What with pounding on the accelerator and screaming to a stop, racing around Discovery Bay isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, says Peter Sherwood
I arrived in Hong Kong the week it was claimed a British Crown colony. OK, it just feels that long. And I have ridden in taxis here since they were rickshaws. Again, not true. But it seems like it and there’s a reason, one that makes the city unique. Hundreds of thousands of cabbies have been trained to drive like experimental robots.
Our local traffic warriors start with a beginners’ manual drafted by the dodgem industry, then they pick the rest up via an oral tradition handed down the generations, or by osmosis. A series of 12- hour shifts cover a lifetime; the ritual begins from day one and continues to retirement as an experiential lesson in how to jerk a motor vehicle to death.
I have nothing against Hong Kong cabbies; in my experience they are good and hard-working people. But you know what I’m talking about because you will have fumed about the same hereditary madness – jumping on the accelerator every 10 seconds, and riding the brakes down the slightest incline.
Neither gratuitous operation holds even a modicum of sense or purpose. It’s not as if the operator is intent on inflicting nausea and headaches on his suffering passengers. We know this is true because he inflicts the same punishment on himself, and it would be statistically impossible for all taxi drivers to be pathological masochists. Or is it?
To escape the infuriation of being shaken to and fro till my brain turned to mush and vital organs liquefied, I moved to Discovery Bay where, for a while, the disturbing practice appeared not to exist. But now the contagion has reached our shores, with some bus drivers pounding their accelerators as if in a desperate need to pump fuel into an engine that must soon disintegrate under the hammering. At the end of the run, passengers, nevertheless, offer a courteous ‘thank you’ to the driver, probably for having arrived unscathed. Then, they rush home and throw up.
The act of stopping a bus is another lesson in the art of the passenger shake and quiver. Nervous lurches over the last few metres are humorously designed to test your balance if you´re standing.
Having recovered from the previous night’s uphill beating to get home, I am ready by morning to confront the excesses of being bounced down the hill like a wounded goat. It’s a five-minute ride and it follows the same quakingly hilarious pattern as the evening prior. That’s when you feel the awesome power of what is possible with massive hydraulic brakes on a bus weighing 12 tonnes. These monsters can stop almost instantly; inert passengers run the risk of being hurled splattering into the windshield like so many mosquitoes.
Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for over 20 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.