May 15, 2010


Driving.

Why do we do it? What is the point?

Well, from personal experience, driving is a private thing. It affords one the opportunity of getting from point A to point B without dealing with other people. You are in your own little world. You’re free to choose your path of directness. You’re free to stop and go and you please.

The problem I find is, that people tend to stay in that ‘little world’ of theirs, and forget that there are other people in ‘their little worlds’.

I mentioned in my blog yesterday (I believe) that my father had started another blog. He’s called it “Scarey Drivers” (http://billsroadhogg.wordpress.com). First off dad, spelling ‘SCARY’ with an ‘e’, is scary enough, but hey, it’s kind of apropos. Back to the driving. So far, he has written three entries into this new blog. I am curious what other gems he’s going to publish. I may have to ask him for his password, and start writing my experiences here in Taiwan!!

Where to begin?

When I first moved to Taiwan, I was told by people that the easiest and fastest way around anywhere, is scooter. Of course, I had noticed that there were literally hundreds of these things flying around the streets since I had arrived. I thought they looked fun. They look like a scaled down motorcycle and bicycle rolled into one. At the same time, I wasn’t too certain about these things. I still opted to ride the antique bicycle that was loaned to me. I swear, it was one of the first bicycles to have been assembled in Taiwan!!

Scooter - a NICE one!

Nonetheless, after the thing fell apart on the road one day, and I got ticked off and threw it in the river (yes, I did!), I figured walking was good enough for me. The places I needed to go were not far from where I was living. I lived at the school where I was teaching, so why not get some fresh air. HA! There’s an oxymoron in Taiwan, if I’ve ever said one!! Fresh air and Taiwan go together as much as, let’s see: vinegar on ice cream; smoked salmon on a cheesecake; oil and water…

Nonetheless, one Sunday afternoon I was walking home after a visit with my former roomies. Along came the owner of the school I was working at, Jennifer. Now Jennifer understood about as much English as I understood Chinese at the time. Well, that’s not really fair. I think I understood more Chinese! So she motions to me to get on her scooter with her. WHAT?! You’ve got to be kidding. Three things went through my mind at the time. A scooter, a woman driver (and my boss), no helmet. Sorry ladies!

Now one thing you must understand about these scooters is, there is no protection. It’s like riding a bicycle, only it has a motor. A motor about the size of a lawn mower, but a motor nonetheless.

I get onto the thing. It takes a few minutes to kind of get your balance. You also, as a passenger, need to balance yourself for the driver. As well, there is nothing to hang on to! So, I put my hands on her shoulders to balance myself. She yells something in Chinese, then moves my hands to her waist. OMG, my boss, and I’ve got my hands on her waist. OKAY… Then off she goes. I’m telling you, this ride was more terrifying to me than ANY roller coaster I’ve ever been on. Even the “Big Shot” atop the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, wasn’t as terrifying.

Big Shot atop the Stratosphere Casino, Las Vegas

This woman, who only had a 50cc scooter, started flooring this poor little putt-putt of a scooter. There was so much smoke coming out of the back, that anyone driving behind her wouldn’t be able to see the light of day! She, as I found out, is one of these drivers that puts oil IN the gas tank when she fills it up. I don’t know why people do this? I know from experience now, there is a way to put oil in your scooter. There are actually two different oils that are necessary. I just don’t understand why it needs to be added to the gas tank.

Anyway, we arrive home. I get off, sweating and terrified, and she’s yelling at me. Maybe it’s just her way of talking, I don’t know, but I never did figure out why she was yelling at me. I decided then, that I would never ride one of these things again!

Skip ahead a year. A friend of mine, Ian, was giving me ‘driving lessons’ on how to operate a scooter. Now, we in Canada have a lot of jokes about Chinese drivers. No need to go there. I’m sure they have just as much to say about us. So rather than taking me to some deserted parking lot to practice, which by the way, is another oxymoron, he stops, tells me to move up, and he sits behind me.

Okay. Lesson one. Learn to drive in regular traffic.

Now I remember back in the beginning of my time here, my roomies had mentioned that driving in Gangshan was easy. It was a small community, so the traffic wasn’t that bad. If I could master the skills of driving in Tainan, Taiwan’s 4th largest city, then I could drive anywhere in Taiwan. I thought that was sort of an odd thing to say, but since being in Tainan, I can understand.

Drivers in Tainan are crazy. No other word for it. Crazy. And yes, I have been able to drive almost everywhere else in this country, Taipei and Kao-hsiung included, with no difficulty. Tainan, is insane. Even the police, who are supposed to be the guardians of the roadways, are idiots. Most times, you see them driving around with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. The unwritten rule is, don’t CAUSE an accident. Simple. Drive how, where, whenever you like, just don’t cause an accident.

A while back, I had written down a few of the ‘unwritten’ rules of driving in Taiwan, but more specifically, Tainan. In future articles, I will go into detail about some of these rules, as I, a foreigner in this country, perceive them.

Happy driving!

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