Recent happenings

I remember at one point I wrote to my mother that my goal was to put out one blog entry every DAY.  Oops.  It turns out that, *gasp*, I’m way too lazy, which may be a boon to those of you whose e-mail inboxes are clogged enough as it is.  (By the way, if you want to unsubscribe from this list, just send me an e-mail.  I won’t be offended, I promise.)

This past week I’ve been running around like crazy, doing a pretty good imitiation of the proverbial headless chicken.  It turns out that, while owning a scooter is very convenient, and saves a lot of time in my daily routine, it can be a pain sometimes.

For instance, last Friday I went to get my scooter license.  Yes, I’ve been driving without a license for three months.  Welcome to Taiwan!  As I’ve said before, the general traffic law obedience level is very low here.  Driving without a license is extremely common.  The reason I waited so long to get the license is that I didn’t want to have to take the test more than once, so I took my time studying for the written test.  Which I passed on the first attempt.  Unfortunately, the Motor Vehicle Department in Taiwan doesn’t have a booklet in English explaining what the traffic rules are.  There is an English test, but no English booklet.  What they have done is made the entire question bank available on the internet.  Which means that, in order to study, I had to download, study, and memorize the entire 1000-question bank.  As a result, I now know the difference between the signs for Taiwan’s national, provincial, and county road signs.  I also got a lot of practice in Confucian driving morality (not to mention reading horrendous English, but I’m already used to that).  I had never seen a traffic test before which dealt with the morality of your actions.  I kid you not, one of the questions really was:

“Motorcyclist obeys the law is: (1) afraid of fines (2) responsible and honorable (3) under supervision.”

Anyway, I am now a legally licensed (and ethical) scooter driver.  Yay!

The other notable thing that happened recently (and the biggest reason for the chicken-sans-head emulation) was that my friend Jenn came to visit.  She was here on business, so she didn’t have a lot of time for tourism, but we did manage to spend some time together.  She got in a week ago Saturday night, and we got together the day after, on Sunday night.  A couple of my Taiwanese friends volunteered to show us around 永和樂華夜市(for those of you with no Chinese character support on your computers: Yonghe Lehua Yeshi, or Yonghe Happy China Night Market.)  The night market phenomenon is probably the most unique thing about Taiwan.  A raucous, crowded group of intersecting pedestrian-only streets, lined with street vendors and more established stores, the night market occupies the niche filled by the shopping mall in America, except that in Taiwan, you generally WALK to the night market.  In the Taipei area, you are never far from one.  They are usually the best place to find cheap clothes or accessories, or just to take a stroll with friends, get some cheap food and window shop.  At these places, you become very aware of the difference between American and Taiwanese ideas of personal space. (American: as much as possible; Taiwanese: personal space? what’s that?)

The funny part is that my friend Jenn is Vietnamese-American (i.e. her genes are Vietnamese, her mind is American).  I had thought that Asians would be good at telling other Asians apart.  Even after living in Taiwan for a year and a half, I still have trouble differentiating the different types of Asians from each other based on physical appearance alone.  It turns out the Taiwanese have the same problem.  Many a vendor was confused upon addressing Jenn in Chinese, only to discover that they had to use an overweight, shaven-headed, white dude as a translator (for those of you who didn’t get the reference, that would be me).  We went to eat at a restaurant Wednesday night, and they brought out a Chinese menu for Jenn, and an English menu for me.  We promptly switched, whereupon they brought an English menu for me, too.  This fits with the experience of my friend Vivian, who is Taiwanese-American.  When Vivian came to Taiwan, everyone assumed she was Japanese (until she opened her mouth and spoke to them in fluent Mandarin).   They were a lot more confused by Jenn, though.  At first it was pretty funny, then it just got a little annoying.  Some of them took a long time to get the hint.  Even after I’d started doing the translating, some continued to ignore me and speak directly to Jenn in Chinese.

I guess I just don’t look Chinese!


4 Responses to “Recent happenings”

  1. Vivian Says:

    FYI…I am not Taiwanese-American. I consider myself Chinese-American. My father is from Mainland China, and my mother was born in Taiwan, but her roots are Chinese. Both of my parents fled China when the Communist took over. My family does not speak Taiwanese for the most part. Although I do believe in a democratic government and I do not support Communist China, nonetheless, I am not Taiwanese-American. Just to make the situation even more complicated than it already is.

  2. Bill Says:

    Cycle gang madman breaks the law because he is (A) under the influence of drugs/ETOH (B) fleeing a crime scene or (C) just born to be wild.

  3. Oleg Says:

    Uhm… a bit unrelated but since you was there you may know it… and i failed to find this information somewhere else…

    Is there a thing like “One-Month-Pass” for Taipei transportation system ? I know they have “One-Day-Passes” but since i intent to stay a bit longer, i would rather want it for a month…


  4. Ben Says:

    Vivian: Sorry about that. I will be writing a post later about Taiwanese politics, which should explain the whole Taiwanese-Chinese thing as well as a I understand it.

    Bill: D) Above the all of.

    Oleg: I don’t know if they have a “One Month Pass” as you describe. They have something called an “Easy Card”, which acts much like a debit card. I use it when I take the MRT (Taipei’s subway). You can buy one in any MRT station for $1000NT, which is $500 for the card itself plus $500 pre-paid. You swipe the card whenever you enter or exit a station, and it takes the fare right off your balance. The card also gives you a discounted fare (I don’t remember how much.) Good luck in Taipei!

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