News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

6500 Codgerville (rough first draft)

"Out of the way, you rotten, stinking, road-hogging mother-scratchers!!", I yowled as I careened right-irritated past this pair of arch-fatsos, whom I took a great pleasure christening Dim and Dumb according to their floppy jowly look, their carcasses over-burdening a poor and dusty scooter, the tires flattening and the chassis rolling heavily, oh so heavily, down the littered and broken road.

But my attention was immediately back to front and center. And for good reason, for no sooner than did I place mine very eyes back on the road than I had to brake and pull a sharp left, me long-suffering back tire squealing, me long-suffering horn leaving behind a signature loud a-honking, a long angry whiny "Blaaaank" which nicely echoed me thoughts regarding their inner states of mind, this soggy-brained gaggle of after-schoolers, giggling and gaggling a-straggling across the road, without a care for themselves nor no concern for no others.

I was motorbiking down a thoroughfare across this vast smoggy boggy-smelling town. It was a big mucky choked-up artery full of scooters and bikes and scooter-bikes and cars and trucks and all the like, just minding me own business without a care in the great wide wicked world. Just visions of a pretty girlie (an ornamental as the ungrateful might call it) with a blemishless fair skin and large hoots whose headlights cheekily pointed right at me every time, encouraging and making me bold, and making me dreamy whenever, such as now, I thought to pay a naughty-naughty visit.

I was on the way to her home of concrete and plasticky chintzy vast and spacey emptiness. Most important of all, empty of her doting parents; her nasty prejudiced Ba who, feeling he couldn't have a piece of her, was fit to deny her to his betters; and her fine-feeling soft and willowy Ma, who rather spied and wanted me for herself likes. But my girlie was the only one for me, this fine and sunny smoggy afternoon.

She was my Rapunzel, peeking out of the barred windows of her concrete palace on the look out for stray young malcontents roaming the concrete jungle, letting down her hair and hauling in eccentric subversive types like Yours Truly, ultra-attractive to her young and rebellious, foolish and wanting, greedy and needy eyes.

I was thinking of her real hard and of the voluptuous damning sin we'd soon be wallowing, heaving and panting within. We'd soon be there likes, but it was quite a humdrum and lengthy distance and navigating these un-policed craggy, raggedy roads full of meandering, maundering riders prevented you from picking up and keeping up speed. My high-powered, gas-guzzling, bird-poisoning machine was being wasted on this highway full of dithering souls who was getting in the way of people, such as I, with a purpose. Obstacles was everywhere, fixed and moving, as this mob wasn't much for abiding by the civilized laws of the road and was rather more used to being hogs therein with nobody to tell them their business like and enforce it hard cop fashion.

And so, there was a lot of proactive vigilante-like denouncing from Yours Truly, esq. to the tune of: "Eh, watch it there Missus!! You ratty, scraggy flea-bag!! The sidewalk's over there if you please, you blind and batty miscreant!!"

But it was all old hat and old ways and didn't require any real attention on my part. It was absent-mindedly, second nature-like, that I dished out my warm abuse. And who was listening anyway? The road was also held up by old crones behind the wheel, peeking through the steering wheel at the outside world, and latching on with all their might when making a turn, rising out of their seat to match the trajectory of the wheel. I was never sure if they were manhandling the wheel, holding on for dear life, or just getting whole-hog into the roadway experience. And then too I was being clipped dangerous close by fast-boat filthy-richy-rich kids spurting in and out of the motor lanes in their show-offy dragsters with angel treble speakers blasting and devil bass mufflers pounding my poor innocent ears. And on top of these there where yet more nuisances: gaggles of pedestrians, streetwalkers and freebooters, collecting in clots and pile-ups at road's edge, built up a formidable back pressure like nature's jerry-rigged beaver dams holding back post-wintry rivers cum springtime. When the back-pressure got too much, from the ones to aft cramming the ones to fore, the whole herd moved like a liquid, I'm not kidding ya. It sloshed and flushed on to the roadway in great wobbly rambling mobs, like a soccer pitch mob invasion, and it was a miracle more people weren't squished senseless. Aye, twas just another day on the road, cutting trail, slashing through the bush, you might say.

On my wee wrist-rocket, I was just an atom of continence, just minding my very own business, entertaining myself with private voluptuous visions of a fine booty pointed at the moon and myself a hard angel come down with hard thoughts and aiming for the natural-born rings forming a bulls-eye around her arse guiding me to my wicked and appointed destination.

But happened. It happened all right.

"Great Bog!" I shrieked in a rising crescendo, feeling like I was likely coming up and into an unavoidable crash and dirty smash-up.

To my left was the thoroughfare gas station for this section of treacherous length. Its entrance was backed up with customers waiting for to gas-up, their bikes not shut off and creating a rising miasma of whispy blue fumes. Out the corner of my eye, looking for a spot of fine babeage, I was disappointed to note that it was mostly mamas and papas in the higglety-pigglety line that was spilling out into the unregulated road.

I was just in the process of making a graceful sweeping speeding arc to the right, to give them all a miss, a fine mocking smile of anticipation on my lips, when a barging, inconsiderate codger placed himself in harm's way.

Oblivious to the traffic on-coming and particularly to me in-coming on my wrist rocket, he himself rocketed out on his bicycle, a picture of crazed excitement. I was caught fast between the crowd to the one side and curb-parked vehicles to the left.

Mouth agape, I seized the hand-brake good and hard, but my panicky stomp on the white-metal connector to the back brake broke it. My center of gravity fell forward as my foot free-fell into empty space while the bike careened forward. I froze in an inadvertent racing position and all that was left was for physics to do its deterministic dirty work. The front wheel locked up, and soon the tire went from squealing to gripping the road, whereupon, like a soldier surprised by an officer, it suddenly pitched up straight, and Yours Truly went flying up through the nasty polluted air. Memory may deceive, but I seem to have risen into the air full of paralyzing fear but managed a bit of panache during the dangerous coming-down part of the trajectory. I still landed hard on my soft and easily bruised arse, followed poste-haste by some nasty skidding down some very hard and unforgiving pavement, leaving us with a right terrible road rash like some ultra-fierce carpet burn.

All forward motion ended now, I surveyed the damage. First I checked to be sure all of me was together in one painful piece, and that nothing, no parts, was scattered round and about. Check. Then my head. My helmet saved my noggin from sharp gravel bits. Check. But red and raggedy were my mits, bleeding slowly drip drip drip.

Everything got to being queer and quiet all of a sudden. And I got to a strange relaxing and desiring to just lay down and have a quiet snooze and not be a bother to nobody. Me vision started to pixilate and I felt vastly out of sorts. I had a premeditation of snoring right off this mortal coil and this got me to get up, or at least try to get up. Oh, friends, I was but aching something awful, having taken a rotten hard bumpety-bump. But I was OK, righty-right, as far as the doctor would have considered, had there been a quack or sawbones around. Which there wasn't and I wasn't optimistic about one or the other arriving, not any time too soon. As ever, twas was up to me to take care of myself and I.

And then a dreadful and inconsiderate honking started up behind us. No regard for the living nor half-dead I thought to myself. I turned around, achy and woozy, to denounce the perpetrator: "Put a sock in it, why don't you? You selfish slobby glob of self-centered self-interest."

He had detached himself from the pile of waiting customers and was smiling at me and beckoning me towards him. The customers were piling up now too, the old one's not wanting to leave no more. They made a growing gapey audience, excited and happy with entertainment brought right down front and center, very convenient-like. This one bright and smiling fellow, a sort of university student with a backpack and basketball sneakers, was squeezing the horn on my motorcycle to get my attention. Expecting that I couldna hack the local speech, he resorted to the universal language of the vehicle horn. That wasna too bad thinking, actually.

But then a car passed me close and slow, frightening me, as if a shark was making a pass to see if I was worth inviting to supper. I was blinking, and trying to wipe this sleepiness that wouldn't stop out of my eyes. The motorcycle and I were a sort of fresh traffic island and the cars was moving around us. People stared out with that suppressed eagerness of the ambulance chaser, feigning concern but hoping for gore.

I limped back over, still dazed a bit, to assess the damage to my transpo. I found myself wondering if I could make it to my appointed date with my ebony haired Rapunzel and then felt better realizing that now my thoughts were back with the living again.

The sight of gasoline leaking out of my bike gave me a needed panic that brought me closer to full consciousness and awareness. I was gratified that no dark gear oil, the true lifeblood, was showing. I ignored the student and pulled on the handlebars to right my heavy machine and stop the gas leakage, but found myself getting nowhere. I found an obstruction: that bloody bicycle was on top of it. I went to pick it up and fling it off. The self-appointed help didn’t bother trying to help and make himself useful. Instead he began chattering away in the local dialect, asking me nosy questions about who I was and the like.

I smiled patronizing-like, like they often like it, and turned away, pretending not to understand. Hauling on the old ratty bicycle was like hauling on a greasy dirty disgusting sewer cover. It was a heavy cruddy old single-geared model with a solid iron Victorian-like frame. And I found an old gaffer attached to it too, spread-eagle underneath, his jacket and a foot caught up in the frame. As I bent over to peer underneath, I made a face and caught my breath as I heard an awful moaning, oh oh oh, sort of whispered under-conscious like. I looked hard into the old duffer's well-earned face o' misery, but the eyes was closed and the mouth was blowing bubbles of spittle, foaming out slow like the melting of cheap ice-cream.

This was serious, I realized. Serious trouble. For me. A quick exit was necessary to rescue me from the slippery difficult details of the pre-crash scenario and from the he said/she said busy-wizness required to decide which innocent was in the right and which bastard was in the wrong. I took a quick gander around at the gathering crowd of dour bystanders and I didna see no fair and square level playing field on which to make my last stand.

I was ipso facto guilty as the day is long. I'd be given a right impartial hearing after which the crowd would devolve into a hanging posse that would run me off to my Great Reward.

As if to take me there his very self, a rough looking fatso dressed in government gear, sweaty limp button-up white shirt, blue standard-issue nylon slacks, cheap rubbery anonymous loafers holding feet in socks of a cheap and near-transparent rayon came marching over. He shouted at me, giving me the evil eye, but he was really speaking to the crowd at large, "These foreigners! These damn, furry foreigners. They're always coming over to our country and creating trouble. Stealing, hustling, strutting around like they own the place. This bastard should be flogged for what he done. I say we give it to him ourselves. Let's have some satisfaction of our own, let's give him his very well earned reward."

He marched in a circle, going no where, like some soldier on the go but without no orders. And he spoke in this martial clip; in a chop chop chop diff'rent from the wandering nasal drone of the local locals, the real and genuine indigenous happy-go-lucky mommy-worshipping locals with their heart-felt refrain: oh! the pace of life is getting too fast and oh! for the farm and the down-home hometown hoedown vittles.

And besides that peculiar citified accent of his, there was just some very fine speaking: a good solid selection of Chinese verbs and nouns launched into the air with confidence and dispatch. That wasn't a local talent neither. He wasn't born of no local parents. No. He was second generation Mainlander, and had that second-generation pride and paranoia. He wasn't in the mood for no other foreign usurpers neither, which is what he seemed to be saying to Yours Truly underneath the patriotic, crowd-working, animal-stirring verbiage.

But I wasn't going to take this insolence sitting down or I'd be paying for it, at best, with a hazing and a one-way ticket to Hong Kong with no chance of return. I came back at him with a wobble in me legs and a slight stammer: "Oh, good friends and acquaintances, ladies and gentlemen, it's all a simple misunderstanding, yes? No more than an innocent road accident, my brothers, yes?"

But unbeknownst to me, I was back on my natural-born winning streak again already. Nothing to worry about. Speaking in Mandarin often works wonders, and now was no exception.

For the crowd was taken aback by my fluent pathetic pleading. They were shocked and afeared: like savages having their photograph taken and souls stolen; I knew too much. I had entered the inner sanctum. I was on to them.

And, hope against hope, I was blessed with an even brighter miracle, for out came this pipsqueak noise from another busybody with a raging will-to-power. From somewhere inside the crowd I heard, "Down with the imperialist! Down with the white terrorist." I spotted the culprit. It was a drab and monkeyish looking woman, with spindly legs in grubby blue jeans and long drooping sallow arms. She had a lined and dirty face but, mysteriously, there was the quickness of youth about her. And by gum, she was putting the fear of Great Old Bog, praise be his name, very much into Yours Truly. She was foaming at the mouth and it looked infectious: "Down with American hegemony and adventurism. Strike down this capitalist-roader and running dog. This sexual deviant, this foreign seducer, this devil demon in devil flesh."

There was a silence, where I had feared an echo chamber. I was froze, terrified. The end was nigh. I twitched my eyes back and forth. My shoulders was lifted up high like for protection and I was too scared to move my noggin; like, if I didna move, maybe everyone else would forget to move too.

And then this old gentleman, a hard-driven deeply tanned country bumpkin but jumped up and outfitted in a tartan jacket and spiffy leather lace-ups, offered his fifty-cents worth. He wouldn't have looked any odder if he'd been wearing a turban with that fine haberdashery stuff.

He said, "Fuck!" Not too loud, but it was real, real quiet.

That was it. All she wrote. He said no more. But that was enough for me. I followed his lead.

In a faux sympathetic tone, the only tone of sympathy I'm well acquainted with, I inquired of the drab banshee, "Begging your pardon madam. Would you be, perhaps, if it not be too impertinent to ask, from across, like, the pond may be?"

This was enough to set things in a very new and convenient motion. The elderly gentlemen in the golf jacket now jabbed her in the shoulder right rude-like and asked, or should I say accused, "You're from mainland China, eh? Another illegal alien, stealing our jobs, when not stealing our purses and thieving our wallets and breaking into our homes and cutting our throats. You nasty vicious bastards, setting fires across the nation. Professional arsonists and criminal types to the last you are. Communist spies! You mother sons of bitches killed my brother forty years ago!"

A rumbling, a sort of incoherent "Aye!" came up from the wobbly not terribly motivated crowd, and I realized it wasn't a mob and more like a studio audience, but with better air. The skinny pathetic girl noted the change in the winds of political fashion and began to move away. "No! no!" She shouted fiercely, but like a shyster under pressure looking for a useful technicality, "I'm married to my husband. My bastard husband. Emm.... He's from Taiwan, right?"

An indignant housewife, by the look of her blossoming tummy and dated fashion statement, spoke up sharply, "They all say that. From where? Where he's from. Which township? Be specific."

The political activist cringed, shrinking. The housewife badgered her: "C'mon! Speak up!"

Enough was enough. The illegal alien made a run for it. Odds were in her favor. She'd probably had plenty of practice and was in good shape running from country to country, party to party, sect to sect, movement to movement, frenzy to frenzy.

She scampered off, pulling into a full sprint, shrieking and leaping magnificently, navigating the gas station like a gazelle, scaring people into thinking she was a desperado, a demon and foreign devil in her own right, capable of carnage and cannibalism. She disappeared into the leafy woods of the downtown Forest Park to our left.

I tried to hold back a smile, and get back to business at hand. My second-generation mainlander fatso stood ramrod straight and angry. But his moment, his hoped for fifteen minutes in the sun, were over. The crowd was a sympathetic, for I was like them now, a member of an oppressed minority.

So I backed up, smiling, on the alert for more busybodies to come out of the woodwork. I requisitioned the do-gooder student to serve as my psychic human shield. I took him by the upper arm and he didn’t protest. Squiring him about, he was happy to help, to be a part of the main action, to appear larger than life for the moment.

We were in the midst of moving the burbling codger when the student protested, "Wait a minute. Shouldn’t we wait for an ambulance? They'll know what to do."

"I already know what to do. Rescue the old fart before he suffocates.” And as I rushed to move the bike on me own, I howled, “Oof, this bike weighs a ton.” And then “Look!" I said, tugging on the frame, "It's crushing him. We have to do something now." I put on my best facsimile smile, drawing my lips back to my back teeth a trick from working as a bit model hawking dubious products. It was a sneak alright, but I needed collegiality and a sympathy trip to get any action out of him. There’s nothing like the rise you get from being on the right side of a tragedy.

So we got to the heavy work of untangling the old fellah from his own bike, and then pulled it off my motorcycle. I took a look around, turning into the setting sun with a fierce smile, hoping my pearly whites would impress the passive crowd with my bona fides.

Speaking of the crowd, I noted that it was still gathering in size. I felt vastly more comfortable with the politically correct appearance of a local boy lending assistance and propriety to the scene. Otherwise it might seem that Yours Truly was flailing through the wreckage only to make a quick getaway.

In fact, I was just getting ready to issue an excuse such as “I’ll ride off and fetch an ambulance. Be right back, eh?,” that would allow me to get on my motorcycle and ride into the anonymous sunset when this old Grandmama in knee breeches and a North Korean hairdo came out howling and screeching, calling on Great Bog in his heaven, beseeching the great Drowner and Downer of mankind for a just revenge.

This was very awkward.

I decided not to understand. I moved into a new role as stoic: manufacturing the stiff-upper-lipped manner expected of the gallant dumb White Hollywood Hope. Everything was theater and had to be.

If it was going to be my act against hers, I might most certainly lose. I had logic, but she had waterworks, real tear-jerking crowd-moving waterworks. I opted to go into the role of American Big Brother, the ultra-patriot keeping Free China free. But this required that I keep my big and blathering gabby mouth unnaturally shut. In part because Uncle Sam wasn’t expected to speak the local lingo, and in part because I feared I might shite it with the wrong word, which might explode the spell and expose me for being just another flesh and blood atom of self-interest.

She grabbed and snatched at my arms, my clothes. I said in English, “There, there, you poor, poor wretch.” I opened my arms to embrace her, which would be a real crowd-pleaser if I could manage it. And perhaps I could give her a wrestler’s squeeze, a sleeper or something that would warn her not to take the game to far or else it would be curtains…

But she was cagey and wouldna let me do it. She played shamelessly to the gallery, railed at Yours Truly with her weak and scrawny hands high in the air, as if trying to give Bog a high five. She shrieked at the unfairness of it all, but seemed too pressed for time to check and see if hubby was okay. Now I recognized her as a virtuoso with weapons of mass deception. She wanted to suck up the goodwill of the crowd and then sick them on me like a robins squabbling over a worm, yanking it apart in a tug of war until the innards drooped out. She wanted what’s known in the shyster trade as R&R: revenge and restitution.

I pulled the Good Samaritan over to the end whispered in his ear in Chinese, "You’ve got to help me out here. She’s deranged, lost it. I'm just an innocent, who wouldn't cause nobody no harm for no good reason."

But he pulled back and looked me in the eye: "But you crashed into the old man and his bicycle, right?"

"But it wasna on purpose. Emm… It was more like he zoomed greedily to get across the road and invaded my lawful spot on the busy thoroughfare. I didn’t crash into him. I hardly even saw him. Emm…. It’s more like, eh, my 100kg motorcycle was on a trajectory which he chose to intercept. He engaged me. No. Emm… He crashed into me. That’s it! That’s what I’m saying."

In earnest he said, "He hit the front of your bike with the side of his bike. That’s what you mean?”

“No. Well sort of. But, well, you know what I mean…”

I thought he saw through me, but then he said, “It doesn’t matter how you crashed, the fault is still half yours."

I was shocked: "It's not half mine, mate! It's all bloody his! He didn't look before crossing the road. That's one of the favorite habits of people in this country, old uppity gaffers in particular that is,” which I said trying not to annoy his younger self. “They can’t be fucked…pardon my French… to look before crossing the road. Like it’s everyone else’s responsibility to look out for them, take care of them, baby them, respect them, privilege them. It’s not fair and it’s not right. They’re human, just like the rest of us."

But he wasn’t. Not really. He just kept unblinking, staring straight ahead with the clear and rooted expression of the true believer, the old self-satisfied convert. He nattered: "But they’re our reverend elders. You should be careful. It's your fault for not being careful enough.”

I knew I’d seen this before somewhere. Yes, many at time, now that I thought about it. Yes, yes. This psychotic adherence to ideology that sprung out of a profound sort of ignorance and an impersonal incuriosity that ensured he’d never learn nothing that didn’t fit his preconceptions. I was making no impression and never would. It gave me the creeps reappraising him and realizing he was a flesh robot, a sort of early release beta-edition of what artificial intelligence will be like when it first hits the market. As is so often the case, the future was now; no, it had always been with us. It scared me to think how primitive things would be for a long time to come.

I was on the verge of giving up, going in for a scream and shriek, and making a run for the Forest Park myself when he said, “Besides, you were driving the bigger vehicle and in this country the bigger vehicle is, legally speaking, always at fault."

Finally, something I could work with that was outside of his circular logic lunacy. It still wasn't looking good, though, for what he said was true enough. But it was encouraging in some way.

And then I felt something strike me, and shoe settled in front of me. I looked up to find the vandal culprit, grandmamma. She wasn’t very strong. Or maybe just not trying. Her heart wasn’t in it. If she even had a heart anymore. I looked over at Grandpa, who was still lying on the pavement, heaving like a long-beached fish with only its reflexes moving its gills.

She was sitting down in the road now, making herself small and weepy and underdog-like. She was shedding bits and pieces of clothing to throw pathetically at me; a sort of pathetic non-violent violence; a sort of modern lawsuit-fearing edition of a stoning.

I was impatient nonetheless, for the damage was real, if psychic, in this battle for the hearts and minds of the crowd. I said in my best patrician tone, "Now you just stop with that right now. You poor, poor dear." I wanted to step on her, but didn’t dare.

Grandma was slowly winning the home crowd and I was busy working on a new set of tactics when finally the inevitable siren came into earshot. I’d been hoping to avoid cops, but now, for one of the first times in my life, I was happy that the coppers were getting here.

The police officer arrived, pulling up smartly and parking in the typical cop fashion: any old way he pleased. He stepped down from his smart-looking BMW cop bike. He was a good six foot tall and proud of it, standing ram-rod straight and stiff-legged, making the most of his height and making sure we all noticed. Furthering the true blue mafia feel was his Nazi gay cruising bar haberdashery of black leather, black gun, and black knee-rider boots all in pristine, unused unworn shape. He cut an imposing figure and was the picture of fiat authority.

I felt in the company of fellow member of the elite. We could talk as members of the same club, inhaling the same rarified uppity air.

But it all fell apart when he started to move. Instead of a Swiss goose-step or a Thai cop big-bellied swinging-dick strut, his rigid posture fell to pieces once he moved. He had that curious local baby walk, which has all the mystery of a deftly executed hip-hop move, leaving the audience with the distinct impression that the walker’s legs don’t quite reach the ground.

He walked over circumspectly to the scene of the damage, lifted an eyebrow at the sight of the old man foaming and still unattended and then flumped it back to his motorbike. He picked up the handset. "This is 915, over. I need backup here at the Forest Park gas station, east lane."

The reply came over snapping and popping but clear, "Roger 915. This here’s 437. We’ll have to negative that request, over." And there was a sound of plates banging and people chattering in the crackling background.

The cop winced and pleaded: "Oh come on guys. I was just about to go to lunch. I don't have time for this shit. I've got some serious munchies."

"Sorry 915, our entrees are on the table. Hot and steamy and looking good. We ain't going but nowhere, over.” The sound of laughter ended in a squelch.

“Don’t leave me here on this one. I need backup damn it!”

“In your ear, 915.” More guffaws. “You're on your own, buddy. Over and out." This was followed by somebody in the background sharply belching and another squeal of squelch ended the conversation.

I felt heartened by this cavalier irresponsibility, this publicly expressed effrontery, this unabashed absence of civil service spirit in the face of the tax-payers who were footing his salary. He and I were elevated brothers in kind, fellow feeders at a trough higher up in the food chain. He wouldn’t be what I most feared: jealous of Yours Truly and infected with an envy that would have him hectoring and hauling me roughly into a paddy-wagon for rough treatment at destinations unknown.

He rolled his eyes while flumping over to me and the good Samaritan; peeling off his gloves as is the way when needing time to gather one's thoughts prior to a spot of unpleasant business. He looked askance at the both of us, and not wanting to embarrass himself speaking shoddy busted-up and accented English, he barked at the good Samaritan: "What happened here? What did you do?"

I was delighted. I silently thanked Bog, the merciful, all praise be his name.

I entered the discussion, giddily placing myself in the position of generously reprieving the Good Samaritan and volunteering myself as faux-scapegoat. I was the picture of selfless self-sacrifice and scored many valuable points in so doing.
I already thinking that I could soon be on my way, when a mid-thirties couple rushed over from same side street that gramps had raced out of.

"Good grief!” the woman shrieked. Getting up, she marched over the police officer and asked officiously: “What happened to my father?" I turned expecting to see her husband, but he remained kneeling by their father, attending to him with care. Grandma was getting herself up, fussing and bothering in a last plea for unearned attention, but I sensed that her part in the show was coming to a close.

I looked to my watch but banished the emerging prurient thoughts. I turned to look at the forest park, to calm myself; to best prepare myself for the worst and to meet whatever happened head on.

I always found gazing at the pale and tepid setting sun to be calming; especially these days, as it was an anemic shadow of its former mutant glory when the nation's air was an industrial dumping ground producing unearthly blushing neon colors against a thick unnatural sky.

The husband was beside us when I looked back. He and she were white collar yuppies: he in an off-the-rack grey sharkskin suit and white sneakers; she in thick yellow tights, a buttercup skirt, and prim nurse’s loafers. They both looked at the good Samaritan with hard faces. Rescued again, I thought. The local prejudice indicated that I was most likely the Good Samaritan.

The cop lazily put his hand up and yawned, pointing to me with his other hand and spoke in a muffled and half-eaten voice: "Apparently the smashup was an accident, the perpetrator is the foreigner here."

"Yes," I said in Mandarin, facing them both, and then, while giving the wife a slight bow, "At your service, madam."

"The foreigner?" The husband asked the policeman brightly, but he was really speaking to me.

This was the perfect time for me to show some initiative. I said, "I cannot tell a lie. It was his fault," pointing at their father. "I was just driving down the road, minding my own business, keeping a safe distance, abiding by all the rules and regulations as a guest in-country should, when all of a sudden..."

I was rudely interrupted, by a hand placed on my arm. I jumped and my delivery got caught squeaking in my throat. I grit my teeth and winced, preparing myself for a slap, when the wife interrupted my concentration with, "Why, you speak marvelous Chinese. Where are you from?"

Like I was struck with a stone, I was flabbergasted and at a loss of words for seconds. Not only was my spiel interrupted but my train of thought entirely derailed. "Pardon, mum?" I eventually managed.

"Your country of origin. Your provenance. Where are you from young man?"

I brightened, no longer doubting what I was hearing: "Yes, well, in that case, from a bunch of places I gather, I guess." Wagering that the smallest white bread country was best (combining the fashionable First World with the cutesy associations people form with smaller distant countries incapable of threatening their own). I said, "Well, emm…. I suppose, eh, Scotland?"

I was in a hungry rush to say more but was interrupted again and prevented from saying anything that might interrupt the fantasy blossoming in front of me, "Wow! Really! You don't say?"

And then she moved on to what she really wanted to say which was "Why, it's not often that one has an opportunity to speak to foreigners who speak Chinese." Though this sounded like simple praise for the language aptitude of Yours Truly, it was an ambidextrous praise for it suggested that the Chinese people had a language worth mastering, a culture worth aping, and a status worth propitiating.

"And isn't Scotland also striving for independence from England?” I nodded meekly, bending over obsequiously, pointing my arse at the early evening stars. “Yes, yes” she said in breathy voice, “I thought so. Oh, yes, we have so much in common, doesn’t he husband?”

He also chimed in with, “It’s most marvelous how much of our culture you’ve managed to soak up. Why you must join us for some tea."

I tried to fend them off, but lacked a way to do so graciously. I looked around for inspiration, and saw the grandmother pouting in the middle of the road. I looked back and the married couple were still making pie-eyes at me. I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, you being so gracious and all, but um, well, but I’ve got to be going you see… er…”

The husband replied, “Now don’t be silly. We need to take care of this minor unpleasantness first. Excuse us, really, eh, Grandad’s always mucking about, you know. The elderly, second-childhood and all that, don’t you know. Wait here a bit, won’t you?” He went off to check on granddad again.

I heard him calling in an ambulance, at which point the crowd started shuffling off, the show over and now everyone humming and mumbling, Monday morning quarterbacking. In the interim, the wife got friendly, touchy-feely, gripping the white ghost before her to be sure he was real. She was a second generation Mainlander too, but more self-assured and masculine than the barking fatso. She held my upper arm in a firm, fleshy grasp. The husband returned at this point, and followed her initiative by holding onto my hand.

I was caught, firm and snug in their fond embrace; like graduates of the same uppity private college recognizing the old school tie. They chattered and chattered at me, praising me and thus, by corollary, praising themselves.

We remained in the middle of the road, not moving the bike and grandpa, the rest of the world be damned.

The Good Samaritan, whom I now recognized as more of a Simple Simon was left out of the festivities, eclipsed by the main actors. He sidled over now with a pleading look, trying to make me feel guilty and edge his way in. He pulled at my other arm like a small child to a parent, but I gave him a smart: "Shove off, you!" and gave my best embarrassed ‘you got me’ face to the couple.

The cop sat with a look of disgust on his motorcycle, waiting for the ambulance. He was back to being an Asian Adonis, when not in ambulant motion.

Simple Simon did as he was told and cleared out. Now I was left gabbling privately and pleasantly with the couple, traffic weaving around us, occupants wondering, just like myself, just what the hell was going on here.

In the end, I escaped with a promise to pay half the cost of the ambulance fee. I thanked them sincerely, offered my condolences, and gave them a bogus contact number. I was only acting in character. They mistook me for a fellow as highly risen and well-born as they, when in fact I was a fallen angel, driven out of the First World and living on borrowed time in the developing world.

They could have hided me for what I done, and it was a miracle they didn’t. Now, I sort of wish they did. It would have done me a world of good and helped me get back to where I belonged.

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