Monday, December 31, 2007

Conspicuous Brown Guy In India Finally Learns Traffic Rules

I finally gave in after 5 years and decided to take a REAL vacation. This time, no phone, no email, and no working. My out-of-office auto-response even states that I will only be available by "holographic imager", which of course would be difficult to find. For various reasons, I decided to visit Goa, India (which I've previously visited -- see Fleece Me, Please!, or Order And Chaos, or Sousegade: Welcome to Goa written exactly two years ago, for more interesting stories that have pretty much happened on this trip too in some form)

Going to India is always a little weird for me. For one thing, I definitely don't feel like I belong there, despite my very brown skin. I realise that there are a couple of things that give me away:

  • I wear shorts. For some reason everyone wears long pants even when its too hot in my opinion. I believe it has something to do with mosquitoes, but you're going to suffer from the heat or the bugs so take your pick.
  • I have a trimmed goatee-moustache. Most people in India tend to have just a moustache or no facial hair at all. In fact, for about a week and a half I didn't even bother shaving at all -- that was awesome, and disturbing of course.
  • I carry a backpack (a dead giveaway that I'm a tourist)
  • I don't speak the language(s). I feel I can avoid getting pegged this way if I keep my mouth shut, but somehow, I just don't!

I started out staying with my parents in Dona Paula, where they are visiting, and also had the wonderful opportunity to go visit my friends Pearl in Palolem and Natalia in Calangute while they were in town. They don't even know each other, Pearl was in India for a wedding, and Natalia was around to break her wrist while on vacation (ouch!).

Good times were had by all, and I even stayed in nice hotels for a few days, which made it a lot more pleasant, as staying with my parents in my aunt's apartment tended to be harsh without air-conditioning.

Driving in India may seem difficult, but general behaviour and traffic patterns can be summarised by what I call "Path of Least Resistance" and "Obstacle Course". Here are a few simple rules to get you started if you are ever so lucky:

  • If you have wheels, then you have right of way... unless something else has wheels and is bigger or faster, then they have right of way... unless they honk at you - in which case the bigger vehicle may choose to give up their right of way if they slow down. Slowing down does not mean one can't immedately change their mind, speed up and cut you off.
  • After vehicles, anything with legs takes right of way next. [However, humans can overcome this by walking on the left side of the road along with traffic, giving one at best a poor excuse for not moving farther over (since one can't see the cars coming from behind) -- thus usurping your right of way from the vehicles! I was actually hit by a rickshaw when I was with Pearl in Calangute using this method so now I tend walk on the right and face oncoming traffic because I'd prefer to be alive.]
  • If you are a cow, the above rules do not apply, as right-of-way is permanently guaranteed for bovines in any environment.
  • When behind a slower moving vehicle, you must always attempt to pass it, regardless of oncoming traffic conditions, especially on winding roads with little visibility. This must be attempted continuously until passing is succesful, or a fiery ball of carnage is created, or your foreign passengers have a heart attack.
  • Seatbelts are mandatory, but their usage is not. It is required to have seatbelts in the back of a vehicle, but no receptacles to buckle them into.
  • The main tools for communication with other drivers on the road are the horn (use often) and extreme proximity to other vehicles (use just as often).
  • A 2-lane road contains enough space for 6 lanes of traffic in any direction in any order. Additionally, animals may use the shoulder along with motorcycles (except cows who may travel wherever they wish). Motorcycles with more than one infant, must travel at half the speed of other vehicles, regardless of posted limits.
  • Lane lines and other painted lines should be ignored at all times, similarly for traffic lights.
  • Bi-directional roads can be converted into one-ways along the overtaking distance relative to the vehicle ahead of you, but the horn must be pressed a minimum of 2 times for this rule to take effect. When oncoming vehicles reach this new one-way section, they may use the shoulder, or attempt to revert the road to 2-way by using the horn and proximity tools described above.
  • Foreigners named Natalia should carry extra cash in rupees to bribe traffic police, and should also use extra caution when driving a motorcycle near a pole.

Wishing everyone a happy new year and all the best in 2008!