Posts Tagged ‘driving’

Right on cue for jumping the queue

01/01/2015

I know I keep banging on about this kind of stuff, but someone (preferably a Taiwanese local), please please tell me what the fook is going on in the minds of these selfish, ignorant bellends who keep ignoring the majority?  There we are, sat waiting patiently at the lights and, as sure as eggs is eggs, some clown or three will slide up the inside/outside/down the middle of the queue so they don’t have to wait so long at the next set of lights.

I know it’s a different culture, and nobody seems to give a toss about anyone else, but why do they think we are all sat there waiting?  Frankly, I take it as a personal insult, as the only explanation I can think of is that they think I’m an idiot.  Perhaps I am, but why is it that none of the local drivers seem to give a damn either?  They hate their time being wasted, and here are all these arseholes wasting this precious commodity by the bucket-load.

To add insult to injury, on the road this evening there was a police car slowly drifting down the hard shoulder while numerous cars and trucks undertook two lanes of traffic by using the scooter lane.  Of course, the police did absolutely nothing.  Why are the police so impotent, so uninterested, so blind to such selfish, dangerous road behaviour?  The net result is that the scooterists end up buzzing cyclists in the cycle lane.  Brilliant.  Thanks a lot car drivers.

As an addendum, we just witnessed a very lucky escape for a scooter rider.  He was cutting across in front of us through a junction (risky) while the car behind me was overtaking me (yes, through the junction) and clearly didn’t see the scooter until the last moment.  Cue tyres screeching.  Cue scooter rider hardly batting an eyelid.  He was 70 years old if he was a day.  How the hell he’s survived that long is beyond me… he was not looking at the oncoming traffic.  Must have burnt a hell of a lot of paper money at the temple last night.  Lucky bastard.

Lucky bastard indeed, and there was me thinking I would have my moment in court as a witness.

Oh, and a typical taxi incident for your perusal.

Taiwanese authorities…  what is your plan to deal with this kind of stupidity?!?

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There’s Simply Not Enough Room

17/11/2014

Here’s a picture of a fairly typical road around here.  At least, it’s typical of the roads outside of the city.  You’ll note that it’s wide and it’s empty.  Surprisingly empty!  Perhaps that’s what you are thinking, but this is effectively out in the sticks and there really isn’t a high volume of traffic, which is why we choose to cycle out on such roads, even after dark.  It’s flat, it’s fast (wind permitting) and the road surface is generally pretty good.  There are a few dogs lurking here and there, but most don’t bat an eyelid as we pass.

Road

So far so good.  I’m not complaining.

However, and it’s a rather specific however… Why is it that so many scooter riders want to pass within a few inches of my left elbow?  Look at the road layout: there are two lanes for cars, vans and lorries, and two lanes for scooters and bicycles, and there’s even a generous shoulder on the right.  Bear in mind that this is looking north.  It’s the same heading south on the other side of the central reservation.  There is plenty of room.  Ooodles of room, in fact.

Dear Scooter Riders

Why, when you have all that road to play with, do you need to pass me within a matter of inches of my left elbow?  What exactly are you thinking when you see all that empty road and a cyclist ahead?  I’m genuinely curious.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Lots of love

Colin

In case you think I’m deranged, here’s another example.

Road1

This is a slightly busier road, and the eagle-eyed among you will note that, in addition to the car and scooter lanes, there’s even a cycle lane to the right.  You’ll also note that it’s being used by scooterists.  Perhaps they should be allowed some slack.  Why?  Well, because dozens of impatient drivers will generally be using the scooter lanes because they simply have to be undertaking all those slower vehicles using the correct lanes to ensure that they get to the next red light just a few seconds sooner.  What is the point of all that paint, when absolutely nobody gives a flying fook about lane discipline?  Seriously, highway authorities if you’re reading this, what exactly is the point?

Here’s a lucky chap:

It’s a Scandal

12/11/2014

Recently, there have been scandals about contaminated cooking oil in Taiwan.  The people of this country seem to have been really excited about this.  I’m guessing here, but I’d be willing to bet huge sums of money that the actual damage caused to the health of the people of Taiwan by this dodgy oil has been negligible compared to the damage being done to their lungs by filthy air.

Now, just imagine for a moment that some boffin at NCKU measured the exhaust emissions from a scooter ‘reversing’ out of a parking space (I wrote about the phenomenon the other day here: http://fiftyyearsandcounting.wordpress. … n-reverse/ ) and then calculated the amount of such additional and entirely unnecessary emissions for a day/month/year. Imagine this then made the news as a scandal because it could be affecting everyone’s health, (with relevant comparisons to the recent oil crisis). This is the kind of joined-up thinking that is lacking, as far as I can see. Get this kind of information out there to start a shift in the mindset of Joe Public. I’d be willing to bet large sums of money (again) that not one of these scooter riders who reverses with the motor running has given the slightest thought to such a minor action. Why would they? Put it to them as a national scandal and they might, just might, begin to make some progress towards thinking about change for the better.

Okay, it’s a pretty odd example, but it is precisely the kind of thing that makes no sense. Absolutely none.

In a similar vein, I often wonder about the almost pathological reliance on the scooter and the corresponding failure (of vast swathes of the population) to walk or cycle anywhere.  Ever.  Allow me to elaborate.  Our neighbour takes her daughter to some kind of class after dinner every evening.  They go on the scooter, wrapped in face masks, of course.  Mum and daughter leave together and mum is back within approximately two minutes, so I figure they go about one block away at most.  They could walk it within five minutes each way, I reckon.  Similarly, my in-laws head out every morning to buy breakfast.  I can’t be sure, but as far as I can tell they go approximately a quarter of a mile to the market.  Again, it would take them about five minutes to walk there.  Let’s face it, it’s entirely unlikely that these are the only two cases of such minor scooter journeys on the island.  Indeed, I’d suggest that this is happening in every town and city on a colossal scale.  Just imagine the difference in the air quality if such journeys were eradicated and people took to their feet or used a bicycle rather than burning more fuel.

Where are the movers and shakers of Taiwan brainstorming this kind of thing and mobilising some kind of publicity campaign? Think of the long-term savings to the health service. Think of the children. For God’s sake, think of the children!

I’ll end with another film clip.  Even by Taiwanese standards, this one takes some believing:

 

Thinking ahead

07/11/2014

Yesterday was heads.  Today, I’m curious about the concept of thinking ahead.  It’s a fundamental skill which seems to be missing from the armoury of so many drivers out here.  Let me describe an incident I witnessed a couple of weeks ago.  Nothing too serious, but a perfect example of what I find so interesting.

I am driving along a typical city centre road behind one other vehicle.  It’s a two lane road – i.e. each side has two lanes – and I’m in the offside lane, with the car in front of me in the nearside lane.  Unusually, there is nothing else around of any consequence.  Nobody up my chuff, no scooters weaving in and out, but up ahead there’s a traffic cone in the middle of the nearside lane.  I see it and ease off so that the car ahead can move into the offside lane, which it does.  So far, so good.  Why was the cone there, you’re thinking?  Why indeed.  Most probably because not more than 30 metres ahead, a mixer is parked in the road off-loading its concrete.  That would be a concrete mixer; a large thing with a big barrel-like container spinning round on the back, with a tube deployed to the side to dispense the load.  What did the car ahead of me do next but move back into the outside lane before slamming on the brakes and then moving back into the clear lane.

Dear Car Driver

The other day when you saw the cone and moved over in front of me, what exactly were you thinking as you then moved back into the nearside lane, closing rapidly on a stationary concrete mixer which was clearly delivering its load?

While I think of it, perhaps you could also explain what is going on between your ears when you are approaching a traffic light which you can clearly see turn from green to red.  What exactly are you thinking as you continue to accelerate towards the red light and all that stationary traffic?

I am interested in learning about these particular thought processes, so a full explanation would be really helpful.

Many thanks.

Colin

For the visual today, I have another gem for you.  It kind of fits rather well with today’s theme, too.

In case it isn’t clear, the cars on the right should not be in that lane; they are simply trying to cut in front of the lorry that is waiting to turn right at the lights at the end of the road, probably to save themselves a few seconds while delaying the lorry in the process.  More diesel pollution, but that’s okay, isn’t it?  Time is money.

Another Letter Man

04/11/2014

I should begin with a disclaimer.  I am not attempting to criticise or belittle anyone*.  I am simply trying to understand the Taiwanese way of thinking, so I may integrate more easily into this society.  I repeat, I am genuinely interested in finding out what the average Taiwanese person is actually thinking in a number of scenarios, because I find myself increasingly baffled, confused and bemused by what I witness each day.

Today, I want to ask questions about driving habits or the driving ‘rules’ (such as there are any rules), but my question is going to need some scene setting and not a small degree of joined-up thinking.  Please bear with me.

Conventional driving wisdom in every country I have ever visited suggests that you wait for oncoming traffic to pass before turning across the opposite lane.  Here, the rule seems to be that you wait if (and only if) you decide that the oncoming traffic has time enough to slow down and not collide with your vehicle.  Now, this is where I need to suggest that joined-up thinking.

Before that, here’s a picture of a typical scene of scooters in Taiwan.  Nothing to do with today’s post, really.  Just a remarkable photograph:

Scooters

In a common scenario, the driver crossing the lane makes a decision to go knowing (or hoping) that the oncoming traffic will slow down.  Sure enough, it does, most of the time.  This is the part I’m interested in, because this is where the thinking comes in to play.  What is the driver thinking as s/he causes the oncoming vehicle(s) to have to slow down?  I really don’t know.  Somebody… anybody, please tell me, because here’s the point.  The manoeuvre has just caused one, two, five, ten, maybe twenty, often more, oncoming cars, scooters and lorries to slow down, sometimes to a stop.  Just for a moment, think about the consequences of this: wasted fuel, increased exhaust emissions, additional brake dust.  Now think about this on a countrywide scale, each and every minute of every hour of every day.  I’m sad enough to have done a calculation.  I’m no scientist, so I’m just doing simple figures to illustrate the point.  Think about this:

Imagine that, as a result of the situation I have described, a vehicle (i.e. one unit) is caused to slow down and then re-accelerate, and imagine that this burns an extra 1ml of fuel**.  Imagine that this causes an extra 0.1g of brake dust.  Imagine that this happens one million unit times per day (it happens to me approximately 10 times per journey, so one million is conservative!).  According to my tiny brain, that’s 365,000 extra litres of fuel being burnt and an extra 36,500 kilograms of brake dust each year.  Hardly scientific, I know, but the point is, there is extra pollution and waste.  Bear in mind that this country has a major problem with air pollution, and consider that millions of people are outside wearing their anti-pollution face masks each and every day.  In other words, this particular element of traffic behaviour makes absolutely no sense.  Sure, the driver waiting to cross is idling and burning fuel, but on a scale nowhere near that of the moving traffic being forced to slow down.  So:

Dear Drivers

When crossing the lane and causing oncoming drivers to have to slow down and then accelerate back up to speed, what exactly are you thinking?  Please enlighten me.  More to the point, what are the oncoming drivers thinking as they have to waste yet more precious fuel while wearing out brake pads and gearboxes?  This is the particularly odd thing; nobody seems in the least bit bothered about it.  Why is nobody bothered about it?  You are bothered about face masks and about your precious time being wasted, so it would seem logical that this would bother the hell out of you and you’d do something about it.  It doesn’t and you don’t.  I simply don’t understand.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Aside from any of this fuel/brake dust nonsense, the system is flawed in the sense that it relies upon the driver crossing the lane making an accurate judgement of the speed of the oncoming vehicle(s), not to mention the fact that the driver has no way of knowing of the oncoming driver(s) are actually paying attention.  Let’s be honest, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be fiddling with their phone, lighting a cigarette, stuffing some more betelnuts (bin-lan?) in their mouth, or simply day dreaming about the latest Hello Kitty product while gently dozing off.

Oh, and here’s another collision.  *Actually, this one deserves belittling and criticism as the fuckwit has all the clues at his disposal, yet still accelerates at a red light, while the scooter riders (the victims) are all on the wrong side of the road:

**I looked on Gooooogle to get a figure for fuel being burnt while idling.  A quick look suggests anything from 0.1 to 0.3 gallons per hour, but that’s for a specific type of vehicle.  I also found this:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10834679/Scooters-pollute-more-than-lorries.html

When all isn’t quite Ticket(y-Boo)

09/02/2014

There are many things about life in Taiwan that your average Westerner would find a little unusual.  In a previous post  https://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.

Image

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

Image

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:

It’s Been a While…

06/11/2013

…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.)

Image

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:

Image

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.

Image

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

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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:

Image

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.

Red Light Creep

11/09/2013

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.

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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.

Lost in Translation

08/02/2013

Here are a few more things which have caught my eye in the last week or so.  I regret that the picture quality is a little suspect for some of these, but I tend to rely on a basic camera phone, rather than dragging my Canon 20D all over the place.  I hear Kev wincing at my admission, when he routinely lugs around cameras and lenses and rarely misses an opportunity.  In my defence, I’m usually on a dodgy bike with a 2-year-old trying to steer with his feet, so I can do without the extra responsibility of photographic equipment.

Anyway, I rather like the look of this advertisement:

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Whereas, I hate the look of this place:

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It’s a brand new building in Zhubei with some of the most hideous decoration and embellishments you could possibly imagine.  It simply has no place in this city, in my humble opinion.  This, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of thing I want to see on restaurants if I am to be tempted inside:

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And this is exactly what I want to see on scooters (the small-print, not the battle scars):

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I love the fact that the image features a bloke with red hair and blue eyes.  A native, he ain’t.

Here’s another slightly perplexing tag-line, used by a major drinks franchise chain:

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I’ve saved my favourites until the end.  We’ve come south for Chinese New Year with the Chens, so the boy and I went out on the bike in Kaohsiung this morning (here we are)

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and happened to do a short spin through the grounds of the Museum of Fine Art; never mind Salvador Dali (exhibition currently on view), they seem to have turned the development of warning signs into a fine art.  In reverse order of sheer quality, I give you:

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I, for one, would pay good money to see somebody worshipping in such a fashion, unless they simply happen to be followers of that rather irritating British diver, Tom somebody or other.  This one is slightly more, erm, surreal (Dali would approve?):

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I have it on good authority (read: Goooooooooogle) that qigong is “a Chinese system of physical exercises and breathing control related to tai chi”, but I have yet to ascertain the risks I face on encountering such activity.  These two, however, pale into insignificance when compared to the sign I want adopted all over the world.  I give you:

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Check the small-print – it’s not grafitti.  The adoption of such language on this particular type of sign may be just what we need to get through to the selfish, lazy, ignorant arseholes who need to have it explained to them that a pile of putrid pooch poop should be removed appropriately.  It reminds me of this, which came to my notice through Twitter a while back.  Gotta love that Aussie style:

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That is all, except for this rather wonderful song about words:

Mountains, roadworks, seaweed, a mirror and a TWOC

03/02/2013

I’ve tried to make a point of capturing a few more images during the past few days.  I realise that for the hard of reading, more pictures = more attention.  Furthermore, as I’m a bit of a lazy git, what with a picture painting a thousand words and all that, I can save myself hours on the old QWERTY.

Let me begin with the boy’s first felony.  He took a shine to a rather spiffing Lamborghini and promptly relieved its owners of said Italian loveliness.  Exhibits A & B, your honour:

ImageImageI believe this is known as a TWOC in police-speak.  No doubt Dan will correct me if necessary.

On the way out to the scene of this heinous crime we passed some roadworks.  We’d have crashed into the truck if it hadn’t been for this chap:

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This is a pretty standard device on the roads here.  The best bit is that the arms wave, but I think he could do with a sandwich or a bowl of noodles.

The journey home found us getting thirsty, so we stopped for some banana milk (cue Lizzy) and a packet of seaweed crisps.  We did share them, but the boy was too busy to photograph his dad:

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I know it’s seaweed, but the photograph in the middle reminds me of a line in this:

Spinach in your teeth (@1:42) is definitely not a good look, however cute you may be.

Yesterday was quite warm, so I set off reasonably early for my weekend ride.  I followed the river up to Hengshan and then crossed the bridge before starting to climb the mountain.  This is before the painful bit, looking at where I’m heading and back down the river to where I’ve just been:

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As I started the climb, I spotted another cyclist just ahead; I had him pegged at about twenty seconds in front, but I could not close the gap, and after twenty minutes I simply had to sit up and creep up the final few hundred metres.  I stopped at the junction, scoffed a banana, downed a bottle of Pocari Sweat (yes, that is the name of a sports drink – Japanese, I think?) and tried to capture the moment on digital celluloid:

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A welcome, fast descent awaited, marked by this bridge at the bottom.  An old boy was walking along the centre line for some reason; perhaps he doesn’t like heights?

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The views either side made the pain of the climb worthwhile, and I still had a long steady descent along the valley to come.

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This was a timely reminder that you never quite know what is around the next corner:

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Actually, it’s usually dogs just wandering around.  You can never be sure what they are going to do, so I always prepare for a sprint should the dastardly mutts suddenly turn and give chase.  (I must have passed hundreds in recent weeks: just two have decided to have a little dig, but no contact made with my flesh as yet.  I still get that cold feeling and goosebumps when I fear that a dog is going to start ripping chunks out of my calf.)

Other hazards include pretty much anyone who happens to be on the road.  Not far from home yesterday, some old bloke decided to get on his scooter and pull out into the road with nary a glance.  I anticipated that he may well do this, but he kept on going, right across the lane into the space at which I was heading at about 25 mph (*cough* slightly downhill and a following wind *cough*), so when I eventually arrested my speed and swerved back to the nearside, I turned to give him the most severe of my withering looks.  Of course, he was completely unfazed, unlike my shorts which had a few moments of abject terror foist upon them.  Thankfully, chamois shame was averted, dear reader.