Road Idiots

Originally, I was going to post this in another topic in response to another poster, but I thought it warrented a topic of its own.
Let me start by saying that I always thought of myself as a world class Luchi (road idiot) before I came to Taiwan. I got lost all the time. When someone could randomly point out where North is when they’re sitting in a room, that was as befuddling to me as a David Blaine magic trick.
Further, I think analysis of the differences between Taiwanese people and Foreigners leads nowhere, and coming to any real conclusions is about as easy as nailing jello to a wall.
That being said I think I’ll do it anyway. In another topic, one poster felt that a Taiwanese person wanted to drive him somewhere rather than give directions because the Taiwanese person may have felt that the foreigner was too thick to understand directions. In my opinion, you’re dealing with a whole different can of monkeys than superiority complexes. I run into this problem all the time. I give simple directions that can’t be followed. I want to meet someone somewhere but they don’t know where it is. I ask someone if they know where I can find X and they say, “well there should be many around”, but can’t name one.
Basically, there are a lot of people in Taiwan with no sense of direction.
I think some of the reasons for this are:

  1. In most Taiwanese families, responsibilities are clearly divided. Dad is in charge of this, Mom is in charge of that, etc. If it ain’t in their area of expertise, they don’t know nothin about it. In general, westerners are more likely to have a little knowledge about all areas of day-to-day life (although certainly not always). For example, I don’t cook at home, but I know which grocery stores carry what kind of stuff.
  2. Generally speaking (all of this is very generally speaking), many people use geographic navigation rather than spacial navigation or navigation based on maps or streets. You very often hear someone say something like, “drive past Sogo and turn at the McDonalds.” rather than, “take a right at Chunghsiao, go through three red lights and take a right at Fuhsing.”
  3. Lots of people don’t drive and it more difficult to have a good sense of direction when large distances are involved if you don’t drive.
  4. In my experience, people rarely go to places they have never been in Taiwan. What I mean is, in Taiwan, you grow up accompanying your family to places, then you go around with friends and/or co-workers. If you go somewhere new, often it is because someone takes you there. Many people have few opportunities to hone their navigation skills.
  5. Taxis are cheap in Taiwan and their use is widespread. Taxi drivers know their way around pretty well despite all the flack they get. This lifts a lot of the burden of knowing how to get where you are going.

Their are also some deeper cultural issues involved, but I have work to do and this post is dragging on. This issue gets me because I run into it daily. People don’t want to give me directions because they can’t. They are worried I will get lost or are amazed if I can find a place. When in groups, we have to spend a lot of time making sure everyone knows how to get to the place we’re going. I have to drive out looking for people who get lost coming to my house (thank god for cell phones). Anyway, it’s a pain in the ass, especially considering Taipei is one of the easiest cities to get around in that I have ever lived. The bigger problem I see is that many people in Taipei don’t know how many cool places (restaurants, clubs, museums, etc.) there are in Taipei and Taiwan and don’t take full advantage of the city or the island. Sorry for the rambling nature of this post, but I have a bad case of toxic computer/Internet eye and brain syndrome. I hear its going around.

Originally posted by chainsmoker: The bigger problem I see is that many people in Taipei don't know how many cool places (restaurants, clubs, museums, etc.) there are in Taipei and Taiwan and don't take full advantage of the city or the island.

I am guilty of this … I have lived here ten months and seen nothing, done nothing, experienced only the crap from shitty bosses all the time … that has made me to dislike taipei very freakin much … now, on the other hand … introduction to all these wonderfull things would be a heaven sent and surely make my stay more bearable, exciting, interesting worth the pollution and the constant rat race

eRm, You are on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. (Yes, I’m serious).

Get out and explore. I don’t know if you believe this, but stunning scenery is less than 45 minutes away.

I dunno if its that easy to get around, dude. Maybe if you have a motorcycle and speak Chinese. That being said, I do find that my friends and I often tend to go to the same places, otherwise its just a big logistics mess. If I want to find where something is, however, I do ususually ask a foreigner, but that may just be because my Chinese sucks.

I find that few people around the world are able to give directions effectively. I remember once driving around Seattle in frustration because someone had given me directions using landmarks that were familiar and important to them, but not easy for a visitor to find.

It happens here too. A travel agent once gave me directions to her office, and concluded with ‘opposite XYZ airlines.’ The sign on the airline office was miniscule, and I didn’t see it, but she used it as a reference because it was something she was aware of. I gave up looking and went into a massive car dealership, where someone called her for clearer directions. Her office turned out to be upstairs!

She didn’t say ‘go in the door next to the huge car dealership that no one can possibly miss’, because she had never noticed it. Instead she wanted me to navigate using invisible landmarks.

I really don’t know how some people get through life.

People here definitely have a worse sense of direction than most people back home. I’d wager that 90% of locals couldn’t point out the southwest corner of Zhongxiao/Dunhua to save their life, even when I point out that Dunhua runs north/south and Zhongxiao runs west/east… :s

Finding your way around in this country can be a real hassle…

But it’s partially your own fault…I mean, getting lost is half the fun!

Once you get out of the city you’ll find most people have a better sense of direction, especially in the mountains. Grab a map and go!

As Mr. He quoted earlier, and many here can attest, the scenery here is simply stunning and not that hard to get to.

Many years ago, my wife and I were doing an around the Island trip by motorcyle and got lost in Illan…We stopped and asked 2 old Taiwanese boys for directions, and in perfect unison they pointed in different directions! An argument ensued and I was laughing so hard I almost dropped the bike…Turns out they were both correct, just bickering about which way was faster. How you interpret these travelling obstacles is up to you…I used them in the beginning to practice my Chinese…Still do.

I’ll be the first to admit though that as a rule most Taiwanese have a pretty poor sense of direction.

I don’t know that it is simply a poor sense of direction which creates confusion for those of us who have to ask for help from time to time. One of the things which constantly amazes me is the lack of knowledge of where a person is actually at! For instance:

This past summer I had to go to a government office here in Hualien. The address was written down for me in both Chinese and English. It was #171 Jung Shan Road. When I got to the goevernment office that I thought I was looking for I was told that “no, this isn’t the right office”. They didn’t however, know what their address was! A man from the office kindly went down seven flights to check on the wall outside as to what their address was! It turned out that they were #277. I went to #171 only to find that it was a clothing store and they couldn’t confirm their address either! After over an hour I was able to find out that the adress wanted was on another Jung Shan Road. When I arrived at the right building I went to the front desk to confirm that I was at the right address. They didn’t know their address either!

I have found time and time again that people seem to know only where they are going if they have reason to use that knowledge. Even then, they will not usually know the address or anything around it. It’s as though it is felt to be unnecessary information. Drives me nuts sometimes!

The situation you described seems strange to us because of course we in western countries know our own address, so we believe that this knowledge is necessary, but actually we don’t really use this knowledge. We also find our way around by using landmarks.
I discovered this in Korea. There, they do not use addresses (except for mail), and you certainly can’t find a place just by having its address. At first, of course this seems nonsensical to foreigners, and when I explain it to my family or friends back home, they think it sounds crazy, but actually the system works fine. I lived and worked in many places in Korea, and for most of them I had and have no idea what the address was, but of course I could find the places. The first time I went to a place, someone else showed me where it was, or drew me a map, and after that I used landmarks to find the place again.
This is not really different from what we do back home - we know the address, but actually we just know where something is, and find our way around by using landmarks. Taiwanese culture is just 30 years away from the farm, so they still operate under the pastoral mindset that suited their grandfathers. And hey - it works - all the people who don’t know their address here are nevertheless able to find their way to work and back home again.

In fairness, Seattle is a bitch to get around in unless you know your way. There are entire groups of residential subdivisions which are linked to the rest of the planet by a single road – it’s like living in bloody Nepal.

[quote=“Michael J Botti”]Once you get out of the city you’ll find most people have a better sense of direction, especially in the mountains. Grab a map and go!

I’ll be the first to admit though that as a rule most Taiwanese have a pretty poor sense of direction.[/quote]
In another thread, someone mentioned that Taiwanese maps aren’t always oriented in the same direction (i.e., NORTH). I have only tried to use maps twice in Taipei, and had a b*tch of a time both times for exactly that reason.

I also found that most people don’t pay attention to the world around them, as such they do not know much beyond what they need to know.
When I take a cab or bus I notice (new) shops, restaurants etc. and having a good sense of direction I can direct a cab driver through town while I never have driven here myself. Got picked up by cabs from Chiyayi and Kaoshiung before and they of course had no clue about Taipei.
Also most of my collegueas are pretty useless when asking where can I find this and that or how to go to certain places, so it’s better to ask directly on forumosa. :wink:

Michael’s story made me laugh. Why is it in Taiwan you can go in completely opposite directions and arrive at the same point? Happens all the time.

In Mucha,near Jenda University there is a sign pointing to Zhinan Temple. The directional arrow goes both the left and right. :astonished: I pointed it out to my wife and she said that you could go either direction to get to the temple. I said that I knew that but didn’t she think it would be confusing to people. NO, we Chinese understand what they mean. :noway:

The worst place I’ve been in has been Tainan. They have signs that alert you to the upcoming street. But the signs often are placed so that they look like they are pointing to another street and not the next one. Bizarre until you figure it out. Actually the highway is the same.

By the way, eRm, pick up a copy of Taipei Day Trips II at Eslite. Lots of fun getaways listed with up-to-date MRT and bus information.