I came for the ride

Posted: 06.10.02

Taipei is an amazing place, full of contradictions and surprises. The place is haven for taxi users. There are more taxis in Taipei than all of China, Korea and Alaska combined. Well, probably not, but who knows how many taxis are in China? No one, right? Well, no one knows how many are in Taipei, either. No, of course someone knows: the person who issues licenses, but he doesn’t speak English, so I couldn’t find out. But let me tell you, there’s a lot, I mean a really whole lot. In fact it’s a joke in Taipei: Can you look down any street for more than a minute and not see a taxi? The answer is no, no you can’t.

There are four things about taxis in Taipei: (1) They are all yellow. Bright taxi yellow. Not like New York and San Francisco and Amsterdam, where a taxi can be any color and you don’t know if it is a taxi or not until it drives by and splashes water on you. (2) They are all clean. Not like New York, where you have to carry a plastic sheet with you so you can sit on the seats. (3) They are unbelievably cheap—you can go crosstown for $3 U.S., and crosstown is a half hour drive. And (4) All the drivers are crazy and have eyes like a fly that can see in a 180-degree sphere.

No one waits for a taxi in Taipei – this is at rush hour

Coffee. Coffee is an amazing thing in Taipei. Coffee in a hotel is $8 a cup. For the price of a cup of coffee in a hotel, you can drive across town and back in a clean, bright yellow taxi with a mad man who can fit it in a space not big enough for one of the five hundred and fifty three million scooters that challenge the taxis for road space. $8 dollars U.S., that’s over twice what a double non-fat high-foam super latte costs in Tiburon, and things are not cheap there, I can tell you. Furthermore, a taxi ride in Taipei will get your adrenaline going twice as fast and for twice as long as one of the mini cups of $8 coffee they serve in the hotels.

Another amazing thing about Taipei is the business climate. If you want to do business, almost any kind of business, come to Taipei. They do business here. Business is done all the time, everywhere (except in the back of taxis, because in the back of taxis people are either doubled over holding their head waiting for the crash, or on their knees praying). But even in the hotels with the $8 coffee there is business being done. At Computex business is done in the hallways, on the street, in hotels, on the elevator, waiting for a taxi (you never have to wait long for a taxi in Taipei). This is the place to do business, except—except when it’s time to climb under your desk and shield you head during an air raid. On Tuesday we were locked inside the Taipei World Trade Centre as parts of the city were shut down for half an hour while the Government conducted an air-raid training drill. The drill, which extended to major buildings and parts of the railway system, was carried out during one of the city's busiest weeks; with Computex in full swing, business stopped being done—the taxis, however, did not stop.

The communications networks in the press room stopped from time to time. No one does business with the press, anyway, so let them drink coffee—free, by the way, in the press room, and with good reason: no one would drink it, it was so bad. Actually, the Russians drank it; to them it tasted good. They asked if they could take some home.

No one in Taipei speaks English, just Chinese. Hard to believe isn’t it? But have I ever lied to you? Try speaking English to anyone (not from England, that is) while in Taipei. They all just smile, nod their head a half dozen times, and then call someone else who they think speaks English. She doesn’t speak English either, but you get a lot of smiles. You also get a giant glass of ice tea when all you wanted was a glass of water. A glass of ice tea that costs $5. You know what a glass of ice tea costs in Dallas? Ten cents. That’s right. In fact, ice tea is so cheap in Dallas that they often serve it instead of water with your meals because Dallas is having a drought and they don’t want to waste the water. They’re not real bright in Dallas and think that tea in water uses less water, that’s why it’s so cheap. However, they don’t speak English in Dallas either, that’s why I went to Taipei instead of Dallas. Taipei is just as hot and humid as Dallas, and it has a lot more taxis.

Next year Computex is going to be held in Dallas. I’m not going, there’s only forty three taxis in Dallas and they don’t speak English there.