Taiwanese strangers

My scooter won’t start, so it’s in the shop. That meant J and I had to do some maneuvering on Friday so he could teach his high school classes and I could go to my Chinese class. I ended up with his scooter. After class, when I had to dash across town to hand it off to him so I could get to my next class in under an hour, I couldn’t get the seat/trunk to open.

I fought and fought with the key, tried pushing and pulling, twisting both ways, turned the key around and tried that, and nothing was working. Called J, but he got all stressed out, so I assured him I’d figure it out and be on my way asap. I knew in that busy neighborhood I could find somebody to help me if I asked, and even if I just stood there and looked sad, somebody would eventually stop and give me a hand.

Because Taiwanese people are maybe the kindest people in the world.

Eventually, a middle-aged dude on a scooter pulled up and asked me if I was trying to leave my parking spot. I told him I would, if he could help me get the trunk open. He tried for all of thirty seconds before deciding he couldn’t do it, but he tapped in an adorable college boy before he left. That guy probably wished he hadn’t been standing there across the street at just that moment, but he dropped whatever he was doing and spend a good fifteen minutes working up a sweat trying to get that trunk open. I tried telling him I would just call a cab, tried telling him I would just get another helmet and drive the scooter back to my husband for his magic touch, but that guy wasn’t having any of it. He fought with that key until it finally gave in. And then I didn’t know what to do. This stranger had just worked up a sweat for me, refused to give up the challenge until he was successful, and had really helped me out. I thought about giving him money, but really, Taiwanese people are quite proud when it comes to money and I would have hated to embarrass him right after he was so helpful. (Seriously, some people here can get offended if you give them a tip, like you think they need charity.) But I didn’t even get his name and I had no idea what was appropriate besides chanting “thank you, thank you” until it was awkward.

And like a month ago, my scooter wouldn’t start in front of a breakfast shop. I knew the owner was noticing, so I tried to push it down the street a little and fight with it. But the breakfast shop guy came out, and the woman who was there, and then two people from the flower shop next door, and eventually four total strangers were discussing what I should do and also taking turns trying to kickstart my scooter. Eventually it started, and I said thank you, and they waved me off like superheros who had to get back to work.

That reminds me of another time a Taiwanese friend offered to drive her boyfriend, me, and J to a campsite where we’d meet up with a bunch of other friends. But on the way, her transmission died. Two Taiwanese friends on a scooter caught up to us, and refused to leave us even as we waited for the two truck and then got towed to the mechanic. All in all, it was like four hours until we even got home. J kept saying that he and I should take a cab to the campsite and figure out how to get home in the morning, which made sense to me, but if those other women who weren’t even in the car were insisting on being there with us, I didn’t see how we could leave without being assholes.

I didn’t see how six of us needed to hang out together waiting for the tow truck, but I also didn’t see how we could leave.

To me, that’s so Taiwanese. You rise to the occasion, you support your friends and family, and if somebody reaches out for help, you roll up your sleeves and get in there…

…until they get on a scooter or behind the wheel of a car. Then Taiwanese people become finely-honed murder bots, or recklessly oblivious to everyone else on the road. 

And that’s where I am at right now, trying to reconcile how incredibly kind people here are with how incredibly dangerous it is to drive here.

I see accidents or the immediate aftermath almost every day here, and I only drive five days a week and never for more than twenty minutes or so.

Anything goes: double parking, random U-turns, rights and lefts on red, driving on the sidewalk (when there is anything like a sidewalk), running red lights. Cutting people off is as normal as farting.

I have literally had to link arms with school staff to make a barrier to protect children on a crosswalk because even though there was a crosswalk full of children, drivers were trying to edge their scooters and cars around the teachers instead of waiting one minute for the kids to get safely across.

Why is the driving culture so different from the culture of kindness and generosity that you see when you’re walking, when you’re stranded? It would be a silly question, except that driving makes me so angry and anxious that I avoid it, which means I sometimes avoid leaving my house so I don’t have to deal with crazy drivers. It’s a thing.

So if a driver here knocked me over, would they stop to make sure I was okay and stick with me til I was back on my feet? I definitely don’t want to find out, but who knows.

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