Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Motorcycle Story: December, 2001

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Here is a story I found in my files, from the good old Taiwan days:

Motorcycle Story

I've had a motorcycle for the past few months. I fear this motorcycle, and, until last week, was petrified to drive it in Taipei traffic. Driving here is sort of like staring Death in the face and then flooring the accelerator so that you smash at top speed into Death's head. Cruising the wrong side of the road, running red lights, and racing on the sidewalk are essential daily driving activities. "We Taiwanese" consider traffic laws to be a cute little un-enforced formality.

In addition to my fear of the traffic, I also fear the bike itself. It looks like a piece of World War II machinery. It probably is. I appreciate the nice 1940's-esque contrast it provides to the seizure-inducing billboards that pepper Taipei's nighttime skyline, but I am still unable to stand the bike properly on it's kick-stand because it weighs a jillion pounds and is too awkward for me to lift. It also has poorly synchronized manual gear shifts involving a series of several pedals and handles that remind me of Young Frankenstein's castle or that pipe-organ torture/masturbation machine from Barbarella (except non-sexual). Regardless, I managed to conquer this beast of a machine (and Taipei's kamikaze traffic) in one foul swoop:

The first time I tried to drive My Scary Motorcycle, I lost my balance and collapsed in the middle of a trafficky street, pinned beneath the behemoth contraption. A liter of gasoline poured all over my legs and into my clogs (yes, I was wearing clogs and trying to operate a motorcycle, shut up.) My "gentle giant" friend, Drew, pulled the bike off of me and picked me up by the scruff of my neck. He slapped me around a bit and dusted me off, then gave me a rousing pep talk, aka, shouted at me.

"This is a MACHINE!!!!!! YOU are the one in charge of it!!!!!!!! It does not have a brain!!!!!!! People much stupider than you successfully operate them every day. Now GET ON AND DRIVE!" He propped up the massive bike and I climbed back on top of it the way small child gets onto a full-grown horse (ie: with a struggle). Then I, drenched in petrol, drove alone through 10 miles of Taipei rush hour traffic (13 lanes wide, mind you) without a hitch.

Note: about 75% of foreigners here drive motorbikes, about 0% of them have licenses- I am now one of that 0%. Driving all over the city is truly the badest-ass of all sensations.

Regarding the high percentage of license-free foreigners--a general (f-ed up) rule here is that the cops often don't bother you if you're white. They smile and wave, try to practice English with you, whilst dragging off Taiwanese offenders off to stick bamboo shoots under their fingernails.

Every once in a while, just for fun, the cops raid a nightclub, load all the patrons onto a bus, and take them to the police station. There, they give the late-night-party-people a pee-drug-test-- hundreds of people at a time. Foreigners legally do not have to pee for them (although the cops may lie and say you do at the time-- I know a guy who was forced to give them his tainted piss. He fled the country, haven't seen him since.)

Because I am a good girl and spend my weekends studying chinese, I have not experienced the aforementioned Taiwanese phenomenon. I generally focus on the more hilarious aspects of being a "foreign ambassador"

As a foreigner in Asia, people stare at me everywhere I go. Children and adults oggle alike, I usually feel like the star of a freak show. Generally the tallest person with the lightest-colored hair as far as the eye can see, my chinese friends ask to touch my hair daily, and ooh and aaah about how different the texture is. I still get a kick out of it. I will feel so ordinary when I go back home. My chinese language skills are kicking into the next gear. I've settled into a real life here, it's no longer vacation.

Chaos, corrupt cops, deadly traffic, and faux celebrity are now the status quo. Seriously, it's great. Come visit. I'll take you for a ride on my hog.

(November, 2001)

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