Guest blogger Charles McDonald is a hapa Taiwanese American who has spent several years living and working in Taiwan. He mentioned to us a year ago that he intended to start a Taiwanese-inspired clothing line. Back then, it was just an idea, but a year later, his company has become reality and showcases some interesting Taiwan-themed designs all printed on Made in Taiwan T-shirts. The IDCY brand is available online and occasionally at select Night Market locations. We at TaiwaneseAmerican.org were fascinated by Charles’ personal story and experiences after seeing how far he has come. We invited him to share some guest articles, and below is the second in the series. Enjoy!
Learn how people in a society move. And I don’t mean their means of transportation whether it is a car, bus, scooter, bike or walking, but the process of how they get from point A to point B, how they literally move to get there. Do they always seem in the way? Do they always drive slowly in the right lane? Do they zigzag on the sidewalk? Do they use blinkers? Does it matter you’re on a cross walk? In America, pedestrians have the right of way on the cross walk. In Taiwan, have your head on a swivel. I’ve had 18-wheelers squeeze between others and me on the cross walk (yes, ridiculous). Everybody has the right of way and goes when they can. You should too; otherwise you’re going to be late. Learning how people in Taiwan move and making sense of this seeming chaos has greatly reduced my blood pressure since living here. Sure there are traffic lights, cross walks and all those other familiar signs we’re used to seeing, but these sometimes seem more like suggestions rather than the law. If you have space to make a U-turn in the middle of the street, do it. If it saves time or is more convenient to go the wrong way for 200 meters, do it. Want to back up in the middle of the road? Do it. If you can squeeze between 2 people on a crosswalk, do it!
When driving, those white lines in the middle of the road are loose guides for where you should be. I like to think of Taipei traffic more in terms of a river and a horse race mixed together. Things move fast and things move slow. There are big fish and little fish and everybody is alarmingly close to each other jockeying for position on the road, especially during rush hour. Also, things will merge out of nowhere. The bus next to you is looking for passengers in the stop ahead of you so if there is someone waving the bus down you have 3 choices; speed up, slow down or be smushed. And when the light turns green, still wait a few seconds for that last minute cab, guy on a scooter or blue truck who’s going about 100mph to fly through the intersection. If you see yellow in your periphery, watch out. Cabs are the wild cards. They brake for no reason, weave back and forth like they’re the only ones on the road, honk for no reason, and sometimes just stop completely blocking two lanes of traffic because they think they see someone with luggage. Expect the unexpected. But driving in Taipei is no doubt an experience and you can’t help but smile when you you’ve just squeezed through a 2.5ft wide gap between the retaining wall and another car with inches to spare. It makes you think of Arnold in T2 when he just barely gets his motorcycle past the tow truck.
In my experience riding my bike or driving my scooter through Taipei, there is much less reliance on rules, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its certainly different than what I’m used to, but I find that my general interaction with the guy coming towards me is much more in Taiwan than it was in America. I always look to see what the other person IS going to do rather than just assume what they will do. With more laws there’s more efficiency, but there is also increased dependence on a general rule that ‘everyone’ follows. So even though things here in Taiwan are more 隨便 (whatever) when getting from point A to point B, there aren’t necessarily more accidents.
So in the end, I can’t help but wonder, are Asians such bad drivers? Or are they just in another country using their own standard of getting around? When I first arrived, I was moving like an American and would bump into people more often than not. While getting from point A to point B isn’t the original structure that I am used to, I guess there is some form or structure after all.