Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Most Dangerous Place In The World

The internet's quite useful. It gives us access to oodles of information, brazilians of things that we'd otherwise have to go to a library or ask an intelligent person about. Yet sometimes, just now and again, we all like a bit of the old fashioned stuff, a bit of paper and ink, a touch of tactileness and a smatter of tangibility.

Which is why I often find myself reading a newspaper, a proper hard one, made from newspaper. One without clickable links, without a place where I can leave a comment and with proper adverts for the most dodgy of things, like husbands. And one of my occasional pleasures is to glance through one of the English language Sri Lankan dailies, most commonly while taking a poo. I don't meant stealing one, I mean doing one.

The Lankan papers are different to the British dailies, which are I'm sure different to all other ones too. The joys of Singlish ring out loudly from any English language Lankan daily and I love to read and listen to my brain saying the words in a Sri Lankan accent. The blogs, the Lankanosphere, Facebook and the virtual Sri Lankan press keep me informed in a what's the word on the street sort of way and the hard copy newspapers also keep me informed, just in a strangely different, what's the smell on the street sort of way.

It was a couple of weeks ago. C had gone off to Taiwan on a shoot and I pottered around Colombo doing my thing. At breakfast, over a quiet string hopper with chicken curry and parippu, I opened The Island. I perused the articles and poured through the first fifteen or so pages on how great the government is and how evil the west is. Then I came to a page called "Provincial News" and glanced at a picture.

This wasn't just any picture. No, it was a crap one, one of those that you peer at through squinting eyes, to try to figure out what the hell it's all about. So I did exactly that, I peered and tried to figure out what the hell it was all about. It seemed to show a road. There was a clock tower in the background, some random pedestrians and some even more random vehicles.

I like the way many Lankan newspapers practice the art of placing a caption so that it's hard to spot, it makes browsing a paper far more adventurous and exciting than in other parts of the world. When I found one it told me that it was a road in Horana and that the locals are clamouring to get their zebra crossing, the one that had disappeared from the aforementioned point in the road, to be reinstated. Apparently the lack of crossing was making the act of crossing the road a dangerous one. I smirked, even though I'd given up smirking a long time ago.

Above this was another small article, this time telling the sad story of a driver appearing in court after killing a person on a zebra crossing. The driver's defence was that he had been approaching the crossing and, on seeing a pedestrian in front of him on the crossing, had panicked and pressed the accelerator instead of the brake, killing the poor pedestrian.

Now the way it works in the UK and in many other countries is that a zebra crossing is sacresant. If a person is on one then they have right of way, but more than that, if a person is waiting to cross it's usually considered bad form if a driver doesn't stop and let them go. It's so extreme here in England that, should a person be on one and a car coming in the other direction fails to stop, there might even be a raised voice or an angry shrug, serious stuff for Brits.

If a war broke out within the UK people could flee to safety in churches and other holy places but they could also camp out on zebra crossings with the knowledge that they're safe as can be. Unless of course the war was against Sri Lanka.

I read and reread the article. Yes it did say what I thought it said; that a driver had got flustered and confused and hit the wrong pedal. Perhaps it's the yellow stripes that causes this. Whoever heard of a yellow and black zebra anyway?

I remember back in the day when I was married. I used to have nightmares about the girls and their mother attempting to cross on a Lankan zebra crossing and expecting the traffic to stop for them, perhaps making the potentially fatal mistake of expecting one car to slow down while it was overtaking another car on a crossing, just in case there was someone attempting to make their way across the road.

I think I used the word "cross" or "crossing" way too many times in that sentence. These things make me very cross. And predictable.

And something that never ceases to amaze me is the code of conduct on a Lankan pedestrian crossing. People tread precariously, there's no marching with confidence and the knowledge that vehicles are going to stop as if you're Superman pointing a laser beam at them. That dance takes place, the one we're all familiar with. There's posturing and posing and all sorts of footwork that's only usually seen in the dancing at Jazz Unlimited when that Speldewinde fellow's doing his thing.

Then, when all else fails, when there's no way left to solve the situation, there's a last resort, a definitive way in which to get the vehicle to stop. It's when the pedestrian puts his or her hand out. You know the thing; the arm at waist height with the hand stuck out at about ninety degrees and the very slightest and most imperceptible to all but a Sri Lankan eye of finger movements. That, my friends, makes any traffic stop immediately. Unless the driver gets flustered.

I glanced again at the article about the residents of Horana wanting their crossing back, then at the piece about the driver pressing the wrong pedal. Yes, I thought. They're mad.

A Sri Lankan zebra crossing has to be the most dangerous place in the world.


Chavie said...

Haha, true that. But recently they've started arresting and fining people who don't use the pedestrian crossing... :/

papertrails said...

true, it takes 20mns to cross sometimes.need traffic lights for zebra crossings..

David Blacker said...

Superman pointing a laser beam???

Anonymous said...

I remember jumping on and off the curb at the bamba junction for abt half an hour before I cud actually run across safely...

hehe...Lankan memories