Monday, May 17, 2010

Cultural Unawareness: Ticked Off in Taiwan

Traffic Anarchy and Other Stuff

I saw a pretty common sight, today: A young woman lying unconscious on the street, next to her badly broken motorcycle, while an ambulance came down the street with full lights and sirens. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen an accident like this. Just a couple of weeks ago, we came upon a woman in her early twenties, bleeding in the street after a motorcycle crash. I have had a number of close calls on my own motorcycle and I’m extremely careful. I’ve even had a car come in contact with my outrigger and literally push me off the road.

The problem is that Taoyuan City is made up of a many narrow streets, there are many more cars and bikes than the narrow streets can handle, and nobody, I mean nobody, will yield to anyone else. Add to that people crossing lane lines, riding in the wrong lane, and darting out from every side and you can see why there are so many close calls and accidents. Sometimes there is just too much vehicle activity to see everything. The result is people get hit and accidents happen.

People are used to motorcycles here. They are ridden all over on scooters from a very young age. You see babies hung in slings across the front of their mothers all the time. People grow up on scooters and have very little fear of riding, so many of them are very aggressive riders. Interestingly enough, it is women in their early twenties who seem to be the most aggressive riders.

I am always amazed at the fearlessness with which people ride. I’m very oriented toward defensive driving, it comes from driving trucks for so many years, so I drive looking well ahead of my vehicle. If I see traffic slow down or change in some way, I come off the throttle, because I don’t want to come up on, what could be a developing emergency, too fast. But scooter riders here launch themselves right into the middle of it, without slowing down until they can clearly see what’s happening. They depend on the agility of their bikes and the quickness of their reflexes and find themselves in a dangerous situation before they can react. Then somebody gets creamed and usually the bike rider gets the worst end of the deal.

I’ve said all that and I said it all to say this. It is absolutely amazing to me that a parent would ride one or more of their children on a motorcycle without a helmet. But it happens all the time. Parents are so concerned about their kids getting enough sleep. They can’t come to church for the evening services because the kids need their sleep. There is such a concern about disease. Parents routinely make their kids wear doctor’s masks when they go to a crowded place so they don’t get sick: such fear and anxiety about the sniffles, for crying out loud. But those same parents think nothing about putting their kid on a scooter and riding through “traffic anarchy” without a helmet

It really gets me! So shy and demure soul that I am, I tell them. “Ta xuyao yi ge an chaun mao zi. (He/she needs a safety hat.). This upsets them, because if I take a photo, and obviously I do, and send the photo to the police station I get a reward and they get a fine, if it has their license number. I’m not in it for the reward, I just don’t want to see some beautiful little kid bleeding in the street, or lying under a yellow blanket. That would really tick me off.

Editor's Note:  I had a number of photos of people that were riding motorcycles with unhelmeted children, but I decided to take those photos out.  Not because of any concern for the embarrassment of the adults, but because I didn't have permission to put the children's pictures on-line. -Chris

Other posts you may be interested in:

Scootering in Taiwan:  New Helmet Technology
Random Asianess:  Driving in Taiwan

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