Jul 20, 2007

In Which I Get Hit By a Car

So, there's this stereotype in Japan that people from Okayama are bad drivers.
It turns out this is true, as one of them hit me last night.
I was on my bike, crossing a narrow street, and all of a sudden a car turned, suddenly, and hit me as I was in the crosswalk and he was rounding the intersection. Fortunately for me, he hit the back of my bike and not my leg, and I proceeded to go flying off of my bike.
You know that thing they say about time slowing down when you're filled with adrenaline? Quite accurate, actually. It was probably just a few seconds, but from the moment the car hit my bike, time really did seem to slow down in all of the typical ways that they say it does. I fell/leapt from my bike, freeing my leg from the space between my ride and the car. In front of me was the sidewalk, and I successfully managed to land there rather than on the street in the path of the car. My left hip (which still hurts a bit) hit first, followed slowly/quickly by my left arm and right hand. I managed to tuck my head, though. The expanse of my back and shoulders took the rest of the weight of the fall, and I'm somewhat proud of my reflexes, as they ensured that my skull did not hit sidewalk.
I watched the car slide a bit more into my bike, which is a gratefully sturdy machine until it eventually stopped. I lay there in the glare of the headlights, covered in a spontaneous sweat, and found myself suddenly very, very pissed off.
More than anything else, I was angry. I wasn't worried about broken bones or bleeding, I wasn't thinking about any of that. The only thing I wanted to do was to physically retaliate against the man who'd done this to me, the man who was emerging from his car at that moment.
He opened the door and said something frantically in Japanese that I couldn't understand, and then stopped suddenly when he saw I was a foreigner. I don't know what I looked like at that point- I probably looked angry as I forced my left leg to cooperate.
(In retrospect, this guy was probably scared out of his mind. He'd hit a guy, which is bad enough, but that guy happened to be a six-foot pissed of white dude. Foreigners seem to make people nervous often enough- I imagine that an angry, bloody foreigner would be even more cause for alarm.)
He seemed like a normal business guy, maybe in his forties. His shirt was undone and his tie hanging loose, and he looked like he'd just come off of one of Japan's typically long days at work. He looked at me and nervously said,
"Nihongo...?" Meaning, "Japanese." I told him that I study Japanese but don't know a lot. He asked if I was alright. I said "I don't know, maybe."
And, at this point, I really, really wanted to punch him.
He'd hit me with his car, after all. I'd been thrown to the ground and bloodied up because of him, and I wanted to physically retaliate. Perhaps I'd hit him in the neck or throw him down on the same sidewalk that I fell onto- my imagination was not keeping up with the kind of violence that I wanted to commit.
But I didn't, of course.
I think it was the language barrier that stayed my hand. As soon as he said "Nihongo...?" I was put into a frame of mind where I had to think. Speaking the Japanese I know doesn't require much thinking, but I still need to put myself in a specific mental place in order to do it, if that makes any sense. Because I had to go to that specific mental place and say something, even a simple something, in Japanese, my more reasonable parts won out.
And, after I said "I don't know, maybe." He got in his car and drove away. In an abstract, moral sense I was glad, am still glad, that I didn't retaliate. But in a more visceral, emotional way I still wish that I'd done something to him, even though I know that it would probably not have been wise.
I went home and washed up. I'm fine- just a few cuts, though my left hip still feels sort of weird. Nasty cut on the right hand though- it'll be fun to explain to students.
Goddamn Okayama drivers. They really do suck.


Sydney said...

The first time I lived in France, a friend of mine got hit by a car while we were crossing an alley -at a crosswalk, mind you- just after dark. The car wasn't going very fast, but she was tossed up onto the hood and then rolled off and hit the ground with a thump. The people in the car were, like your Japanese business man, probably scared out of their minds. They were very apologetic and concerned, but interestingly so was my friend. She was embarrassed because the other two girls she was with (me and another American) had seen the car and stopped while she blithely walked right into it. I think reactions tell us a lot about who we are in the world. In my opinion, my friend was embarrassed because she expected to have to make way for other people in the world, and she loved to make people happy (even at her own expense).

I remember that feeling, speaking French at that time, of having to stop and access a special part of my brain to say even the most rote and simple things. And I remember the day that stopped being the case, the day I actually began to feel fluent (and managed to stay up past 10 pm - constant internal translation is tiring!).

Do you think that you would have been angry and wanted to lash out if you'd been in Eugene or Portland? I wonder how much being in a foreign culture (even one you've been exposed to for so long) changes your reactions to things. I found that I felt shame for things in France that would never have even bothered me in the US. "I can't use this crazy army can opener? This means I am a stupid and horrible person. I should probably cry about this until I open the can by accident while poking it with a knife. And then I should feel bad about having cried." Yeah, there were some rough times.

SonicLlama said...

Would I have been pissed in Eugene or Portland? Hell yeah! That fucking hurt! I think it's probably the blood that made me so pissed. It's one thing to get knocked over or pushed, but to actually get bloody because of someone is quite off-pissing. Maybe it's some primeval instinctual thing, or maybe it's just flimsy rationalization, but part of me did think "I'm cut up- therefore hitting is okay." I have no idea what I'd have done in Portland or Eugene, though. I like to think that I'd have remained similarly restrained.
But I think it would take a certain kind of twisted person not to want to retaliate like I did. I mean, really- if someone were just all blase about getting hit, thrown, and cut up, then that's a little weird. One could wonder where their sense of self preservation, self respect, or general sanity were.
I'm glad that I didn't hit the guy, certainly, but I do think that my reaction was a certain kind of reasonable.
As for feeling random shame at random stuff- Hell yeah! There have been all sorts of times when I've thought, "Oh my god- my student didn't get the lesson, I'm a horrible teacher!" or "AHHH! They were vaguely bored with my lesson about adverbs! I am a complete pedagogical failure! NOOOOO!" Which, of course, is all crazy weird and unreasonable, and part of being abroad, as I wouldn't feel like that back home.
That may be another post, though...

kristin said...

Hi Joe,

That really sucks. I'm glad it wasn't serious enough to have to go the hospital though, although, going to a foreign one may have been a really interesting experience.

Did I ever tell you about the time I was riding down 13th St. in Eugene and a truck full of frat boys kept being obnoxious and pushing my back bike tire with the bumper of their truck. Yeah... I whipped my bike pump off and smashed out their headlight. It was the most retaliatory thing I've ever done. So I know how you feel. I don't think I could physically attack a person, but I understand where that "need to strike back" feeling can come from.

Glad you're okay. Maybe you should think of getting a helmet?

Talk to you soon!

Meriel said...

I am glad you are alright, and I would have reacted the same way. I regularly wish bodily harm on people for less than that. Is there no trading of information in Japan post accidents?

Joseph said...

Jeez, dude. Don't die until /after/ I've had a chance to come visit.