As if people in Taiwan didn't have enough to worry about, what with daily doses of bitter political intrigue and a hostile authoritarian power on their doorstep, a new problem was exposed yesterday: their license plates have turned against them.
Although many motorists in Taiwan go to great lengths to personalize their license plates by choosing lucky numbers, if they are not familiar with English, they can't avoid the bad luck of having inauspicious alphabetic combinations, such as "ASS," "DIE" or "DOA."
License plates in Taiwan are made up of two alphabetic letters and four digits for cars, while license plates on scooters have three letters and three digits.
Drivers and motorists tend to avoid combinations ending in the unlucky number four (si, 四), which sounds similar to "death" (si, 死) in Mandarin, and prefer lucky number combinations using eight (ba, 八), which rhymes with wealth (fa, 發).
However, an independent Taipei City councilor yesterday took the city's Department of Transportation to task for failing to address an equally weighty issue: unseemly combinations of alphabetic characters on many license plates.
"The meanings of some English letters on these license plates are insulting, ill-omened or funny. Drivers are making an ass of themselves by driving cars with such license plates," independent Taipei City Councilor Tim Chang (
During his speech, Chang asked officials from the department to hold mock license plates he had prepared. Officials stood in front of the news cameras holding license plates reading "ASS," "BS," "BUM," "BRA" and "PIG."
"Do you know what `BS' means in English?" Chang asked department Deputy Commissioner Lin Li-yu (林麗玉), who had chosen to hold one of the cards.
"It's an abbreviation for `bullshit,'" Chang told her.
According to Chang, there are more than 500 Taipei motorists who have the inauspicious alphabetic letters "DOA" (dead on arrival) on their license plates, while at least 50 motorists are riding around with license plates inscribed with "DIE."
He urged the department to either allow motorists to change their license plates, or to sift out combinations that would have unpleasant or strange meanings in advance.
Department Commissioner Jason Lin (林志盈) said drivers or motorists could change their license plates, which cost NT$1,250 for a random selection of another set of alphabetic letters and digits. Personalizing license plates would cost at least NT$3,000.
"We suggest that the central government screen the alphabetic letters in advance. But it's up to the government to decide, since it is responsible for manufacturing and distributing the plates," he said.