Saturday, November 25, 2006

Honk, honk, gas. Brake, gas, honk.

The public transportation here is a far cry from the gloriously convenient, fast, and inexpensive public transit I enjoyed in Hong Kong. There's no subway, and no public busses. There really are only private busses, taxis, and motorcycle taxis. (I guess now that I think of it, if they're private it's not really public transportation.)

Now, as I wrote before, the uncivilized nature of the roads here are more of an amusement and adventure than a nuisance to me. But there's one part of traffic here that I somehow inexplicably forgot to include. Horns. Those damned horns. They are incessant, violent, and excruciatingly loud.

I live three blocks away from the main road where people use their horns, but every morning starting around 5:00 am, I can hear the horns echo down the streets, bounce of the mountain in which my bedroom window is facing, and enter my room. The pitch these horns are calibrated at are as such that for the first two weeks, every time a bus honked it's horn, I thought my phone was ringing in the other room. It's that loud.

If you are ever walking next to the front of a bus when it honks it's horn, you will know how painful sound can be. It's not just painful in your ears or your head, you actually feel it all over your body. After the encounter, it takes a good minute for my heart to return to it's normal pace and feeling to return to my fingertips.

Although I have no proof other than empirical evidence, I believe the number one selling point of horns for vehicles in this country is volume. The louder, the better. In my mind, I picture hundreds of scientists in a lab, pondering and conducting experiments trying to find the most efficient way to propel massive amounts of air through a narrow passage in order to create the greatest vibration of air molecules. These men simply have no respect for the fragility of the human ear drum.

So besides the amplitude of the horn and frequency with which they are used, my other compliant lies in the unnecessary usage of the horn. People here need no excuse to use their horn. I'm actually interested to test drive a motorcycle here, because I don't think the driver has control over the horn. I could be wrong, but my hypothesis is that any time the vehicle accelerates, brakes, or turns the wheel slightly, the horn fires automatically.

For example, last week I was riding my bike down a trail in the middle of the rice fields. We were in the middle of nowhere, and there wasn't a single person in sight. A man on a motorcycle came the opposite direction, and I watched him coming for about thirty seconds. About one second after he roared past me with his loud engine, he honked his horn! There's no way I could have missed him. The only thing I could guess his horn honking meant was "Just in case you didn't see me there, you should watch out, because I just passed you!"

Alas, I have now become hypocritical as I have just purchased a bell for my bike this week. It just wasn't safe on the roads without it. I do try to use it sparingly, but every time I do, I feel like I'm just adding to the clatter that wakes me up reaching incorrectly for the phone every morning.

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