Pros: nice experience
Cons: chaotic and uproarious
Aug 09, 2004 01:02
The defining experience of my trip to Taiwan was roaring around
Kaohsiung on the back of a scooter. Few things could have prepared
me for, or compared to, the exhilaration of riding a scooter, and
the choking reality of traffic in South East Asia.
I arrived in the city by bus from the capital, Taipei. My first
impression of Kaohsiung was being dropped off on the edge of the
most chaotic and uproarious traffic I have ever experienced. It
wasn't the cars or buses but the mass of scooters, dozens and dozens
of them, ripping by in a cacophony more like angry hornets than
My head reeled as I marvelled at how unfamiliar my surroundings
were. So different from Seoul, where it's not hard to get your bearings
straight, and where even on a Friday night the chaos is relatively
But then, it was inevitable that my trip would be a study in contrasts
between Korea and Taiwan. I went as much for a taste-test of living
there, as for a vacation. And I wasn't disappointed. I would work
there in a heartbeat.
And not just because I could ride a scooter, though this would be
a plus. In fact, it's a necessity in a city like Kaohsiung--commonly
pronounced "Gow-Shung." Public transport is almost non-existent
for foreigners, who would find it next to impossible to get around
by bus with no English translation or even bus maps. A subway is
under construction, but probably won't make it much easier to get
around, or ease congestion on the streets.
In Taipei, public transportation seems more in line with what foreigners
are used to, with swift buses and a reputable subway system. But
in Kaohsiung, the scooter rules. It's not even practical to walk
Despite being a proficient walker, I had trouble getting around
on foot. Sidewalks are used for either scooter parking or as extensions
of street-level commerce, and walking becomes an exercise in squeezing
past fruit stands, and trying not to knock over bikes. Most people
simply walk on the road.
Another reason for the scooter madness is that they are relatively
cheap and very efficient. Even with the rise in fuel prices, it
doesn't cost much to fill one up, and cost only one or two hundred
dollars for a decent used bike.
They're fun, and relatively safe to ride if you're smart about it.
Almost everyone wears a helmet, and there are all kinds of scooter-only
lanes and areas that keep them separate from larger vehicles.
If I sound like a scooter salesman it's because I've seen the light.
I don't have a license to drive. I've never even learned how--aside
for a spin or two around rural Ontario--and I haven't found it a
great impediment to my life.
Surely it would be nice to have the knowledge and use of driving
skills, for example, to rent a car for a road trip. But after all
this time, being a non-driver is just something I'm used to.
Riding the scooter in Kaoshiung, then, was an awakening. I didn't
ride through the streets and heavy traffic, but it was exhilarating
nonetheless. For the first time in ten years, I commanded control
of a motor vehicle, and it felt damn fine.