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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - April 4, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta TALE OF WOE Some memories of a car collision and its aftermath in quiet Peking The LetWnridge Herald Third Section Lethbridge, Alberta, Wednesday, April 4, 1973 Pages 38 to 42 PEKING The day of the accident was one of the imest I can remember in my 20 months in Peking. It was a Saturday in late spring, with the air still and the sky blue, blossoms cm the trees, and the streets of the city busy with bicyclists and pedes- trians in shirtsleeves, enjoying the return of mild weather af- ter an unusually severe winter. I had risen early and driven over to the apartment home of Jean Leclerc du Sablon, an Agence France-Presse corres- pondent who lives in an apart- ment complex known as Wei Chiao Da Lo, or Diplomats' Big Building, about three miles from my apartment in San Li Tun. The road leads through the pleasant, tree-lined streets By John Burns Special to The Herald m of the new embassy quarter es- tablished by the communists af- ter 1949, and it was there that the accident occurred. Traffic in the Wei Chiao Da Lo area is the usual Peking conglomeration of cars, trucks, three wheelers, motorcycles, horse-drawn drays, pedicarts, pushcarts and bicycles, the mass of them fighting for man- oeuvring room with a disre- gard of traffic regulations. Complicated Driving is complicated by the absence of stop or yield signs at a number cf intersections. I was wary of one particular in- tersection, flanked on its four corners by the embassies of Egypt, Pakistan, Csylon and Mongolia. On more than one oc- casion, while crossing on the north-south axis, I had been narrowly missed by vehicles en- tering it at soeed from the less heavily travelled east-west axis. On this morning, I slowed to about 25 mph as I approached the intersection, glancing quick- ly to left and right. Although my vision was partially ob- scured by untrimmed hedges, I judged that the road was clear, gave a quick toot on the bom, and pressed on. It was a mistake. Just too late I saw another car, also a Volkswagen, entering the inter- section from the right. Judging a collision inevitable, I attempt- ed to turn a potentially catas- trophic broadside into a glanc- ing blow by accelerating hard and swinging sharply to the left. Collision It almost worked, but not quite. The otter car struck my vehicle's right rear fender, spinning my car around and sending it backwards into the curb. Bounding back into the road, ft- eventually came to rest about 50 yards further on, facing into its path of travel, its driver shaken but unhurt It was the worst moment I have known in China I was un- able to judge immediately whether my car had struck any bicyclists or pedes'rians. and even if mine had not there was the strong possibility that the other car had as it careened across the intersection and off the road. Injury and death on the road is tragic wherever it occurs, bat the tragedy can be compound- ed by unusual complications in China. Police officials who in- vestigate accidents are also empowered to make rulings on the question of fault, which are final and not subject to con- test in court Foreigners are rarely judged blameless in ac- cidents involving Chinese. I also knew that foreigners fcund guil- tr cf causing Jhe deglh of a Chinese had been n the past to pay compensation of anything up to payable in full before tearing China. Uninsured I was completely uninsured. Lake many ether foreigners, I had looked all over the world for a company that woaW cov- er me, Jo be toM lepeat- etTv that no policies were avail- a'Ste for Oina. as ft is of an adMrcary legal system 'which gives an insurance com- pany a chance of contesting a ruling. Getting oat of the car, I ran TO the road to (the hrtersedion, now strewn with broken aixi twisted Wfal Even as I detrnniaed that there was no- body lying in the road, I spied the other car resting atop a curb at one corner of the cross- ing, its hood poking through one of the hedges, its engine still racing. To my relief, it turned out to be a diplomatic car driven by a diplomat I shall call Abdul- lah. Agreement We determined that neither of us had struck or otherwise in- jured any Chinese, which made the damage to both cars seem relatively unimportant. Abdul- lah was quick to propose a gentleman's agreement: that we each pay our own costs, rs- gardless of fault. Seeing that the alternative was a lengthy in- vestigation by the Chinese, I agreed. Surprisingly, both cars could still move under their own pow- er. Accordingly, we cleared the debris from the intersection and headed for our respective homes, agreed that Abdullah would call the police to tell them that the question of li- ability had been settled ami- cably between ourselves We should have known better. Within 15 minutes, while I was still consoling my Chinese driy- ei on the disfigurement of his treasured VW, the telephone rang. It was a police officer call- ing to inform me that I had broken Chinese law by leaving the scene of an accident with- out permission. Assured by the officer that this was "a most serious of- I drove back to the acci- dent scene. There I found Ab- dullah surrounded by a posse of policemen demanding to know every last detail of the crash. Statement It was two hours before we were free to go on our way again. First the accident was reconstructed on site, with the cars returned to the positions they were in immediately after the crash. After that, the whole party repaired to the nearby police station, where Abdullah and I, assisted by our interpret- ers, were required to give state- ments. I was familiar with the police regulations pertinent to- acci- dents, in particular Articles 56 and 57, which provide that punishment "may be mitigated or waived" in the case of an offender who admits his errors and pledges to mend his ways, and, conversely, that an offend- er who attempts to evade his responsibilities "should receive a more severe punishment." Accordingly I opted for the confessional approach, admit- ting that I had entered th.3 in- tersection at about 25 mph, though I knew the limit to be 10. To further promote the chances cf favorable consider- ation, I confessed that I had increased speed at the sight of the Qther vehicle, instead of braking as the regulations re- quire. Abdullah chose a more guard- ed approach. As I listened to his account how he had slow- ed for the intersection, checked both ways, tooted his horn and proceeded at a speed of 6 to 10 mph I began to wonder how so circumspect a driver could ever have an accident, let alone one which practically de- molished the front end of his car and the rear of mine. Thought A similar thought seemed to strike the senior investigating officer, who interrupted to sug- gest that the distance travel- Jed by both vehicles after the impact, and the damage sus- taired by each, made the esti- mate of speed seem implausibly low. Was the foreign friend per- haps underestimating just a lit- tle? "v.-eU, replied Abdullah. "I am not so good at estimating speeds." The senior officer informed us that our licences would be held pending completion of the investigation. So that this should not prevent us from driving cnce our cars were re- paired, he issued us both willi temporary licences, renewable monthly if we committed no further Indiscretions. With a smile and a pica for more care- ful driving, he then invited us to take our leave. As I left. I was confident that the ruling would be fair and favorable. There was the mat- ter of Abdullah's speed, and then there was Article 20 of the regulations, which provided that "vehicles on brarcti roads should give way to idactes on Khe main Finally, there was my confession cf wrong- doing, which seemed just the swt of the axStars of Article 56 had in mind. It was some time before I ran irio Abdullah again He men- Ikmed that he had been taking a closer look at the traffic reg- ulations, and without actually saying so conveyed the impres- sion that he was no longer so sure that he should have apolo- gized for the accident. Beturning home I ran through the regulations again to see if I could find anything that might have led him to this conclusion. In the end, I de- cided it was probably Article 20, which provides that "on roads of the same category, ve- hicles which have no vehicles coming on their right have pre- cedence." It all seemed to boil down to a matter of interpretation. Common sense told me and Abdullah, too, on first impulse I had been on the main road, and therefore had prior- ity. But I now saw how the police could interpret the rules so as to conclude that the inter- secting roads were "of the same category" with the priority belonging to Abdullah. DHveable Though my car was still driveable it looked like a refu- gee from a demolition derby. Not far from my apartment there is a workshop specializ- ing in the repair of foreigner's cars. Experience had not pre- pared me for the list of spate parts thev insisted would be necessary before the work could bepin. This should have presented no problem, as I have in my garage one of the greatest col- lection of Volkswagen spare parts ever assembled by a pri- vate owner the product of years of careful accumulation bv mv Chinese driver, Mr. Li, who has acauired the habit of presenting the incumbent of The Globe and Mail's Peking bureau with a lengthy inventory of urgently-needed spare parts at least once every three months. Mr. Li believes in stocking in depth two complete clutch assemblies, three horns, four coils, a half a dozen fan belts, and so on. Immaculately ar- ranged in cardboard boxes that line the garage wall, they have given rise over the years to one of the bureau's standing jokes; that Mr. Li is planning to open China's first VW dealer- shro in his spare time. For all his horns and fan belts, be was unable to furnish me with several items on the list of needed parts. For them, I would have to rely on imoorts from the VW dealer in Hong Kong. New parts By telephone and cable I succeeded within a month in getting the parts to the railway station in Peking. My impa- tience ran afoul of Chinese offi- cialdom from the moment I presented myself at the station. Yes, the clerk behind the coun- ter said, the shipment had ar- rived, but first it must be clear- ed through customs, located in another office in the same building. A zealous young custexas man in uniform informed me that he had no authority to clear the shipment without an import licence, which I could obtain at the Ministry of For- eign Trade, a mile or more At the ministry, another offi- cial beard me out, withdrew for consultations with his superiors, and returned to say that no import licence could be issued without an invoice for the goods. In the face of my protests that ro invoice had yet arrived from Hong Kong, the official re- mained adamant: no invoice, no licence. Surprise Back at the station, I asked the customs man to open the shipment to see if it included an invoice. He replied that be would be happy to open the crate as soon as I could produce an import licence. No invoice, no import licence; no import licence, no ship- ment: no shipment, no car: In desperation. I tried one last plea: Would the oflicvl accoir- pany me to the warehouse and stand guard while I opened the crate, ever so briefly, to see if there was an invoice inside? Finally to my immense surprise agreement After farther delays (first we had to find a forfclift to extricate the crate, then Mr. Li had to go off in search of a crowbar) we prized the crate open. Et voila! -Jhe invoke. WHh that, it was only a matter of an hour or M> before I had secured the im- port licence and returned to the station for customs. The customs officer, impas- sive as ever, informed me that there was small matter of duty to be paid before the ship- ment could be released. The rate? 106 per cert, en an invoice value of far a doty payment of Measurements are important Peking police investigate an accident While acknowledging the right of the Chinese authorities to levy whatever duties they chose (a sensitive point, given foreign control of Chinese cus- toms in pre-1949 I told the official I considered a rate of 106 per cent to be excessive. It was only a matter of two or three weeks before the garage had the car back on the road, but it was months before the summons came from the Public Security Bureau. Abdullah and I were asked to present our- selves at the PSB's Foreign Af- fairs Section, housed in an old Chinese villa beside the For- bidden City, at 9 o'clock sharp one weekday morning. After a round of tea and cigarettes, the senior officer extinguished his butt, thrust his hand into his pocket and produced a doiru- men.t in Chinese. "A contributing cause of the accident was that both drivers were proceeding at a higher speed than he be- gan. "In this, you violated Arti- cle 39 of the Traffic Regula- tions, which states that the highest permissible speed at an intersection is 15 kilometres per hour (slightly less than 10 Still reading from his docu- ment, the officer noted that Abdullah and I had reached a private agreement to pay wur own costs, and added that if wished to abide by our agreement the Chinese author- ities "will not object." Abdul- lah, decently, acknowledged that the agreement was still in effect, formally releasing me from any financial obligation. April at Jordans Fashion takes the Floor SPRING SALE BROADLOOMS Jordans brings the Joy of Spring right into your home wiih bright and beautiful "FASHION LEADER CARPETS" made 'specially for Jordans. by BIGELOW Ifs a gay, colourful time of year! There are many, many great savings to enjoy in ex- citing new styles and colors as chic as new Easter ensemble! SHOP-IN-YOUR HOME: For the service and advice of a courteous Jordans' specialist right in your own home please phone your nearest Jordans Store. He assist you in choosing the right carpel, colour and texture and give you an estimate all without obligation. When you buy from Jordans You deal with someone you can trust! Your assurance of satisfaction is 44-year reputation for quality and value, service and integ- rity. HURRY DRESS UP FOR SPRING WITH THESE WONDERFUL MONEY SAYING VALUES! Maverick Brightly colored level loop nylon, 8 colors. SALE 5 .99 TO. uine AM plush velvet, amaz- ing low price for fine wool carpet. SALE 13 SO YD. Saturday Night Famous nyicn shag, happy care- f r e e texture, 12 beautiful shades. SAIE SO. YD. Cable Shag Exlra heavy dual tone nylon yarn in wniquc deep texture, 12 beautiful shades. 12 SALE .99 SO TO. Cheerleader A n exciting new voriajion, Multi-color nylon yarn in plvsh texture. SAIE SO. YD. Luxury Wool Plush The TTtosI elegonl of ol1 ond Tnoil ouMondma m fmcM quality wool, 10 SALE 17" SQ. YD. We Have Carpets for Everyone! Use Jordan's Convenient Budget Flam No Down Payment! Jordans DOWNTOWN AT 315 6th STREET SOUTH OPEN DAILY TO 5.30 P.M. THURSDAY 9 A.M. TO 9 PM. Out of town residents may phone 327-1103 collect for service right in their own homcl ;