Traffic in Taiwan is ridiculous. Everyone that lives here has come to terms with this already, but for those of you that haven’t been to Taiwan, watch out!

There is no regard for pedestrians of any kind. Pedestrians must cross the street on high alert ready to leap out of the way because cars and scooters will stop for no one and nothing in their mission to beat everyone else to the lights. Coming from countries where drivers are expected to stop before the crosswalk when there is a pedestrian present, this was a constant irritant. Then, recently, I had what I thought was a stunning epiphany. It occurred to me that I was looking at this all the wrong  way. Perhaps the traffic laws here dictate that cars and scooters have the right of way and pedestrians should wait until all traffic has cleared? I asked around to see if this theory had merit, but no. Turns out that 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 while trying to cross the street.

Following are some examples of common, every day, batshit driving in Taiwan:

  • Consistently running red lights. Everybody does it. No one seems to care.
  • Going up one-way streets the wrong way. Especially prevalent for those that drive scooters, which are law unto themselves.
  • Scooters driving around on the sidewalks. Sure. Why not? Sidewalks aren’t for pedestrians anyway, they’re for scooters to conveniently bypass traffic laws.
  • Consistently turning left directly into oncoming traffic. They’ll stop.
  • Motorists not honoring scooter/bike space cushions and scooterists doing the same to others.
  • U-turns, often across four lanes of traffic and directly into oncoming traffic. Because, you know…they’ll stop.

Most of this I’ve come to terms with. 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 push and shove their way into every available space, often 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 such pervasive assholery in my life.

I’m bringing this up because I’m now in the process of learning to drive a scooter. Taiwan is not like Poland. Outside of Taipei it is a lot tougher and less convenient to get around without your own set of wheels. 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. Sure, 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, the park was mostly deserted and a brief rain shower drove off the late night basketball players. I puttered 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 home 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 home with Jeff sitting behind me hollering in my ear to go faster and asking me if I was ready to try driving Taiwanese style.

A few nights later we tried again. This time, we started from a small park by my place 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 with only the dubious protection of a badly fitted helmet was giving me a little anxiety. It didn’t help, that while I was  still trying to get my balance and before I had even gone five feet, two cops drove past on their scooters and stopped at the Family Mart where they then turned and proceeded to eye me suspiciously. One of them glanced under my helmet and gave me a surprised little smile when he realized I was a foreigner.

I felt paralyzed. I moved up five 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!

I went.

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 and I have no  business being on this street.

I freaked out all the way up the alley and to the main street. I came to a screeching stop right before I popped out on the main road and got hit by oncoming traffic, simultaneously managing to hit the accelerator and the brake at the same time, and nearly fell off the scooter again.  Who should immediately pass me? The two cops of course. I braced myself for the worst but then they just kept going. They barely hit 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. I couldn’t stop hitting the  brake and accelerating at the same time. It did not help that Jeff was screaming in my ear the entire time.

Go! Turn left! No, right! BRAKE! Stop accelerating! Go faster! Go slower! Turn! Turn! TURN! Just go!!!!

It was with sheer relief that we finally found the gym. The look Jeff shot me after I finally parked, well…I may never be allowed behind the handles of his scooter again.

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