Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Taiwan by Scooter

Welcome to Taiwan. Home to roughly 23 million who have chosen to cohabitate their island with roughly 23 million motorbikes. Mopeds, scooters, Vespas, motorcycles, crotch-rockets, however you want to term them, are overwhelmingly the vehicle of choice for locals and English teachers alike. Adaptation and assimilation certainly take some time in Taiwan. Daily challenges include accepting the ubiquitous aroma of "stinky tofu", appreciating karaoke booths as a continual source of entertainment, as well as embracing the ever-enjoyable squatter toilets.

Above all, the biggest hurdle one may encounter is the role of the scooter in daily living. Unless you reside in Taipei or Kaohsiung, Taiwan's two largest cities equipped with pristine and punctual transit systems, you will most likely reach the realization that said vehicle must eventually be tamed and mounted.

Undoubtedly, talking yourself into a scooter purchase is not easy. To do so, one must forgo all previously held biases against puttering around on a device that junior high school students can legally drive back home. Instead, the surprisingly numerous advantages must be considered. When attempting to live green, a newly acquired motorbike is a fresh step forward in terms of fuel efficiency. Parking is readily available while day-long excursions spent gulping mountain air and dodging stray dogs has never felt so exhilarating.

In most cases, licenses, insurance, and road tests are typically bypassed for an under the table transaction from a departing foreigner. Motorcycle virgins, myself included, often hop on their first solo ride and wait for the Che Guevara within us to take over. Even those with extensive experience must come to terms with the fantastic mess that is Taiwanese driving. Therefore, a few simple rules of the road should be taken into consideration before those wheelies start a-popping.

1. Sidewalks are fair game. Pedestrians, take note. The three meter wide stretches of cement bordering shops and kindergartens alike can only mean one thing: right hand passing lane. This acceptable activity also promotes both high speed window shopping and the possibility of nation-wide Seven Eleven drive-thrus.

2. The horn is your best pengyou. That's right, the BFF feature of your scooter turns out to be its quack or yelp (depending on your model). An essential component of a three hour trek down the coast or a two minute jaunt for some dumplings, the horn should be deployed to announce your presence when passing through all yellow and red lights, four way intersections, and one-way alleys. A quiet motorist is a crippled motorist.

3. Dress to impress. Fashion meets function when it comes to your driving wardrobe. Helmets are required by law, yet apparently so too are tinted visors, Hello Kitty face masks, elbow-length riding gloves, and the ever-popular oven mitt handle grips. These confusing pieces of attire are mainly designed to shield delicate skin from the tropical sun. Not surprisingly, these well-protected drivers can easily be mistaken for high-fashion motorized street ninjas, which unfairly further tarnishes the reputation of street ninjas worldwide.

4. Don't limit yourself. How indulgent one feels pulling up alone to a scooter standstill flanked by a scooter bearing family of four plus dog to the right and one to the left balancing morning milkman, complete with crate, bottles, and toothy grin. While arguably less mysterious, the compactibility of Taiwanese passengers demotes clown cars to a vehicular wonder of the past.

5. Respect your elders. As in most Asian countries, the senior citizens of Taiwan are held in high esteem within society, a well-deserved honor. Elder motorists apparently also hold a distinguished spot upon the roads they rule in style. Without ever so much as a temporary glance in a side-view mirror, they weave their way through standstill traffic, challenge oncoming vehicles, and basically roam wherever they please. Along with the reverent bows and honorific titles, the elders have earned these roads. A motorized grandpa should not be taken lightly.

Embrace these few peanuts of advice if you so choose. Also remember to take the road less traveled simply because you can, even if those roads happen to be windy in both the long and short vowel sense. While guardrails are not always easy to come by and reckless driving is, a slightly fortified and engined bicycle is simply the optimal way to journey across this delightful Asian isle. Giddy-up.

Monday, January 18, 2010

honoring sundays

notebook passage 434
FongYuan park
January 2010

Hide and seekers roam the tranquil hill garden in which i have chosen to do my sunday afternoon basking. the incoherent mandarin playground murmur and distant siren wails serve as today's soundtrack. this is a warm sun today. much appreciated. butterflies flutter by as ants tickle their way across exposed forearm. one of the finest things about writing is the ability to allow pleasant idleness to segway into brief dozing periods. you can come back to the pen without feeling the least bit guilty. a young lad proclaims himself king of the 3 foot mountain until older sister wants a piece of glory. the pure bliss in having no undesirable future concerns or regretful thoughts is unparallelled. this is where true peace of mind begins its development or finds itself again. on cue, i have suddenly become the backstop for a pickup game of youth baseball. the bees and trees whisper that it's time to roam. nature has a clever way of offering these heads-up signals. i go.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

coffe shop observations

notebook passage 113
august 2009
starbucks patio, taipei

we sit camped beneath sun-devouring umbrellas. drinks drippingly melt as passers-by offer, return, break a shared stare. going somewhere, some going where? sunday urgency dictates the walking pace of most. sobriety is a common weekend waking theme. business exchanges and map consulting surround my circular work station. pink personal umbrellas are working hard this afternoon. 101's celebrity status grows with more camera flashes. young women pass, hand in hand. a positively warm sunday.

notebook passage 237
November 2009
outdoor cafe, Fong Yuan

the intersections is flanked with fried chicken and fruit juice stalls. echoing its friendly yet relentless tune againt apartment windows is the daily garbage patrol. plastic bags devoured, it continues on after a momentary, non-melodious pause. seemingly no different than a stop by this town's residents into their beverage shop of chice. headphones drop, brakes are pressed, good and currency exchange hands. a split second of absorbing one's surroundings. receipt is grabbed and this vehicle sculpted in human form carries on in its mindless, unwavering pace.

Monday, January 4, 2010

new with the old

"to look forward, one must look back."-author, me.

this makes very little sense the more i look at it. but figured quoting myself is a good way to establish andy lovley in the proverbial community. giving lao tzu a run for his money might be one of my more ambitious new year's resolutions but i like to start decades in style. also, in accordance with the prophecy-excuse me, proverb, i decided to spend the next week bringing the passing thoughts i often jot down in my all-purpose notebook to the blogosphere.

here goes.

notebook passage 371
late july 2009.
long island-massachusetts drive home from a family wedding.

music on a backseat misadventure changes everything. wrinkled formal-wear worn through the previous night positioned to my right. bottle of wine and banana to my left. a boat tugs through the river below. and then it's gone. next. a lake grasping whatever sunlight it can from an overcast afternoon onto its still surface. roadside trees see the most and are seen the least. perhaps they like it that way. blur is the common theme. first rail, then sign, then abandoned diner.

notebook passage 616
october 2009
park bench musings

it is quite simple to see how contagious a continuous smile can become. what keeps us from not naturally carrying one as a daily routine? children, the younger they are, seem to be society's only natural possessor and initiator of the smile. one may wonder if we are all possibly that neutral with our feelings? or is it instead a fear of expressing such emotions and possibly appearing quite insane? society will classify a constant smile as "mad" (which makes one wonder about the decision to equate lunacy with angry rage--if anything, many of those suffering from mental disorders appear to be quite pleased with their current state of mind). this method of thinking seems backwards in itself and speaks more to the glorification of widespread social misery and unsatisfaction. comfort zones may certainly need some readjusting, but i'll be opting to forgo grinning and bearing it and spend my time grinning and sharing it.