Tag Archives: crowded

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?”
“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.



4 Mar

I still love my job because my students continue to be adorable and well behaved. I have five additional students now, though, so what was once tiring is now exhausting. Many of them have just turned four or will soon, and two are closer to age three. Besides the fact that there are usually at least five students trying to tell me about what their mom said or that they found the smallest piece of lint ever on the floor and would like me to inspect it to see if they should earn some kind of reward for having saved us all, this many students proves a challenge because of the lack of space.

A 12 x 10 room with 15 three and four year olds is one crowded place. I am teaching them a kindergarten curriculum, so we have circle time spots, centers areas, a reading corner, math books, phonics books, handwriting books, and we eat lunch in there. Fortunately, the Taiwanese are great at making the most of small spaces. When I feel like all is lost and there’s no extra space for me to put something like the huge box of new curriculum that just arrived, my boss will come in and say, “Okay, what if we put this shelf on top of that shelf, scoot your desk over like this, and then I’ll get you another shelf to go here?” We do it, and viola! It does fit. Never mind that the recycling box is virtually inaccessible or that little Leo’s floor spot is now under Samantha’s chair. It works. Leo is short.

The level I and my co-worker teach has become so popular that they offered us the opportunity to switch to larger rooms. We turned it down. If you’re a teacher, I’m sure you can agree that taking everything off your walls and out of your cabinets mid-year to set it all up again somewhere new is an almost impossible and definitely scary feat to perform in one evening after school. As you might remember, we have to put up butcher paper to cover the walls because of the unfinished plaster and years of tape stuck to them. Therefore when anything is removed from the walls here, the butcher paper has to be replaced or covered up in those exact spots to hide the tears and discoloration. Remember the years of having to wallpaper? I do, I remember watching my mom do it in several rooms, and though the bathrooms looked like little perfect explosions of flowers, we were all relieved when she hired that one lady to do the kitchen.

No matter which room I have, I know I would continue to feel cramped at work. I’ve never given much thought to claustrophobia, probably because I lived in Texas. As a warning, if you consider yourself claustrophobic now, do not come to Asia unless you plan to be rich and choosy with your work environment. It’s not just when the kids are around that I feel squished; it’s during my breaks because it’s these times when some people need quiet and space the most. Let me give you the privilege of understanding lunch time in a Taiwanese kindergarten.

When the year first started, the youngest class came to my room to eat with us. A few months in, the lunch set up was changed. I began taking my students and about eight chairs to a different class to eat with those students while the big kids brought in ten chairs and a table to my room. When nap time was over, they retrieved their furniture from my room. They often left at least a few chairs behind, though. And just one small chair can block an entire passageway in this type of environment. Recently the lunch situation has changed again. A class I’ve yet to mention comes to eat with us in our room, bringing an extra table and several chairs.

After the kids eat, it’s the teachers’ turn. Luckily our company lets us eat the school lunch for free, saving us a lot of money and time. At noon at least five of us are standing up in the kitchen eating from small metal bowls. Standing and eating may not sound that strange especially to my dad, but except for Chris, who somehow manages to get in there first every time and stand in the safe spot in front of the closet, everyone else is in someone’s way approximately seven times throughout their meal. Either you’re standing in front of the sink where Auntie is trying to wash the bowls between her trips to clean rooms, or you’re standing in front of the cabinet of bowls and need to move when someone needs a dish, or you’re in front of the fridge and someone needs garlic, or you’re standing in front of the door to the kitchen, and I don’t think I need to explain why that one is inconvenient, or you’re standing in front of the food itself. When I say you have to move, I mean you have to find a new spot entirely. And the only spot you can move to is often the very middle of the kitchen where someone else is eventually going to need to be.

So just imagine the smallest kitchen ever and that’s where the Auntie prepares the meals. She doesn’t cook them; they are delivered by a man wheeling a cart. As he glides down the hallway to deliver the food in the morning, he taps on the metal containers so students and teachers get out of his way since the hallway is, as you might’ve guessed, not that wide.

After eating, most teachers leave the school because other than the basement, there is nowhere for them to go. I’m lucky in that there are no kids napping in my room, so I can get some work done in there. The hard part is that I’m in Auntie’s way yet again. She’s trying to mop and such and I’m traipsing around trying to get things done. She’s very nice about it, even when the gunk stuck to my shoes is making footprints on the floor she just moped. I haven’t accidentally worn my inside shoes outside in like five months, so I’m not sure where all that dirt comes from, but anyway, she taught me how to wipe them on the mop. When she leaves, she doesn’t close the door, which is about two feet from the office, which quite frequently houses conversations or a screaming kid. I don’t know what the screaming is about since they always yell in Chinese (plus the upset ones are always newbies who don’t know much English yet), but I know that I need peace and quiet, so I go and close it. Five minutes later Auntie comes in again and wipes the tables down. She leaves the door open again, so I go and close it. I start working again on creating some lesson or cutting, and Auntie comes back in to mop again. She mops twice because, well, school floors are dirty. And when she exits, she leaves the door open. The kid isn’t crying anymore, so I don’t notice until he comes in and starts rummaging through our toys. I ignore him, but then he approaches my desk talking to me in a forlorn voice. Once again, I don’t know what he’s saying. So I just nod and say, “It’s okay” while using my herding skills to get him out of the room. I close the door right as he starts crying again. Oftentimes comforting someone has the opposite effect. Or maybe it was because I closed the door in his face? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned not to get all compassionate because the bandage has to be ripped off at some point. I can only pretend we speak the same language for so long.

Now it’s not that I’m complaining. These breaks keep me sane, and I feel extremely lucky. Who gets two hours off in the middle of the day? Who gets to be sane these days? The breaks and holidays in this company are gold. But, sometimes I go down to the basement where it’s dark, musty, and relatively quiet and dream of the wide open spaces in my previous life. Sometimes that Dixie Chick song starts playing. “Wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes…” Ironically, it’s a lot easier for me to let go of mistakes here in cramped spaces than it was in the wide open spaces of Texas. I think people here are so much nicer and forgiving because if you don’t learn this skill early on, you’re going to start hurting people for being in your way all the time. And I bet the prisons here are even smaller than Auntie’s kitchen.

Best Day in Taipei Part II

10 Nov

After exiting Jungle Hill (see Part I for those photos), I continued on to eat at Good Morning restaurant. Because of my picture snapping mood, I’m now able to show you around our neighborhood in Da’an District, Taipei as I go to the restaurant, a store, and then my apartment.

Let's start off with one of the first people I pass on the street after I exit Jungle Hill. Wow.

This is very typical looking. Just wanted to share.

Wolong Street (our street) is windy because the east side of it follows Jungle Hill (s).

This is actually the first time I've seen a truck of chickens or any live animal other than people transporting pets on their scooters... like a dog between their legs on the "floorboard", a space that basically only accomodates the dogs bum. I'll be sure to do a post all about scooters and their drivers once I have collected a good amount of photos so you don't have to just take my word for it.

Walkin down Wolong. As I've said, this is on the edge of Taipei, so not crowded.

Still Walking

Can you see the lady wearing pink in between the two vehicles. She is getting off the back of a scooter that I watched her get on approximately five minutes earlier. She is old, and someone was helping her put her helmet on. Then that person transported her about four blocks down the street. I remember having the oddest feeling seeing those people again because I guess I kept comparing their version of those same five minutes and same route to my version. I have a picture of when they were helping her put the helmet on, but that one is just as boring looking as this one, so I won't subject you to it as well.

Now, as Wolong Street comes to an end, I find myself at the brown line of the MRT. This is Linguang Station, a few minutes walk from our apartment. But instead of turning right here towards home, I am going to turn left and be at Good Morning cafe in one minute. If I passed up Good Morning cafe and kept walking, I'd be in busier territory very quickly.

These are the very nice ladies who are here every time I come in. The menu you can see is all in Chinese. Luckily they have a little booklet that has both English and Chinese, so I grab that (it has a picture of a cat on the front). Once I decide what I want to eat, I go back and forth from the cat booklet to the paper menu looking for the Chinese characters of the items I've chosen, so I can mark down what I want to eat. Even when you're just trying to match the characters, it can be difficult especially because in this case, the fuzzy print quality of the cat book menu makes all the characters look even more muddled than they already appear to my brain.

I have to be very sneaky when I invade people's privacy all in the name of... well, nothing very important. I mean, she's just a regular girl right, but that's the point.

On my way home from eating. I walked through the MRT breezeway to show you where you can buy your MRT token for 70 cents up to 1.30 USD depending on if you're going a couple stops away or across the entire city. Carrie and I have the prepaid card, so we don't need to buy a token anymore. Oh, and If you care, we live about four stops down from where the brown line meets the blue.

People waiting for the walk signal

Instead of going straight home, I went about 30 seconds out of the way to go to the Something Store Near Our House (This is what we call it to differentiate it from the Something Store and the Everything Store). First here's a photo from street level.

As soon as you walk down those stairs in the previous photo and walk through a set of automatic glass doors, you see this. It gives you an idea of how tightly packed stores are here, and of how little importance they put on the aesthetics of entry ways, unless you consider orderliness beauty, but some shops don't even have that really.

This is how you get downstairs and also where I buy my water. We finally figured out why we should filter our water - heavy metals. You can see the metal build up when you remove the screen on the tap. We still don't really get why people boil the water though since that doesn't get rid of metals, only bacteria, which we don't seem to have a problem with... yet.

There is a packed downstairs floor that has household stuff. I often need to buy things on this wall you see along the stairs. It's very common for multilevel stores to put the merchandise along the stairs.

Just in case you want to know what it's like to try to buy a drink here. I've had that Asparagus drink; it's... interesting.

Girl waiting for bus. This is the bus stop where I wait on rainy mornings for bus 292, which has happened very day this week. It's pouring as I write this actually.

Garden area next to our apartment building.

Our apartment building on the right.

Oh, there goes a man pushing boxes. If it's boxes, it's sometimes a man, but if it's trash, it's almost always a lady. The ladies are usually pushing more trash than this, and sometimes they are on a bike, pedaling huge amounts. I already have many photos of these trash ladies, so you have a trash post to look forward to reading.

Our security guard. The fact that we have security, an elevator, and trash service (as opposed to having to take it in special bags to the truck that stops in the middle of the road at 7pm) means we have a fancy place (AKA over-priced).

The breezeway between the two sides of our apartment complex. We live to the left.

Wow, here comes Carrie

Getting closer

and closer

and closer