I wandered all around Taipei last week by myself. This worried my husband, but since I made it back every evening, he began to relax. I walked several miles around the hotel, down to the river and the fabric market, and regularly to the local Cold Stone Creamery…to practice ordering in Chinese! I made it through subway systems and taxi rides to meet friends.
The street signs have an English version of the Chinese names on them; and I had a map that showed most of those for main streets. That doesn’t mean it was easy getting around, though. There is not a uniform method of displaying the street sign in relation to the direction of the street, or a standard placement location of the sign on the street. The signs are not on every street, either.
There are plenty of other signs on the streets, so attempts to glance about are often bewildering. There are shop signs, construction signs, government notices. Most of the time, the buildings in that older downtown section were close to the two lane main streets, and tall.
This doesn’t even count the lanes and alleys that form a web between all the main streets. These do not have any apparent pattern or reliable width. You could be exploring down one and it could dead end into a point, like someone changed their mind all of a sudden.
All of this meant that it was hard to keep track of landmarks. Add the fact that many of the stores were chain stores that repeated on every street, or vendors that looked like identical copies. And try to look up at street signs AND be wary of scooters shooting out of hidden corners.
There was one corner that was particularly crucial. It was close to the hotel and it was the portal to many of my excursions. It was a very large street, so I often used the underground passageway, instead of waiting for the crosswalk signal above ground.
About the third time that I used the tunnel, I noticed it had signs on the walls pointing me to important destinations, like the MRT (subway station). Very handy. But, on the way back to the hotel every time, intending to make a right turn and cross under the street, I was always somewhat perplexed. It didn’t feel like I was turning right.
The tunnels at this intersection were not a simple square from corner to corner. There were two entrances at each corner, one for each street you might be coming or going from. Those met, then converged with the tunnel from another corner to connect to the main passage under the streets. Then, every thing split up again in the same way. So, there were 8 options for entry and exit, but only one main passageway.
When Greg finally got to go about with me, we were heading back late Saturday night. We arrived at this crucial corner and I recognized a couple of landmarks. He likes to cross above ground and figured I was the expert by this time, so asked me which way to the hotel. I said, we turn to the right here, but I always use the tunnel. He thought a moment and started to laugh. No, if there was one thing he knew after thinking about it for a moment, it was that we needed to go left.
All of a sudden, I knew he was correct. I had had it wrong all week, but thanks to the tunnel signs, ended up in the correct place. I just never understood why. Hmmm. Just when I had him nearly convinced it was safe to let me out…