Having lost the Chinese Civil War on the mainland to the Communists some six decades ago, there is a definite air of one-upmanship as the Taiwanese try to prove they are the true heirs of China. Kind of like Jimmy Carter and his lifelong mission to convince America of the horrendous mistake it made in voting him out of office back in 1980.
For example, Taipei 101, proudly billed as the world’s tallest building. Then there’s the Oldest Chinese Confucius Temple. Nor are the leaders content with mere adjective-inspiring architecture. A relocation invitation was sent out last month to my old company DHL — whose harebrained decisions had killed its U.S. shipment business — so that Taipei could lay claim as the headquarters of the world’s clumsiest corporation.
This inferiority complex has also motivated the Taiwanese to create an impressive, thoroughly modern, subway system. But though the station maps and signs all include easy-to-follow English translations, it is still helpful to know a little bit about the main features of this transit marvel.
To operate one of these, look at the map above them and find station and its fare. Then press the button representing the amount you will be paying. The machine will provide some verbal assistance, but don’t fumble around; its patience is limited:
“Please kindly insert coins…………….”
“Did you hear me? I said insert the coins…………..”
“Quit f*cking around! Put in the damn money or step aside.”
“Enough! Go hail a cab, you ignorant foreigner.”
If you find the machines a bit too hostile, purchase a ticket from one of the clerks. Most of them understand but a few words of English, so there is no need to risk confusion with long, polite sentences.
For example, instead of:
“I would like to purchase a one way ticket to Chiang Kai-shek Station. How much will it cost, please?”
“Me go Chiang Kai-shek. No come back. How much?”
Once you have your ticket and are on your way, there will be a seemingly endless series of announcements. What follows are translations of what is really being said.
Chinese: Gua xia ni. Koa ping dong!
Translation: Train derailment ahead. Brace for sudden stop!
English Announcement: The next station is Zhongxiao.
Chinese: Yeng ching! Ling ping pong, tic tac toe.
Translation: Nerve gas! Grab a mask, and lie on the floor.
English Announcement: Please exit on your right.
Special attention must be paid to these due to their similarity.
Guangxian Dong Dang
Stepping off the train, you will soon find yourself engulfed in a riptide of humanity. Simply go with the flow; you have no other choice. To regain your balance, consider climbing up the open stairs rather than riding the packed-as-sardines escalator.
Arriving at the top floor, there will be a line of slender red machines that will take your ticket. Walk to one that is showing a green “O”, then gently but firmly slide your ticket into the slot. Don’t force it or do anything else to cause the machine to lose face.
If your ticket is accepted, a pair of waist-high red doors in front of you will reluctantly open. Calmly walk through them. Do not hurry. These mechanisms are like wild animals. If they sense fear, they will suddenly turn on you, snapping their doors shut like an alligator’s mouth. (That’s where those blood-red stains come from, in case you were wondering)
Free at last! Head towards one of the exits and begin your grateful ascent into the sunlight. You have lived to travel another day.