© 2013 Miro Roman

got a scooter – The truth about driving a scooter in Taiwan


The most popular mode of transportation on the island is scooter, most likely due to the fact that the country is densely populated and the roads are already clogged to the brim with cars. On any given morning in locales around Taiwan, hordes of scooterists descend on the cities, weaving in and out of traffic and driving other motorists, especially taxi drivers, to the point of madness. Even in Puli, a small mountain city with a population of a mere 80,000 people, scooters remain the kings of the road.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is exempt from being carted around on a scooter. During the time I spent in the country some of the strange scooter sights I witnessed included a couple driving with a full-grown pig sitting upright in the middle of the seat, the woman lovingly patting its head; a woman driving with two gigantic sheepdogs stacked on top of each other; numerous babies standing up on mommy or daddy’s lap sans helmet, families of five or more heading out for a joyride on a 100cc; people carrying all means of furniture; barefooted and helmet-less drivers (esp. in the countryside), and people sitting on bamboo chairs on top of their vehicles, just to name a few.

After about 6 months in Taiwan, I finally got up the nerve to get on the scooter I’d bought several months earlier. The scooter I was terrified of driving. Living in Hsinchu at that time, it wasn’t exactly the best place to learn how to drive. I’d practice at night, mostly around 2 in the morning, when I’d be least likely to run over a helpless pedestrian. Or get stopped by a police officer. My brother came to visit that first spring and we completed a scooter trip around Taroko Gorge. After that adventurous experience, I felt much more confident on the road. My second year in Taiwan, I bought a new scooter in Hsincu (a city in Northwestern Taiwan) and drove it back to Puli (my new home in Central Taiwan) at 4 in the morning. The journey was supposed to take seven hours but I got home in five and a half. I’ll never forget that trip, my experience with the Hsinchu police department (trying to ask for directions in Chinese while they kept saying “crazy foreigner” because even most locals wouldn’t drive a scooter that far), how it felt to have nothing more to go by than map written in Chinese, the cool damp mountain wind at my back, lashing against my face, as I journeyed along a mysterious winding road into the great unknown. I’ll never forget the scenery, the towns, the people I passed along the way.

It wasn’t long before I became one of those people driving about with strange cargo. Or weaving between the cars. The ironic thing is, that after living in the country for awhile, you begin to see that there’s a flow to the system. The people make it work. As crazy as it seems, I felt safer driving in Taiwan than I have back home in the Chicago suburbs. There’s a synchronized dance at work behind the chaos.

And a wild, fulfilling freedom that belongs only to Taiwan.

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