Sunday, June 15, 2008

scooters and humidity -first impressions of Taiwan

Well it's 7:30 in the morning here and I can't sleep. I'm assuming it's still due to jet lag and that I'm still on NY time; so figure it's time for a post on my first impressions. First thing is that it is HOT, but more than that it is humid. It's been raining all day yesterday and I decided to explore a bit of the city. Even though it was nearly pouring, the heat was pretty intense, and I was sweating a bit despite the rain. The bad thing is that the hotel I'm staying in is about a 30 minute walk from the closest MRT (mass Rapid Transit) or subway stop. So it was a bit of a trek just to get into Taipei. I had to stop and ask directions a few times, but I asked directions in Mandarin, MRT zai na li? and so the people I spoke to assumed I spoke mandarin fluently and told me the directions in mandarin, very fast. I had to nod and act like I understood and follow their pointing gestures....I did understand a word or two, but by the time I figured them out, the person was already on the next sentence..... But as I was standing on one corner looking very confused, like so many tourists walking around Times Square, a man came up and asked me in English if I was lost. Of course I responded that I was...and explained I was looking for the MRT.. he was very helpful and gave me detailed directions in English, I can't imagine NYers being as cordial. But the long walk was worth it because the subway here is really clean and efficient. Plus everything is in English (as I thanked the guy who gave me directions he said "Don't worry the MRT is in English so you won't get lost anymore"). It is fast to, and cheap. The woman at the counter explained where I needed to go and how much it was.

There are definitely some new sights and smells that I'm not used to yet. There are tons of little shops along the roads and I can't tell if it's a store or a house or a combination of both, because there is ussually a family inside watching tv, but then someone outside selling something.... Regardless, these shops sometimes have the best smells, like fried chicken or steamed duplings as you pass by; in others the smells are not as pleasant. But the way I see it, I'm sure many a tourist has walked down say 53rd street in the summer time, on garbage day and been taken aback by that nasty smell; I sure as hell have...So it's just a matter of taking it in stride. I'm in a big city, there will be smells and sounds I'm just not used to some good, some bad but all part of the experience.

The other thing beside the humidity that I noticed right away was the crazy amount of scooters. When I was in Italy I thought there could never be another place that loved the Vespa more than the Italians, but I think it's safe to say that in terms of scooter use, Italy ain't got nothing on Taipei. They are everywhere, and all kinds of people are on them. Little old ladies with tons of grocery bags jammed on their scooters, old men zooming in and out of traffic... cool 17 year old kids, even moms with 1, 2 and even 3 kids packed onto a little scooter (one woman had one kid on her lap, two older ones on the seat behind her). One kid was asleep as he rode on his mom's lap and she zipped around through traffic. It's pretty amazing. As someone who appreciates a good nap, I have to tip my cap to that kid's dedication to napping, I don't think I could sleep on a scooter like that....... Because it was raining too all day, everyone had these bright colored ponchos on while riding. So at a red light at a busy intersection, there were about 30 -40 multi-colored scooter drivers reviving their engines-ready to go. This combined with the fact that most have the masks over their faces to protect against pollution, makes it look like some futuristic, multi-colored army. Then the light turns green and wham! it's mad dash to the front of the pack and 60 some-odd scooters all hitting the gas at the same time is a lot louder than you would think. I kinda want to get one, but am not too confident about not getting into an accident.

I did end up getting a cell phone. That was an adventure in and of itself. The poor girl in the store was very eager to help me, but with her limited English and my even more limited mandarin it was quite a process. It was very frustrating not being able to communicate even the simplest thoughts to someone else. There was a lot of pointing and writing down of costs. At one point I was trying to ask how much was the cost per minute. After writing down in mandarin duo shou (how much) ________NTD /fen (minute), we were finally able to understand each other somewhat. I felt bad though because she was using more English than I was using Mandarin, even though I should be the one forced to adjust as I am a guest here. Thankfully her patience and our limited knowledge of the other's language paid off and we were able to figure what the other was saying. I ended up spending about 100 us dollars on a phone and a prepaid minutes SIM card. It just reinforces how tough this is going to be, when even the basic thoughts and needs I have are difficult to articulate. I don't want to be that annoying American who goes around assuming other people speak English. Makes me want to get even more serious about studying mandarin, I need to spend more time working on it.

Anyway this was a long post. Today I plan on sending out more resumes, exploring more of the city (maybe the Da'an district), studying madarin more and maybe checking out Taipei 101 and the Shi'in night market, that is if I'm not still jet lagged.

All the best,

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