of my day, rather than my day controlling me. It all feels a bit more calm and collected when I get a nice head start, cruising in and watching the early morning people, the delivery men and the road sweepers start their day.

Yesterday I left the house and began my journey listening to my usual radio show. I rarely listen to a CD on the way to work, always preferring the radio in case anything major in the world has happened overnight, on the way home it's usually music of my choice. Disappointingly for you, my reader, nothing eventful or untoward happened. There were no big dramas and no major incidents to report.

Until I got to that mini roundabout, you know, that one about half a mile from my office, the one where Bob got his car stolen a couple of years ago (It's a long story featuring cars, violence, Police and criminals, I'm certain you wouldn't be interested!). Now I'm not sure of you have mini roundabouts over in Lanka, I can't recall seeing any but that doesn't mean anything. However, it cannot be disputed, to the casual observing Sudda in Sri Lanka, roundabout etiquette is an oxymoron. It's only when you get familiar with Lankan driving that you understand the first rule of the road:

1. There are no rules.

Then, with that principle in mind, you begin to understand the oh so subtle rules of negotiating your way around a Sri Lankan roundabout. I won't attempt to explain as you probably know them anyway. Let's just say that the crucial elements are horning, edging, daring and bravery.

Here in the land of hope and glory, of rice in small portions, food with barely any salt and chilli sauce being something you have to ask for when you eat chips, things are very different. For people give way to drivers on their right when they approach a roundabout. They even do this without a Policeman being present and, if there was a Policeman around, he wouldn't let them get away with mass murder for Rs 1000.

Yes, Britain is quite mad and crazy with its law abiding and regulated society, there are even some politicians who want to put the Country before themselves.

The more I think on it, the more I reckon you don't have mini roundabouts in Lanka. The concept doesn't make sense and any attempt to put one on a Lankan intersection would just turn it into a crossroads, one with a tiny raised bit in the middle. But you probably know what one is; simply a tiny round thing in the middle of some roads, where all the rules of roundabouts apply.

So I approached the one near work, it's one with three roads that join it. There was my car and two others, one on each of the other approach roads. We arrived at the roundabout at the same time and all of us stopped as we each had a car to our right. Unbelievable I know, but that's what we do here. There wasn't a horn to be heard or an open palmed hand signal to be seen.

What's more astounding is that this situation crops up quite regularly here, ask DD, he'll back me up on this, it's something that happens every few months or so, though not with the exact same drivers.

For a few seconds there was a lot of head turning and confused glances. Interestingly not one of us swivelled our head right round through 360 degrees. I reckon that might mean something. There was hesitating, creeping, smiling and edging. Then I broke the deadlock and went for it. Of course after I'd done that the car to my left would have been able to go, as there was nothing on their right, and all would have been happy.

As I proceeded merrily on my way I thought of Sri Lanka, of how the situation would have panned out if it could have been replicated. Instead of each person stopping, each would have gone, then stopped, resulting in that very Sri Lankan driving thing where each party's trying to go forward at the same time, when it would just have been easier if one had stopped to let the other go.

Then I wondered about personalities and characters. Many will think I'm reading far too much into this, in fact even I think I might be, but it's this. From memory I reckon more often than not, when I get caught in a "roundabout deadlock", I'm the driver who breaks it.

I like to think of myself as a person who does things, one of my main mantras is that I want to be a fellow who has tried stuff rather than one who looks back and wonders what might have happened. In my head, when one of these roundabout things occurs, I see myself as the split second decision maker, the one who has the guts to think quickly and act, while the other chaps dither and wait for someone to do something. I'm also slightly wary of my use of the word "mantra" in that earlier sentence. I don't I've ever used it before, so it might be wrong. I've never been a huge Opel fan anyway.

Was it the Sri Lankan in me that just went, while the Brits were busy being polite?

Or was it some bigger reflection on life, on personalities and on the way people think?

Do you like Opels?

You know how to answer.


PseudoRandom said...

Hehe I know the type you're talking about - there's a mini roundabout here that's famous for deadlock (not sure why). It usually takes a cab driver (or an Asian) to break the deadlock. So yeah, I think upbringing has a lot to do with it. Brits form queues at any given opportunity - Asians jump queues at any given opportunity :-)

Opel = Vauxhall, yes?

Anonymous said...

hahaha brits! ;) no i don't think it was the sri lankan in you. the sri lankan in you wouldn't have stopped anyway. it was your common sense, you thought about the other drivers and THEN made your decision. very unlike the typical sri lankan driver i must say... :D

Jack Point said...

I like going to work early too but 6.15 is a bit much. I'm usually in by about 7.30 but was in today at 7.10 or so.

David Blacker said...

Well there aren't many minis on SL roads, so having a mini roundabout's a bit pointless, I think.

But seriously, there's a barrel with some bricks on it in the middle of the Pamankade junction, so maybe that's one.

ViceUnVersa said...

Nice one RD, living in the stix means I have to navigate about ten of those just to get to the freeway. I keep asking everyone how the law applies to this but no one can give me an answer!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Pseudo - Yes, Opels are Vauxhalls.

Queuing, now there's a topic!

Have a good Academic Day out there!

JP - I do find that the weather is a big factor in my ease of getting out of bed too, I reckon it must be easier for you guys in SL.

DB - You remind me of one of my Dad's favourite old jokes; that in Ireland (the butt of many English jokes) they're changing from driving on the left hand side to the right hand side of the road. However, in order to make it smooth they're making the lorries do it first, then the cars will come later.

DD - I'm sure there's an section of the highway code that says the deadlock can be broken by a Sri Lankan driver. GM2U2

PseudoRandom said...

Thanks RD, you have a good day too! :-)