Traffic in Taipei is ridiculous. Everyone that lives in Taipei has come to terms with this, but if you’ve never been to Taipei before be prepared for a shock. There is no regard for pedestrians of any kind. Pedestrians must cross the street on high alert because cars and scooters will stop for no one and nothing in their mission to be first. Coming from countries where drivers are expected to stop before the crosswalk this used to be incredibly irritating. Then, recently, I had what I thought was a stunning epiphany. It occurred to me that I was looking at driving in Taipei all wrong. Perhaps the laws here dictate that vehicles have the right of way and pedestrians should wait until all traffic has cleared? It seemed like a simple and logical explanation to the chaos I see every day. I asked around to see if this theory had merit, but no. Pedestrians do have the right of way.
It’s just that nobody cares.
Oh, well. Life would be pretty boring if we didn’t add in all those “…and then my life flashed before my eyes” moments every time we crossed a street, wouldn’t it?
Following are some examples of common, every day, batshit driving in Taipei:
- Running red lights. Everybody does it. No one seems to care.
- Going up one-way streets the wrong way. Especially common for those that drive scooters.
- Scooters driving around on sidewalks. Sidewalks aren’t for people! Why, that would just be silly!
- Turning left directly into oncoming traffic. They’ll stop.
- Motorists not honoring scooter/bike space cushions.
- U-turns, often across four lanes of traffic and directly in front of oncoming traffic. Because, you know…they’ll stop.
I’m over it.
As chaotic and unmanageable as it sounds there is a certain rhythm and flow to the traffic that all motorists seem to know. Even though scooters squeeze their way into every available space, causing cars to slam on their brakes as they’re cut off with less than a foot to spare, there seems to be an incredibly high tolerance for bad driving and an astounding lack of road rage. I’ve never seen such calm and dispassionate acceptance of pervasive assholery in my life.
I’m bringing this up because I’m now in the process of learning to drive a scooter. Taipei is not like Poland. Outside of Taipei it is a lot tougher to get around without your own set of wheels. Honestly, the idea of puttering around the countryside on a scooter is very tempting, and I can’t pass up this opportunity to learn something new. I’ve always wanted to learn how to drive a motorcycle. It’s no motorcycle, but it’s a step in the right direction.
My friend Jeff, being the kind generous person that he is, took me out a couple of weekends ago and let me give it a go in a riverside park. It was late at night and aside from a late night basketball game and a couple badminton players the park was mostly deserted. I drove around slowly wobbling up and down the length of the park while he snickered from the safety of solid ground. I managed to turn both left and right without losing my balance and even mastered a few figure eights. I drove back to my studio slowly that night calmly stopping at every yellow light, not pushing or shoving my way between cars and, in general, obeying traffic laws as I know them. I also drove with Jeff sitting behind me hollering in my ear to go faster. Did I feel ready to try driving Taiwanese style yet? He wanted to know. No, Jeff. No.
A few nights later we tried again. This time, we started from a small park near my apartment. The goal was to try to find a new community gym where I could go work out, mine having closed down due to renovations.
My gut kept clenching. Knowing that any miscalculation could cause me to splatter all over the concrete like a juicy sack of meat with only the worthless protection of a very badly fitted helmet was giving me some anxiety. The dangers were all too real and my imagination was running wild. It didn’t help that before I had gone five feet, and while I was still trying to get my balance, two cops drove past on their scooters and stopped at the Family Mart ten yards up the road. They then turned and proceeded to eye me with suspicion. One of them glanced under my helmet and then gave me a surprised little smile when he realized I was a foreigner.
I felt paralyzed. I slowly moved up a few more feet so Jeff could hop on the back, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to wait until they had driven off, but they weren’t moving and Jeff was screaming in my ear to just go! Go! Go!
There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was about to get pulled over. None. I’m screwed, I thought. I don’t have a driver license for Taiwan. I don’t have my US driver license with me. I don’t know how to drive this scooter. I have no business being on this street.
I quietly freaked out all the way up the alley to the main road. I came to a screeching stop simultaneously managing to hit the accelerator and the brake, and nearly fell off the scooter again. And who should immediately pass me? The two cops of course. I braced myself for the worst but they kept going, barely hitting the brakes before they pulled out onto the main road and sped off.
All I can say is that would never, ever happen in the States. Ever. Of all the examples I can give anyone of what a totally foreign place I live in that’s probably the best. Un-freaking-believable.
The rest of the ride was full of terrifying starts and stops, near misses, scarily out of control turns, and toward the end, one illegal u-turn on my part. I also have a vague recollection of maybe running a red. Every time I braked I managed to turn the handle and accelerate at the same time. It did not help that Jeff was hollering in my ear the entire time.
Go! Turn left! No, right! BRAKE! Stop accelerating! Go faster! Whoa! Whoa, go slower! Turn! Turn! Can you just turn around in the street? No? Where are you going?! Just TURN! STOP accelerating when you’re braking!!
It was with sheer relief that we finally found the gym. After I parked I glanced at Jeff. The look of absolute disgust on his face was priceless. He hasn’t let me try again since, but I’m hoping I can wear him down. Now that I’ve had a taste of being behind the handles of a scooter I know I’m addicted. This little adventure will end with buying my own scooter. I can just feel it.
Featured Writer: Scintillatebrightly