Scooter Culture

29 Apr
Looking closely at a person sitting on a scooter, I chuckle. But when I observe scooter traffic as a whole, I’m in awe.

Arriving in Asia, I thought they were called Mopeds. Turns out mopeds have the word “ped” in them because they often have a mechanism for pedaling in addition to a weak motor. My co-worker Chris set me straight, “Is that what they’re calling them these days? Well, stop. It’s ‘scooter’ here.” Chris is one of those people you listen to even when you haven’t verified with google yet. It’s something about his height and long hair that reminds you of a Viking and the bad guy in a fairy tale mixed together.
Seeing this city even by foot used to be overwhelming when Carrie and I first arrived, so being on a scooter was like a special tour. It still is. I found scooter rides so fun that I don’t know why Tiffany or David even bothered to take me anywhere. They could’ve just offered, “Wanna go down Heping Street and back?”
“Yeeeeaah”
“Okay, pick you up at 7”
I really trust the way Tiff and David drive. I can’t say the same for Denise, a previous friend and co-worker of mine. My first ride with her was also my first night ride in Taipei, though. I hopped on with Denise, and Carrie rode with Tiffany as they took us to an ice cream shop. The traffic was thick, and Denise was swerving around people, cars, scooters, bikers, stray dogs, all the while yelling at them about their bad driving decisions. You may think she has road rage or is a bad driver. Are those the same thing? But after riding my bike here for a while, I can relate. That’s all I’m going to say about that because if I tell you about how I ring my bell and yell, “Really?” at drivers who pull out in front of me after assuming my bike and legs max out at 3 miles per hour like the other bikers, you might think less of me.
Another scary time was a trip up a mountain to drink tea. David is an excellent driver, and we weren’t in the city, but curvy, narrow mountain roads always make me nervous when I’m a passenger. And, this time my head was about 2 feet from the pavement when we leaned into each curve. It was worth it.
I still enjoy scooter rides even as I’ve begun seeing them in a different light, a foggy, polluted one. On any given bike ride to work, I encounter at least one scooter with major exhaust problems. I always have the urge to punch the person in the face. Imagine yourself huffing and puffing from pedaling, trying to make a green light, and just as you feel victorious, a piece of junk scooter gets in front of you filling your lungs with thick smoke. Please understand that this black stream of monoxide, sulphur, hydrocarbons is continuously pouring out of the exhaust because there is something drastically wrong with the vehicle. There’s no escaping, no alternative air to breath. I can’t switch lanes; my bike and I are lucky to have this meager space allotment as it is. At any moment a bus might be in my way, or a parked car, or a turning car, or a slower bike, or a scooter looking to park, or a pedestrian. If I suddenly deviate my path even three inches, I might cause a wreck.
Saying the streets are congested gives the wrong image. It isn’t bumper to bumper stop and go traffic. Scooters only stop for red lights. They are like ants. Ants can always circumvent obstacles  without even slowing their pace. In the photo at the beginning of this post you can  get an idea of how many scooters there are compared to cars and buses and how they favor ants.
I hope the rest of these photos help you understand Taipei traffic and the scooter culture. Unfortunately, I usually only have my phone handy when I witness an interesting scooter situation, so the photos are mostly of low quality especially when the scooter is moving, which they tend to do.

Parked scooters. This is a very common sight. All of these photos are pretty mundane actually.

This is near my house where the traffic is comparatively very sparse.

This is still close to my home, but traffic builds up at almost any red light.

Motorcycles are nowhere near as common as scooters, but you see them frequently.

This is one of my all time favorite photos. I took this within the first month of living here. I found it interesting that many people don't adjust the scooter helmets to properly cover their heads. The combination of her helmet and how cute this couple is gets me giggling.

Raincoat, mask for pollution, gloves so his hands don't get tanned.

Jade and I driving a scooter on Green Island

Now Jade's driving

Now I'm driving again

Scooters ready for tourists to rent on Green Island

The lady who rented us a room on Green Island made sure to give us her crappiest scooter she owns since she didn't trust my skills. Smart lady. After the first ride I became much more comfortable and the next day even took us up a mountain trail a little ways. Jade, on the other hand, was comfortable the moment she sat in the drivers seat.

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4 Responses to “Scooter Culture”

  1. Cindy Madsen June 2, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    Where are you?

    • Emily Clark June 16, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      I’ve re-emerged! Thanks for worrying about me and/or the blog 🙂 I’ve been working little by little on a piece about following your dreams. And, a second compilation of scooter photos is on deck! The dreams post will be up this weekend.

  2. Olivia June 9, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Hi Emily,
    I love this post about scooters. The pics are a great representation of street traffic. Scooters make a lot of sense to me in places with good weather, not in Chicago in the winter. I thought scooters were better for our environment but I guess I must have thought they were mopeds too. Aren’t some of them electric?

    I hope you are doing well. We are missing you still and think about you often.
    Love,
    Aunt Olivia

    • Emily Clark June 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

      Thanks Aunt Olivia. I’ve thought a lot about whether or not the scooters are better for the environment. When I imagine all those scooter drivers switching to cars, I cringe at how crowded the streets would be, so overall I’m glad the scooters are there.

      I found this explanation about whether cars or scooters are better for the environment.
      There’s two different things to consider, air pollution and green-house gases, and here is how the author sums up the answer:

      “Scooters emit more pollution, but they help the planet overall by adding less to greenhouse gas buildup. Or, to put the matter in more downbeat terms, your choice is between choking in the city or dying from mass climate change.”

      The article also says scooters are much less practical in northern climates. I’m considering getting one when I get back to Texas depending on what I’m even doing or not doing there.

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