Friday, 22 August 2008

Traffic--an inevitability with a population of millions...

Taipei, being one of the most densely populated cities in the world, has to squeeze people in every nook and cranny of the city bounds. So when all these inhabitants need to get somewhere, it makes the city streets something less than safe. In fact, I feel safer standing in the MIDDLE of traffic back home than standing on the edge of a cross-walk here! By the way, I found out last night that cross-walks are called zebra stripes here! :) Traffic rules are somewhat different here. For instance, if you come to a cross-walk as a pedestrian, you SOL if there is a long line of cars/scooters/buses coming, because you better believe that nobody is stopping for you! And to add to the issue, these freakin' scooters....ugh, these scooters. They come around corners so fast that you would be in the middle of the "zebra stripes" and you are moments from impact unless you scoot yer boot to the curb. The fact that these scooters can do some pretty fancy "tire work" (It's like foot work, but rounder. haha) brings a little sense of unpredictability and challenge to navigating around and through traffic. One of my personal favorite moves to see scooters, cars and buses, yes, even buses, the 'oh so safe' U-Turn. Oh, you would not believe the U-eys these people pull. And of course, I had to be introduced to this common strategic move the first night we arrived--The big tour bus that picked us all up from the airport, on its shimmy through the busy streets, decided to pull a 180 degree U-Turn in the middle of traffic. As on-coming traffic was still coming, my thoughts immediately ran wild, silently screaming "I'm going to die my first night in Taiwan!!" Little did I know that this move seems to be standard issue here! All it takes is a little toot of your horn and all is forgiven.
But once you are off the streets, you would think that you are safe. Wrong wrong wrong. I think some of the alley-ways are more dangerous than the streets! Again, you could be walking down this little alley--which you could practically touch both buildings on either side of you by reaching both arms out--and all of a sudden a meek but loud horn quickly beeps behind you. Yet AGAIN, I narrowly miss getting my hind-end caught under a 6-inch tire being driven by a skinny little woman in a powder blue helmet and a face mask. There would be a great obituary line. "Cause of death: she got her ass run over by a 98lb Taiwanese woman on a scooter on her walk home from work."
These concepts of traffic manners starts YOUNG here. Every morning, when I walk to the subway, I walk through a tile courtyard that is inhabited by a large variety of people doing a variety of things. There is often a few old ladies on the benches, facing each other and jabbering in Mandarin, (one can only speculate what they're saying...probably, look at that string of crazy Americans!) there is often a clan of young women with their children, and of course...there is the children. Little boys on bicycles are zooming around the courtyard, yelling things at each other. As they round the corner, ready to turn around and take another spin around, we both realize that each other are in the others' path. We stare each other down in a moving, crazy game of chicken: who will move first? Yeah, apparently I suck at bike vs. pedestrian chicken...I always move first. I guess that there is a rule here in Taiwan that I was unaware of: If you are on wheels of any kind, you have the right of all times!

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