Kia-su boh kia-si o! (Afraid to lose face, not afraid to die!)

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On a more mundane level, Stoplookgo reflects on the afraid-to-lose-face, not-afraid-to-die Malaysian motorists and their reckless driving.

This Penang Hokkien phrase comes to mind wherever I drive in Penang. The same thing always happens: drivers will be ‘cutting in’ left, right and centre with complete disregard for anyone’s safety – not even their own!

It seems to be a matter of one metre or less, just that they must be in front of the driver behind them or else they might ‘lose face’ for reasons beyond my understanding. Maybe because I’m a driver who believes in safe, defensive driving and prefers to get to my destination even if a bit late rather than not at all.

I came to the conclusion the other night, on the way home, that many of these pushy, stressed out, bossy drivers were more afraid of losing face, being ‘outdone’, than they were of death or of bashing up other people’s cars as well as their own. The expense and consequent red tape is nothing to them – much less the loss of life and limb even if its their own.

The irony of the paradox runs through all things allegedly Malaysian. This inability to think logically and comprehend the connection between cause, effect and end consequence seems to have reached epidemic proportions. It should alarm us but the Malaysian psyche also seems to lack an alarm system.

Instead, this apparent idiosyncrasy that disables logical and reasonable thinking is lauded by some as a ‘virtue’. Something they are proud of.

The ‘double-triple-parking-on-a-narrow- road’ syndrome is a typical example. It appears as if people would rather risk a RM30-RM300 fine than pay 30 sen to park properly and safely in a parking lot just a few steps away from where they want to go.

The other quite disturbing practice that seems to be speedily becoming ‘normal’ behavior is the “Datuk-Datin” syndrome. The attitude that “everybody-has-to-wait-for me” not surprisingly may give rise to road rage.

A fine example was seen in Pulau Tikus, one hot afternoon. There was a traffic jam at the cross road from Lorong Leandros, the service road in front of Bellissa Row (a row of up-market shops and restaurants) and the main road, Jalan Burma.

The cause of the jam? A well-dressed young woman in her big expensive car stopping just in front of a stall at the corner to buy the deep fried snack we call eu char koay. She parked the car virtually in the middle of the road and got out, apparently oblivious to the line of cars behind her that were unable to overtake because of the heavy traffic turning into Lorong Leandros and the service road from the main road.

Those turning in and going out couldn’t move because her car was parked too far out for them to avoid hitting her car or the cars parked at the side of Lorong Leandros, which is quite narrow. Cars  coming out of that road were also stuck behind her car.

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She took at least 10 minutes choosing and buying her eu char koay as if nothing had happened,  oblivious to the major traffic snarl caused by her thoughtlessness. When she had finished buying, she got into the car and drove off without a backward glance.

What was in her head? This may be a serious case of the “Datuk-Datin” complex that can arise when people suffer from possible lack of attention. Driving a big up-market car didn’t do enough for her.

Stranger than fiction

It is also not unusual to find, when driving in slow-moving traffic, that the driver just behind you will do his or her utmost to overtake, simply to be two inches in front of you. I wonder what the big deal is? This kind of behaviour seems to have infected drivers who rush towards traffic lights in order to be in front of others when the lights turn red and they have to stop.  Inevitably, you end up coming to a gradual un-hurried stop right behind them.

Some drivers seem to like impersonating motorcyclists or are under the illusion that they are riding motorbikes when they are driving a car. The size of their car is totally irrelevant to them. These exhibit the kiasu mind-set by weaving in and out, changing lanes at every opportunity to go ‘faster’. The irony is they could end up in the wrong lane from the direction in which they intend going, and if the traffic flow doesn’t allow them to get where they want to – bad luck!  Yet these, ‘geniuses’ will endanger others by suddenly forcing their way into the path of the on-coming traffic, making illegal and dangerous manoeuvres to change direction.

‘Lane busters’ and ‘jammers’ suffer a lack of logic and common-sense. These are the ones who think that by creating extra traffic lanes from those already marked on the road, they will get to their destination faster. They fail to see that by doing this it merely slows everyone down and causes traffic to  jam up and come to a standstill. This often happens at the Penang Bridge toll-gate when traffic flow is heavy and slow and a few ‘bright sparks’ give way to compulsive impatience.

‘Honkers’ are another kind of road irritation. Honking seems to have become a habit for them. This sort bang on their horns for little or no reason whatsoever. When traffic lights turn green, it takes a few seconds for the car to pick-up, but hardly half a second need pass when the ‘honker’ makes himself/ herself known to all and sundry. It is understandable if drivers honk in circumstances where they feel they need to warn other road users of their approach, but honking to harass others is totally rude and uncivilised.

In contrast to these ‘odd-balls’, there are the ‘sleepies’ who having stopped at a red traffic light, have to be ‘woken–up’ when the light turns green. To be cautious is a road virtue. But if you are really sleepy, please don’t drive as it endangers others apart from yourself.

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Many drivers seem to suffer from ‘indicatoritis’. This disease disables the ability to indicate or signal when turning left, right, starting to move out from the side of the road or over-taking. The drivers suffering from this seem under the delusion that other road users and drivers can read their minds. This infection seems to have reached epidemic proportions as so many Malaysian drivers frequently show symptoms of the disease and live under the impression that we are a nation of ‘mind-readers’. ‘Indicatoritis’, like many other traffic diseases, can end in DEATH!

Some drivers think it ‘cool’ to drive as if they are not in control of their vehicles. They don’t know how to slow down when approaching a junction, a potential obstacle, or when turning. Another type of odd behavior is to accelerate when approaching an obstacle or a slower moving vehicle backing out at right angles to the road ahead. The idea here seems to be to squeeze into the remaining space that hasn’t yet been occupied by the vehicle that is backing out without slowing down. They would be less stressed out if they simply stopped and politely allowed the vehicle backing out to complete its manoeuvres and then safely continue on their way. Blood pressure need not shoot up!

The kiasu attitude is clearly seen in drivers following a slow-moving vehicle. Frequently, as soon as you indicate that you are about to overtake a slower moving vehicle such as a lorry or bus that you are following, you can be absolutely sure that someone from behind will immediately accelerate to overtake at that very moment you are going to pull out from behind the slow-moving vehicle.

There seems to be an insane fear that they will be ‘doomed’ to follow the slow-moving vehicle if they allow you to overtake it first. All I can say is, they ‘doom’ themselves to such a fate.

In reality, it is safer to overtake when there’s no one coming in the opposite direction or behind you, especially when you are on the highway.

Then there are the tail-gaters and ‘bum kissers’. These love driving bumper-to-bumper without any safe braking-space. They seem to like courting legal action. Perhaps they hope to collect court awards in so-called compensation or they enjoy gambling for money from their insurers. These are another category of road irritants that may cause road-rage and avoidable pile-ups. Contrary to the impression they may have, hitting another vehicle from behind is usually legally unfavourable to them as it is up to the driver behind to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.

007, Formula One and Tokyo/KL drift…?

A number of drivers subscribe to “Hollywood” or “Bollywood” driving, in which they think they are acting in a car-chase scene, where they may cause much destruction, inevitable injury and possible death. Currently, such dangerous drivers appear to be only occasionally curbed by law enforcement authorities despite the obvious danger they pose to the public at large.

Moreover, certain drivers appear to give more thought to their imagined ‘coolness’ as in the movies than to road safety. Symptoms of this mentality are seen in ‘souped-up’ cars with under chassis-lighting and blinding bluish-white headlights switched on at full beam when driving at night in a built-up area with road lighting.

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These motorists characteristically speed in highly populated areas, not only endangering pedestrians and other road users but also serving to blind other drivers with those glaring bluish-white headlights. To do this seems to have become the ‘fashion’ in Penang – perhaps one of the reasons for the potentially high traffic accident rates. Late evenings and nights seem to be the time when some drivers throw all road safety rules to the wind. Perhaps the moon has a bad effect on them.

Others imagine they are qualified for Formula One and are actually participating in a Grand Prix outside the Sepang race track. The ‘go’ signal at the traffic lights means they have to ‘win’ by all means, forgetting all safety and traffic rules. How they acquired driving licences in the first place is beyond me. Some even ignore red lights.

Wonder what someone like Michael Schumacher or Fernando Alonso would think of this. If you knew anything about Formula One drivers, you would be aware that these highly qualified experts who test cars for safety are the greatest advocates of road safety and adhere strictly to traffic regulations in their countries. Formula One drivers rarely get into trouble on a normal road.

The different example of such ‘psycho-driving’ egged on by the kiasu attitude are so numerous that it is impossible to list them all in a single article. I have seen so many instances of such suicidal lunacy that seems to be taken as normal driving practice in Malaysia and which, in a weird way, our people are extremely proud of exhibiting to the world. It is like hailing vehicular lunatics as national heroes of our time! No wonder the ‘Mat Rempit’ and ‘vigilantes’ run wild in this country.

Maybe the Federal Government, Transport Ministry, Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board(CVLB) and Police don’t mind Malaysia having such a notorious international reputation!

Still, ordinary Penangites typically will carry on with a shrug of their shoulders, shake of their heads and continue mumbling, “Kiasu Boh Kiasi O!…” Our indiscipline and willful ignorance continues as we keep our daydreams of achieving ‘developed’ country status, blaming God, Fate, Luck, other people and whatever else for our self-made tragedies.

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