Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Not a whole day in the life, but a morning:

I always stay in bed until the last possible minute in the mornings. I know it takes twenty minutes to get from my apartment door to my office door. I also know that if I clock in at 8:31 or later, I lose an hour's pay. This is motivation, Taiwan style.

So I'm out the door at 8:05. Down five flights of stairs to the sidewalk -- literally, the sidewalk. Unlike many buildings in the West where there's some kind of buffer between the sidewalk and one's front door, we don't have that kind of extra space in Taipei. So I pop out onto the sidewalk blinking like a mole, no matter how gray and cloudy, since our apartment has few windows. I start to walk the three blocks to the MRT (subway) station.

Right next to my building's door is a motorcycle/scooter mechanic's shop. If we catch each other's eye, we say hello. He has two blue-and-white birds in a cage that hangs out front during business hours. (I sometimes hear those birds when I'm in my bathroom; it sounds like they say "Wow! Wo-o-ow!") On the other side of the bike shop is a bakery, its front window jammed with local specialties that, frankly, gross me out to no end: croissants with wieners baked into the middle; sweet white buns covered with "pork floss" (a.k.a. hairy pork), or with mayonnaise and corn niblets; oh, it's just too horrible.

For most of the three blocks to the MRT, I'm walking in traffic. There is a sidewalk of sorts, but I find the street easier to negotiate. The sidewalk's surface is concrete squares, many of which are not attached to one another nor to the ground below. (After a rain, stepping on a loose tile can send a gush of dirty water up one's leg. Believe me.) Plus people don't seem to be terribly apt to pick up their dogs' sidewalk poop in my neighbourhood. So I, and most everybody, walk between the parked cars and the traffic. There is barely enough room on this street for two cars to pass, but most people are riding scooters, and riding them wherever they can fit. I pass a convenience store, lots of tiny shops that aren't open yet, a temple, and a church.

The MRT station is on Roosevelt Road. It's the only street in the city, and probably on the island, with a Western name -- but if you don't say it in Chinese, no one will understand you: Ro-say-vo-lu. Down the stairs, through the turnstyle, down an escalator, and I wait for a train. Nobody can argue that Taipei doesn't have the greatest subway system ever. The stations are big and clean and bright; a sign counts down to each train's arrival; lights on the floor flash when a train is approaching; and there are arrows on the floor indicating where the doors will be.

I get off the train two stops later and surface at the edge of the 2-28 Memorial Park. Walking through this park every morning and evening is my nature time, so I'm thankful for it. It's the biggest park downtown, and every morning it's loaded with people doing various forms of exercise. There are organized groups: middle-aged women doing Tai-chi along with music on a boombox; men and women practicing slow movements in the trees with long swords or huge red fans; ladies dancing in pairs to peppy recorded music. But there are dozens of people on their own, stretching, jogging on the spot, windmilling their arms, shaking each foot for a few seconds, hitting themselves with their fists, rotating any body part that can move, walking with their arms straight up in the air, you name it.

I make a beeline through the park, from the MRT station on the east side to the Starbucks on the west side. (Don't talk to me about coffee politics; it's a matter of survival here.) I walk in, exchange good-mornings ("Tsao-an!") with the workers, and hand over my travel mug. I'm a tall coffee of the day, and everyone knows it. ("Yes sir, she is one ta-a-all coffee of the day...")

Two more blocks to go, past a convenience store, lots of bookstores, banks, stationery stores, clothing stores, lottery ticket sellers; most aren't yet open. This is a major street, so there are wide sidewalks; however, half of the space serves as scooter parking, so there are only a few feet open for walking. One must dodge oncoming pedestrians at every turn. I cross the street and disappear into a building, where I sit on the eighth floor with no windows until noon, when I pop back out, blinking like a mole.

* * *

I've tried to find some photos online for you. I hope I'm not infringing on any copyright here. (If your computer is slow, you may want to avoid these links, or click and then go and get a cup of coffee.) This is an intersection a few blocks from my office (but this is how things look in the afternoon, not at 8:30 a.m.). This is also near my office, and it gives you an idea of the bike-to-sidewalk ratio. And this is a huge and kind of blurry shot taken in 2-28 Park that includes real Taiwanese men excercising!

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