“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber
Yesterday, wonder of wonders, I actually drove in Taiwan! And drove a car, mind you, rather than a bicycle or even a scooter. No, it wasn’t actually the first time I’d driven a car, but it was the first time driving more than just the three minutes that it takes to get to church, or to the gate of the complex my parents live in (which constitute the two previous times I’ve driven…I’m not actually sure they count…). This time I drove my mother and I to a tourist town about an hour away. It was the first time on the freeway in Taiwan, and the first time since December that I’d driven. As I drove, I couldn’t help but compare my experiences driving in America with my experiences driving here in Taiwan–and these go beyond the fact that they measure things in kilometers here. I thought I’d share a few of them:
- I would like to challenge some of the misconceptions out there and assert that Taiwanese drivers are not, in fact bad drivers. The craziness of Taiwanese driving makes them come across like this. With cars weaving in and out of the lanes and red lights being taken more as suggestions rather than law, it’s easy to see where this image of “bad driver” comes from. However, when you take into account the fact that we don’t see more accidents than we do, this observation speaks an intense self-awareness on the part of the drivers. They know exactly where they are and where their car is, they just choose, on a matter of preference, not to abide by rules that many American travels would see as the mandate of motor vehicle transportation. In fact, I would venture to say that many Taiwanese drivers are actually better than the Massachusetts drivers I battle every year at school.
- On the whole, Taiwanese drivers are not speeders. While you do get the somewhat frequent warp speed driver, the general flow of traffic remains safely under the speed limit. Pulling onto the highway, I noted that the speed limit was soon posted as 110 (no, not miles per hour–kilometers per hour; this converts to about 68 miles per hour). Regardless of this, I soon realized that, if I sped up to 110 in the merge lane, it would be impossible for me to merge into traffic because I would be going too fast. How does that work? On Rte. 128, I always had to go from a complete standstill to 65 mph in a span of 30 seconds so that I didn’t become a spot on the highway. Must be the trucks that are in the right two lanes, I decided, that make it so slow. But even when I had shift all they way to the left-most lane, the car in front of me typically only wen 100 to 105 kph. Go figure. So, while on the whole, Taiwanese drivers may be more erratic, they go with the flow of traffic. Everyone will get to where they need to, there’s not hurry.
- A final pattern that I noticed might strike the average American as rude or discourteous. In the states, if you are driving in the left-most lane and the car in front of you is going slower than you are, it is typically expected that the slower car move over to make way for your faster car. After all, you are the most important person because you’re going fastest, right? It seems to be common courtesy. Well, in Taiwan–while that may be what you’re supposed to do–in reality, if you’re going fast and you want to keep going faster than the car in front of you, it’s up to you to find a different way to go faster. The car in front is in no way obligated to actually move just for you. It’s not that they’re being rude, it’s that its up to you to figure it out. Hence, people pass on the right, but it really doesn’t matter. You go with the flow, make your own way. And somehow, wonder beyond wonder, it works.