How do you fix a flat tire in Taiwan?
20 really friendly Taiwanese people, 5 smart phones, 1 awesome blue truck driving us around for free, and we still don’t have the answer.
If you happen to be a fan of our facebook page, (which you totally should be, btw ;-p) then you might have seen this status pop-up on your news feed. We’ve had a lot of questions about the details, so without further ado, here is the ridiculousness behind my broken bicycle’s flat tire.
Our first day of cycling from Hualien to Taitung began fabulously. Although rain was plaguing the rest of Taiwan, we managed to find a pocket of sunshine on the East Coast, which only amped up our spirits more. DIY cliff bars and emergency rain ponchos in store, no hills could slow us down; no worries could weigh us down. Or so we thought.
Then there was this whole matter of lunch. And somewhere between parking our bicycles and carbo-loading on fried rice, cycling got a lot more difficult. At first I thought the struggle was most likely a derivative of stuffing my face with about 10,000 calories of oily carbohydrates. But after a few moments of feeling like I was riding over cobblestone and carrying a ton of bricks, I realized that my bike tire was as flat as a pancake. Like, so flat that the outer tire was actually flopping out of the metal tire frame. Don’t judge me for the fact I didn’t notice immediately; if you don’t remember, bikes and I are still just getting acquainted.
So I have a flat tire. Not that big of a deal, right? Well, for starters, we didn’t have a tire patch kit. No matter, we thought. We’ll just try to pump it up anyway! Kudos to Dan who got down on his hands and knees, two bike toolkits in hand, and somehow managed to stuff the outer tire back into the frame and inflate it. I, along with twenty roadside-dwelling monkeys, acted as the spectators cheering him on.
And then we were off! Joyfully coasting along with wind-blown hair, riding into the sunset as adorable monkeys scampered after us fist pumping and giving high fives. NOT. It looked a little more like this: The monkeys were long-gone from the boredom of watching Dan struggle, and of course, all the air immediately hissed out of the quasi-salvaged tire at the first notion of butt-to-seat contact.
So there we were, literally stranded miles away from anything more than…well…anything. The sun was now cut off by clouds, rain threatened, we had run out of ideas. The flat tire was so out of shape that the inner tube was flopping out and catching on the brake, making it impossible to even walk the bike for more than a few steps.
This is the part of the story where the focus shifts from us being hopelessly stranded to the fact that Taiwanese people are amazingly generous. It’s something we’re constantly reminded of, but this experience really crystallized it for us.
Back to us looking like helpless foreigners on the road. With the first SUV that passed by, Dan and I were waving our arms in the air like madmen—and wouldn’t you know, they stopped. The passengers were a young woman and her sweet niece who were also vacationing on the East Coast. After about ten minutes of broken dialogue explaining our situation, they quickly took it upon themselves to help us get to Ruisui and the nearest Giant repair shop. It took about five phone calls with the local taxi hubs to figure out that no taxis go to where we were stuck. The woman insisted on loading my dirty, muddy bike, and me, into her immaculate and probably brand new vehicle. Dan followed behind, and it wasn’t long before we arrived at the next ‘town’—a term I’m using extremely loosely.
At this ‘town’, which consisted of about five mom-and-pop noodle shops, there were also no taxis, no convenient stores, no anything, aside from more carbs. Two fellow bikers passed by, and although they also tried to help us with their spare tire, it just didn’t do the trick. An hour later, we knew dusk would be approaching soon. The only obvious answer was to flag down a blue truck. If you’re not familiar with blue trucks, they are the ominous sharks of the road in Taiwan. Reckless, beetle-nut chewing drivers are the stereotype, and it is typically best to keep your scootering-self away from their blind fury. That is, until you need to transport two bicycles. Then those blue trucks become your best friend.
We were lucky to be picked up off the road yet again, continuing our quest. Dan piled into the back of the pickup truck, and I took up camp in the front. Our new friend swore he could take us to a bike shop in another small town where he lived, about 30 minutes past Ruishui. We agreed, primarily because it seemed he couldn’t get the truck up the small road that would quickly bring us to our sleeping abode and Giant store. And while he did manage to efficiently bring us to a bike repair shop, the owner was away for at least two days. Of course.
If there’s one thing two stranded foreigners does, it’s create a crowd. Although we still had a flat tire and were essentially left high and dry, we now had a posse of about 10 Taiwanese people invested in helping us. Phone calls were made to God knows where. Most of the chit chat revolved around how two ‘white people’ had been picked up off the side of the road. And then finally, the solution that we had been trying to suggest presented itself: why not drive them to their hotel in Ruishui, where the bike repair shop is located? I guess the main problem with this was getting the blue truck up the steep side roads, but somehow a map was programmed and we set off on two hours of driving through the mountains, in a circle, to bring us back toward Ruishui.
Ahhhh. We were so thankful that literally twenty people had now been involved in helping us; we just didn’t understand why it took so long to solve a seemingly simple problem. One of the issues with not speaking Chinese like we should after nearly two years of living here.
Anyway, we assumed the worse was over with. We made it, and at 9 o’clock sharp we could rock up to the bike store, change the flat tire, and be on our way. Of course, in between then, another five people in Ruisui insisted on trying to fix the flat tire, despite our incessant replies that it really wasn’t necessary. But boy were we wrong about our problems being over. We did change the flat tire, and we did get on our way. But after about ten minutes of biking and twenty more photo ops, I changed gears, and the back tire simultaneously popped again. I have no idea if there was actually a connection between the two, but I didn’t really care. We were left with a broken bike, again, for the second time in twelve hours! Luckily we were closer to civilization this time, and it wasn’t long before I requested a new bike and we were actually continuing our ride for good, albeit a few hours later than originally planned.
I was annoyed, yes. But I was also grateful that so many people were there to help us. Everyone who passed by and saw what was going on felt personably responsible for solving our predicament. For free. Without us asking them. We were in that blue truck for probably close to three hours, not including the time it must have taken the driver to get back home, yet our friend refused to take any money from us. Not even for gas, let alone his time. If I ever try to explain why I love Taiwan so much, it always comes back to moments like this: jaw-dropping demonstrations of kindness, with no expectations in return. I’ve definitely learned something from the Taiwanese on what it means to be a good host, to be gracious, and to put others above personal convenience. And for that, I’m extremely thankful, even if it means arriving later than expected.