The Crossroads

When the novelty of being in China first started to wear off, my ability to cope was saved by a coffee/tea shop that was on the fourth floor overlooking a busy interchange.

Sitting there, watching hundreds of people trying to negotiate a roundabout, I moved from alienation, to smug superiority, to a feeling of oneness and contentment. Who’s to say that going around a roundabout in one particular direction is any better than any other anyway?

I started to feel very affectionate towards these distant cousins of mine. They were trying so hard to be like their rich relatives, but there was so much they still didn’t understand. Yet they got along, even when everyone else was on the wrong side of the road. It’s all a matter of perspective, anyway, and here they were cheerfully accomodating other people’s perspectives and getting to where they wanted to be without any major upsets.

And the policeman sitting under a chair in the shade keeping a lazy eye on the mayhem was a real class touch. Why is it that police states seem to enforce traffic laws less than the ‘free’ world?

It put my own clashes of perspective into a different light. I realised that even when you’re going against the flow the flow will still accomodate you, and that getting worked up because someone (or all of them) is doing it wrong doesn’t really help.

Since coming to Taiwan traffic intersections have been a continuing source of delight and wonder. They’re a kind of microcosm of Taiwan, with most of the same characteristics.

Cops wave you into illegal maouvres that would get you arrested in other countries - and how do those guys work together like they do anyway? It’s like telepathy sometimes. The guys directing traffic are sooo cool, martial law with style.

I saw an old old guy, part of that sub-culture we never mention, pedalling one of those trash-hauler things loaded to the brim with cardboard. Must’ve weighed a ton and there he was, toiling along at the base of the soon to be tallest building in the world in his conical hat. Quite paradoxical really, and the lights were about to change with him smack in the centre of the junction and all the BMWs in the world gunning their throttles at him. Suddenly his decrepit old machine accelerated dramatically and shot across the road, with the help of a big burly cop - shoulder to the load and a serene ‘all in a days work’ expression on his face.

I saw`an ambulance coast to a halt in the middle of a road junction, the siren running down like a vinyl record when you turn the power off. The crew were just sitting in the cab with perplexed expressions on their faces.

And I just love those Grand Prix starts, 3 seconds before the lights change and everyone is off, weaving around the guy who decided to run the red in the other direction. All the craziness and impatience of Taiwan, combined with that easy acceptance of stuff that would have had you screaming with rage in the west.

More, anyone?

I seem to remember somebody on Forumosa recently suggested that another style of traffic light signal be adopted; one where the amber light comes on for a second while the red is already on, to warn the drivers to change into gear.
That would be completely redundant. It would mean the same as green to all Taiwanese drivers.

One thing I do wonder about that is that, with quite a few people (in Taichung, anyway) creeping or leaping off the line before the green line, aren’t they worried about the traffic cameras then? Why wait obediently for so long, whether or not there is traffic in the way, and then break the law right at the end? Or maybe the traffic cameras are set not to catch those who break the red light at the end of its phase.

[quote]I seem to remember somebody on Forumosa recently suggested that another style of traffic light signal be adopted; one where the amber light comes on for a second while the red is already on, to warn the drivers to change into gear.[/quote]That is how they work in the UK.

[quote]That would be completely redundant. It would mean the same as green to all Taiwanese drivers. [/quote]as does red.

That is how they work in the UK.[/quote]
“Somebody” was me. Don’t other countries have the red-and-amber phase? I am curious to know.

Got to love those timers on the pedestrian lights. Motorists now watch those (I do too) to see how much time they have. When the little green guy starts hustling, the engines start revving. Invariably some wanker pulls out into the intersection a second early, just far enough to obstruct the path of the wanker who’s running the red light, and he gets a horn blast (which in Taiwan rarely lasts longer then 1 second).

Happens nearly every time.

I like it when you’re on, say, Zhongxiao and want to be on Xinyi, RenAi, Nanjing, or whatever. You need to make that left but are not happy at the idea of sitting on your scooter for 80-90 seconds while the lights change.

So you’re zipping along, and you see a pedestrian light with just a few seconds to run… this is it, you know that the lights are about to change. So you drop down a gear, coast casually round to the waiting box, then rev it up and continue on your way with not a second wasted thanks to the countdown. Excellent.



I find your observation quite similar to one made by a very distinguished China scholar. Prof Jenner. You can find the reference in the book I’ve Amazoned below. I think Hexuan gave it the thumbs up somewhere else.

Prof. Jenner was head of China Studies where I studied Chinese and I have nothing but the utmost of respect for the man. His book, [color=darkblue]The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China’s Crisis[/color], is not an academic thesis as such, more a series of observations from a man who has certainly done his share of observing China. I’ve seen him interviewed several times on Australian television and he totally confounds his interviewers with his reply to the standard, “So, what do you see as China’s future?” With a sly grin he suggests that the future of China can be suggested by watching the daily scene at any major Beijing roundabout where a million or more people struggle to make a left hand turn. A totally impossible looking scenario, but everyday they somehow manage to muddle through it.

I haven’t bothered to apply quotes to his point because frankly I know I haven’t done it justice.



Oh, and a good wind on your sails this weekend.

I taught him everything he knows, the plagiarising bastard.

Watching the traffic looks fun, until you have to drive in it with your kids in the back seat. Then the whole thing looks very different.

I once did the same thing in Hanoi watching for hours over a few beers. Vietnam driving is much crazier and annoying. In China too I never trust them to stop in the cross walks although here in Taiwan I put my hand up and stop traffic so that I can cross and they actually stop (don’t try this without practise). Also, in the USA I seem to remember stand still traffic jams where traffic doesn’t move an inch for a long time and here in Taiwan, I am assuming that thanks to their crazy driving that the traffic always seems to move. That wasn’t the case when I lived in Bangkok.

Anyone with experience in other Asian countries? I remember HongKong was a dream, although I remember quite a few standstill traffic jams. One thing I didn’t like about HK was how far you would have to go just to make a U-Turn. They have so many rules that it would be a long trip just to make a U-turn. Here I just make a U-turn whenever I want and just laugh at any cops I see nearby. It is exhilerating.

Cranky, you’ve just reminded me of the period after the 921 earthquake when the powers that be would throw the switches creating the power that wasn’t for whole blocks at a time. No electricity for even the traffic lights. I recall gunning across the Zhong Zheng Bridge in peak hour dreading the thought of the lights being out at the first major intersection. Lo and behold they were out alright, as they were right up Yong He Road. To my utter amazement, and hilarity at recalling the Taiwanese disdain for order, the traffic wasn’t banked up … . it was flowing more freely than normal!

Hanoi! Nice place to sit and watch traffic drinking beers. Sweet.


You talking bout britney spears’ movie?

Yeah i saw it and it sucked.

The motor scooters LOVE to ignore the “liang duan” left turns. They like to get in there and mix it up with the cars. I just love the ones that try to get in LEFT of the cars, right in the blind spot, whip around the cars and then try to look all innocent when you honk at them. I have to admit, I feel some guilty pleasure when the police pick them up for making an illegal left hand turn (something becoming more common here in Taichung City.)