I wake up to the sound of my old smartphone chiming hysterically. I hit snooze two or three times, each time sleepily inspecting the phone because I’ve forgotten which button turns off the alarm. More often than not I become confused because the word “snooze” looks like it has Chinese characters in it when I’m half-asleep. Finally, at 7:50 or 8am, I push myself out of bed and head to the shower, where the spray is 80% on me and 20% in every other direction.
After I finish my shower and dry off, I pull on jeans and a top and use my remaining 10 minutes to make myself presentable to the world: deodorant applied, comb through the hair, teeth brushed, mascara if there’s time. I swing my bag over my shoulder and nest my headphones in my ears, then I put on my shoes and head down six floors to my scooter.
Starting my scooter takes some patience, so if I want to be on time, I head down 5 minutes before I actually need to be on the road. My glittery, hot pink helmet carefully pulled over my ears so as to not knock out my earbuds, I fasten the buckle and sit on the scooter seat. Turn the key, hold the brake, push the ignition button, wait… engine dies. Hold the brake, push the ignition, let go of the brake, maneuver out of my parking spot, wait… engine dies. Hold the brake, push the ignition, pull the throttle, move three feet forward, stall out. Roll my way down the ramp to the street, hold the brake, push the ignition, pull the throttle all the way back, rocket forward ten feet, yell at the scooter, “Keep going!” as the engine threatens to die, then jolt forward as the engine catches and roars like a hyena.
Taiwan is a constantly evolving maze of traffic. Pedestrians wander around, seemingly confused when they find themselves in the middle of a busy street. Cars drive first and look second and buses never look at all, so scooters buzz around avoiding death in whatever way they can. People turn left from the right lane and turn right in a wide arc that terrifies people coming the opposite direction.
I drive twenty minutes toward the mountains, avoiding cars, pedestrians, other scooters, and the occasional electric wheelchair chugging down the street. As I scoot, I occasionally gently rock my head left and right to make sure my headphone wires aren’t caught on my bag or clothes; quite often, as I turn to check behind me, the cord catches and rips one of the buds out of my ear and leaves it between my cheek and helmet. Putting the headphone back in without taking my helmet off is a talent I’ve begrudgingly learned.
Now that I have new tires, I can lean into turns without worrying that my scooter will slide out from under me, which would earn me an infamous Taiwan Tattoo. Most long-term Taiwan expats sport a Taiwan Tattoo, which is either a burn from a muffler or a scar from a crash. My new tires ensure my skin is scar-free and make my commute faster and more enjoyable, not to mention safer.
There’s one section of my scoot, around 17 minutes in, in which I’m coming down a long, steep hill. From this hill I get a view of the mountains in the near distance, but only if the weather and pollution cooperate. I look forward to this part because when the mountains are visible, it’s a beautiful view.
One morning it was cloudy, so my expectations were nonexistent, and then I rounded the curve just before the crest of the hill. The clouds were hanging above the mountains, and I could see a thick fog in between some of the peaks; the resulting effect was white clouds draped around a dark green range. It was a breathtaking sight.
Five minutes later, after passing through my scenic outlook, I pull into the screw- and rusty nail-riddled slab of concrete the school set aside for scooter parking.
I kick out the kickstand, kill the engine, hang my helmet from a hook inside the seat, and head inside. The scooter’s old and in desperate need of hundreds of dollars worth of work, but for now, it’ll do.