Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sampling Formosan Addictions

This article originally appeared in the October issue of 24*Seven Magazine which was available all over the island. It's probably gone now, seeing as how it's November, but I was a little busy last month.

The Gentle Rant Samples Formosan Addictions

Taiwan has all the addictions that you would find anywhere else, and some others that may require some explanation. These unfamiliar addictions, slithering around, tempting us from dark corners may represent a real danger to unsuspecting foreigners. I began researching this article on Taiwanese addiction months ago. I felt it was unfair to write about it as a saint would write about sin, and endeavored to sample as many as I could. I was pretty sure I could put them aside when I was done. Looking back, this was not the intelligent thing to do. The following is a brief guide which I hope will provide everyone with a valuable warning about the danger of Formosan addictions.

Betel nut: Nicknamed ‘Taiwanese bubble gum’, this mildly narcotic fruit is responsible for those bloodlike marks on the ground, fishbowls of scantily clad young ladies by the side of the road, and a whole lot of mouth cancer. Between 2002 and 2005 deaths caused by mouth cancer in Taiwanese men moved from ninth place to fifth place, overall. (1) Even though the amount chewed has gone down somewhat over the years and it’s less noticeable, it is still Taiwan’s second largest crop after rice. (2)

Stinky Tofu: You’re driving down the street, minding your own business, when an odor hits your nose like a dump truck – a combination of raw, industrial sewage and radioactive diapers. You try to hold your breath to block it out, but it’s too late – lungs begins to collapse as if punctured, vision blurs, palms moisten, it becomes difficult to control the vehicle. You’re nearing a stinky tofu stand, the smell is ‘food’ and people are voluntarily lining up to pay real money to get a bowl; mass hysteria or physical addiction? I mean, what are the chances that all of these people have just lost a bet? Pretty slim, this feels like addiction.

Ketamine: In June, the police seized 202 kg of ketamine at CKS airport. Why worry about that much horse tranquilizer entering the country? It was the largest drug bust in Taiwanese history and had a street value of NT$150,000,000. (3) It wasn’t bound for veterinary clinics and stables, it was heading for nostrils of Taiwan’s clubs and nightspots, and it looks poised to replace Methamphetamine as Taiwan’s most problem narcotic.

Traffic Violations: These are committed almost as second nature in Taiwan. According to a Health Taiwan Report in 2004, there were 118,909 traffic accidents in 2003 (4) which were responsible for 2718 traffic deaths and 152080 injuries. (5) It cited a 2002 analysis that showed 96.7 percent of road accident deaths were caused by human errors. Taiwan’s fatalities are way down from a decade ago, but I think the mean streets of Taiwan could use a little more order and the ones outside of Taipei could use some viable sidewalks. Usually a foreigner arriving in Taiwan from a more law abiding country takes about five minutes to jump into the local game and through their first red light.

Credit Card Slaves: A card slave is someone who maxes out their credit cards and then pays the minimum payments until the cards are finally cancelled. According to stats released by Taiwan’s Banking Bureau, “The number of credit-card "slaves" who failed to repay their loans jumped from 400,000 to 700,000 in January 2006.” (6) Whoops, maybe credit card applications should come with an IQ, or polygraph, test.

VOV: Another addiction found on Taiwan is less damaging, but just as worrying. I’ve found that pointing a camera at someone will result in both their hands coming up to make victory signs. There seems to be no way to stop this phenomenon short of forcefully shoving the hands back into the pockets of the offender. This behavior is not limited to the Taiwanese; I have seen a number of foreigners engaged in this inexplicable business.

In the end, I wasn’t able to just put my newly acquired addictions aside. It took an unfortunate accident to straighten me out. I was flying down the street on a massive oversized, overpriced, and overpowered BMW motorcycle with the headlights off. I was smoking, chewing some nut, texting my veterinarian, and fleeing a group of tenacious debt collectors. My clothing stunk of rotten bean curd, and my reflexes were slowed due to all the horse tranquilizers I had crushed up and snorted. I had run out of Ketamine the night before and been forced to make due with a mixture of Acepromazine and Diazepam.

I saw the red light and the traffic cameras; I knew my license couldn’t handle another moving violation. I knew I should’ve slowed down or stopped, or jumped off the bike and run to the hills for a while, but I couldn’t. My addiction addled brain just wouldn’t allow it. Then another thought crept in that I just couldn’t resist; I didn’t care that it would be certain doom, it was just too perfect. As the bike raced under the lights, I turned to smile at the traffic camera. A millisecond before the flash went off both of my hands came, seemingly unbidden, off the handlebars and twin victory signs framed the inane smile on my face.


The world went white.

There was a terrible noise.

The world went black.

The police told me that I couldn’t have a copy of the photo because they said they had enough problems and didn’t want to encourage this kind of thing.



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