Monday, February 13, 2012

Scooter Culture


I must talk about the most obvious form of transportation in Taiwan: scooters! They call them motorcycles, sometimes, but they are scooters. I’ve been told that Taiwan has the largest number of scooters per capita in the world: over 11 million scooters for a population of 23 million.  

Modern roads have a lane for scooters. That lane may be separated on the right side of the road by a low cement barrier or designated by a painted line. There is also a “scooter box,” a rectangle painted on the street that is located ahead of the crosswalk marking where scooters can wait for the stoplight rather than being lined up in the lane with cars. Road rules do not apply to scooters. Drivers of other vehicles must always have a vigilant eye out for them. They can turn on a red light…including a right turn in front of a car in the lane next to them from a left lane or visa versa. They sometimes drive the wrong direction into oncoming traffic. They can weave in and out of lanes at will. They can share a lane with another vehicle…car, truck, bicycle, or another scooter. Scooters can be parked anywhere, including on the sidewalk.  

In modern parking lots, like at the HSR station, scooters have their own parking lots with very small spaces. The lanes in these parking lots are so narrow that there is barely enough space for the directional arrows. These scooter parking lots also have “handicapped” spaces. This strikes me funny, not that a handicapped person shouldn’t be accommodated, but that a handicapped person would be riding or driving on a scooter. I have seen this, though, and that is why there is a space for them.

There is specific “wear” for scooter driving/ riding. Like motorcyclists wear leather, “scooter-ists” have their own fashion…some of it for practical purposes, some not. From observation, I’d say half of them wear a helmet. We’ve been here in the “cold” season, so this is how a scooter person would dress: jacket is worn backwards, unzipped; hand-warmers are attached to the hand grips of the scooter; in addition, girls/ women wear what I call “arm socks,” knitted fingerless gloves that are elbow-length; and shoes are optional…no matter how cold it is, about 50% of scooter-ists ride wearing flip-flops. Then, of course, most wear a “flu” mask, which is wise because they are right there on the street breathing in fumes from every other motor vehicle riding along next to, ahead of or behind them.

Typical dress for scooter-ists: helmet, hand warmers attached to hand grips, jacket worn backwards and flip-flops.  

A package of "arm socks" at the Giraffe Supermarket.

I must preface this next paragraph with reviewing the design of a scooter. The seat can hold two people; some seats have saddlebags. There is a platform where the driver places his feet, and there is a 2-pronged hook in front of the leg area below the speedometer. There is also another hook under the seat for smaller bags, as you can see in the picture below. Almost all scooters have a front basket.  

Considering the construction of a scooter, I must say we have seen these simple vehicles carry some amazing things. Don and I started a game with each other called, “What Can You Carry on a Scooter?” We have been trying to outdo each other by finding the most outrageous load first. These are some of what has passed us while we were playing: “What Can You Carry on a Scooter?”:

· A family of four…in any configuration: with the 2 adults on the seat, one child standing on the foot platform, one behind mother on seat; all 4 on seat lined up front to back; or 2 children on the platform with 2 adults on the seat.

I have not been fast enough with my camera to catch the families of four as they have passed by us, but this family of three was cute to me because the little guy in front is playing a game on his phone. 
This is a mother with a baby in a sling on her front and the young boy hanging on behind.
· A full-sized 8’ ladder slung under the arm.

· A load 5’ high and 3’ wide secured with ropes and steadied with one hand.

· Two people and a bicycle. The person riding was holding his bicycle under his arm.

· Crutches. I assume this man uses the handicapped space in the parking lot.

· Five bags of groceries…and any number of things…that can be carried by the 2-pronged hook. Depending on the load, there’s still an itty-bitty space for the drivers feet.

· 30 live chickens in two crates strapped onto the seat behind the driver.

· A propane gas tank.

· A handicapped family member. They rigged up a sidecar with a fold-up ramp and carried the person in the wheelchair all at once.

· A couple and two dogs. The dogs, an Alaskan Husky and a Chihuahua, hopped onto the platform in front of their master as if they owned the scooter.

· A roadside kiosk. Attach half of a converted old truck and mount it on the back.

And we discovered that with a trailer hitch, one can carry just about anything else!

 “What Can You Carry on a Scooter?” has been a fun game, but we haven’t determined the winner, yet.

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