This story was originally printed in the August Issue of Tai Chung's 24/7 Magazine.
I have driven the means streets of Tai Chung for nearly a decade. So, I just might know what I'm talking about here; this rant having built up slowly over a long period of time. There is an incredible difference between the way that a Mercedes is driven here and back home. I noticed it in the first days, before the earthquake and the elections.
So I began to wonder, since status is so all important in Taiwan, and brand name logos being the road to status, if it was the car itself with its absolutely expensive German engineering, or the symbol; the hood ornament which usually acts as a sight in these daily, little, devil-may-care drive-by acts of indifference.
I wandered around the neighborhood long enough to find a couple of these little star-makers lying on the ground. If you look hard enough you can find anything.
Then I strapped one to the front of my jet-black Duke 125, which is the Mercedes 500 Benz Sedan of scooters. And then I welded another one to the back, for good measure. I covered my eyes in mirrored Saigon’s to hide them from the public, less I seem too human, and to mimic the near-black, mirrored windows found on most big, luxury cars and SUV’s, and proceeded to drive around terrorizing the neighborhood.
The 500 Benz Scooter flew through red light after red light and the cameras politely turned the other way to let me pass. It careened past the radar guns at speeds of well over 200Km and those cameras did the same. Why waste the film? Like a Benz is going to get a ticket in this town, for anything? Policemen looked away furtively, or managed a little bow. Some of the kowtowing was a little much. Grown men with guns, after all.
I tripled parked on the busiest streets during rush hour because I was running some trivial errand that really didn’t require someone as important as me parking properly. I was only going to be a minute. When I returned to the abandoned scooter, there was a line of maybe 50 or 60 vehicles backed up behind it, including an ambulance and two fire trucks with their sirens exploding. I flipped them the bird, got in and peeled away. Nobody even honked.
I then proceeded to get into a number of accidents; pure hit and run, except I stopped once or twice to take pictures of the carnage, which was spectacularly amusing. Next I spent an hour or two on pedestrians, laughing manically the whole time with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries blaring on the i-Pod. I wish I had thought to mount some kind of camera on the front because some of the faces were just priceless, moments before they would collide with the sight and leave that bastardized peace sign stamped on their foreheads.
I started to lose perspective near the end; no longer a polite sociologist trying to gently question how the world worked, I had become what I sought to satirize. The irony was waist deep. I wrenched off the Saigon’s and aimed the scooter into the canal using the front end of one of those Smart cars as a ramp. I ended up in the upper branches of a nearby hei ban shu. (blackboard tree) The firemen who came to get me were the same ones I had held up before. They didn’t recognize me without the Saigon’s and the hood ornaments. The scooter had floated away by then.
“What on Earth happened here?” they asked.
“Benz.” I replied weakly, “It came out of nowhere.”
“Happens all the time.” they assured me.