Friday, 22 May 2015

How to expedite matters (London)

A heavily pregnant student Iroda’s mother had come over from Uzbekistan to be with her at, and after, the birth of the grandchild.  She had come along on the day of Iroda’s in-class listening test, in case the baby decided to arrive early.  The test was only an hour in all, so I thought the mother could just sit in a corner of the classroom for that hour, rather than ask her to go and kill time in a café somewhere, especially since she was unfamiliar with London and could not speak much English.  Normally, I could sign people in as my guests, but the porter at the building where the test was taking place didn’t know me and, for some reason, was reluctant to let her in, even after my explanation.  As it was getting close to the start of the listening test, I decided I could not afford to lose more time bargaining with him, so I put this question to him, “Do you know how to deliver babies?”  He immediately granted the mother access.

(London 2010)

Update: 010116:  Iroda the student said the son Nuron was born after the exam, so that was a bit of a close shave.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The motorcycle lane (Taipei, Taiwan)

Valerio mentioning the motorbikes of Rome, in response to my blog entry Traffic around the world: Taiwan 2 has brought back this story.

When I was working at Conoco Taiwan in 1975–1976 in Taipei, the place was teeming with motorcycles, as they were cheap to run and also a quick way of getting around.  The riders would zip around, and in between, the bigger vehicles, making a nuisance of themselves.  So, the authorities set aside a motorcycle lane for them, on the pavement side, i.e., the slowest lane, with railings erected, to stop them from shooting out into the main traffic lanes except at junctions.  Therefore, once one got into one of these motorcycle lanes, one was stuck in it until the next opening, which can be some distance away.

Taxis and other vehicles were allowed to enter these slow lanes to pick up or drop off passengers.

One evening, after an office party, I took a taxi home, and offered my colleague Mary a lift part of the way home for her, so that she wouldn’t have to take two buses, just one.

Taipei’s streets are set up in the traditional format for Chinese cities — in a grid — so streets would run in a north-south or east-west direction.  We were going along Nanjing East Road, and I asked the taxi driver to turn left at the first main junction, because that was where Mary could catch a direct bus home.  He ignored me, and carried on.  Mary said she could catch a bus too at the next junction, but again the driver ignored my request to turn left there.  He must’ve thought he wasn’t going to let himself be dictated to by a girl — there’s no other explanation for his behaviour otherwise.  I know, from first hand experience, that London taxi drivers, who have to pass The Knowledge test, baulk at being given the fastest route by a passenger.

When he finally did turn left at the third junction, which was no good for Mary now for her direct bus, I decided not to carry on my journey with him, and asked to be dropped off.  He went into the slow lane, which was chock-a-block with motorcycles and taxis, and Mary and I got out.

My first mistake:  as I paid him, while still in the cab, I decided to give him feedback:  “I was going to take your cab all the way home but I won’t now, because you were rude.  You refused to turn left, not just once but twice, when I asked you to.”

Second mistake:  we then jumped into the taxi behind him.  

The rude driver was so incensed at being told off by a mere slip of a girl (I was 21 and was often told I looked 16, which is quite inconvenient at times) that he left his taxi and came right up to my taxi, shouting at me through the window pane:  “What do you mean rude?!?  You bloody c..t!  How dare you call me rude?!?  I will not have a woman call me rude!  You f...king broad!  Damn you!!”  Luckily I’d wound up the car window when I saw him approaching, because he looked perfectly capable of punching me in the face. 

The new driver asked me what had brought this on.  I told him.  He shook his head in sympathy, sucked in air and said, “Oh, unwise, very unwise.”  I know, I know, I know now.

We were stuck behind him in the slow lane, making us sitting ducks.  The rude driver ranted and raved, raved and ranted, on and on and on.  Our driver was helpless too, having to sit it out.  The taxis and motorcycles behind us started to sound their horns angrily, as the traffic lights at the next opening went green, then red, then green, then red, then green.

After what felt like at least ten minutes, the rude driver walked back to his vehicle, but he obviously hadn’t quite let off enough steam because he then stood by his car door, and fired off more tirade from there.  I could hear him clearly from my new taxi, even with the windows wound up.  The traffic lights went green, red, green, red, green, and the horns kept up their cacophony of furious hornets.

After what seemed like yet another ten minutes, the man finally got into his taxi, and drove off, but slowly, as if he was still considering stopping and getting out to do more shouting and yelling.

For at least half a year after that incident, I didn’t dare flag down a brown/maroon taxi again, in case it was him.  I’d stand for ages shivering in the cold and in the rain, letting all the brown/maroon taxis go, rather than risk it.  If I saw a brown/maroon taxi in my neighbourhood, I’d break out in a sweat, thinking he’d tracked me down.

(Taipei, 1975/6)

Cultural practices and cultural usage of language (England)

Vita had come to England in 1968 when the student riots took place in Milan, and gone to live in Oxford.  Where she’d grown up, in the mountain area of northern Italy (near Monte Rosa), the local practice was to drape the duvet and other bedclothes over the window sill first thing in the morning, if it was sunny and dry, to air them.  She continued with this practice in Oxford, but the locals said it was a bit vulgar, as it looked like she was announcing, and showing off, her bedroom activities of the night before.  She was horrified they should’ve taken it that way, and thought they were a bit racist towards her.

As she was studying full-time, she got a local woman to baby-sit her son for a small fee, and they got on well.  One day, the English woman called her “duck”, which is apparently offensive in Italian.  Hurt, Vita terminated the woman’s baby-sitting services and never spoke to her again.

It wasn’t until years later, she told me, that she found out the Brits use it as a term of endearment.

duck 3 |dək| (also ducks )
noun Brit.
dear; darling (used as an informal or affectionate form of address, esp. among cockneys).
ORIGIN late 16th cent.

(England, 1968)