Driving in Taiwan

By Mild Seven

Driving in Taiwan crosses a wide spectrum of emotions. The exhilarating feeling of your first ride on your scooter or motorcycle will surely be an experience you will never forget. The freedom of just jumping on your bike and cruising wherever, whenever you want will also be a joy. I came here with an open minded philosophy that I wouldn’t get mad at people for doing things the way they do them. Taiwan has been Taiwan for sometime without me, and will continue to be Taiwan long (hopefully anyway, that has yet to be determined) after my departure. Basically, an acceptance of culture, for good or for bad, is necessary for your survival in Taiwan. This especially comes into play when you are on the road.

I went from being a very gracious, cautious driver to someone who now resembles a Taiwanese’ driver. Basically the opposite of what I just wrote. Some words of advice I was given when I first came to Taiwan was that you should always drive a little faster than everyone else, so that you just need to worry about what is in front of you, rather than what’s in front and what’s in back. It’s worked well for me so far.

When you come to Taiwan, and see the streets for yourself, you’ll realize that anarchy is abound. It’s not something that happens once in a while either. You will encounter anarchy in one form or another on the streets 24 hours a day. Here is a list of some of the obstacles you may need to deal with:

1. Blue trucks
2. Cardboard people
3. Glowing baton wavers
4. Pedestrians
5. Bicycles
6. Nice cars
7. Cappy cars
8. Mobile Driving Units
9. Garbage trucks
10. Flyer/flower distributors
11. Betel nut girls
12. Dogs
13. Mormons
14. The creep
15. The dragon
16. Buses

In Taiwan, traffic laws are seldom enforced


The “It is illegal to do this in Taiwan (yet everyone does it or has done it before) list”:

Turn right on red
Turn left (on a motorbike) on green
Go through red lights
Drive the wrong way against traffic
Speak on cell phones while driving/riding
Speed past policemen
Cut someone off with an abrupt turn or pull over without a signal
Not wear a helmet (now it seems this is one of their favorites to bust people on though)

Cutting people off is probably illegal, but you need to expect it to happen. Blinkers are used about 1% of the time. Expect to get cut off by anyone and everyone all of the time. Your life may depend on it.

The Creep

Taiwanese drivers like to cut you off, but will cordially do it at a slow pace. Expect people to creep out slowly from everywhere, see you coming, and continue to cut you off at a snail’s pace. You can politely hock a loogie on their car and burn the hell out of there.

The Dragon

Making a left in Taiwan can be a damning experience. To do it legally could possibly take an eternity. Enter the dragon. The dragon can appear at any intersection. If there is a car waiting to make a left turn, they will wait for the crack in the armor of the oncoming traffic and yes, slowly cut off the oncoming traffic (no matter if there is only one car or one bike or many). The person behind them will take this as a cue to fall in line behind them. After that, it’s like a crack in a dam. They just flood until there are none left. I’ve seen dragons as long as 15 cars complete with scooters interlaced like pilot fish following sharks. You can take the road rage initiative, slay the dragon, and in doing so cause a jam in the middle of the road that will piss everybody off. I take great joy in slaying the dragon, but this is not for the weak-hearted (especially if you are on a motorbike).

Blue Trucks

Make no mistake, the people that drive these trucks ARE out to kill you. Hopped up on betel nut and Taiwan beer, they are perhaps the most insane drivers of all (with taxi drivers a close second). These trucks are usually small enough so that the drivers will weave in and out of the ‘scooter lane’, trying to gain a few positions at each red light. Be wary.

Special Note: It’s rumored that if you are ever hit by one of these, you should be alert enough to get up right away. They may try to back up and try to finish you off. Rather than pay your hospital bills and whatever other expenses they need to compensate you with, they can get off a little easier with only paying for your funeral.

Taxis

A little higher class than the blue truck driver, they are also likely to be hopped up on the nut. Driving a car for a living is bound to make people a little stir crazy. Driving a car for a living in Taiwan will absolutely drive one insane. I was in a taxi in Tainan, and the driver was speeding and passing cars on the left, in the opposite lane, with cars coming toward us. Not for the faint of heart. Being in a taxi is usually much better than jockeying with them for position on the street though. Many of them are pleasant enough, and more than willing to let you practice Chinese with them. On the outside, they are ruthless and always looking for fares, so they are more than happy to cut you off just for fun or to pick grandma up from the side of the road.

Cardboard People

No, you dumbass, these people aren’t made out of cardboard. But there are many of them around. Usually a bit on the old side, their main purpose is to collect cardboard and wheel it around on the streets on some kind of wheeled contraption. They can be found anywhere, but seem to gravitate to smaller streets and alleys. They are especially dangerous because they are always transporting big loads of cardboard on their contraptions, and travel about 1 km/hr. Expect traffic jams and anarchy near them.

Glowing Baton Wavers

One of the crappiest jobs in the world, but oddly on par with those people who put on monkey suits and act like asses when drivers go by. They stand, usually in front of an advertisement, regardless of intense heat or rain, maybe even on the road, and mindlessly wave their glowing baton. Don’t let the baton mesmerize you or you may toast the waver.

Betelnut Girls

Do you approve of sexploitation? Are you anti-drugs? Betel nut girls will offer you a conundrum of issues ranging from women’s rights to the selling of mild narcotics. Have you ever heard the expression ‘good from a far, but far from good’? This is an expression a fellow traveler to Taiwan used before, and a fitting description of the looks of many of the betel nut girls in Taiwan. Their purpose is to sit in a booth, prepare betel nuts, look sexy, and flirt with the large betel nut chewing population (of mostly men) in Taiwan. Most have nice bodies. Many have summer teeth. Your attraction to these girls should decrease with every year you are in Taiwan. Mind you, some places have some really hot babes there! Staring at them while driving is bound to cause accidents, as your eyes wander to see what outfit your favorite betel nut girl is wearing. Don’t be such a danger to society. If you have to have a look, just stop off and get a Mr. Brown’s coffee or a Taiwan beer. The girls won’t bite.

There was a betel nut girl in An Ding, a city north of Tainan who was wearing a robe, but it was open and she wasn’t wearing anything under it! What a shock! I was almost equally surprised when she smiled and I saw the abyss where most of her frontal teeth had once been.

Flyer/Flower Distributors

Another crappy job in Taiwan. These people congregate at intersections, regardless of intense heat or rain, and hand out flyers and/or sell flowers (probably to freshen up that stale betel nut stench that has been lingering in the car). When cars are waiting at red lights, they go up and hand out the flyers or sell their flowers. Many Taiwanese will kindly accept the flyer and promptly put it in a stack of other useless ads that are earmarked for the trash, or hopefully even the recycling bin. I’ve been in taxis that have purchased flowers before. If you’re driving or riding, be careful around busy intersections during the day.

Bicycles

For whatever reason, bicycle riders in Taiwan ride by a different set of standards. Seemingly free from any rules of the road, they will whiz through intersections and cross streets without even a glance. Beside the fact that they are traveling at slow speeds, the operators apparently care not for their safety or yours. Steer clear of bicyclists.

Pedestrians

A lot of places in Taiwan are free of sidewalks, and even if there are sidewalks, they are probably filled with parked scooters or even cars wedged up on them. That leaves the road as the only place for people to walk. Taiwan’s population density is off the charts, so you can imagine the amount of people walking on the streets. Of course, pedestrian traffic is greater near markets and city centers, so be careful when approaching these areas. You never know who may pop out from behind an illegally parked car.

Nice Cars

So to buy a nice car, you obviously need some money, right? So a decent job or decent family legacy should help you with that. I find that many people in nice cars feel they rule the road. Nothing says class like cutting off a foreigner with your new Benz. You’ll also find them racing down the streets at 2 in the morning, right when you thought it was safe to go home from the neighborhood pub.

Crappy Cars

Taiwan is a tough place for cars. Older cars are almost guaranteed to have many scratches, bumps and dings on them at the least. There is a special class of car though, where neglect and time have taken an extreme toll. Especially beware of these road warriors, as they have as much regard for you as they do for their rusty bucket of bolts.

Mobile Driving Units

There are some vehicles in Taiwan that are made by the hard working and ingenious street sales class of Taiwanese. They don’t transport passengers, but usually have some kind of set up on them. For example, I’ve seen one where the man will park it on a curb, and cook sweet potatoes off of it. Others where people sell nuts, or even Taiwanese snack foods. I think the possibilities are endless. They are usually slow, loud, and park in strange areas.

Garbage Trucks

If you’re new to Taiwan and sitting home one evening, the stench of your ever growing garbage pile wafting around your humble abode, and hear classical music blaring from the street, that’s your cue to grab the trash and bust ass to the street. Some apartment buildings have dumpsters. If yours doesn’t, you’re screwed and it’s your job to run outside and throw the trash in the garbage truck yourself. You may be waiting there for a bit, so bring some smokes or a few betel nuts to pass the time. You can also make friends with your neighbors, who are all also waiting to dump their rubbish. It could even turn into a party if you’re lucky. If your driving or riding near a garbage truck, be warned that people will come flying out of all directions with their little garbage bags waving when the truck arrives. Hell, they’ve likely been waiting there for a while, or even worse, nearly missed the exchange outright. You may find yourself running after the garbage truck one day too, so don’t laugh.

Dogs

It can be sad sometimes in Taiwan driving around. You’ll see many street dogs. They shouldn’t bite you (they’re probably a little scared of you because they think you might kick them like a lot of people do). They occasionally will wander around and jut in and out of traffic. Some are missing paws, or have broken paws. You’ll notice some with skin/fur disorders or just limping around. At the time of writing this, just last night we almost smoked a black dog who decided hanging out in the middle of a narrow street was a good idea. The moral of this story is to be on the look out for street animals! You don’t want to hit a dog on your scooter. For your benefit and its! I have seen pigs chained up outside sometimes but never wandering the streets.

If you care about animals, especially dogs, you can check out this link. A lot of good people are taking up the fight to help reduce the population of stray dogs in Taiwan by neutering and spaying them. They also build shelters to house some strays. If you wanna help out, give this organization a chance (or some cash).

. A lot of good people are taking up the fight to help reduce the population of stray dogs in Taiwan by neutering and spaying them. They also build shelters to house some strays. If you wanna help out, give this organization a chance (or some cash).

Mormons

I am an advocate of religious freedom so don’t take this as a diss. There are quite a few Mormon missionaries living in Taiwan. You will notice them, as they wear white shirts and ties and are always biking around. They stop at intersections and chat people up. Their Chinese is usually pretty good I hear, and their main market is the Taiwanese. They will, however, also take the opportunity to chat with you while waiting for the light to turn. They honestly believe that what they are doing is in order to prevent you from burning in hell. It’s their mission to lead you toward the light. I can’t really write much else on this. When I’m at intersections they never talk to me. I’m not sure what’s worse though – getting the hard sell for a religion or being looked at, and then deemed to be a lost cause. Oh, and if you hit a Mormon you go straight to hell. Don’t collect 200, blah blah blah…

Buses

Driving in Taiwan does have a system. It’s the big fish eats little fish method. Your road status is based on the size of your ride (and not the make of your car, which is sometimes forgotten by those snobby Benz drivers). The hierarchy is simple, it goes like this:

Buses
Blue trucks
Taxis
Nice cars
Crappy cars
Normal cars
Modified driving units
Motorcycles
Scooters
Cyclists
Pedestrians

There are always exceptions to the rule, but expect anything bigger than you to bend the rules of the road and infringe on your personal space. And never stay next to a bus or even behind one. If you are on the side, they will definitely just start squeezing you out to stop and pick up passengers. Staying behind is safer, but not if you consider you are taking the full load of exhaust right in your face. I’ve seen buses that resemble evil factories, billowing smoke out of the stacks. I’ve seen scooters like that too (even owned one for a while) but that’s another story.

3 Responses to “ Driving in Taiwan ”

  1. You forgot about Propane Man. No lookin’, clutch featherin’, oil burnin’ propane guy.

  2. Great read! I stayed in Taiwan for 2 years, my thoughts are yours exactly!

  3. Propane Man is definitely a must watch out for.
    Propane delivery is an everyday occurrence because many of the homes still depend on tanks of propane for cooking and delivery.
    I would certainly not want to crash into one of these motorbikes the outcome can be very catastrophic.

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