Lost In Taipei

What should have been a ten minute bus ride ended up being a two and a half hour misadventure. My language exchange partner Albert had brought me to a polyglot meeting across town. It was fun meeting new people and when we parted ways at the MRT station I was positive I could get home. All of the MRT’s signs and maps are translated into English so is easily navigated.

My subway trip was uneventful. At the bus top I hopped on a bus that I regularly ride to school, certain it would pass our apartment on its route to campus. It was after nine, quite dark and I was tired from a night of socializing. By the time I realized I wasn’t on the road to my house the bus was in another neighborhood. I still recognized landmarks and soon we were pulling into a familiar MRT/bus station.

Perhaps the bus was making a loop before heading to campus? It made sense at the time so I stayed seated. Familiar landmarks soon disappeared as the bus traveled further into the outer stretches of Taipei. Buildings become smaller and large stretches of bare land appeared. By this point most of the passengers had departed and there were only two other people on board. As traffic dramatically thinned I doubted I could hop off and easily hail a taxi.

I asked the bus driver in Mandarin if he was going to my road. He didn’t understand me so I tried in English hoping he’d understand. “Oh God,” he replied in English which I took as a bad sign. He held up a finger and thought for a moment. A few minutes later he pulled over and gestured towards a bus stop, telling me which bus to get on next. I pulled out my MRT card to pay but he shook his head telling me “bu, bu”. I thanked him and walked to the bus stop. The driver drove up a small hill into a parking lot lined with buses. Apparently I had ridden to the end of its route.

My new stop was pretty remote and dark. The area had lots of trees but only a few lights on the main road. The side road to the parking lot was lined with tall metal fencing, piles of random metal and chunks of cement. A stone table and bench was nestled in the shadows but I didn’t dare sit down, worried the new driver wouldn’t see me and would drive on past. A lone bulb shone down on the actual bus sign. The big city noises I have grown accustomed to were conspicuously absent. Across the street three dogs sat in their driveway which was lined by a metal sheeting fence, obscuring any structure behind. The dogs paced and took turns barking in my direciton. Was I still in Taipei? Google Maps told me no.

A man soon came jogging down the hill. It was my bus driver and he came to tell me the bus I wanted was coming in 45. It was 10:34pm. Was it coming at 10:45 or in another 45 minutes? I tried to ask in Mandarin and he nodded, saying “45, you wait here” in English. I was grateful for his help. Determined not to whine to Josh that I was lost yet again I had avoided texting him. He guessed though and after I sent him a screenshot of the map told me I was pretty far outside the city and would be lucky to get home by midnight.

I had been so sure of how to get home! But a bus was coming in either 10 or 45 minutes. I just had to be patient. The dogs across the street started creeping closer, their barks taking on a menacing tone. I hissed back and they slowly went back to their side of the street. They sprang back into action when a motorcycle drove out of the parking lot, chasing it down the hill until it turned onto the main road. As the bike drove out of sight the dogs turned and ran straight towards me.

Taipei is a safe city and while this bus mix up was frustrating I hadn’t felt scared despite being stranded in the countryside. But as there dogs came rushing towards me I felt a surge of fear. They were growling and suddenly their teeth seemed quite large. I didn’t dare try to outrun them in an unknown neighborhood. Plus my bus was due any minute!

Years ago I lived in a notoriously rough neighborhood in Northern New Mexico. (The Mesa has such a reputation that it boasts it’s own disturbing documentary that features some of my ex-neighbors.) My Mesa years were grueling ones and I spent many hours walking remote dirt roads where a stray dog could jump you any moment. Despite my fear, I knew just what to do.

The dogs surrounded me growling. One chomped its jaws menacingly. Growling bark I swung my purse around widely. It had my phone, wallet and a bottle of water-if they got any closer they’d get smacked with enough weight to sting. Then I started jumping in the air while swinging my arms to appear as large as possible. I screamed barked at the dogs until they backed down. They slowly made their way across the street as we barked at each other. I continued jumping and swinging my purse until they were back in their driveway. The three continued to growl but kept their distance.

But what if another motorcycle drove by? Would my strategy work a second time? I was mulling over defense strategies when two headlights appeared at the top of the hill. My bus! It had only been ten minutes but if felt like an hour. The other driver waved me aboard and as I sat down a wave of exhaustion hit me. The ride home was long but uneventful. The new driver even told me when to get off which I appreciated though by then I recognized our neighborhood. Safely back home I sank into bed next to Josh a few minutes before midnight. Taiwan has excellent public transportation but clearly I need to spend some more time learning the bus system.