28 February 2013

My motorbike returns

Fat white men on motorbikes are not a common sight in Malaysia. Instead, most people who hear that I ride a motorbike are quick to tell me how likely it is that I will die. This is, of course, well meaning: the underlying message is to be careful, but I have been thinking quite a bit about the motorbike and class and safety as I speed up Jalan Broga towards the university, the sun rising over the mountains and palms.

Motorbikes are, I would agree, a more dangerous form of transportation, particularly in comparison to cars and it does seem that if you can afford to get a car, most people do. But many people can't, and as I pull up to stoplights and look around at the people on bikes who congregate in front of the cars with me, the class distinction is clear. The understatement of the year: I don't belong with these guys. These are working men, sometimes with girlfriends or wives and/or kids on the bike with them. They are young and dressed to work with their hands. They aren't in cars because they can't afford them: that safety mechanism isn't available to them. Uncle actually told me that motorbikes are good for people making less than RM 2,000 a month. Everyone else has a car.

This is a kind of protectionism, I think, something I wrote about when my house in the UK was broken into more than two years ago. The world grows dangerous and we build higher walls. The roads are dangerous and we buy bigger cars. The schools are bad and we go to different schools.

I don't think there's anything noble about me on my motorbike: I'm one accident or good scare away from giving it up. Still, all this detachment and protection bothers me to no end: build the walls higher and higher and you can't see over them. I'd rather die among the people than live alone.