The World According to My La Sardina #1: Yilan Reflection

Image

Taken with the Lomography La Sardina, edited with Adobe Lightroom

Yilan Reflection – Taken with the Lomography La Sardina, edited with Adobe Lightroom

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Getting a Scooter License in Taiwan: Photos and What You Need

Over the last week, I posted part one and two of my experience obtaining a scooter license in Hsinchu.  This time I’ll simply share what you need to bring with you, as well as photos of the Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office on Ziyou Road near downtown Hsinchu.

Why you should get a license:

Many foreigners drive in Taiwan without a license.  That’s certainly no secret.  So why should you go through the trouble?  Well, the first and most obvious reason is because it’s illegal to ride a scooter without a proper license (it’s not the same as a driver’s license for a car).  The fines may not be very steep, but it can prevent you from getting sued if you do happen to get in an accident (and people may still sue you even if the accident wasn’t your fault).  The second reason is that there are less scooter rental shops that are willing to rent to those without a scooter license.  This makes traveling so much easier and getting around by scooter really is the best way.

What You Need:

  • Before you go to take the tests:
    • ID, like an ARC.
    • Two pictures for a driver’s license and one or two ARC size for the health check: $150 NTD.
    • Health Check at National Taiwan University, Hsinchu Branch: $120 (Map below).
    • Find out the times that the tests and lectures are offered to know how much time you will need to take if you want to finish it all in one or two days.
  • Cost of tests and lectures:
    • Written test (and each subsequent attempt): $125
    • Driving test (and each subsequent attempt): $125
    • Scooter License (paid as you go in for the lectures): $200

Websites:

Maps:

When you type in Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office it’ll send you way out in the middle of nowhere.  I actually don’t know anything about this place.  But they have a pretty good website in English.

30 minutes apart from each other by car or scooter, an hour and 20 minutes by Hsinchu's terrible (but free) bus service, or two and a half hours on foot, since you probably don't have the ability to drive.

30 minutes apart from each other by car or scooter, an hour and 20 minutes by Hsinchu’s terrible (but free) bus service, or two and a half hours on foot, since you probably don’t have the ability to drive.

I really do recommend searching for this place in Google Maps if you're trying to find it.  The streets in Hsinchu don't make any sense at all.

Make you sure you figure out the directions on Google Maps as it is located at an intersection immediately next to the ramp of an overpass.

 Photos of the Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office:

Exterior of Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office on Ziyou Rd.

Exterior of Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office on the corner of Ziyou Rd and Minzu Rd.  The entrance is right next to the overpass ramp.  There’s plenty of parking inside for cars and scooters.

A shot of the entrance to the parking lot.

A shot of the entrance to the parking lot.

This is the front door that faces the lane on Ziyou Rd next to the overpass.

This is the front door that faces the lane on Ziyou Rd next to the overpass.

If you enter the building from the front door instead of the parking lot then you need to go through this door to find the testing centre.  I've only ever met two people here who can speak English so it might be difficult to ask for directions if you don't know Chinese.

If you enter the building from the front door instead of the parking lot then you need to go through this door to find the testing centre. I’ve only ever met two people here who can speak English so it might be difficult to ask for directions if you don’t know Chinese.

Take these stairs on the outside of the building to get to the Testing Centre.

Take these stairs on the outside of the building to get to the Testing Centre.

Register here for the tests.  There may be plenty of people standing around here waiting for the lectures to begin.  The lecture room is around the corner to the left.  The room filled with computers where you will take the test is to the right.

Register here for the tests. There may be plenty of people standing around here waiting for the lectures to begin. The lecture room is around the corner to the left. The room filled with computers where you take the test is to the right.

This is the schedule for tests and lectures.  I suggest planning ahead so you know how much time you need to take to complete everything.  You can do this over multiple days.

This is the schedule for tests and lectures. You will need to complete two of the safety lectures (nearly two hours in total). I suggest planning ahead so you know how much time you need to take to complete everything. You can do this over multiple days.

This is the schedule for lectures on the front door of the lecture room.  Pay the $200 for the driver's license when you go in.  Your license will be waiting for you when you finish the nearly two hours of lectures all in Chinese.

This is the schedule for lectures on the front door of the lecture room. Pay the $200 for the driver’s license when you go in. Your license will be waiting for you when you finish the nearly two hours of lectures all in Chinese.

Photos of the Scooter Driving Course:

Once the written test is completed and you receive a score higher than 90% you can move toward the driving course behind the building.  These are available at certain times throughout the day.

Once the written test is completed and you receive a score higher than 90% you can move toward the driving course behind the building. These are available at certain times throughout the day.

A closer view of the entrance to the scooter course.

A closer view of the entrance to the scooter course.  If you have a scooter, bring it in here and park it along the side under the roof.

It is located next to the driving course for cars.  Don't worry, this isn't for scooters.  The scooter course is much smaller and a lot more embarrassing if you fail.

It is located next to the driving course for cars. Don’t worry, this isn’t for scooters. The scooter course is much smaller and a lot more embarrassing if you fail.

Here it is!

This is it!  No, really.  That’s it.  Really not much to it.

Wait your turn and watch the video in English above the entrance.  You will need to ask for this.  Watch the others.  Don't laugh if they fail.  You may be next.  Also, that's not very nice.

Wait your turn and watch the video in English above the entrance. You will need to ask for this. Watch the others. Don’t laugh if they fail. You may be next. Also, that’s not very nice.

Start your scooter and stop, if necessary, at the railroad crossing before the line.  Look both ways and proceed when necessary.  Don't forget to signal when you make the turn!  (And turn off your signal light when you finish turning!  I got too excited.)

Start your scooter and stop, if necessary, at the railroad crossing before the line. Look both ways and proceed when necessary. Don’t forget to signal when you make the turn! (And turn off your signal light when you finish turning! I got too excited.)

32 points means you fail.

32 points means you fail.

This is the left turn.

This is the left turn.  Signal!

Go straight down the road, stop before the line if the lights  indicate you to stop.  Make sure you signal at the line.

Go straight down the road, stop before the line if the lights indicate you to stop. Make sure you signal at the line.

Don't cause an accident.  If you cause an accident here you should really reconsider getting a license.  Move to Taipei or Kaohsiung.  Take the MRT.

Don’t cause an accident. If you cause an accident here you should really reconsider getting a license. Move to Taipei or Kaohsiung. Take the MRT.  (Sorry about the terrible quality.  I didn’t realize I was so shaky!)

Signal, stop if necessary, proceed, turn.

Signal, stop if necessary, proceed, turn.

Stop before the line.  There's a stop sign there.  After this you'll have to turn to the left and wait for the tester to prepare the 7-second track.

Stop before the line. There’s a stop sign there. After this you’ll have to turn to the left and wait for the tester to prepare the 7-second track.

Just do what it says.

Just do what it says.

This is the worst.  The worst!

This is the worst. The worst!

It's quite narrow.  I suggest backing up a bit before starting out so that you have some momentum to get over the sensor bar.  It's small but deadly.

It’s quite narrow. I suggest backing up a bit before starting out so that you have some momentum to get over the sensor bar. It’s small but deadly.  Once you finish this in just over 7 seconds then you’re home free!  Head back to the lecture room on the second floor, watch some videos of people doing stupid things on scooters, and get your license!

I hope this has been helpful for someone out there.  There’s a lot of conflicting information out there so I hope that this clears up some of that confusion.

Good luck!  And safe travels!

Oh, the places you'll go!

The best way to travel in Taiwan is by scooter, so get your license!

Getting a Scooter License in Taiwan: Part 2

After my first failed attempt to get my scooter license, I returned to the Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office a week later.  Thankfully I didn’t need to do the written test again.  Once completed and you receive a passing grade, the written test is valid for one year.  I paid the $125 NTD fee and prepared myself mentally for my second attempt at mastering the road test.  This time I was obviously shaken up.  I could still see the fading chalk outline of my deceased confidence at the beginning of the 7-second track from the week before.  My hands were actually shaking, making it difficult for me to take the photos for this blog.

Once again, I passed the first three parts of the test, this time with one slight issue.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the final part of the track, so I actually forgot to stop signaling to the left for most of the road test.  However, I made it to the 7-second track, took a deep breath, and revved the engine.  Both wheels went over the sensor bar!  In my excitement I went a little too fast, concentrating on the boundaries.  I saw the ending coming up too quickly and I still had a few seconds to go, so I slowed down.  My scooter started to wobble, I started to sweat, and I could see the tester shuffling to the edge of his seat.  I watched as 7 seconds appeared on the light board and I exited the track.  Even the tester, the same guy from the week before, stood up and pumped his fist into the air in excited approval as the whole world seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

I received my passing grade and skipped back toward the office.  I watched as the last person to take the test also passed and then proceeded to lose control and almost drive straight into a pole.  Yet another hazard on the road.  I went back to the office on the second floor to receive my golden ticket, but there was one more hoop for me to jump through: the lectures.  The lectures are close to 2 hours long and all in Chinese.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it that day as it was the last lecture for the day and the class would extend beyond the time I needed to be at work.

I returned a couple days later, coffee in hand, and fully expecting two hours of an advanced Chinese lesson that I wasn’t ready for.  What I experienced was actually much worse.

The lectures are done in two parts, one part is a video explaining the necessity of being careful on the road and how easy it is to spill your brains across the pavement.  Then they show videos of actual brains spilling across the pavement.  Thankfully, whenever there are brains they blur that part of the video.  But bloody knees and people going under cars and large trucks are all perfectly visible.  The second lecture is done with an instructor, and he mostly just shows videos of people talking on cell phones, carrying large loads on their scooters, making illegal turns, speeding, and/or not wearing your helmet properly, followed by a horrific crash.

This.  Only more blood and brains.

This. Only more blood and brains.

While I thought this was old but necessary news as I see these accidents all the time and have made me a very cautious driver, the others in the room clearly needed a good dose of gore to remind them to slow the hell down.  And signal, dammit!  During the first lecture, a guy in the room yawned obnoxiously to let us all know how much he thought this was a waste of his time and read a book through the entire video. He got up halfway through to open the blinds and look out the window. He came back to his seat, tripped on the chair leg, and almost fell over the other side.  He noisily pushed his desk into the middle of the room to try to catch himself.  How did he possibly pass the driving test?!  You can’t get this far without passing both tests!  I’m going to trade in my scooter for an indestructible bubble or giant hamster ball.  (I don’t have a photo of him falling across the room, but I do have a link to one of my favourite photographers on Instagram.  This is how I imagine the guy would have looked like if the desk hadn’t saved him: click here.)

Basically what I took away from the lectures are these two simple rules:
1. Everyone’s an idiot.
2. Don’t be one of them.

I also learned that idiots can appear at any moment.

I have also learned that idiots can appear at any moment.

Don’t open your doors without looking.  Wear a helmet and buckle up the strap properly.  Signal and check that it’s safe before turning.  Stop to help people who are involved in a collision or crash.  Don’t weave in and out of traffic.  Don’t run through red lights.  Don’t drink and drive (Taiwan has a 0 alcohol tolerance, by the way, and police take it very seriously).  Don’t be an idiot.

Because it's too easy for the result to look like this.  Only with more blood and brains.

Because it’s too easy for the result to look like this. Only with more blood and brains.

Oddly enough, they missed a very important one: Don’t drive or ride while talking or texting on your cell phone.  Don’t be an idiot.

During the lectures, they will take your money, process your information, and print off a beautiful little piece of paper with your photo glued to it that says you’re legally allowed to ride a scooter in Taiwan. So once you finish watching terrible scooter and car crashes for two hours they hand you your brand new scooter license.  I was expecting them to say “Good luck out there,” or something to that effect.

Instead of feeling excited to finally receive my license, I just felt sick to my stomach and on edge. Two hours of watching that stuff changes a guy. I felt relief for getting through it all, but after that I just longed for some public transportation.

So … yay?

Yay.

Yay.

                                           

Links:

Part 1

Photos and What You Need (coming soon)

Getting a Scooter License in Taiwan: Part 1

“Are you serious?!”

I probably said that too loud. I know he was only doing his job, and, well, rules are rules, I guess. But I really didn’t expect to fail my scooter driving test.

“Can I try one more time?” Not until next week, he said.

I carefully considered the rules on the wall that included a warning of legal action taken against those who attempt to bribe the tester. In shame, I pushed my scooter past the line of people awaiting their fates, all looking barely of legal driving age.

                                           

Over the few days I will be posting a series on obtaining a scooter license in Taiwan. I took the test at the Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office in Hsinchu, an easy building to miss if you’re not familiar with the area.

I really do recommend searching for this place in Google Maps if you're trying to find it.  The streets in Hsinchu don't make any sense at all.

I really do recommend searching for this place in Google Maps if you’re trying to find it. The streets in Hsinchu don’t make any sense at all.

Before you go in for the test, make sure you do three things:
1. Get your health check for a driving test completed at a participating hospital. You may need to do a little research to find out where you can get it. In Hsinchu, you can get it at National Taiwan University Hospital, Hsinchu Branch. This could take some time depending on the time and day, so make sure you give yourself at least an hour to get it done. You’ll need to bring a couple passport-sized photos with you, or get them done at the hospital. (The health check is $120 NTD.)
2. Get two pictures in the size for a driver’s license. You can get this done at any quick photo booth. You can find one in the National Taiwan University Hospital or across the street from the Hsinchu Motor Vehicles Office. (Photos at the photo booth are $150.)
3. Find out the times that the written and driving tests are offered. You may need to time it right as they only open the testing rooms at certain times throughout the day. If you don’t want to come back again another day to finish it up, give yourself a lot of time as you’ll need to do almost two hours of lectures once you complete the driving test. And yes, the lectures are all in Chinese. (Total cost of the tests and the lectures is $450 if you pass everything the first time.)

It’s actually incredibly easy to obtain a scooter license in Taiwan. Then again, I’m sure it’s incredibly easy to obtain a scooter license anywhere. Study, practice, take the tests. Done. Taiwan is no exception.

In Taiwan, the test for obtaining a scooter license is done in two parts: the written test and the driving test.

Depending on who you ask, the written test is the most difficult part. I have friends and friends of friends who have failed the written test, not because they have no idea what they’re doing, but because the English translations that are available for each question can be difficult to decipher in the first place. I prepared myself in advance for this by taking the online test over and over again until I knew what to expect. You can find the test by clicking Taiwan Written Driver’s Test Online. Despite getting 96% and above every time on the online test, I came out of the testing centre with a 90%. Still a pass, but lower than I expected to get.

Proof!

Proof!

The driving test sounds like it should be easier than getting out of bed, but for many people, agonizing failure happens in the final 7 seconds. The course is made up of four segments: the railroad crossing, the traffic light, the pedestrian crossing, and the 7-second track of pure hell. You traverse the course making necessary stops behind the white lines and signaling when making turns, all while staying within the boundaries located on either side of the track. Rules for deductions are posted around the course in Chinese and English, so there shouldn’t be any surprises. In Hsinchu, a video explaining the rules in English at the entrance to the road test is available if you ask for English instructions.

Once you finish the first three segments you will then come to a narrow track with a sensor at the beginning and a sensor at the end. There are also sensors that run along the length of the track on either side, just wide enough for a scooter to fit through. Straying a few inches on the right or left will result in a very loud, obnoxious buzzer to sound, and the end of the run. You must do this in just over 7 seconds. You are only given two attempts at this.

7 seconds of pure hell

7 seconds of pure hell.

I couldn't even do this if you asked me to walk.

I couldn’t even do this if you asked me to walk.

“Piece of cake.”

I was last in line as I wanted to watch the mistakes the kids in front of me made, just in case I missed any important information as the tester explained the rules of the course in Chinese. I didn’t know about the video in English at the time. I rolled my eyes, and feared for my life on the road, as the boy in front of me needed help from his mom to show him how to start the scooter. He passed. I thought this was such a waste of my time. They may as well just hand me the license now. Look how gracefully I start my scooter! By myself!

The course was a joke. A real driving test in Taiwan ought to include an “act fast” portion. Like a scooter driver suddenly makes a right-hand turn from your left side at high speeds without warning. Or a truck suddenly pulls a u-turn in front of you on a busy, narrow street. Or an old man in a car speeds up, cuts you off, slows down, speeds up, and then makes a sudden stop right in front of you. All of this without signaling, of course. In fact, the entire test should be like this. Then it might be a little more realistic.

After successfully completing the first three tests without a single problem, I came to the dreaded 7-second track. I have heard of people taking the test 2, 3, or 7 times (that’s 14 attempts!) just to pass, but how hard could it be, really? With a smug grin on my face, I started out toward the entrance, already tasting that sweet, sweet license. Once my front wheel hit the sensor bar at the entrance, a small rubber bump, I slightly lost control as I past over it at a snail’s pace, and before my back wheel could enter the track I had already touched the sensor on the side. The tester smiled and waved me back to start again. Hmm. No problem. A minor annoyance. I started further back the second time to give myself enough forward momentum to cross the sensor. The smug grin had hardened into a look of dubious determination. As I crossed the bar, once again my front wheel touched the edge and the buzzer let out its humiliating guffaw. The tester smiled again and shouted, “That’s it! You’re done!” I looked at him in disbelief and drove the rest of the length, in just over 7 seconds, I might add (the intended goal).

Once I reached the tester, I politely asked him, “What do you mean ‘That’s it’?” He politely responded that I could only do it twice. A little less politely, I shrieked, “What? Are you serious?!” He calmly said, “Yes, I’m sorry. You can take the test again in one week.”

Argh! How is this even possible? I failed the easiest test of my life? And that kid who couldn’t even start his scooter passed? AAAAAAAH! I bottled my frustration and disappointment up inside of me and let it out with a couple episodes of Game of Thrones that night. Two episodes of satisfying blood, guts, and revenge later, I decided that I would need to take the test again. And next time I’ll be ready!

[To do: Find my confidence and insert picture here.]

                                           

Links:

Part 2 (Coming Soon)

Photos and What You Need (Coming Soon)

The View from a Rickshaw in Kyoto, Japan

Hello!

I finally posted a video of our trip to Kyoto! We were there at the peak of the cherry blossom season last April. Kyoto is such an amazing city and full of beauty and history. There is so much to see and do there. We didn’t want to leave. Here is the video I took from a rickshaw in Arashiyama, Kyoto: