To the unaccustomed eye, Taiwanese traffic appears to be a cross between confusion and a death wish. As a friend once pointed out “traffic rules, like those lines in the street, are just suggestions.” In fact, there is an order to it all. And it’s quite simple. There are just three rules of traffic to keep in mind, which will allow everything to call into crystal clear view.
The Rules of Taiwanese Traffic
Rule Number One- If there is a space, it may be filled.
Unlike the big bubbles of space we project around ourselves into the US, Taiwanese bubbles of personal space go just a few inches beyond your skin. Any space between any vehicle, on any form of pavement, may be filled. I can fill it, you can fill it, someone else can fill, it’s completely impersonal. The American road rage of “that bastard cut me off” doesn’t show up here. If there is a space, it may be filled. Simple really.
Rule Number Two- Who ever is in front has the right of way. This is easy to understand, we have this idea in America. Don’t go smacking into the vehicle in front of you.
Rule Number Three- Who is in front is always, and at every moment, up for negotiation.
It’s the last one calls forth the uncanny ability to light up both sides of your brain, and attunes your sensorium to join the school of fish flow of traffic. It requires a loose constant attention to the moving spacial relations of everything in front, to the side and in back of you. This may sound tiring, but there is a kind of sonar, a kind of murmuration, a way of tapping into a level of order that comes not from rules, but from a melding of inertia, surrender and attentiveness in the slipstream of scooters, buses, taxis, trucks and cars.
It most assuredly is not a disregard for others, or a cavalier “Screw you, I’ll just do what I want.” Although the occasional old granny or distracted teenager with a cellphone jammed into his safety helmet will cause a ripple in the flow. It is an exquisite mode of attention that marries visual and auditory perception with feeling. One that indeed does take the rules as suggestions, and encourages an attentive inhabiting of the ever-changing moment.