7/27/2010

Cycling in Taipei

I took the following pictures on my iPhone walking to work up Dunhua North Road (敦化北路) today in Taipei. I grabbed my iPhone camera out of my satchel and two minutes later, I had them - pretty simple. The green lane that these cars are blocking is strictly for bikes. Unfortunately, the police in Taipei are not enforcing this point. For cyclists, it's uneasy going as usual. They might want to ride down or up this green lane that is reserved for them; alas they'll be forced out into Taipei traffic. Sad, very sad:












7/25/2010

How Many People Can I Squeeze on a Scooter?

Scooterists in Monga (艋舺), Taiwan. Note the driver of the one deeper in the pic has three kids on her scooter. They all have helmets on and she also has her chin strap fastened.

A long time ago I witnessed an accident in Yonghe (永和), Taiwan. A teenaged girl on a scooter mindlessly drifted across the lane and took out another driver. The driver and his passengers crashed to the street. Luckily, there weren't any cars behind them. The driver of the cut-off bike was naturally pissed off. He got up and, taking his helmet off and slamming it down on the pavement, let off a string of curses over top of the sound of his wife and two crying children. He was right. The girl was an idiot. But he was also wrong. Why? Well, he had had three passengers on his bike, making it extremely hard to maneuver. Had he only a single passenger, I think he would have been able to balance the bike. If it were just him, nothing would have happened.

One of the things that disturbs me the most living in Taiwan is seeing parents hauling around kids on scooters and motorcycles, like in the picture above. And that picture is a better-case scenario; I would have to say that more than 50 percent of the time, the children don't have helmets. When I look at their parents, who do have helmets, I don't think they are selfish, that they care only about their own safety. Instead, I believe they view the helmet law as something that has been designed to be a pain in the ass or a way for the government to gather money (there's an NT$500 fine) rather than to save lives. Often, these parents don't even bother to do up the chin straps on their own helmets. Then there's the problem of them taking babies along for the ride, like the one I saw strapped to a woman's back as she drove over Huazhong Bridge (華中橋) doing at least 50 kilometers an hour the other day. His wee arms and legs were flapping in the wind. If you fall off your bike, lady, what do you think is going to happen to the baby? Just a few bumps or a scrape on the shin? Or you don't think it'll happen to you, right? But there are thousands of traffic fatalities in Taiwan each year; in fact, Taiwan has had the highest traffic fatality rate in the world, with 60 percent of the deaths happening to motorcyclists or scooterists.

What I don't understand is this: is it illegal to put more than one passenger on a motorcycle or scooter? I saw this sign in the Ming Chuan MRT Station. It's good advice, but I'm afraid that's all it is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_cowsill/4826808634/
Does anyone know the law? I'd be curious to find out.   

7/23/2010

How to Go to Court in Taiwan

The distance from the curb, where the taxi dropped me off, to my front door in Monga (艋舺), Taiwan


It started a few months ago. I was coming home from a kiddie birthday party in Hongshulin (紅樹林) with my daughter. I got out of the cab at 11:00 p.m. and realized my wallet was still inside the car. So I did jumping jacks behind to get the driver to stop; alas, he drove on and away into the night. I immediately scurried up to my apartment and called the cab company. In Taiwan, you can phone for a cab instead of hailing one on the street. People prefer this for several reasons. First, it ensures safety. There's a record. If something happens, the taxi company and driver will be known, and held accountable. Cab companies advertise, stressing this point, constantly: "Just give us a call!" they claim. Strangely, the cab company I was involved with did not have the driver's cell number on hand: "We'll call you back in a few minutes," their operator promised. At 11:20, the cab company got back to me with a number.

When I called the driver, he sounded vexed: "I don't have your wallet. And your daughter left a candy wrapper on the floor. Shame on you!"

"Alright, sorry about that. I had my hands full," I explained. "Just bring my wallet back." It hadn't registered with me what was going on. "Start up your meter and then bring it back to me. I don't mind paying. It's only fair," I explained. I could hear the sound of traffic on the other end of the line; I concluded he was driving around now and was naturally worried he'd pick up another passenger while my wallet was still on the back seat or floor of his cab.

"I don't have your wallet!"

"Please have another look," I insisted. "I had it in your cab. I took it out to pay for the ride." It had been an NT$600 ride. I figured the taxi driver would have appreciated that.

"There's no wallet. And by the way, you're drunk." True. I had had some drinks at the party and was definitely over the legal limit. That's why I called for a cab - to avoid a long and tedious ride on the MRT. But I didn't figure I was drunk drunk. I was just tired. And, oh yeah, if I were truly drunk, I would not have been able to take care of this, in Chinese, which isn't my mother tongue. Or how would I have done what I did next, which was to go to the police station and spend three hours filing a report?

The police station was an experience. It didn't actually take them three hours to do the paper work. For the first hour, I sat in their lounge watching baseball, waiting my turn. Taiwan's Kuo was on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers, so I discussed his merits with the policemen that were watching, carefully laying out why he with his 96 mph fastball, and not Wang, was the best Taiwanese pitcher in the majors. Finally, I was called to a computer and asked to take a seat. The officer was humorous and thorough. "Kuo's my favorite player," he said. "He's great!" The officer started to take down relevant information. He photocopied my ID and patiently walked me through Taiwan's law, stopping to explain every question I'd ever had about it, stuff I've been curious about for ages. Then, wrapping it up at around 3:30-ish, he warned: "Taiwan's police are not like America's police. We don't have any power," he said, dangling his pinkie to represent their lack of power and respect they often feel they face in Taiwanese society.

I slapped the officer on the back anyway. I appreciated his effort and was sure he would do a good job. I didn't think that I'd ever see my wallet again. The idea of him talking to the cab driver gave me some comfort. I figured the case would cause the driver, if nothing else, a degree of anxiety. After the cops talked to him, he'd think twice about ripping off future customers. In total, I lost NT$8,000. That's roughly how much cash I had on me. Plus there was the inconvenience process and annoying fees of replacing plastic. Pictures of my family were inside it too; I felt my privacy had been invaded. The wallet had been a birthday present from my wife a few years back. But the police vowed to put the dukes to him just for me. Like I said: what bunch of nice fellows. I sincerely mean that.

Case closed? I thought so. I promptly forgot it and got on with my life. Then last Thursday I received in the mail a summons to be in court the next morning at 10:15. My wife looked worried, but I assured her: "What are you talking about? Surely the police have found something. That's why we're going to court."

"What am I talking about?" she answered, lifting an eyebrow. "The police in Taiwan don't investigate stuff like this. It's not even considered a criminal issue. They simply pass the paperwork on to the court! LOL!" When I showed up at the court the next morning, I found out that she was right. The cops hadn't done any legwork whatsoever.

The courtroom was a tiny room, consisting of a judge, record taker, police officer, the taxi driver and myself. The judge asked me if I could speak Chinese. Then the taxi driver took the floor. After establishing that I had been drinking, he claimed to have dropped me off at Youth Park, a couple of blocks from my home. Why I would be going to the park at 11:00 p.m. with a toddler who was totally spent from a kiddie party should have raised some doubt, and I suppose it did. He continued: "He crossed the street and that's where I saw him drop his wallet."

"What are you talking about?" I interrupted. "You dropped me off at my house. I didn't cross a single street. Even if you had let me off at the park, I still would not have crossed a street. There's no need to do that." The judge warned me not to butt in. But what was I supposed to do? In Taiwan, we get 15 minutes in court. This guy had talked non-stop for eight of them and was getting ready to polish off the other seven. Another thing I found interesting was that he had turned into a deaf person. In the cab, he could hear everything crystal clear. We had argued about the best route home and his hearing had not been an issue. Now, every time the judge spoke, he shouted: "What?" and then leaned his ear toward the court police officer to get her words relayed into his ear.

I was just starting to make my case: namely, I did not cross a street and the taxi drop-off point was some 15 paces from my front door when he interrupted, taking the judge to task about being called "a thief." He said I was slandering him. Actually, it hadn't occurred to me to call him anything. But I was about to say if the shoe fits when the judge cut me off, warning me that I could actually be guilty of slander if I proceeded. Then she explained to the driver that "foreigners" don't understand Taiwan's law.

At the end of the day, I didn't get a word in edgewise. The judge told me to leave. She kept the driver in the court, however. This is where it got interesting and strange. She asked me if I could return. She wanted to question my three-year-old daughter on whether we crossed a street. "Can she speak Chinese?" I was asked. "And when will you be free?"

"She goes to preschool in the afternoon. Any morning will be fine." We made a date and I was excused, wondering what on earth a judge would call an infant as a witness for. I didn't like that I was leaving the court with the guy I was suing still inside, free to say whatever without me calling him on it.

This is a long post and I'm tired. I'll do a "Day Two" later on. I did go out to take pictures, so the judge would understand how close the taxi drop-off place is for my home. I've put one above. As you can see, there's no street crossing involved.

My friend Steve, whose daughter's party went to, has had this cab company banned from his building.

7/18/2010

Camping in Taiwan


I noticed this line of trailers as I was coming home from Panchiao (板橋), Taiwan today, crossing Huazhong Bridge (華中橋). I'd seen the sign before, but couldn't figure it out. There didn't seem to be any camping in the vicinity: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_cowsill/4240264842/

While my wife and daughter were busy fishing this afternoon in a place nearby, I strolled over to have a closer look. I was immediately greeted by Keven, the friendly fellow who is trying to get this off the ground. To rent a trailer, it'll run you NT$2,500 a night. Keven assures me that you can barbecue right there where they're parked. And there's a bicycle rental place nearby, just in case you want to ride the extensive river path-network that runs almost right by the front door.

I asked him where the trailers came from. He says they're manufactured in Taiwan, in a factory just outside of Taipei. I was wondering if they were also being exported, but he wasn't sure. He let me look inside a few, which appeared comfortable, with a Taiwanese aesthetic. He asked me how they're different in the US, but I couldn't really think of something right off the bat to tell him, so I said, "some of the US models have a two floors." From what I remember, camping with my friend's family in the Rocky Mountains or going to Disneyland with my grandparents, the versions back home had a lot more fake wood paneling. The bathrooms in the Taiwan models are much bigger and more comfortable and, once again, are very local in their decor, from the cylindric door knobs to the frosted glass walls. I'll post a shot or two of the interiors later on with a link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/patrick_cowsill/4804184289/. On a side note, I've decided not to put more than one picture on a post from now on.

I don't know if Keven can speak English. If you're interested and you don't speak Mandarin or Hoklo, I can find out. He had a friendly, intelligent face, so I am guessing he might be able to hold his own. As I am always interested in promoting my Wanhua (萬華), also known as Monga (艋舺), I'll give him a plug right now. He says it's been hard going; they've only been in business for three months and don't have enough advertising or media on their case. They're finding customers hard to come by. You can locate him right to the east of Huazhong Bridge (華中橋), up toward the river. Or you could even email him: kevenandrain@yahoo.com.tw