Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Double Edged Sword

I never meant for this blog to turn into a rant against Taiwan, but here I go again with another pet peeve about living here. Don't get me wrong, I like it here. I'm happier here than I was for the last few years before I left Seattle. Still, there are some things about Taiwan that can drive a Westerner nuts.

For example, you generally don't tip at restaurants. This can be a good thing, as it helps to keep dining out affordable. The flip side is that table service is really terrible. This is partly because in traditional Chinese dining, dishes are brought out to the table one at a time and everyone shares. Unfortunately, they haven't figured out that when serving western-style meals, everyone should receive their food at the same time. Beyond that, however, it is obvious that servers here have little incentive to provide good service, so they don't.

Another example is that it is impossible to get decent service on a scooter or even on a bicycle. The shops don't charge for labor, which makes repairs much cheaper than they would be in the US, but if the repair doesn't involve replacing a part, they generally just won't do it. My scooter is running really poorly. It needs a tune up. I've brought it to three shops, and they all say the same thing, "Your scooter is old. You should buy a new one." One guy went as far as to put it up on its stand and rev the motor, but that was the most anyone would do. No checking the spark plug, no adjusting the air/fuel mixture, nothing. Since those tasks don't necessarily require parts replacement, they won't do them. Another problem with most of the scooter shops here is that they don't like to have you leave your scooter with them to work on it. If you pull in with a problem, they will try to do what they can to get you back on the road immediately, even if it doesn't really address the fundamental problem. It boils down to no one wanting to, or having any incentive to, take the time to do quality work.

You see the same thing in a lot of the workmanship here. Construction is slipshod, roadwork is sloppy, even civil engineering seems to be done without any planning. Speaking of planning, urban planning doesn't seem to exist. The result is a fairly chaotic traffic situation, and buildings that look dilapidated a year or two after they are constructed.

I think part of the problem is that there is a sharp distinction between the laboring class and the blue and white collar class. Construction workers, truck drivers, movers, and other laborers are invariably coarse, bin lan-chewing, loud-talking, drunk-in-the-morning types. I assume that they earn very little, and probably have very little education. Since they have little incentive to do a good job, and because most of them are in a semi-stupor from drinking wispey and chewing betelnut, their work is below western standards.

All this being said, I still like it here. Besides, the opinions here are just that, opinions. I've been here long enough to have seen plenty of examples of all of what I just wrote, but no one can see everything, and I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions to my observations.

I hope I can find an exception to the scooter shop situation.

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