April 19, 2010

I’m always stupefied by the way people drive.

For many years, I have driven. Like most people, we always feel that we are the good drivers, and everyone is an asshole. But here in Taiwan, and I must say, in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, the same applies, people really are out to either get killed, or kill someone else. If that is not the reason, then there are a lot of Buddhists in Asia, or people who just don’t care.

Now, I’m not about to say that I am the best driver on the road. Hell, if that was true, I’d be teaching people to drive. I just feel that it is common courtesy to help out your fellow motorists.

I can’t count the number of times a day I see people run red lights. Why? What is the big deal in waiting for 30 seconds until the light turns green? Okay, so at 4am in the morning, I can understand stopping, looking, and going through. But at 4pm?!? This is the time all the little kiddies are getting out of school. Traffic is already hectic enough without having dickheads running red lights.

I have only been in one car accident in my life, and it wasn’t my fault. Honestly. I was driving through an intersection in Ottawa, and some idiot wasn’t paying attention (he admitted it to the police!), and clipped the back of my car. No big deal, but I did have the bumper fixed, and a bit left over to have a sunroof installed. Grand total to the idiot, about $1000.

When I came to Taiwan, I didn’t drive. I was given an old rickety bicycle by my school to use. Now this thing was probably her great-great-grandfather’s bike. Nonetheless, it still sort of worked. I was crossing a bridge, when all of a sudden, I found myself on the pavement on my butt, bicycle off to the side, and a scooter driving away at breakneck speed. When I looked at the bike, I realized he had clipped my back tire, causing my bike to stop suddenly, me falling off, and him taking off – probably once he realized I was a foreigner! My butt hurt for a long time after that, and the bike eventually fell apart, strewing pieces all over the road one day. I got ticked off with it, and tossed it in the river!

The next accident was after I had been given a few lessons on riding a scooter. I had been driving the scooter for about 2 months by that point, and again, I was going through an intersection, when a car wouldn’t stop at his red light, and banged into the back of my scooter! He started to shout at me, and I pointed at HIS red light. He got in his car, proceeded through HIS red light, as fast as his BMW would go!

About a year ago, I was stopped at a train crossing. After the barriers came up, I proceeded to the red light, a distance of about 25 meters. Once the light turned green, two ladies on scooters, either side of me, not paying attention, started to get closer to me. The faster I would go to try to get between them (which is where I was to begin with), they got faster. I honked the horn. I yelled at them. One was window shopping on one side of the street, and the other must have had her BLIND glasses on, and her hearing aid out, because neither listened or heard me. The next thing I know, boom! Both of them sandwich me! They fell over, and started screaming at me!

I looked at them, gave them the ‘crazy sign’, told them (in English) they were idiots and that they should be watching where they were driving rather than shopping, got back on my scooter, and left them in the street. Why stick around? I was fine, they were the idiots! Besides, it is one of the busiest streets in downtown Tainan, and I didn’t have time for them. Okay, I should have waited around, but when they were both yelling at me, and picking up their scooters, this told me they were okay.

About two months ago, I was driving in to work in the morning. It was a bit of a rainy morning, so the roads were slick. But, just like back home, people think they can drive just as maniacally on wet pavement, as they can on dry. As well, just like back home, when the weather is not warm and sunny and dry, people forget how to drive. I was just coming up to a YELLOW light intersection, when this stupid woman zips past me at about 60, trying to get through the yellow light. Her mirror smacks my elbow, causing me to crash down, wondering what had happened. Looking up, here she is weaving herself around the opposite cars trying to get through the intersection.

Another time, going to a student’s home on Sunday, an old fart was on the side of the road on his scooter. I was in the inside lane, when all of a sudden, without warning, he pulled out in front of me! No time to stop properly. I honked my horn to let him know what was about to happen. He was still looking down at the pavement (?), and still going forward, not trying to slow down. I think, in hindsight, he was TRYING to kill himself. I got off the scooter, started to yell at him, and he still continued to look at the pavement. He got up, picked up his scooter, and went back to the previous position he had been in, before pulling out in front of me… Weird. Maybe he was trying his luck on the next driver!

I’ve heard many people over my 8 years complain about the way North Americans drive. We signal when we want to turn. We signal to change lanes. We stop at red lights. We let pedestrians cross the road. We move off the side of the road for emergency vehicles. Sometimes, I wonder if anyone here really goes through a driving test. The old joke about finding a license in a box of Cracker Jacks holds very true here. Actually, I think driving licenses are found in noodles!

After watching people driving in Taiwan for so long, I have so many rules of the road. My own rules. Although personally, I don’t follow these rules of mine, others do. My friends don’t understand why I slow and stop at yellow/red lights. They are always telling me its okay, GO! Right. They think I don’t drive fast enough, and when I do drive fast enough, then I’m driving too fast. Police and other drivers are always telling me that I have my light on, on the scooter. Wow, so they do pay attention! When the police pull me over, which has happened a dozen times if not more, I ask them if it is illegal to have my light on. They say no, and then turn it off for me. They say I forgot to turn it off. I ask again, is it illegal? No, okay, then I’d like to leave it on, thank you. They shrug their shoulders, chuckle, and let me go.

A scooter is made to carry up to 2 people. But how many times I see three adults, or 4, or 5, or one time, in Gangshan, 6 people on a poor little scooter. Now, if you don’t know what a scooter is, think of a bicycle with a lawn mower engine. This is a scooter! My friend Ian told me that when he was younger, it was nothing for his dad to be driving, mom behind dad, brother behind mom, sister in front of dad, and him crouched in the space between the seat and the front tire! Insane! I see parents on scooters, and newborn or EXTREMELY small child literally squished to the point that it’s eyes are popping, between mom and dad.

Driving in Taiwan is an experience. When I was living in Gangshan during my first few months, I was told by other foreigners that if you can drive in Tainan city, you can drive anywhere in Taiwan. Now I understand that statement. This has got to be one of the most insane, craziest cities in Taiwan to drive in. People don’t look, they can’t (or maybe won’t) see, their windows are tinted (even the windshield), they are always chatting on cell phones, going through red lights, driving in the middle of two lanes, popping out onto streets without worrying that there is oncoming traffic.

In Canada, we [apparently] practice DEFENSIVE driving. In Taiwan, and in particular, Tainan, they practice [apparently] OFFENSIVE driving.

Look out for me, I am on the road.
No one else uses this road but me.
Look ma, no helmet (aka, no brains)!
Lines and lights are merely suggestions.
If you are carrying kids, there are no rules.
If it’s black, drive on it; if it’s yellow, drive on it; if it’s white, drive on it!
You only need to wear a helmet if you get caught. Then, you only need to have it with you!
The first one through the intersection gets the pot of gold.
If you’ve waited at red light for more than 15 seconds, it’s okay to go through it.
The scooter lane is for pedestrians, bicycles, parked cars, taxis, and blue trucks only!
It is illegal to turn right on a red light, but perfectly fine to turn left!
When the opposite traffic light is yellow, you must go through the intersection.
As long as the person in front of you is going through the red light, you are allowed as well.
Your scooter is as thin as your waist.
You only need to HAVE mirrors, not use them!
Signal ONLY when actually turning. Don’t let anyone know where you are going.
The faster you drive, the less likely you will be caught.
Wear a face mask, not to keep out the dust and dirt, but so no one will recognize who the idiot is behind the wheel.
Slower drivers should ALWAYS pull up to the front of the pack at a red light.
Never signal. This confuses people.
If you do signal, be sure to signal right, when wanting to turn left.
U-Turns are allowed anywhere, anytime!
You can double or triple park on the side of the road, provided you leave the vehicle running, and turn on your four-way lights.
Never use your headlights – they consume gasoline!
All speed limits are actually multiplied by 1.5! (40=60, 60=90, etc.)
Where there is no speed limit posted, the speed limit is the speed limit on your vehicle.
Never leave early from home. Always leave 10 minutes late!


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