Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why are you trying to cut me? I'LL CUT YOU and I DON'T mean in line!

Most of you know that I have few long-running complaints about Taipei, but that pedestrians and some cyclists and scooter riders and their awful street etiquette is one of them. In fact, this is the only complaint I've heard across all expat groups, the only universal, the only thing that every single foreigner (and many, if not most Taiwanese) in Taiwan can agree on. It's the common ground where there would otherwise be none.

I do not accept that it is a cultural trait to walk and cycle around in a little cloud of selfishness like HERP-A-DERP-A-DIDDLY-DOO-WHAT-DO-YOU-MEAN-THERE-ARE-OTHER-PEOPLE-HERE-LA-LA-LA (imagine me making sing-songy "derp-a-doo" songs like the Swedish Chef here as I imitate these people).

My other long-running complaints are:

1.) The weather (not much we can do about that yeah)
2.) Sexism (because NO, it's not a necessary evil in a traditional culture. You can keep a culture intact and not be sexist, YES YOU CAN DON'T MAKE EXCUSES)

I do not accept it as a cultural trait because plenty of people don't act like that - most people, really, you just don't notice them unless you think to, and because plenty of locals complain about the same problem. Also because I feel like if it were a cultural trait, everyone in Taiwan would have wandered off a cliff or into an ocean or oncoming traffic or something, tapping on their smartphone like doo-dee-la-la-da-doo.

So today, I come across four distinct acts of this which affected people other than myself, arranged artfully in order of response. It was so beautiful, like the universe putting on an interpretive urban dance just for me, that I was inspired to write about it.

First, as I'm waiting to get on the MRT at a crowded time, people ahead of me push on before those on the train can get off. An annoying, but common occurrence. People even get irritated at me because I refuse to also do this. So a woman ahead pushes on, and someone trying to get off is thwarted in her attempt to get off the train in a dignified manner at the stop at which she wishes to disembark. Does she say anything? No. Does she even make eye contact with the push-on lady? Nope. Just patiently, resignedly, waits until she can slink off the train, slithering past people who've just gotten on, including the push-on lady, who doesn't move for her. Does she give push-on lady a gentle shove to get off (I would!)? Nope, she just nearly snaps her spine as she tries to disentangle herself from this hurtling tin can of humanity.

My rating?


Second, I'm walking toward the escalators at SOGO (but not near them), and two young women are also approaching at a ridiculously slow speed, nattering about whatever it is that's worth nattering about. Probably the same things I nattered about when I was 19. As they get to the top of the escalator, they stop there and natter for easily another ten seconds, blocking everyone in their path before stepping on, and then stand next to each other as they continue to talk, making it impossible for anyone else to walk down on the left as many wish to do. I'm too far away to be affected by this or to just say what I'm thinking - what the hell is wrong with you?! I get on behind them. Another guy is approaching from about the same distance I am, but he's in a hurry. He tries to walk down and is stopped by the two girls, who don't notice that someone clearly wants to walk down the escalator. He catches my eye and rolls his. I was impressed by the depth and breadth of his eyeroll - and that's saying a lot: I'm a New Yorker.

But still. My rating?

Bzzzzzzzzzzt. Better. But not close enough.

Third, I'm about to get back on the MRT, and as I approach the platform and head toward the line I want, one guy comes in from the side and gets behind the other guy who's already there. Okay, that's fine. But then as the train approaches, he tries to slip around the guy who is clearly in front of him and clearly was there first. Guy in front knows what's going on and simply won't move. Other guy tries again to slink around, but first guy shoulder-blocks him. It's really obvious from his body language that he's sending a big "SCREW YOU LINE CUTTER!" to the guy behind him, who has to wait his turn like a humiliated gerbil before getting on the train. He never, however, once turns around to confront the guy or openly acknowledge his presence.

My rating?

Pass. Pretty good, but even better would be turning around and saying "why are you trying to cut me?" (the "nice New Yorker" in me might say that) or better yet, "seriously why the fuck are you trying to cut me? I'LL CUT YOU and I DON'T mean in line!" (the "not-nice New Yorker" might think that, but she probably wouldn't say it).

As my sister has pointed out, there are MRT employees right there whose entire job is to hold their hands up and blow a whistle to enforce a rule we all already know - why don't they stop this? Why not make a rule that you have to wait for people to get off before you get on, and enforce it? I bet folks'd follow that rule.

Finally, I'm heading home, and there's a woman some distance in front of me. She stops outside some store - I think the 7-11, even if it wasn't a 7-11 that's probably a pretty good guess - right in the path of moving pedestrian traffic. She doesn't step to the side or otherwise indicate that she will be immediately getting out of the way, oh no, she whips out her smartphone and begins doing some whatever-the-hell right in the middle of the sidewalk where people are walking. She's blocking pedestrians from both directions, not just the one she and I were going in.

So a guy was coming in the other direction at just that moment, and with only a second to spare, walked basically right into her. I am pretty sure he saw her there, but didn't have time to adjust his course...or maybe, deep down, he wanted to make a point to someone who thinks it's OK to stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to tip-tap on their phone. I don't think so, though: sure looked to me like it was 100% Phone Tapper's fault.

So rather than say nothing or mumble out an apology (sometimes they apologize for walking into these people. For what? It's not your fault, it's theirs!), he spits out the Taiwanese equivalent of "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU FUCKING DOING?? DON'T JUST STAND ON THE SIDEWALK! PEOPLE WALK HERE!"

My rating:


OK, maybe a little harsh, it would not be necessary to be this brazenly angry in other cities, where people just randomly standing in the middle of sidewalks is rare and likely the result of genuine human error (we all do dumb things sometimes) and therefore deserving of a little tolerance for human frailty.

But this happens all the time in Taipei. It's constant. I'd say "it's not rude to do that here" but that's not true, because it's rude to do that everywhere, because it's just rude. It's the universal human constant of rude. It happens too much for it to just be one idiot or one preoccupied, tired or not-thinking person. And what you need when you've got an entire flotilla of sidewalk-morons, not just one preoccupied person, is a little anger.

So I say good work, Angry Guy. Good work. I approve. Maybe if stopping in the middle of a crowded sidewalk would not get people slinking around you or apologizing for their walking in the path of your standing, but rather people telling you to stop being such a doink,

You are welcome to move to New York.

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