16 April 2009
I hate cycling among busy traffic but we decided to stay in this busiest city of Taiwan the next day just in case there were any issues with the bikes. We also needed to buy SIM cards and go to the bank. These were the days when mobile data has not yet become as important as oxygen. I was traveling with my TREO 650 and film camera Nikon F801s. I had nothing to share instantly on social media. But we still needed to be able to call the hotels for room reservation and stay connected with each other. Today, if you need mobile data, you can buy a SIM card at the airport with a package of unlimited data within a fixed period. These are tailor-made for tourists and the procedure is quick and easy. It took only 5 minutes to complete the transaction. And Nope! It’s not more expensive. It’s actually a real bargain. Your only concern is whether your flight is arriving too late and those shops will be closed already.
We roamed in Taipei city on our bicycles with the overwhelming scooters, which made me feel like traveling with massive groups of hornets. Our touring bikes have drawn some attention from passersby. “Jia You! (add oil) some shouted at us with smiles. They probably thought we were making the 1,000km-around-the-island trip and wanted to give us some big pushes. Although Taiwan is home to the world’s two biggest bicycle manufacturers and has been making bikes for the world for decades, people here prefer their scooters for daily commute. Then there was this movie Island Etude released in 2007, about a hearing impaired college student making the round-the-island tour in Taiwan. The idea has been so impressive and inspiring that people started doing the tour themselves. It has kind of become a coming of age ceremony or a pilgrimage. No wonder we received so much encouragement. To me, it’s like giving a salute to the place.
Slowly we discovered some special rules for scooters and bicycles (機慢車). For those who don’t read Chinese characters, it might be tricky to figure it out. The following are some general ideas that I hope you may find useful. Click on the links of Chinese Characters to see the signs.
The Free Ways 國道 (sign: white, five-petal flower with a number inside), the red badge Provincial Highways (Express Ways, sign: red badge with numbers) and Urban Express Ways are not for scooters and bicycles.
Everyone can use the Provincial Highways with blue badges (省道), County or City Highways (縣道), Township and District Roads (鄉道) and Industrial Roads (產業道). In those rural areas, it’s perfectly OK to use the overpasses, bridges or tunnels on these roads. Remember to turn on your lights in the tunnels.
Sometimes, the lanes close to the centre (left) are not for slow vehicles. You would see the yellow Chinese characters 禁行機車 (No Scooters) arranged vertically on the tarmac. There are also lanes built for slow vehicles (機慢車道). In front of some traffic lights, there are boxes for slow vehicles to wait for the green light. Bikes are slower especially on starting; stay close to the sidewalks to give way to the others. On most intersections, slow vehicles should follow the two-stage-left-turning rule (二段式左轉), i.e. after going through a green light (the first stage), go to the left turning waiting zone, another box (左轉待轉區). You would be looking at a new traffic light. Wait for the new green light and go (the second stage). When you are not so sure, follow the scooters.
The bikes turned out to be in perfect condition. There were showers of rain but we were ready! Nous étions prêts!