Sunday, October 24, 2004

My Happy Ending

Friday evening as I walked down the hill with my 2 PhD students, we chatted about cars going by too fast. Taiwanese drivers are notoriously careless about pedestrians. Here you drive offensively and walk defensively. I told them a bit about that incident a few weeks ago where I deliberately "allowed" my bag to hit a car that zoomed in front of me, missing me only because I slowed my next step. The same incident where the driver then backed up, stopped and got out to argue with me. He told me, "If you don't like the way we live in Taiwan, then don't live here." I answered that according to Taiwanese law, the pedestrian has the right of way in the striped crosswalk--or "zebra" or "zipper"-- especially when the driver was supposed to stop at his red light. Then I recited his license plate number. That calmed him down. And after I asked if I had in fact damaged his car, I warned him to be more careful the next time he saw me crossing. He backed down but was visibly upset. He thought that I hit his car "just for fun". I told him that no I wasn't having any fun!
Well, coincidentally, as if by some destiny, that same Friday evening that I related this story to my two students, I went a few minutes later to eat some spicy noodles at a restaurant right next to my apartment. As I walk into the restaurant, the big burly guy at the counter leans over on his elbows and glares at me, clearly expecting some kind of response, the gleam of a challenge in his eyes.
I glance at him and recognize him before I actually remembered how I knew him. Some uncanny familiarity, yet why is he glaring at me with anticipation? My face shows surprise when a second later it all comes back to me-- the aggressive driver!
I say, "Oh, hello, would you like me to leave or to stay?"
He seems happy that I remember him from our confrontation about three weeks ago, but on the other hand he hesitates a moment before resigning himself to the idea of seating me in the restaurant. Still, he insists that I have a seat. So I decide to be forgiving also, and chat with him while I order some Yuan-nan noodles.
"Yuan-nan noodles!? Not too spicy for you?" he asks.
"Not really. I like spicy -- 'Hao-lah!'" I reply. Then I raise our bone of contention: "Hey, I haven't hit any cars recently. Amazing!" He smiles at my attempt to joke about our tension, an irritated smile, riled by the unpleasant memory of our testosteroned confrontation, but a smile nonetheless.
"So . . . you work here!?"
"Not always, I'm just helping my sister for a few days."
"Oh, your sister owns this place."
"Well, she and my other sister-in-law and . . ."
"I see, the family business?"
"Yeah. So I just have to help here for now when I get off from my own job."
No wonder he's in a hurry, I think. "I live right next door, so I come here sometimes."
"Oh. Well my sister will be back here in a few days."

So I sit down and eat my noodles, reading for tomorrow's lecture on Milton's _Paradise Lost_: Desire, punishment, guilt, revenge, pride, etc. As I leave and present myself at the counter to pay the bill, the burly driver refuses to charge me.
"No, but I owe you for the noodles!" I try to hand him the money.
"Not at all. It's on me."
"But . .. well..."
"I feel sorry," he says looking away apologetically.
"Oh, that's OK. I feel sorry too."
He gestures toward the exit: "So, it's free tonight."
"Hey, thank you very much," I say in Chinese.
He seems embarrassed and impatient for me to leave, so I say goodbye, and he waves me off happily.


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