It’s Not Only the French…

March 6, 2014

Regular readers will know that I take a certain amount of perverse pleasure from posting images of Carrefour’s typos.  I am very happy to report that they are in good company.  Here’s one from our Trans-Atlantic cousins:

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Crap photo (sorry about that) of a massive ad’ in the local Costco.  I think it could even be an Aussie wine, so bonus points to me for a real international find.

Actually, the French have come up trumps again.  There’s a new Decathlon superstore somewhere on this glorious island.  I know this as an advertising flyer arrived in our post box the other day and this caught my eye:

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I’ve no doubt that this would find a niche market, somewhere on this here Internet.

Taking a slight tangent with this one, as there’s nothing wrong with it – it just tickled me.  Teenage boys will also be giggling, I have no doubt.

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I’ll end on my favourite topic.  Cycling is about to hit town as the Tour de Taiwan 2014 kicks off in a few days.  I happened to be browsing the website and clicked the ‘translate’ option.  I think the Gusto Team may struggle (you may need to click on the image to appreciate this one):

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There are no top tunes about the Tour de Taiwan, so you’ll have to make do with this:

Another New Year – More New Tunes

February 19, 2014

Last year’s offerings were pretty limited.  I guess there just weren’t that many releases that really struck a chord.  Here’s hoping 2014 will surprise and delight.

I’ll begin with this, simply because it was just on the radio and it prompted me to pull out the proverbial finger.  Where else have you heard brass used like this?

Another one I’ve been hearing a lot lately, from a band about which I have no knowledge.  The Bee Gees influence is there, for sure, but that’s not a bad thing.

I got tipped-off about this one by my nephew a month or so ago.  Didn’t immediately grab me, but after a couple of listens… well, give it a try and see what you think.

One more to finish this opening salvo, and it’s another band (with a dodgy name) which is new to me.  Lovely little guitar twiddle running through this.

A couple to add, before I forget.

Elbow, back with some new material.  I think I like this for its use of the phrase “oh, my giddy aunt…!”

Mr Albarn.  You never quite know what you are going to get, and the little string motif running through here is so un-rock’n’roll.  Nice video, too.

Here’s one that takes a while, but well worth the wait.  Bonkers video, too.

When all isn’t quite Ticket(y-Boo)

February 9, 2014

There are many things about life in Taiwan that your average Westerner would find a little unusual.  In a previous post  http://fiftyyearsandcounting.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/be-carrefour-what-you-wishfour  I presented an image of the wonder of an Iron Man display in one of the many huge temples dotted around the island.  Pretty strange by anyone’s standards.  Then again, back in December, I was on an early bike ride when I was confronted by a truck pulling a trailer on which a scantily-clad young woman was pole dancing.  When I say December, I should point out that it was actually quite cold (around 7 or 8 degrees Centigrade); when I say early, I should point out that it was just after 7am; when I say a scantily-clad young woman pole dancing, I should say it was a scantily-clad young woman pole dancing, freezing her wotsits off while a couple of dozen old blokes looked on, comfortably wrapped in puffa jackets, hats and gloves.  Did I mention that it was 7am and 7 degrees and she was pole dancing on the back of a truck?  Sadly, I had no camera to hand as I was belting along at about 25mph behind a couple of local cycling monsters riding Cervelos with deep section rims and wearing Biketime Cycling Team jerseys.  (This in itself is noteworthy as I am used to riding steady pace at the beginning of a ride [and we were less than 30 minutes from the start] while cranking-up the pace in the final hour or so.)

Anyway, this is not what I wanted to illustrate today.  Sorry, but I’m going to have to have a bit of a gripe about driving again.  More precisely, a gripe about the bit that comes at the end of the driving bit: the parking.  I’ll forgive you for switching off now, but I’ll be brief.

Friday.  I drove across town.  I got to my destination and spent 10 minutes driving around looking for a parking space.  Here.

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While circling the block, I had to pass the car in the background a couple of times.  This one:

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Essentially, my gripe is this.  I spend 10 minutes looking for a space.  I park.  I get the legitimate ticket and I’ll pay my $NT20 next  time I go to 7-Eleven.  It’s a good system.  Meanwhile, Mr Nissan parks on a red line (equivalent to double-yellow back home) on a junction and he is completely ignored.  He was there before I arrived and he was still there when I returned about 30 minutes later.

As with most of the road behaviour here, there is no justice.  There is no enforcement.  There is no deterrent.  Plod simply pick on little old ladies on their scooters turning right on a red light.

Ah well, it gives me an excuse to entertain you with a road-themed classic:

Another Picture Essay

January 9, 2014

Since my last effort to amaze and amuse, I’ve amassed a tidy little collection of images I need to share with the world.

As ever, Carrefour is a magnificent source of material.  I’ll start you with this:

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Since you ask, no, I wasn’t in the musical instrument section.  Proof?  This was in an aisle nearby:

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The neglect shown towards all those little infants saddens me immensely.  Still, if you have a hungry little monster to attend to, there’s always provision.  Just be careful to avoid the cashier:

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Sorry, crshier.  I have visions of a really uptight individual cursing all and sundry through clenched teeth.  You don’t want to be messing with him/her.

That’s enough for now, but fear not!  I shall return to Carrefour before I conclude this feast of visual delights.  It’s probably my favourite, so you’ll have to stay with me, and anyone caught skipping to the end will be placed in detention.

A change of venue brings me to the park just around the corner from our house, where there are strict rules by which we must abide:

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Funny.  We had been thinking of traipsing round there and firing up a barbeque, but the sputum issue had been a bit of a worry.  You can imagine how we were simultaneously relieved and disappointed, but that was nothing compared to the abject horror at being denied the chance to don our alpine gear. (It is still winter in these parts):

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I should point out that it’s as flat as the proverbial pancake in this part of Taiwan.  Oh, and I should think the last time Tainan experienced snow or ice, the British Isles were still joined to mainland Europe (if you see what I mean).

I’ve been lucky enough to hook up with a fellow Brit cyclist in the last few weeks.  I don’t have a picture to prove it, but I do have another cycling image to illustrate how bikes are revered out here:

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Rest assured, this is not an exceptionally valuable machine with delicate paintwork, it is not brand new and parked outside a bike shop, nor is it very cold here so keeping it warm is not an issue (see above), but there is this peculiar trend for leaving bikes partially clothed in bubble-wrap.  Any locals reading?  Please explain.  Ta.

On the subject of unusual clothing, there was some kind of religious festival the other day.  Many, many people passed by our house over a period of several hours.  Lots of what you’d expect.  Drums, dragons, lions, screechy-type music, firecrackers, gongs, bright colours, scooters, blokes chewing betel nuts, scantily-clad young women pole-dancing.  You know, that kind of thing.  However, what struck me was the number of these on show:

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That’s trilby hats, not Audis, in case you were wondering.  [Sorry, chaps.  Didn't feel it was appropriate to snap the pole-dancers!]  Who’d have thought that the good old trilby would find a home in this society, let alone in this kind of festival and procession?

For those of you disappointed by the lack of car focus in this post thus far, feast your eyes on this little beauty:

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Hilarious.  Even more so when I tell you that it has curtains fitted.  Made my day.

Now, we are often accused of stereotyping the Chinese, and I admit to having posted the dreadful Harrow gag a few months ago.  Then again, it’s difficult not to smile at stuff like this.  (Not a vely good pic, but look carefully near the blight light reflections):

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Makes good coffee.  I take care to purse my lips and brow it gently before I take a sip.

Christmas is now a distant memory, but at least we didn’t end up under the hideous golden arches this year.  I spotted this while we were in Taipei in November.  Seemed rather appropriate.

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Taipei also provided a couple of favourites.  Park rules almost on a level with that other Fine City, Singapore:

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Me and the boy needed to take a leak while we were enjoying the park; luckily neither of us needed a longer visit:

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We never did find the toilet for a No. 2.

After school classes can be found everywhere.  There’s one at the end of our little terrace that gives lessons on Lego.  Yes, really.  I took these for some friends of ours in Kaohsiung who are rather fond of Star Wars stuff:

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Sorry, Darren and Conner, they’ve been removed from the window now, but we know the owners if you want to come and take a look.

I promised some more CarrefourtheloveofGodwhatweretheythinking, so here’s one of which I’m particularly fond.  It also gives me the opportunity to shoehorn in an old favourite tune at the end:

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Like the kids sang, “We don’t need no edvcotion!”

And with that, all that remains is for me to say Happy New Year, everyone.

Ullo John, Gotta New Motor?

December 17, 2013

Ullo John, Gotta New Motor?

Well, it’s not exactly new, but I wanted to acknowledge the new car in my life.
Well, it’s not exactly new, but I wanted to acknowledge the new car in my life.

My in-laws gave up their Mitsubishi Galant 2.5 V6 EXi, so that we might have something to get about in, rather than on.
My in-laws gave up their Mitsubishi Galant 2.5 V6 EXi, so that we might have something to get about in, rather than on.

She’s a lovely car, but 3 things have needed attention in the last few months.  Worrying times?
She’s a lovely car, but 3 things have needed attention in the last few months.  Worrying times?

Okay, I’ll stop the tiresome repetition, but it’s my little homage to Alexei Sayle’s lyrics from which the title of this post is taken.  It’ll mean nowt to many readers, so here’s a slice of 1982 pop nonsense:

The Galant, now carefully tucked up in the car port below where I write, is about 16 years old (I think) and has some 140,000 kms on the clock; she’s got a 4 speed automatic gearbox and runs beautifully, with that lovely V6 growl I first knew when I was the proud owner of an Alfa Romeo 164 way back in the 90s.  I hope I’ve not just put the mockers on her, but since she’s getting on a bit, it’s only reasonable to expect a few little problems, and I often catch myself thinking that I may end up stranded somewhere, unable to call the RAC, AA or Green Flag (other breakdown services are available).  Actually, do they even have an equivalent in Taiwan?

Several months ago, late one Friday evening, we set out to buy a camera from the Taiwanese version of Curry’s about a mile or so from home.  As I pulled up to park, the gear selector went all floppy.  My stomach flipped with that queasy feeling of doom, and I pictured major repair work and enormous wads of $NTs to get it sorted.  This was going to be painful.

A few weeks ago, the indicator lights started clicking at double speed, so I knew that a bulb had blown and quickly ascertained that to change the bulb I’d need to remove the light unit.  I have no tools here.  We made our way to the Mitsubishi dealer as I anticipated further $NTs for a job I could do myself quickly and cheaply, given different circumstances.

Last Sunday evening, we decided to get into the Christmas spirit, so a short drive to the delights of Costco seemed appropriate.  As we settled in to the car, we quickly unsettled ourselves as the motor would not turn over.  The battery was as flat as a pancake.  Funnily enough, at breakfast that morning, I saw the face of Jesus looking back at me.  Here’s the proof:

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Turnin-Shroud-type-incidents aside, we had to get rolling.  Our neighbour gave us the number of a local garage.  5pm, Sunday evening.  More $NTs.  The chap said he’d be right with us.  He turned up within 5 minutes and his portable battery did the job of getting us going, but he warned us that a short drive to Costco would not generate enough charge, and told us to call him later if we found ourselves stuck on Level B1 with the bonnet up.  Sure enough, we did; he came again and we made it home with only a short delay.

The cost of all this has now reached the grand total of three hundred and ninety six.  396.  Dollars.  New Taiwan Dollars.  That’s just over 8 quid.  New gear shift switch (supplied and fitted at the roadside): $200.  Light bulb (supplied and fitted at the dealer): $96.  Two call-outs to get car started (home and car-park): $100, with the first one done without any charge.  The battery has gone for a re-charge at a local garage.  They want just $50 for the privilege.  Just for a bit of perspective, when my battery failed in England the cost for getting the AA/RAC (I forget which) to come and help us (with Ming heavily pregnant we had little choice) was in the region of £150.  It really is a different world.

The pancake incident reminds me of another revelation from a some years ago.  One week, as we trawled around Sainsbury’s, we decided to try a tub of spread instead of our usual Anchor salted variety dairy product.  It was on offer and looked like a good buy.  Next morning, while my slice of hot toast waited in eager anticipation, I removed the top from the tub and was amazed to see that the spread left behind a perfect image of Christ on the underside of the lid.  Ming was thoroughly unimpressed and she turned to me with a look of disbelief across her face:

“I can’t believe it’s not Buddha!”

More picture/wordage based hilarity to follow shortly.

It’s Been a While…

November 6, 2013

…since I’ve had the time or the inclination to scribble, so here are a few more thoughts from over here.

I’ll kick off with one of my favourite topics and share a few signs that have tickled me in one way or another.  Some while back, I spotted this over an optician’s premises:

ImageYou may have to look closely, but that rather adds to my amusement.  I think the sign maker could do with a new pair of spec’s.

On a completely different level, I was introduced to this writing the other day.  Again, look closely and see if you can read it.  (More at the end of this post if you want an explanation.)

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Just in the last few days I’ve seen several clothing-based writing curiosities.  Sadly, I didn’t have a camera to hand to record the evidence, but then again, I doubt I’d have got away with pointing my Canon at random women’s chests, so I’ll just give you the text:

ADIDDS – blazoned across a jacket

PARIS CONFERENOE – woman’s T-shirt

UNIOR JACK – T-shirt with a design featuring the British flag

FASHIOI WEEK – another woman’s T-shirt

Note to designers and printers: if you’re listening, gimme a shout and I’ll proofread at very favourable rates.  Ta.

One of the reasons I’ve been away from the blog is that we moved house again, so I’ve been resting* and rehydrating for the past month.  (*Ha! Ha!  Chance would be a fine thing.)  I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much as I did on this latest move.  Thankfully, since moving in, the temperature has dropped quite considerably in Tainan and we’re now experiencing mid 20s most days rather than low 30s.  Anyway, the house has been refurbished and redecorated and we’re pretty much settled.  The only further comment I wanted to make is mirror-based.  Back in our apartment in Zhubei, we had a bathroom mirror with a built-in element to clear the glass if it got steamed up; here we have one in each bathroom.  No big deal, except that each and every one that I have come across (both in our home and those that I have seen elsewhere) still has the protective corner pieces attached, thus:

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Is it simply that the fitters are too bone idle to remove them, or is it some kind of superstition that prevents them from being binned?  Come to think of it, there are many things in Taiwan that remain forever in their protective wrapping.  Bikes are a great example, swathed as many are in bubble wrap around top tube, seat stays and chain stays for no apparent reason.  I’ve also seen plenty of television sets with the protective film left on the frame around the screen.  Just seems odd to me.  Locals – feel free to explain if you have the time, please.

More signs?  Go on then.  A cycle ride to the National Museum of Taiwan History** with the boy just last week (about 5 miles from here following the road along the river defences) rewarded me with these little gems:

This was on a piece of land covered in gravel.

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And this adjacent to a well-stocked pond/lake.

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Don’t be selfish!  Once that stone has been thrown, there’ll be nothing left for others, will there?***  Meanwhile, go fishing at your peril.  (It looks as though the stone throwing ban has encouraged some miscreant to nick the dots off some of the ‘i’s).

**Pretty amazing building – nice video, here:

*** There seems to be an issue with the use of English plurals in the Chinese-speaking world.  Christopher has books about cars, animals and vegetables called Car, Animal and Vegetable, respectively.  Don’t get me started on use of the definite article.

Chinese speakers/readers: please do let me know the difference between the two fishing signs.  Clearly, there are different levels of angling-based naughtiness.

Yet another level of visual amusement came to my attention when we were sat in a restaurant at the weekend.

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I made the assumption that this was an innovation dreamt up by this purveyor of sugary fizzy pop, but I then spotted this on a packet in the supermarket (disclaimer: hard to miss – big promotion).  For those of you who can’t read Chinese, think of a product that give you wings, but not of the Red Bull type.

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Sorry, but I’m going to have to finish with some more about life on the roads.

While stuck in a traffic jam a few weeks ago, I looked to my left to see this:

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Rest assured, it was a pretty big truck.  Sadly, it’s not an uncommon sight.  (I have the registration number if anyone from the law enforcement agencies happens to be taking an interest, but I shan’t be sat by the phone waiting for your call.)

While on the traffic/driving/transport theme, I suppose I must conclude with another observation/suggestion or two.  I genuinely do not understand what is going on in the minds of Taiwanese drivers and scooter riders, and having asked a few people why nobody will ‘wait’, the only response I get is “time is money”.  Well, frankly that just doesn’t make any sense because, almost without exception, the incidents of impatience I witness result in no meaningful gains in terms of time saved for the individual concerned, whilst frequently resulting in unnecessary time wasted for a third party (or several of the same).

One example.  There is a widespread practice here of vehicles turning across in front of oncoming traffic, rather than waiting for it to pass safely before moving.  The net result is that one vehicle goes on its way – all well and good for the selfish individual concerned – while several cars, trucks and scooters are forced to slow and/or stop before accelerating back up to speed once more.  Think of the wasted fuel and the resultant increase in pollution.  Where does the “time is money” mantra sit in this scenario?  It’s hideously selfish, inconsiderate and symptomatic of an utterly thoughtless mindset.  It’s also downright dangerous.  The thing is, it’s a collective national malaise.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, seems to care.  Let’s all put on a face mask and hope that everything will be okay.

Here’s a free suggestion for the government/highway authorities.  Sort out your traffic light system (I’m talking traffic sensitivity) and invest a few quid (sorry, $NT) in red light cameras and enforcement officers.  I reckon you could generate $billions in revenue which you could then divert to the education of drivers.  What with me being the eternal pessimist and all that, I’ll not be holding me breath, while actually holding my breath when stuck at yet another junction.

For those who bothered to stick with it, or those who skipped to the end (shame on you ! ;0) ), the Chinese-style writing = Can’s Book Shop.  Clever, innit?

Footnote: thinking about doing something on my favourite songs.  It’ll be an open-ended project, so check back from time to time.  Expect anything and everything, ranging from a bit of prog’ to a bit of Wham! with all sorts in between.

Taiwan Goes Quackers

October 3, 2013

If you are in Taiwan at the moment, you can hardly have failed to notice that the nation is going ape about a duck.

I can’t really justify spending too much time on reporting this apparent mass hysteria, but I suppose it’s one of those so-called cultural happenings that warrant a few observations.

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Anyway, the Dutch conceptual artist, Florentijn Hofman, has been making a bit of a splash with this enormous yellow rubber duck.  It’s now in the port of Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan; so, it seems, are most of Taiwan’s 23 million or so citizens.

I heard a piece on the radio the other day, effectively damning the work for its toxicity, what with all the heavy metals, PVC, blah, blah, blah.  Quite so, but I’d be rather more concerned about the enormous carbon footprint, or should I say carbon webbed-footprint, of this monster.  We went to take a look the other day.  We went in 3 cars.  We went on a boat around the harbour, belching out God knows how much diesel exhaust.  We then took 3 taxis to get to the dock side to get up close and personal.  We then took 3 taxis back to the cars.  Of course, we bought helium-filled duck balloons for the children.  We were just a handful among thousands of others doing pretty much the same thing on that particular morning.

I’m an art historian (of sorts) and I’m rather fond of sculpture, especially public sculpture.  I’m not really very confident that I could put a finger on the concept here.  As my wife put it so succinctly, in her best British English accent: “It’s just a bloody great plastic duck!”  Now, there was I thinking “It’s not even a bleedin’ mandarin duck!”  Now that would have been worth seeing.  Mr Hofman, are you listening?

I’m off to see me quack.

If you are unfamiliar with your ducks, here’s the beautiful mandarin:

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Be Carrefour What you Wishfour

September 23, 2013

Some time ago, I posted a few images of things that tickle me out here.  I’ve gathered several more, so it’s time they were unleashed upon the world.  As ever, I’m not intent on mocking; indeed, as ever, I’m eternally grateful that any English is on display at all in/on shops, on the roads, at museums and galleries.  Without it, I’d really struggle.

We have a Carrefour just around the corner, so I spend quite a lot of time in there.  It’s a good place to watch out for this kind of thing:

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This also made me smile, since I thought the general idea was to try to eliminate MSG, not seek it out:

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I’m happy to support Carrefour as they are a major sponsor of the Tour de France.  Christopher is happy to support Carrefour as they provide shopping trolleys for his level of car obsession:

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Milk here is pretty expensive.  You’d think they’d spend some of the profits on employing a proofreader:

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To give this a bit of balance, now is a good point to shift and assert that it’s not only the French getting their Ps & Qs in a muddle.  A couple of doors away is a branch of that stalwart of British DIY superstores, B&Q.  It’s much more of a giggle here:

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I saw this next one and was reminded of a dreadful old joke. Why are there so many Chinese people living in a certain town, home of a famous public school, just north west of Wembley?  Why?  Because they arrive at Heathrow, jump in a cab and say “Harrow Mr Taxi Driver.”

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Apologies if anyone finds that offensive.

At Ming’s new University, (National Cheng Kung University, since you ask) I came across the best lavatory sign I’ve ever seen, coupled with the wackiest urinals:

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There must be a gag in there about taking a leek (or something), but I’m struggling, so fill in the gap for yourself if you’re feeling inspired.  I was, however, rather thrilled that the one and only Mr David Gedge recently re-tweeted the ‘busting for a pee’ pic, so I’ll take that as justification for throwing this in to enrich your lives.  A glorious, wonderful tune, and the only record I have ever pre-ordered:

Back to my favourite area, the permanent, rich vein of typos found anywhere, any time, with this classic from a mall boutique (inspired by Harold Steptoe, mefinks):

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Meanwhile, I am constantly amazed and amused by the mix of cultures on display, often in the most unlikely of places.  We went out for a drive a couple of months ago and stumbled across this large temple:

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A billion brownie points to anyone who can guess what was on display inside.  Toaist religious relics?  Ancient calligraphy?  Fresh local produce, perhaps, à la Harvest Festival?  How about some knitting and embroidery from the local equivalent of the WI?  Okay, what about a skip load of fireworks?

Not even close.  ‘ave this, oh ye of little imagination:

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There’s obviously so much more significance to Iron Man than you or I could ever conceive.

Since I’ve struck on something of a philosophical vibe, I’ll leave you with this to ponder.  Answers on a postcard, please:

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It’s a Sportive, Jim, but not as we know it.

September 16, 2013

I should begin by stating that I have never been a fan of the phenomenon of the cycling sportive.  Perhaps I should say that I have not been a fan of the very idea of a sportive, since, until yesterday, I had never participated in such an event.  For the uninitiated, here’s a description of a sportive, courtesy of Wikipedia:

A cyclosportive, or often simply sportive, is a short to long distance, organised, mass-participation cycling event, typically held annually. The Italian term gran fondo is commonly used for these events in the United States, Australia and some other English-speaking countries.

Many cyclists use sportives to challenge themselves in a personal battle against the distance and then ultimately, the clock. Some participants in a cyclosportive will ride the event like a race, with prizes awarded and considerable prestige for top place finishers, particularly in events like La Marmotte, and L’Étape du Tour.

Essentially, my problem is this.  Such rides could be done independently, or with a group of friends or club mates.  In many examples of this kind of event, you are asked to pay a fee – often a pretty substantial fee – to ride on ordinary, open roads with hundreds, if not thousands, of other cyclists.  Clearly, there are exceptions, and the chance to ride a stage of Le Tour – closed roads and all – would be up at the top of a list of these exceptions.

Anyway, the point is I had agreed to take part in my first sportive.

The first mistake I made was that I failed to ask the right questions in order to check the details and route of the event.  To be fair, I rather felt obliged to say I’d ride since my wife and her cousin’s husband have been working very hard to keep me occupied, interested and involved in cycling in Taiwan.  I’d turned down the previous offer of 100km around Kaohsiung with 3,000 others, so now was the time to show willing.  The second mistake was not making it clear that I would want to make my own way there (and back, obviously).

Having failed on two counts already, things were about to get worse.  As the day of the ride approached I decided to check out the profile, only to find that this was a short ride – just 55km – but with an ascent of almost 3,000 metres.  My immediate thought was “Oh, crap!  I don’t have a compact chainset.”  Fortunately, my wife’s cousin’s husband, Afu, knows a good bike shop where I soon acquired a 13-29 cassette, which is not so easy out here if your bikes are running Campagnolo gearing.  Maybe, just maybe, a 39:29 would get me up that hill.  I mean mountain.Brec

Here’s the website where you can see what I’d let myself in for: http://www.tpe-bike.org.tw/20130914/index.html

Realising the enormity of the task ahead, I spent the next few days researching the route.  It turns out that this climb goes to the top of the highest road in Taiwan.  In fact, the highest mountain road pass in South East Asia, topping out at 3,275 metres.  Oh, bugger!  I spent the rest of the week thinking about the logistics and plotting the profile.  My main concern was that I would be tired on the morning of the ride as I was to be picked up in Tainan in the early hours and I thought the chances of getting some sleep on a bus seemed about as remote as that mountain top.  Being a natural pessimist, I spent the week before the ride worrying.  I read about the risk of altitude sickness; I read about the packs of wild dogs sometimes encountered on rural roads; I read about rock slides and I read about the risk of being taken out by some betel nut chewing truck driver.  I’ve been trekking in Nepal and have spent a few weeks mountain biking out of Breckenridge, Colorado (Elev. 9,600 ft), so altitude wasn’t too big a concern.  Meanwhile, two nights before the event, I dreamt that I was being attacked by a pack of dogs and promptly woke myself up by kicking out wildly at the wardrobe beside the bed.  Toes not broken but they are still a little bruised and sore.  As for rock slides and trucks, well, I could only hope to keep my eyes and ears open.

At last, the day arrived.  Bike prepared, bags packed, I was ready and waiting to toddle off to the freeway junction to find the bus at 1:15am.  At 12:45, I decided to shed a last little bit of weight and settled down to drop the kids off at the pool, at which point the phone rang and Thomas informed me that they were waiting for me.  Time to throw on some shoes and quit the house.  The kids would have to forego their swim.

Once on the bus, it soon became apparent that the unlikeliness of sleep was all but guaranteed.  A seat with insufficient knee room was a mere inconvenience, however, since once we were up to speed, it became clear that this old Toyota was about as smooth as a bag of gravel* doing the Shake n’ Vac** dance on an industrial cheese grater.  Add to this the fact that the driver insisted on a throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off, throttle on, throttle off (you get the idea) style of driving for the whole 100+ kms of the freeway, I was destined to a night of pure wide-awakedness.

*This came to mind:

**And this is for those of us of a certain age:

Thankfully, traffic was light and we arrived in Puli in good time, leaving us with around 2 hours to kill before the grand départ.  Advice received suggested that getting as close to the start line was a must, so we set off early and found ourselves within the first couple of hundred participants, where we laid down the bikes and tried to make ourselves comfortable for an hour before the gun.

This is where I began to realise that this was not the kind of sportive I’ve imagined and read about taking place in other parts of the world.  At least, my best guess is that you will not see the whole range of cyclists on show here, from the wannabe pro with all the latest gear to the carefree, slightly overweight enthusiast on his 16″ wheel folding bike.  Many were on mountain bikes.  At least one was on a full time trial machine – they are notoriously difficult to handle and do not make for comfortable climbing.  Many were on bikes with their side-stands still attached.  Many were riding with flat pedals.  Many were sporting all kinds of add-ons and additions, with speakers blasting out Taiwanese power ballads being a particular favourite.  I even saw one chap with a large shopping basket attached to the rear rack, out of which several objects ejected themselves as he sped over the speed ramp at the entrance to the feed zone.  One of my primary concerns had been to ensure that I was carrying the minimum of weight and here were these guys treating this climb like a casual spin to the local park.

Here we are at the start line area at about 4:30.

Climb1

At around 5:15 we were away.  It was still dark and the streets were relatively quiet.  From the start I wasn’t feeling great, but the first 16kms were relatively flat and it was possible to find some shelter for a while on the wheels of a number of half-decent looking riders as they powered past, so I gradually picked up my pace and felt some life coming back to my legs, lungs and heart.  I reckoned on making the most of this as I guessed I would be flying solo as soon as the real gradient reared its head.  I was soon passing some of the triathletes who’d been started some 15 minutes or so earlier in what was billed as the elite race.  Clearly, some of these were not elite athletes, although I have the utmost respect for their determination.  Indeed, Afu was taking part in the triathlon; I wondered if I would catch him.  I was then caught by a proper elite athlete in the form of a friend on the E-Ma team who has adopted the rather wonderful moniker of Johnson.  It was good to see a familiar face from my Hsinchu training days and I knew that Johnson’s massive engine (he used to sit on the front of the bunch pulling at 25mph+ for stupid amounts of time) would serve him well on this ride.  I wished I had his legs, lungs and lack of weight.

Sure enough, the road began to kick up and I settled down to a nice tempo, catching a few, being caught by a few, raising an eyebrow or two as massive trucks swept around blind bends on the left hand side of the road, keeping an eye out for hoards of rabid dogs and ears open for falling boulders.  One unexpected and rather alarming sight was that of a number of large trucks apparently with smoke billowing out from their wheels.  Then I realised that it must have been steam, on the assumption that the brakes must be water cooled, such is the heat generated by so much braking on a descent such as this.  Here’s proof:

Climb3

By now I was feeling pretty good, even managing a smile and a wink at various people taking photographs along the way, but I was wondering when it might level out or ease up for a while.  It couldn’t just keep on like this, could it?

It could.  It did.  With barely a handful of short level sections and even fewer minor descents, this climb was finding me out.  After about 2 and a half hours of pedalling, I’d covered some 35kms and was now struggling to maintain any kind of reasonable pace.

Thankfully, somebody captured this to remind me of what it felt like.  I shall refer back to it if I am asked to ride again:

Climb

Then came the welcome relief of a fast descent of maybe 100 metres over one and a half kilometres or so, with the prospect of regaining those lost 100m partially softened by the thought of the feed station at the 39km mark.  It’s fair to say that I was no longer enjoying this ride and I began to doubt the wisdom of continuing.  I hoped that the food stop would put a spring in my step.  After all, there was only another 16kms to go.

Just as I was thinking about getting back in the saddle, I met an American.  I’d spotted one or two other Westerners near the start and a couple had passed me on the road, so it was nice to share a few words with a fellow big-nose.  I think he introduced himself as Bryce (I’d seen the name Bryce on the start sheet, so maybe this is what I wanted to hear), but, frankly, I wish we’d remained strangers.  It’s not that I found him objectionable in any way – quite the contrary, in fact.  Rather it’s because he reacted to my grumbling about the gradient by assuring me that it was even steeper near the top.  I felt the last ounces of my willpower knocking at the emergency exit.  No matter.  Bananas and cakes devoured, I was ready to conquer this monster.

Less than a minute later and I could barely get myself out of the feed zone.  I’m well used to the feeling of ‘café legs’, but this was something else.  I laboured on for another 3km hoping that I’d re-find my rhythm, but to no avail.  I pulled over, sat on the concrete barrier and felt rather dizzy and lost as everyone passed by, still gurning, gasping, sweating and swearing, pumping those pedals on Pinarellos and KHS folders alike.  I was ready to go home. At that moment I looked up and spotted an E-Ma rider hurtling down the road.  He’d clearly made the top in great time and was probably going to the start to ride it again.  I don’t know if it was Johnson.  I decided to follow and hoped those coming up didn’t think I was in the same league.  I made my way to the feed zone and settled down for a long, long wait.

This gave me time for a little navel gazing; a little quiet contemplation.  I realised that I had been ill-prepared to take on such a challenge, I had not paced myself correctly and I reminded myself that I ride and race my bike for pleasure.  I really hadn’t enjoyed the last hour or so of the ride, so I wondered why I should want to prolong the agony; it wasn’t so much that I was in pain – indeed my legs were not aching and shouting at me to stop – they simply didn’t want to go on.  I felt like I had no energy and I could not turn the gear.  Today my legs are not sore at all.  I’m certain I could have reached the top if I had effectively ‘twiddled’ all the way up, but I could not honestly say that I would have enjoyed that.  I may as well have walked it, but I was on the bike and I wanted to ride at a reasonable pace.  As for the preparation, I thought about my recent history, and while I had been riding regularly and going pretty well between March and June, I have recorded a mere eleven rides between 23 June and 13 September, with just 19 hours in the saddle.  I would usually hope to ride 3 or 4 times in a week, for a total of 7 to 9 hours, so I was about 80% down on my normal training.  Moving house, visiting the UK, exceptionally hot weather and childcare duties have all conspired to curtail my cycling, so I should accept that I was not ready to ride this mountain on my preferred terms.

I sat and watched the hundreds and hundreds of riders passing through the feed zone and found peace with my decision to quit.  Actually, I had no choice.  I simply could not have gone any further.  I was touched by the determination of all these people to carry on to the top where they could collect their medal and certificate, and it was clearly very important to them to achieve this self-imposed target, no matter how long it was going to take, but  I realised I had no particular emotional attachment to this ride.  Yes, I would like to have seen the top, but it was not a disaster for me and I felt no particular sense of disappointment.  As a a cyclist, I’m used to having days when my legs fail to perform, just as I occasionally have those days when I feel invincible.

I then dragged myself up the hill and found our bus in the car park adjacent to the feed zone, so I was able to change and settle down to wait.  I tried to doze.  I failed, so I sat and watched as the beautiful morning was closed out by early afternoon torrential rain.  I was glad I was not one of the many hundreds now descending in such conditions.  With just two of our riders still to return, we learnt that one had punctured near the top on his way down, but he was unable to get himself back on the road.  Efforts were made to try and find assistance from the organisers.  Nothing was offered and our driver clearly didn’t want to drive any further up the mountain.  After about an hour of stalemate, the driver was persuaded to ascend.  He took at least two calls on his mobile as we forged our way up the ever narrowing road; I’m sure there was quite a drop to our right, but rain and cloud obscured any view.  Probably just as well.  We finally turned for home some 7 hours after I’d ended my ride.  This is precisely why I had wanted to drive myself.  Lesson learnt.

Maybe I’ll try again next year, maybe I won’t.  Frankly, I think I’d prefer to ride it alone or with a handful of mates without all of the razzmatazz.  Oh, and after a decent night’s sleep and a proper breakfast.

To finish, here’s a short film about the climb made during a different event.  You may need to brush up on your Mandarin, but you’ll get the general idea and will see something of the amazing scenery to be found out there.

If you want to try the event, do your research and do your training.  Be in no doubt, it’s a long, difficult climb on dangerous roads.  The organisation seemed pretty professional.  There were plenty of staff and there was plenty of food.  It was disappointing that there was no mechanical help available in spite of our pleas.  At $NT 700, I suppose it was fair value, but I could have done it for nothing, what with a handful of shops available on the way up for replenishing supplies.

For the record, my Garmin data is as follows:

Distance covered: 44.7km

Max elevation reached: 2,475m

Time riding: 3’13″

Average speed: 13.9 km/h

Elevation Gain: 2,160m

Puli-Wuling

Red Light Creep

September 11, 2013

Now, with a title like that, this ought to be a short missive on Hugh Grant – okay, that was a very long time ago, so you kids had better just look it up – but it’s a term that struck me one afternoon as I was sat in the car at one of the countless intersections in Kaohsiung.  You see, red light creep is a condition or a disease, rather than an odious individual looking for a good time.  More specifically, it is a condition seen across Taiwan if the circumstances are right; namely, a set of traffic lights and a road user.  In my (admittedly limited) experience of the island, the disease is fairly well established in every corner, wherever road meets road and driver meets traffic lights.  While the term itself has been gnawing away in my mind for a few months, only today did it occur to me that it could be a useful catch-all term for the bizarre, confusing, frustrating and crazy monster that exists under the name of road use in this glorious island.

Any regular readers will perhaps recall that in earlier posts I have been particularly concerned with cycle safety on the roads of Great Britain.  Since I moved to Taiwan, my attention has been on other things, but I’ve been storing up ideas and now seems as good a time as any to unleash them on the world.  Hopefully, the world to which I refer will include Taiwan (not Chinese Taipei – are you listening, WHO, UN, IOC and other world bodies*?)  as this is for you.

I fully expect that some of you may be thinking “look at him, coming over here an telling us how to use our roads!”, and I realise that I may be being rather presumptuous for daring to offer some advice, but I do know a thing or two about road safety.  I have been trained by the police in the UK and I passed my Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) test some 22 years ago, so I have some expertise on the matter and, ultimately, bad driving is bad driving, whatever the geographical location.

If you’ve got this far, I guess I should explain how the title is so pertinent.  Essentially, there is an unwritten rule of Taiwanese road use which says “Thou shalt not wait!”, with the qualifying clause “especially at a red light for any longer than is absolutely necessary, and even then, don’t worry if you think you can get away with it.”  There is a fundamental issue of road use which is epitomised at the traffic light junctions the length and breadth of the island; drivers simply cannot wait for the light to go green.  Similarly, they cannot wait for other to pass, cross, park, turn, or any other legitimate activity on the road.  Read on, and I’ll explain.

Hang on.  Before I go any further, take a look at this.

I think it’s in China, rather than Taiwan, but it’s kind of relevant to the text.  It’s pretty funny too, if a bit of schadenfreude doesn’t bother you.

I should make it clear that the road/driving system seems to work, and there is evidently some method in the madness, but the madness is there all the same.  I have done countless hours on a scooter: scary.  I have done hundreds of miles in the car: scary, but at least I have a steel cage around me.  I have done many hours on my bikes: scariest.  I have yet to witness an accident, but have been on the scene soon after on several occasions – mostly scooter related incidents.  I should also make it clear that I have an old laptop that seems to work.  It’s rather old and slow; it’s from another era; my new one is more efficient, nicer to use and makes use of the latest technology and thinking.  Changing a laptop is easy – changing a nation’s attitude to road use is all but impossible, but here are some observations and suggestions from this weary old ex-pat.

This is going to be text-heavy, so here’s a short clip to set the tone.  No schadenfreude here and it’s definitely not for the faint hearted:

This looks like a clear case of the driving simply jumping the red light, but it also highlights the fact that so many scooter riders and drivers seem to focus only on what is immediately ahead.  Bearing in mind that red light jumping is also endemic, one would be foolhardy to cross any junction at speed, especially if you are faced with a clear road ahead.

If you doubt that there is a widespread problem, try this compilation:

Notice how they are pretty much all self-inflicted and/or avoidable with a little awareness or forethought on the part of those involved.

Here are a few examples of what could be improved, not just for me, but for the benefit of everyone, not least through a reduction in the widespread air pollution in urban areas.

The Red Light Creep

May I suggest politely that creepers just wait a few seconds until the light changes to green.  Gradual creep and the almost inevitable subsequent minor braking (because there will almost certainly be someone jumping the red light across your bows) will increase the fuel burnt and the wear on both brakes and transmission.  Try waiting – it will certainly save you money and may save your life.  To be fair, the highways authorities could help with this one.  At nearly all junctions it is possible to see the lights on the opposing side changing, so the stop signal also acts as a tacit go signal for those waiting for green.  Furthermore, many junctions have a countdown to green, so you know that you will have to wait 90, 60, 45 seconds, or whatever.  The problem is that at many junctions, the lights stay red for 90, 60, 45 seconds, or whatever, irrespective of whether there is any traffic.  i.e. most lights, as far as I have been able to tell, are not traffic sensitive at all.  Now this is a country full of high-tech gadgets and gizmos and the manufacturers thereof; surely it is not beyond the wit of a crack team of electronics nerds and geeks to come up with a system to address this.  We have it in the UK and we’re a pretty low-tech society, by comparison.  Imagine the fuel that would be saved and the pollution reduction if just a small percentage of the 22.5 million cars and scooters, not to mention commercial vehicles, were not sat needlessly at red lights for several minutes each journey.

The Right Turners.  

For the love of God, why can’t people wait for the person in front to pass across the junction, rather than speeding past, slamming on the brakes and cutting across in front, thus causing the other party to have to brake sharply as well?  I’d estimate that for the sake of delaying a manoeuvre by five seconds (on average), errant drivers could save themselves fuel and brake wear, and save the innocent party fuel, brake wear and excessive anxiety, while simultaneously reducing the risk of collision should the move be mis-timed.  The same thing happens for left turns, only this time you can see the offender cutting across you path.  The rules, such as they are, seem to go something like this: 1) If you think it unavoidable that the oncoming vehicle will hit you, hang on. 2) If you think the oncoming vehicle has enough room to brake sharply enough to avoid you, bugger it, turn across in front of it.  To be fair, you get used to it and heightened anticipation is an essential element of any journey.  It’s still intensely frustrating, however, and I can best illustrate this with a little more first-hand experience.  Some months ago, while out on my bike, I was descending on a wide but wet road. Visibility was fine.  Traffic was minimal.  I spotted a vehicle looking to turn across in front of me, also descending.  I saw the driver looking at me; he paused momentarily and I thought I was safe.  Oh, what a fool I was!  He decided to wait no longer – I was now some 40 yards closer.  I dared not brake, so I accelerated past and screamed at him through his open window.  He’d saved himself the obligatory 5 seconds or so.  My shorts were close to taking a hammering from my arsehole.

It should be noted that it also works the other way.  Namely, I can be signalling right for several seconds and gradually easing towards a turn and some clown, or several clowns (technically a pratfall of clowns, if Goooooogle and Wikipedianyoldnonsense are to be believed) on scooters will still want to try and pass on the inside.  All for the sake of saving a few seconds.  Just remember, you’ll have plenty of spare seconds when you are in you grave or on your life support system.

As a footnote to this section, I can’t resist the urge to clarify: I’m a Turner and I am usually right. ;0)

The I Don’t Give a Damn about Anyone Else Syndrome

I could probably cite dozens of examples of this, but a suitable incident occurred the other night.  I was outside a 7 Eleven taking a quick break from my bike ride, guzzling on a bottle of Pocari Sweat (honest) and trying to refill my lungs with relatively fresh air.  Parked immediately outside the store was a scooter, behind which I stood taking said breather.  Sure enough, the scooter pilot jumped on and immediately fired up the engine, despite the fact that: a) he couldn’t possibly drive away from where he was, what with scooters having no reverse gear and all that, and: b) there was I, a 51 year-old, 6’4″ Lycra-clad stick-insect, dripping with sweat.  A few litres of carbon monoxide fired straight up my nose was just what I needed.  Could he have waited about 5 seconds and hit the ignition after pushing the scooter back to the road?  Could he bollocks.  Yes, it’s a petty example, but perlease, oh loverly people of Taiwan… how about a little thought for those around you?  Again, there are cost and pollution implications – indeed, it seems to be common practice to reverse out of spaces with the motor running, irrespective of the presence of sweaty cyclists or other hapless passers-by.  It makes no sense.

Crossing the Road

Back to the ubiquitous traffic light for a moment. There are usually little animated green or red men to indicate that pedestrians should cross, or otherwise refrain from doing so.  The little green fella starts to speed up as the time to cross nears an end.  Take a look:

The problem is that a green man is not any form of assurance that it is safe to cross, since traffic turning left or right into the road takes its cue from the green light.  While technically, pedestrians do seem to have priority, this does not mean traffic will wait and allow sufficient room – cars, lorries, trucks, vans, buses and scooters will routinely cut across in front or behind with inches to spare.  I have frequently slapped the sides of vehicles whilst uttering some Anglo-Saxon curse to fall on deaf ears.  The situation is especially upsetting when I am crossing with my 2 year old son.  In a society which apparently reveres children, allowing safe passage to the same is not a given.  Once again, a pause of a handful of seconds would see pedestrians safely out of harms way.

Eye Contact

Whatever you do, never ever make eye contact.  It seems that this implies liability in the event of a mishap.  “It can’t have been my fault, officer, because I didn’t see (read: look at) him.”  In truth, this is often an impossibility in any case, as a huge percentage of cars have mirrored or blacked-out windows.  Frankly, you never get to see who it is who’s trying to kill or maim you.

The Speed Differential

The roads here are packed with scooters, and I often wonder what the scooter has done for this economy as they have a myriad of uses.  I suspect that in terms of accidents per miles driven they are actually relatively safe.  Indeed I hope this is so because it is not unusual to see kids riding pillion, riding in the foot-well, riding wedged between mum and dad.  A whole family can get around on a scooter: mum, dad, two kids and a dog is quite normal.

Image

Imagine this in the UK – the Daily Mail would implode with righteous indignation and the parents would be locked up just as soon as the kids had been carted off to Barnardos and the dog to the local pound.  However, the major risk for the majority of scooterists of Taiwan, as far as I can see (if you remove the very real risk of lung disease from the filthy air) is the minority of clowns who insist on blasting along at about twice the average of all other road users.  I have had countless episodes of near misses on both two and four wheels where a scooter has appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and fractions of a second either way could have proven catastrophic if I’d turned or adjusted my own line into its path.  Mirrors get a lot of use on my journeys and the good old ‘life-saver’ check (thanks, motorcycle training men of Crawley!) has become second nature.

Out Here, we Drive on the Right, Right?

Wrong!  Bear in mind that if you are not familiar with driving in Taiwan, we mostly drive on the, right, but if the place we want to get to happens to be just down the road, we’ll drive on the left.  Thus, a scooter or bicycle could be heading your way – i.e. against the flow of the traffic – at any time on any road, at any junction.  You have been warned.  Yes, you’ve guessed it; there is no point using the right side of the road if you can save yourself a few seconds by risking your safety (and that of a few dozen others).  Add in the family-on-a-bike scenario and here’s a recipe for disaster.  Sooner or later.

Who’d Have Thought that a Red Light Means Stop?

A simple tip, folks.  There is no point in accelerating at a red light, especially if you can see that there are still 90, 60, 45 seconds or whatever remaining until that friendly green light shows its pretty little face.  Red means you are supposed to stop, so just relax the throttle and slow down naturally, using the brake if necessary if the light hasn’t changed to green by the time you get there.  I’m constantly being passed by vehicles as I am slowing for a light.  Similarly, if there’s a narrowing gap ahead – perhaps I should refer to this as a pinch point or bottleneck – there is no point in accelerating towards it.  Why not simply back off the throttle and allow those in front to filter through first?  If you charge into a narrowing gap, it creates the situation where everyone has to brake and (probably) stop; if you ease off and allow space for those ahead to negotiate the space…well, you work it out.

I guess I’ll add to this as new and/or forgotten issues arise, but I’ll leave it there for now.  The eternal pessimist in me knows that nothing will change, but if only one person changes one aspect of their driving behaviour, it will have been worth it.

Slightly off topic, but in case you missed it in the news a few days ago, here’s one lucky, lucky bastard**:

 

** Thanks to Monty Python:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5i1cJIwE7M
and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XG63OtsKC7k
*Disclaimer.  I admit that, owing to the early onset of a severe bout of bone idleness, I have not researched this, so I apologise if I have misrepresented any of these venerable institutions.  Then again, the fact that Taiwan is still ‘not recognised’ by any individual, government or organisation is disgraceful in this day and age.

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