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Expats Can Use Everyday Events to Act as 'Ambassadors' for Their Home Countries

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I guess I’m one of the lucky ones.

In my years of living and driving here in KL, I’ve never witnessed a truly horrific accident in the daily grind of traffic we all endure. I’ve read the statistics that say, on average, 11 motorcyclists die on Malaysian roadways every day, but I’ve never seen one of these deaths occur. I know others have, and it must be a traumatic thing to experience. Recently, I watched an accident unfold before me on the Penchala Link that’s as close I ever want to come to seeing a fatal collision. After the toll booths, two cars were converging from the booths to their adjacent lanes. A third car, driven by some fool who apparently thought this was his personal road, accelerated dramatically in an ill-advised attempt to zoom between the two converging cars and seize the lead position, getting to cut off not one, but two other cars. It was idiotic and self-centered, and once the driver realised the two cars were coming together more quickly than he had anticipated, abandoned his F1 ambitions and slammed on his brakes.

A motorcyclist was right behind him.

Of course, this unfortunate rider had no chance to weave or brake and simply crashed headlong into the rear end of the car at some 50-60km/h. I was watching all of this unfold from about 150m back and saw the poor boy go sprawling, tumbling end over end, motorbike crashing, helmet flying. As it was midmorning on a public holiday, traffic was light, and fortunately no speeding cars were immediately behind the motorbike; indeed the only saving grace here. Finally, it was over, and the boy lay motionless, dazed, and bloodied on the highway.

Nobody stopped. There were easily three other cars (besides the one that caused all this) right around the accident, but none stopped. I obviously couldn’t bear to just continue on with this person lying sprawled and injured in the road, so I pulled over, put on my emergency flashers, and walked out to help. The motorbike rider, a young Malay boy of probably no more than 20 or 21, was slowly picking himself up off the pavement. Considering the severity of the crash and fall, he was in a relatively good state, though unquestionably injured.

He spoke almost no English, and in my own state of shock, the bits of Malay I do know seemed to vanish. I felt so bad for this kid. (Though I don’t wish them harm, I also don’t often have much real sympathy for motorcyclists here, to be honest, because they zip and weave around like complete lunatics and usually are the primary cause of accidents that befall them. Not this time, though.) This poor boy had done absolutely nothing wrong, and it was around this time that I started feeling the first stirrings of annoyance… then it crystallized into a swell of absolute anger that the driver who caused this never even stopped. The motorcyclist could have easily been killed, and the car driver couldn’t be bothered to stop, even though it was his own maniacal driving foolishness that caused the crash to begin with. I was just aghast. Moments later, an Indian lorry driver also kindly stopped to help (and provided some helpful proficiency with Malay), and I dashed out to retrieve the boy’s helmet out of the middle of the highway.

I stayed with him for a little while, helped him clean up the blood on his face and hands, checked out his bike, and even enjoyed a laugh with him when I noted with alarm that both of his motorbike’s mirrors had seemingly been broken off in the crash. Without a word of actual English, he still managed to convey to me that, well, no, the mirrors hadn’t been there to begin with. Like many riders here, he had removed them long ago. So we chuckled a bit over that, I made sure he was suitably okay to get home, and he gingerly rode off, clinging to the left-hand side of the highway. He flashed a weak, but very appreciative smile at me as he rode by (I was in my car by then, texting a friend with the details of the saga), and then the lorry driver gave me a honk and a wave as he drove off, too.

And it occurred to me that I never got the boy’s name, didn’t give him mine, we kn0w nothing about one another, but that in that moment, we had a shared experience – a local kampung boy and an obvious Caucasian foreigner – that maybe changed his perception of foreigners. Perhaps he went home and told his family that it was an “orang putih” who stopped to help him. Maybe not, of course, but it brought to mind the reality that I’m a guest here – even though I work here, pay taxes here, and deal with the same things as locals in many ways – and that a dozen times a day, I have these little moments of opportunity to be an ambassador of sorts. To reflect either positively or negatively on my own background and culture. To colour someone’s perception of Americans, or Westerners, or just plain ol’ white guys in general. Will that perception be shifted positively? Well, had I caught up with that driver who fled the scene of the accident he caused, it’s safe to answer “no.” But it’s my hope that most of the other moments of opportunity will see me embracing the chance to be a real expat ambassador.

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Source: The Expat April 2013

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