Scooters at a Taipei intersection. Credit: Quatro Valvole/Wikimieda
I’m in Taiwan this month to study Mandarin. During breaks, I’ll be posting occasionally about the island nation’s demographics, politics and (sticky) weather.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the streets of Taiwan — other than the excellent food, sweet people and formidable humidity, of course — is the constant buzz of scooters. They are everywhere — and loud and perhaps a little unsafe.
That’s true even in Taipei, the capitol region, which has a world-class subway system and yet about 1 million motorcycles on the roads (as opposed to roughly 800,000 cars and trucks).
It turns out there’s a proportionally startling number of motorcycles, as the government classifies them, on the roads across this country: More than 13 million in nation of just 23 million.
Most homes have them, for example:
And there are nearly twice as many motorcycles on the roads than cars and trucks, according to the government:
Though the rate of motorcycles per 1,000 population is declining:
While we watch the GOP candidates vie for their party’s nomination, the Taiwanese (including some of my wife’s family) are voting in presidential elections of their own — a race that could affect the U.S. relationship with the island nation and China:
Taiwanese voted on Saturday for their next president and parliament, an election being closely monitored by China and the United States as they look for stability in the region at a time of political transition for both superpowers.
The votes will be tallied overnight, but I mapped the regional divide from the last election, in 2008, which propelled nationalist Ma Ying-jeou to power. His Kuomintang party has pushed for warmer relations with China. Four years ago, he defeated Frank Hsieh, of the Democratic Progressive Party, which favors independence from China and a distinct identity from the Middle Kingdom.
This map shows administrative areas won by both candidates. Ma’s party is stronger in the north, where business groups in large population centers like the capitol of Taipei generally prefer better relations with China:
This map shows the intensity of Ma’s support in 2008. Again, the regional divide is evident (he won with 58 percent of the vote, so the maps have different totals):
And here’s Hsieh’s vote:
We’ll see what happens in the morning in the contest between Ma and pro-independence DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen. Though Ma won easily four years ago, this year’s contest is too close to call. This time, a third-party candidate, James Soong, is in the race. He threatens to pull votes away from Ma’s party, as he did in 2000.
Elise and I returned yesterday from a 10-day trip to Taiwan, a country whose political status remains in dispute.
After a decade of rule by a political party that supported independence from China, the current government under president Ma Ying-jeou believes in greater cooperation between the two countries. Part of the reason that message resonated with voters is because Taiwan is no longer the economic powerhouse in Asia. Stronger ties to China could boost Taiwan’s economic fortunes, the argument went.
This simple line chart, built with Many Eyes, visualizes Taiwan’s economic growth rate from 1952 to 2008, when Ma took office. The country once enjoyed double-digit growth rates like those seen recently in China. In 1987, for example, the growth rate was 13 percent. No more. In 2008, the rate was less than one percent.