C’est La Vie
By Joshua Dent
February 28,2013 started out to be what I thought was going to be a fairly typical Sunday afternoon here in “The Jongli”
I woke up at about 12:30 completely hungover and still feeling shitfaced from drinking at two of Jongli’s finest watering holes, “The River” and “C’est La Vie”
The River is a typical Westerner kind of bar here in Southeast Asia. American music is played the entire evening, and English is widely spoken throughout the pub.
After the River, we headed to our favorite after hours spot called “C’est La Vie.”
Now, there is ABSOULTUELY nothing French or magical about C’est La Vie.
It normally has about 5-7 at most completely slobbering, piss-faced drunk Taiwanese guys in there, and if we are lucky there might be one girl hanging around
The one unhidden gem about C’est La Vie is the head bartender there. We can never figure out how to explain this girl. I personally love the fact that she speaks 0 English.
But, if you look at her, she almost has yellow buck teeth at first glance and absolutely nothing beautiful about her.
She still has some sort of unexplainable really, really, really bizarre cuteness to her.
I just can’t figure it out for the life of me. She looks ugly as sin sometimes and cute as a button others.
As I was writing, it dawned on me that I never see her before 4am. So, I think we just solved that mystery.
But, back to the point of the story. After stumbling around my apartment from about 1:30 to 3:30, still drunk enough to taste the Jack Daniels on my breath from the night before, I decided it was time to make something out of this day.
That was when without thought I grabbed my passport, ARC, and motorcycle helmet. I was about ready to tackle round 2 of the absolute insanity that is also known as driving a scooter in Taiwan.
When I arrived at the bottom of the steps, that amazing array of confidence in my driving abilities that I had from the 11th floor of my apartment disappeared quickly.
I may not have yet realized how quickly the confidence was leaving my body until I actually put my helmet on.
With the size of my head, I am quite certain that any wind gust over 5 m.p.h. could have blown that helmet that was only half on my head right to the side of the road.
After the helmet was half-cocked and secured on my head, that is when I made my first glance out onto the chaotic and hectic road I would have to tackle first (Yanping Road)
The bike was on top of a 3 foot high landing with the roughly 18 other scooters parked out in front of my apartment building. I was mentally holding onto that parking area as my remaining blanket of security between me and the open road for as long as I could.
As a matter of fact, I stood completely paralyzed with FEAR behind my bike for at least 15 minutes as I just gazed out into oncoming traffic.
I said nothing. I didn’t even move. Taiwanese neighbors came and left. And, I still didn’t unlock one bone in my body from the complete feeling of fear I had.
The original plan back on Planet Josh was to quickly hop on the bike, and bang an immediate left turn.
If I could successfully execute this maneuver, I was free sailing. I could drive 300 yards maybe and make a quick right onto nothing but back roads free of traffic.
After I struggled and horsed this 800 pound piece of machinery through a row of 19 parked scooters
my plan took an immediate change for the worse. I started the bike, and it was like I completely forgot the whole plan of “Just GO left.”
I probably forgot my name at that exact moment. I knew within a split second that going left would constitute crossing over 3 busy ass lanes of traffic. And, it just wasn’t going to happen on this day.
So, a right turn out of the gate it was. That was only the beginning of one of the most ridiculous 3 hour consistent reel of bloopers imaginable.
However, after successfully executing right turn #2 on Jung Mei Road, I was suddenly starting to gain some confidence.
At one point, I even looked down at the speedometer, and I realized I was going over 20 kilomoters per hour. I thought maybe it would be years before I saw that, and I was doing it on my first day!!
I even got so confident that I was going to try and make a left hand turn on YuanHua Road. This was pretty risky since a left was going away from my house.
As I pulled into the left hand turning lane, with my turn signal on of course, that was the first time on this afternoon that my mind just took a complete shit on me.
The tricky part about operating a scooter for the very first time is accelerating and decelerating. The acting gas pedal is on the right hand side of the scooter. If you push away from you, it will speed up. And, if you pull towards your body, it will actually slowly down.
With the earlier notion that my mind took a shit on me, I am quite certain you know where I am going with this one.
As I pulled up to the stop light to make my very first left hand turn, I noticed that the light was turning yellow. Although, I was probably going less than 10 kilometers per hour, I made what felt like a desperate attempt to come to a stop before I got to the light.
That was also the same exact moment that my brain stopped working. I was trying to slow down, and I kept pushing the lever away from me which was actually speeding the bike up. I remember thinking ” Son of a Bitch, this thing is just going to keep right on going.”
It actually got SO bad that I contemplated jumping off the damn bike. My mind was saying make this thing slow down.
But, my body kept making it go forward. I was probably hunched over at the very back of the seat as well to keep trying to pull leverage backwards.
Man, after nearly jumping off a 125 scooter going 5kmh, I was scared absolutely shitless to be honest.
It is.very strange to most people when I talk about my fear of scooters. They normally ask if I can ride a bike.
They seem extremely surprised to know that I have actually ran an Iron Man race.
So, after that bit of a fun, I was driving through the streets of Taiwan absolutely fucking scared out of my mind. I can remember thinking “God, How the hell am I going to get this thing back home? ” I knew that would constitute changing lanes, making turns, and a plethora of other nonsense.
I also remember seeing what I thought was a police officer behind me. I thought for the love of God just pull me over and take me to jail.
Anything has to be better than what I am feeling right now. I would have no such luck on the police officer taking me to jail. What I thought was a police officer, was actually a parking ticket guy.
After the parking ticket guy went past me, I proceeded to just go straight for about another hour with the occasional right hand turn down a side street.
At this point, I had absolutely no idea where I was. I would estimate that I only made it about 20 km from my apartment on Yanping Road.
That was when I quickly realized that I was just about out of gas. So, I thought Oh Shit, what if I run out of gas in the middle of the road and have to push this thing a couple of miles to the next gas station.
And, it is not like I could check my phone for the nearest gas station. I have a blue and silver Sony Ericson from 2004.
My next maneuver was to pull into the 7-11 and get some sort of comfort food to help calm me down. I parked the bike, and grabbed a papaya milk. I probably sat inside the 7-11 for about 30 minutes figuring out how I was going to find a gas station.
That is when I saw a cop taking pictures of my bike. Once again, I just thought take the damn thing since I am too stubborn to quit most of the time. I still have no idea what the cop was doing but he didn’t offer me the favor to take the bike with him.
So, I decided after I drank my $35 NTD Papaya Milk to take a walk looing for the next closest gas station. Luckily, I found one about a half mile away. But, I was also going to have to make a left hand turn.
I scouted it out for about 15 minutes from the side of the highway and determined that it was ok to give it a go. After one pit stop at a Budhist Temple gathering to gather my confidence, I cleared the left and I was able to fill the bike up with gas.
I wish I would have had a camera to capture the look on the faces of these Taiwanese people as some hungover and scruffy looking white guy came staggering up the hill of their outdoor gathering.
I didn’t stay long. And, I didn’t say a word anybody.Once again, it was just an excuse for a quick spot and another chance to gather my confidence.
With a full tank of petro, and a cluttered mind, it was back to the streets to try and navigate my way back home. It went ok for about the first 10-15 minutes. I somehow found a nice straight, and uncongested road to get me going back in the direction I needed to get toward my house.
But, this uncluttered path of highway could only last for so long in Jongli. I quickly found myself by the Jongli Night Market.
To those of you that don’t know what a night market it is, it is probably the worst place imaginable for a new scooter driver to be driving. It is constant stop and go traffic among cars, scooters, children, and basically any kind of distraction all clobbered into one tiny little area for a chance to buy some really cheap food, clothes, and cheesy carnival games.
I thought Jesus Christ, could this really be happening at this point?? I was tired, and beat-down from an afternoon of terror. And , I was now going to have to really liven up and try to get through these confusing side streets just filled with people.
That is when I decided to throw in the towel for the evening. I really didn’t even care what was gong to happen this bike that I just paid roughly $500 American dollars for.
I knew I only had one mission left. That was to go ahead and park this thing. I could come back another day to get the bike if it was still there.
So, I quickly found a side street with an empty parking space and left it for another day.
I knew I was about 4 miles away from home. That is when I decided taking a long walk would be ok at this point.
It took me one hour to walk home that night. But, it was much better than driving another second on that scooter. I went back and got it the next day. It is now currently sitting in front of my apartment. I occasionally start it up with the brave notion that I will drive it again some day.
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