Taipei Signs

One of my colleagues asked me why I was taking a picture of this sign. "Because I enjoy the irony - it's an invitation to suicide," I answered. Right of way means nothing in Taiwan. There isn't even an expression in Chinese to capture the essence of its meaning. But I know that this sign is simply a PR stunt. The local government figures it makes Taipei look international so they waste money putting it up. I already know what they're going to say when some tourist takes it at face value and gets creamed crossing the street: "My god, those foreigners are pushy. This is NOT America!"

I showed it to a few distant family members over a father's day dinner and they insisted that the city is cracking down. My sister-in-law has even seen a police officer on the news threatening that he'll be writing drivers up in Hsih Men Ting (西門町) if they drive around like nutcases without any regard for pedestrians. In particular, he's had it with weaving.

I have never, personally speaking, seen a driver get a ticket for crashing through a crosswalk, not once. I've never seen a driver in Taiwan catch it from the cops for endangering pedestrians. Nope. But it has been explained to me why drivers disregard people outside their vehicles. This is the first explanation, "look around, guy, and see you're in Taiwan. We change when we drive overseas". Second, "car owners in Taiwan are aristocrats. Cyclists and scooterists are proletariat. Commuters are peasants." Simply get out of the way or get crushed beneath my wheels.
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This ad would probably be for tzong tze, an oily rice wrapped up in different sorts of leaves. Tzong-tze's a staple during Dragon Boat Festival, although a lot of Taiwanese people like to eat them year-round. The restaurant has been written up in a lot of Taiwan's 'round town mags and papers. I'm not a big tzong tze eater (although they do sometimes hit the spot, especially if they're caked with hot sauce and you've got a couple of cold beers to wash them down). But this sign works/is working on me. I want tzong-tse.


Anonymous said...

Owing to your special descriptions in "Taipei Signs", I've no alternative but to share my own opinions with you. It is true that there are a lot of signs in Taipei, including road and warning ones, which show strange meanings or represent different translations between Chinese and English. But you can't deny their basic functions. Take the sign you mentioned in the article for example, even if some drivers break its warning as you said, most peoples' attentions are still drawn when passing through sidewalks. I'd like to let you know a fact that when being to the States, I did see few people illegally passing the intersection against red light. How can it happen in USA? I bet you've never thought it, have you ? So, it is normal to say "Good and bad citizens happily join and live together in the same place, even the same country".

Patrick Cowsill said...

I'm not looking to compare Taiwan to America. I just hope that the driving conditions become better in Taiwan, so that it's safer for us to get about.

Anonymous said...

There is no point in the city wasting money by putting up "pedestrians have the right of way" signs, because the concept is just too foreign to drivers and scooter riders in Taiwan.

In reality, there is NO place in Taiwan where pedestrians have the right of way. Even when they are on the designated, striped pedestrian crossings AND have the green WALK signal, they STILL are expected to leap out of the path of on-coming vehicles...if they don't want to get creamed.

In practice, "right of way" is simply a matter of who has the biggest vehicle, which of course puts pedestrians at the bottom of the pecking order.

scott in 臺南

Patrick Cowsill said...

When Ma was mayor of Taipei, there was a story in the news that he had ordered the cops to start writing up more tickets for right-of-way violations concerning drivers and pedestrians. Like I said, I never saw this happen - not once.

This sign is in front of the stadium they're building at Nanking and Dunhua: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougnienhuis/2780459303/
I guess it's there so visitors to the upcoming Deaf Olympics can see how modern the city is.

Andres said...

people's mentality have to change for that to go into effect. many times when i'm driving and i give pedestrians the right of way, they don't know what to do and look at me like i'm crazy. or if i'm walking and i just cross the road forcing the car turning to have to stop and let me cross first, most drivers shoot me a dirty, murderous look and some i can even see them shouting vulgarities in their cars.

Patrick Cowsill said...

A guy was bouncing up and down in his seat tonight because I pointed at the zebra line. I would hope it's there for more than decorative effect. I wonder what set him off - rule of the road, and I'm the most lowly thing on the pecking chain or that "foreigners" shouldn't, as "guests", point out obvious rules?

Anonymous said...

Pointing out the zebra crossing-- I get scolded a lot for doing that.

Often, when I and my girlfriend are walking across the street, and a car comes bearing down on us without sign of slowing down, I will just stop in my tracks and stare down the driver until they stop. I am not a confrontational person by nature (quite the opposite), but I will respond to confrontations by others.

And to my way of thinking, a driver threatening to hit me while I am lawfully crossing the street is very definitely confronting me in a very personal way. Drivers in Taiwan are not conditioned to think of it in this way, but I can't help it.

My instinctual reaction is to stop and try to make eye contact in order to impress upon them that they are, in fact, making an unwarranted confrontation, and that I am reacting to their confrontation and the threat upon my personal saftey.

When this happens, what I often see is a surprised driver, looking quite puzzled as to why the big foreigner is staring her down.

But it always gets me a scolding from my girlfriend, who is worried that sooner or later, a gangster is going to jump out from behind a tinted windshield and teach me a lesson.

scott in tainan