Edit Blog Post
Published: August 7th 2006
A infestation of scooters hurtle by...
Not sure if 'infestation' is the collective noun - but it still seems appropriate.
They converge on me like a swarm of buzzing, biting insects: cutting across my path on pedestrian crossings, surprising me with a sudden appearance from behind a pillar, and snapping at my heels whilst walking along a footpath. Scooters are in plague proportions in Taipei and they probably pose a bigger threat to the unwary foreigner than either typhoons or earthquakes. The second most densely populated country on earth must surely be home to the greatest density of scooters - but what's more, the scooters have rules all of their own - driving along pedestrian crossings and footpaths to name just two. I even thought my safety was assured within the enclosed confines of an indoor fruit market, but that illusion was dispelled when one of the machines slowly emerged from behind the watermelons.
Though they menace my passage, what I have learnt about Taipei and the Taiwanese has been through the ubiquitous scooter. The Taiwanese are the most courteous people I have met in my travels, and this was ably demonstrated by a scooter incident I observed whilst walking home from work one day (a work opportunity has seen me come to Taiwan for four months). A scooter had
Taipei 101 viewed from the Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial
Taipei 101 derives its title from the 101 storeys - obviously the designers were devoid of creative inspiration at the time.
the misfortune to be hit by a much larger car - an impact that sent the two young scooter passengers sprawling onto the bitumen. Now this accident just about anywhere else in the world would have been accompanied by a great deal of commotion - but not in Taiwan. The car and scooter driver met - exchanged a few bows, a business card, hushed words - and then worked together to repair the scooter's bodywork, which lay next to the female passenger who still sat on the road. Once this bodywork was reattached and number plates straightened, both parties drove off without another word being spoken. The whole business was conducted in a most cordial manner - there were no paroxysms of anger or physical altercations. It was the least animated reaction to a motoring accident I've witnessed.
But there is more to life in Taipei than scooters - shopping for one - and the more scooters in the vicinity of a shopping centre or market - then the better the buying opportunities. Why is it that Asian cities seem to have more shops per head of population is still a mystery, but a thankful one at that. From
resplendent air conditioned malls where music wafts through airy interiors lined with European branded shops hosted by alluring almond-eyed female attendants; to cramped steamy markets where shrill voiced sellers bark their wares from behind a line of meats and vegetables, whilst pungent aromas assail the nostrils. Every conceivable shopping experience is yours for the asking in Taipei, and shops are found literally everywhere - on streets, alleys, parks and even a temporary market in the basement corridors of my work building.
The pinnacle of shopping are the Trade Shows that are hosted in Taipei. Fortunately, I was able to attend the Computer Applications Trade Show - and the Taiwanese are particularly well regarded for the computer shows they hold. I had high expectations prior to arriving and even they were exceeded, as this was an almost overwhelming collection of everything computer related. The selling techniques used were quite innovative - mostly these involved immodestly-dressed women tempting drooling young men with brochures, gifts and dancing performances in order to secure their Taiwanese dollar on the stall which employed them. The noise, music and bustle of the Show made it a shopping experience without equal.
Food is another obsession with
The Computer Applications Show - Taipei
...and this is just a portion of the delights on offer.
the Taiwanese - though excepting such 'delicacies' as fried frog, pig trotters and sheep intestines - the eating is just superb. Moulded by the different regional cuisines of China, in addition to a strong Japanese influence, the scope and range is most impressive. Any congregation of scooters near a restaurant or eating area is a sure sign of the quality within. A particularly large selection of scooters are located near the famous HuaXi night food market (also known as Snake Alley) where the opportunity to savour a drink laced with snake blood was gracefully declined, as was the invitation to watch the final part of a demonstration where a very large constrictor ominously sat next to a small white rabbit.
The final noticeable feature about Taipei's urban landscape are the temples - whether Taoist, Buddhist or Confucist. The syncretic attitude of the Taiwanese towards religion is reflected in their temples, where differing religions can be found within the same complex. These temples freckle the city and vary in size from the tiny structures nestled beneath soaring buildings, to large domains that play host to a constant stream of devotees paying homage to their ancestors and giving devotions to the
A man's view of Taipei
This was taken from the urinal in the men's bathroom on the 14th floor of my office building.
Gods. The arrival of adherents reaches it peak in the early evening when offerings, incense and prayers abound. Actually, inside these temples is the only assured place in the whole of Taipei where scooters are not visible - so it is truly a refuge in more ways than one.
Travelling always seems to bring unusual experiences, and so again it is in Taiwan. Only two days after arriving, I found a forlorn mobile phone lying on the ground by an ATM, its owner obviously too preoccupied with securing the money to notice its disappearance. Being the Good Samaritan, I reported this to a nearby shop, and the lady attendant (whose English was adequate) decided we should find a policeman. Just as we stepped from the store - a policeman arrived on - surprise, surprise - a scooter. After some rapid conversation between the locals they deemed it best for me to visit a police station where English-speaking officers could translate. So onto the back of the scooter I cautiously positioned myself, and held on grimly as the policeman weaved through the traffic with great dexterity. Being a pedestrian is a fairly exciting experience in Taipei, but being a passenger
on a scooter even more!
Arriving at the station, my pulse rate returned to normal as I was ushered into a large desk-filled room. After recounting my tale, we discovered the phone's language was set in English and not Chinese - so a fellow foreigner, we mused. Some good detective work by all parties soon had me ringing 'Mum' (who happened to be in the USA - where the phone's owner hailed from) whilst the police called a local Taipei phone number stored in the phone, where they successfully tracked down the owner's relative. However, I needed to wait for this person to arrive so I could countersign the phone's handover. So for an hour, accompanied by the noises of a baseball match on TV, I sipped some delightful chilled Taiwanese Tea as police officers darted away on any emerging emergency, except for one chap who had to tediously clean all the pistols.
A thankful lady eventually arrived to claim the phone, and after some procedural signatures, it was time to leave. But since it was now dark, and I was ignorant of my current location, the police kindly offered to drive me home in a police car.
So the relative and I jumped into the rear seats of the vehicle - her presence to help with English translation - and we headed into the night. Whilst watching the passing city, my eyes caught sight a glass encased building reflecting the vehicle's flashing red and blue lights, but even more interesting was the muffled noise I could detect through the car's thick windows - the siren. This certainly was some service being provided by the local constabulary!
Finally, we arrived near my home, and the police pulled to the kerb, which immediately attracted the attention of those nearby (as it normally does). Due to security measures, the police officer, chauffeur-like, had to open the door to enable my exit. The door opening, the crowds, the curiosity - the only thing missing was the red carpet. Though the sight of a laughing Australian alighting from a police car was peculiar, it only received a fleeting interest from the locals. For in a city where the scooter reigns supreme, the absence of one in this instance ranked this as an event of very low import indeed.
Tot: 2.489s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 51; qc: 217; dbt: 0.1233s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 2mb