Sunday, 9 October 2011

You Have to Act Nonchalant

Last night we went out for dinner with a Taiwanese couple and their sons. The lady, Ching Yi, has been very helpful to me since we met at Conrad's school the first day I took him there, and we wanted to thank them. Sorry, I forgot my camera so no pictures of the food. During the discussion the talk turned to traffic in Taiwan and Asia generally. In many ways transportation is excellent and much better than in the UK. For example, I've sung praises of the MRT system before and I'll do so again. It's extremely efficient and clean, and even at the busiest times, people are generally polite and considerate. My most favourite thing is the set of exhortations to behave well that are frequently made over the announcement system. These are the ones you hear, in order of frequency (the announcements are made in Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese (I think) then finally English):
  • Please do not smoke, eat, drink, chew gum or betel nut on the Taipei metro system
  • Please yield your seat to those in need
  • If suffering from a cold, please wear a surgical mask as a precautionary measure (and yes, people frequently do)
Finally, my absolute favourite that I've heard only once is:
  • When using a cellphone, please moderate your voice, for the comfort of other passengers
The above ground public transportation is very good too. Buses are very frequent and cover all the areas the MRT doesn't reach. They are clean and well-maintained and they also have English signage so are very easy to use. It has to be said that sometimes it feels as though you're on a ride at an amusement park as the drivers drive away and break very enthusiastically but that's good for your coordination and balance I think.

In the general traffic on the road, though, things are a little more haphazard. The system for crossing the road is great. At red lights, drivers are shown a countdown of how long they have to wait until the lights change. Similarly, pedestrians see countdown of how long they have to cross the road. The green man moves, though! When you have, say, 40 seconds to cross the road, he walks in a sedate and relaxed manner.

As your time decreases he starts to run,

 and then by the time you only have a few seconds left, he's sprinting:

However, despite the fact that drivers are supposed to stop to allow you to cross, they mostly don't, and will cut in front and behind you on the pedestrian crossing. It isn't anywhere near as bad as this:

but it can be nerve-wracking nonetheless. I've found the best policy is to adopt a nonchalant gait. If you walk slowly and steadily drivers can predict where you're going to be when they pass you. So the trick is to pretend you aren't at all phased by the traffic whipping around you, that you don't care that there's a bus coming around the corner, and that you're merely going for a relaxed stroll, oblivious to the hundreds of horsepower vying for a place on the crossing.

There isn't a lot of disruption from roadworks, but when you do come across it, it's always fun to see the non-human traffic controller:

I have lots more to tell, including tales of giant spiders and more pictures of food! So I'll try to post again soon.

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