Monday, October 21, 2013

Japanese Curry Scooter Modster

Taipei Scooter Style was cruising the alleys and lanes of Ximending this evening, and a sparkling scooter caught my eye. After a quick chat with a gentleman applying rhinestones to a Fighter 150, his permission to engage in an impromptu photoshoot and interview was granted.

Ah Zhen works as a 'chef' in a roadside Japanese curry shop. His Symco Fighter 150 was parked outside on the alley, and Ah Zhen was applying additional sparkles to the nose piece. In his hand was a sheet of adhesive-backed rhinestones that he had bought for NT$40 (US$1.33). He had already created a triangle on the nose, but he was adding more. Why wouldn't he? If 1000 rhinestones look cool, 2000 rock even harder.

Answering why he had chosen this particular approach to modding his scooter, he explained that Taiwan's bright sun caused the paint to fade and crack. Applying decoration was one way to hide the unsightly blemishes and splash a bit of bling. Ximending is a center of youthful scooter style, and no self-respecting scooter boy would want to ride a stock mount when it's so easy to personalize.

And pimping a ride doesn't starting with dumping the contents of Liberace's nightstand drawer on the nose piece; not for Ah Zhen, anyways. The leopard skin steering column toupee came first. Again Ah Zhen rationalized his choice by referring to his need to cover up the faded microthin paint on the sunward side of his Fighter.

Ah Zhen, who used to repair scooters before donning his Japanese kitchen robe, volunteered that scooter riders to the south, in Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, were more adventuresome in their scooter mods. In those cities, he explained, the police were less likely to give riders a ticket for seriously modding their scooters. In Taipei, the coppers are apparently unappreciative of tricked-out rides and gladly issue citations when scooters veer from the mainstream designs.

From Ah Zhen, I also learned where riders of modded scooters hang out in the neighborhood, so a return trip is in the cards. By the way, I didn't have curry at the restaurant where Ah Zhen works. I was looking for dinner, but when he replied that the food at the shop was nothing special, I took his honest appraisal at its face value and pedaled down the alley in search of something more appetizing. In one alley off Kunming Street, I found half a dozen Sichuan restaurants cramming customers into tiny spaces. To be honest, the food in the joint I chose wasn't anything special either, but now I have a reason to go back and try the dishes at the others.

That's right, pedaled. It's easier to stop and investigate interesting sights in Ximending's narrow alleys while riding a YouBike, so I left my trusty scooter at a park with a YouBike station and explored the city under my own power. Ximending is the core of Taipei's graffiti scene, and many of the walls are adorned in outrageous spray-painted designs like the one above.