We were heading to what looked like a pretty upscale restaurant in a touristy area. I noticed a thread hanging off my shirt, so I pulled out my lighter to burn it off. As I did this, I noticed people looking at me. Ok, ok, so I was indoors, but it was just a quick little job, and if I didn’t do it now, I’d forget. Ignoring them, I finished the job and we entered the restaurant.
Looking around, I saw that this was a cardboard themed restaurant. Everything was made out of cardboard. Ahhh…maybe that’s why the looks. Chairs, tables, benches, ornamental structures – everything was made of, or at least had some cardboard on it. Even the walls were covered with brick shaped cardboard cutouts.
It was a unique concept, one I’d never seen before. We ordered (hotpot), and started chatting about the decor of the place. As I looked around, something started bugging me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
People were everywhere, kids were running around, busy waitstaff were zinging from table to table – a typical restaurant scene, but yet something seemed wrong.
I turned back to my gf, who was talking about tomorrow’s itinerary when the waiter walked up with our meals. He set mine down, and as his companion proceeded to set hers down – BAM – it hit me. We were in a death trap!
Let me explain. In Taiwan, hotpot is a dish of bubbling soupiness served with it’s very own little propane stove (to maintain the tongue scorching temperatures the Taiwanese seem to enjoy so much). Since it was quite busy, there were stoves on all the tables in the restaurant….the restaurant with cardboard everywhere….flammable cardboard. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!!
Do you see where I’m going here?
I can just see the headlines now – “Diners roasted in fiery hotpot blaze – Cardboard restaurant burns to the ground”.
With all the fire fuel around, I was surprised that they were permitted to have portable stoves at each table. Immediately, I started looking around for exits, but couldn’t see any except the one we came in through. Nor did I see any fire extinguishers in plain sight.
I seemed to be the only one troubled by this dangerous situation. The rest of the diners were calmly enjoying their evening while I was having visions of cardboard flames dancing all around me.
I mentioned this to my gf. She looked around and shrugged. Astonished at her nonchalance, I asked her if she thought this would be dangerous. The answer was, “Well…people could just run out.”
“Seriously? Just run out?? What about the kids? What about the restaurant? What about fire prevention???”
“Relax, nothing’s going to happen – it’s not that dangerous.”
Ok…so a restaurant covered with easily flammable material + little mini fires on every table + kids running around + a busy waitstaff = not a dangerous place??? – Apparently not to Taiwanese people.
Either the west is over-regulated and I’m too safety conscious, or island mentality rules Taiwan’s social safety consciousness. Adhering to health and safety laws is as common as ethics on a politician. No-one gives a rats posterior. It’s evident on the roads, in the markets, on construction sites and as I recently discovered, at restaurants.
The funny thing about this lack of safety consciousness is that it’s selective. Things that Taiwanese consider safe Vs. dangerous are quite odd.
Swimming is considered dangerous, so a lot of Taiwanese are wary of the ocean – some avoiding it all together. But blasting through red lights in traffic, overloading vehicles and driving sans helmet occurs on a regular basis.
In a lot of places, food hygiene is severely lacking – restaurants can be grungy and dirty, food is out in the open and not refrigerated, causing high chances of contamination. Yet peeople flock to these places, mindless of the danger. On the other hand, people will wear hospital masks to combat air pollution (which IS considered a big hazard).
Children run around construction areas with glass and dangerous materials everywhere, but if they forget to wear a jacket while doing so, all hell will break loose.
And the latest – it’s ok to be surrounded by tinder and have live fires about, but if I spark up a lighter to burn a stray thread on my shirt – watch out!
Taiwanese seem to have a different definition of what’s dangerous and what’s not, and I have a lot of catching up to do.