Pedalling Taipei

Roadside insurance claims: Blood money

Summer was an overripe melon that year; it dropped heavily and without warning and flattened everything beneath it.

But that wasn’t unusual, here in Taipei: seasons don’t slowly fade into each other in the subtropics; you can’t watch the frigid sleep of winter wake and yawn and transform itself into the new growth of spring. It’s more precipitous; one day it is cool and cloudy, the next it is fiercely hot. And don’t expect the joy that accompanies sunshine in more temperate climes; nobody here is rushing out to gleefully soak up the summer warmth — the sun is an enemy: avoid it.

Let’s not get carried away; this enemy, big and yellow, is mostly benign, and does little more than subdue the commuters and residents as they slog their way around this vast city. It saps their strength and leaves them overcome with lethargy. The sun, however, is cunning and quick to find any fleeting frustration or annoyance inside such a listless mind and bring it instantly to the boil. Behaviour then becomes erratic and unpredictable. I mean, those stupefied citizens can suddenly go crazy out in the summer sun. And that just adds another deadly variable to the already combustible practice of pedalling the streets of Taipei. Continue reading


Urban Betel Adventure: Sex, Drugs, and Spitting

I like those stories in which adventurers go off into the Mexican desert in search of Indian shamans and ancient peyote rituals. Unfortunately, I was staying in Taipei at the time and so my foray into an indigenous drug culture lacked a wilderness.

Betel nut was my chosen narcotic, but finding it was hardly an adventure—it was everywhere, and I could have bought myself a box in any of the city’s grocery stores, or from a  nearby roadside vendor. But I chose to head to the outskirts in search of seedier retailing, beyond the control of a new and self-righteous mayor who had recently banished smut from his streets.


What can’t be sold without the help of a nubile girl in a short skirt? Coffins, perhaps, but little else. Sex sells, and manipulating a customer’s base instincts to push betel nut seems as obvious as using busty models to sell sports cars. Made-up and under-dressed teenaged girls perch on high stools in glass boxes along all the major roadways flogging the stimulant, an enterprise not hidden away down some dark, dangerous back alley—it is right out there in the open, everywhere. Passing drivers are lured by leggy girls whose skinny tattooed calves extend up to bony knees; whose exposed thighs run up beneath flapping skirts to flashed panties; whose skin stretched over tight-stomachs glistens in the lamplight; whose slender arms and long necks beckon. Why go to Bangkok? It’s all right here on this little island. Continue reading