Friday, May 31, 2002

I was pleased to see many old faces and meet some new people at last night's Oriented Happy Hour. The best aspect of the Oriented Happy Hour is meeting people in person that I heretofore only knew electronically. It's much like the process of meeting people at MIT: "Oh, so you are [username]! That was some zephyr conversation we had two days ago!"

So tonight was my first real chance to chat at length with TC in person, even though we have probably spent too much time having long instant message chats while at work. I also got to meet Anthony/Maoman, who I assure you is 33% funnier than me, and Mark/Cranky Laowai. I also got to see Alex and meet his friend Luis, so maybe what little Spanish I know will not deteriorate despite the fact that Linda and Eugenio, and Joaquin and Mate have left Taiwan (permanently and temporarily for the summer, respectively).

Thursday, May 30, 2002

As they say in Chinese, hao jiu bu jian (it's been awhile since we met).

I was so happy when I came home last night to a clean, neat home. I moved over the weekend, and my new place was not as clean as I prefer.

By clean, I expect the floors to be spotless, corners of rooms cobweb and dust free, surfaces shining, every item in its proper place. Not too much to ask for, I think... although I have been told that I have many Martha Stewart-like inclinations.

In any case, cleaning the apartment was too much for me to handle by myself (I'm not that much like Martha), so I hired Lourdes to help (although Martha does have a few personal assistants and a crew to help her in 4+ homes). Mate and Joaquin spoke highly of Lourdes, and I can now see and feel for myself why. Having a clean and neat home to come to at the end of the day makes such a difference in one's mood.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

The amazing aspect about flying to Tainan is that the flight takes only 45 minutes. And, since domestic flights leave from Taipei's Sung Shan Domestic Airport, which is in the northern part of Taipei city proper, and at most a 15 minute drive away from the city, one can quite literally arrive 20 minutes before the flight takes off, walk up to the counter, purchase a ticket, and then board the plane! There are flights almost every hour, run by one of Taiwan's four domestic airlines (yes, there are four domestic airlines in a country about the size of West Virgina). So flying down to Tainan is as convenient as taking the train or bus from Boston to New York.

I was also quite relieved to find that the planes used on this route was a nice sized plane, with room for an actual first-class section, and not a rattling, smoke-spewing one where the passengers are seated according to weight.

Monday, May 20, 2002

So tired. I took the first flight to Tainan today -- at 6:55 a.m. -- because we are filming parts of our corporate video at our 300-mm fab in the Tainan Science Based Industrial Park. I was excited to see our fab, which is supposed to be one of the biggest and best around, and all the filming equipment. The best was when the hired models/actors were being placed in the lobby and actual customers and vendors would approach the entrance. The real customers and vendors (who were not as formally attired as the models pretending to be company reps and guests) would pause and wonder what to do. It was fun trying to guess whether they would then confindently saunter in or meekly scurry in.

I caught the 8:00 p.m. flight from Tainan back to Taipei. It's time for me to get some shut-eye!
Today I went to Ying-ge with Linda, Jen, and Linda's classmate, Jean. Jean looked awfully familiar, and we finally placed each other when she mentioned she was working as a paralegal at Squire, Sanders, and Dempsey...I met her at an AmCham event with Mike! But I digress.

Ying-ge is a town in southern Taipei county known for its pottery. We covered the usual tourist sites, including the new ceramics museum and a pedestrian street lined with pottery shops. The museum reminds me of Tadao Ando's style -- lots of unfinished reinforced concrete and glass. Tadao Ando designed the Kyoto Train Station as well as the new buildings at RCAST, a research center at the University of Tokyo where I spent one summer doing research. Although concrete and glass sounds rather cold, I felt the way Ando combined the two materials made the RCAST buildings light and uplifting. The Ying-ge ceramics museum was also quite nice (different architect) and had quality displays and descriptions.

The pedestrian street was the prettiest street I have ever seen in Taiwan. The four of us finally identified the causes: the road was lined with palm trees (gasp! greenery to break the built monotony!), and there were no scooters and cars parked on the sidewalks blocking access to the shops, the street was nicely cobbled, and there were no cars careening through, spewing exhaust and honking madly.

Of course, we felt like we really had a cultural experience while walking back, when a convoy of trucks passed us by bearing parts of a huge, very bright yellow Buddha.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Speaking of personal hygiene, tomorrow the water supply will again be cut off for the Da-an district. Taiwan is experiencing a drought right now, so the government has instituted water rationing measures, which involves shutting off water supply in various districts of Taipei and surrounding areas on a rotating basis.

Monday, the first day of the shut-offs, was not too bad. I had a ready supply of drinking water. Also, most buildings in Taiwan have a water tank on the rooftop. Water is pumped into this holding tank, which then distributes water throughout the building. The tank in our office building is large enough so that we could continue to flush the toilets throughout the day. I was especially relieved to discover this, as I wasn't too hot on going a la traditional Thailand, where you scoop water out of a big tub and into the toilet.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

A ride on the MRT yesterday morning during rush hour reminded me once again how important personal hygiene is in such situations and how some members of the transport riding public forget this is. My favorite bus line, #226, is rarely crowded and the route is very convenient, as it passes by both AmCham and UMC, and my leisure hangouts.

The problem with buses in Taiwan is that bus drivers like to accelerate rapidly (never mind that a little old lady may be making her way up the bus steps) and then slam their foot onto the brakes just as a car or another bus swerves in front of them. This driving style is totally unnecessary, as Wayne points out, because not only is it uncomfortable for the passengers, it abuses the engine and wastes gas.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Pet peeve: people who neglect to put a question mark after writing a question. People, please try to remember! Try reading what you write out loud before emailing your message to the world. Sounds silly without the question mark, folks!

Sunday, May 12, 2002

It's 6:55 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon evening, and I am at work. A project needs to be done by tomorrow afternoon, so the designer and I are here getting a head start.

I had quite a full weekend though, starting off with a ride to the end of the bus line. Jeff has left his mobile on the bus, and amazingly, it had been turned into the bus driver and was sitting at the bus depot. He had no idea where the depot was, and I thought there was a potential adventure in Taiwan, so we hopped on the bus. Later, someplace way past Xindian, we picked up his phone, turned right around and caught the bus back to Taipei. Hardly an eventful adventure, but a good chance to catch up.

Later, I met up with Wayne and his business associates visiting from Singapore at Watersheds, where I had my first encounter with a Long Island iced tea. I now know what to go for if I ever want to implement Andy's method of unlocking my superconciousness.

The group wanted to go to Carnegie's, a place I assiduously avoid because of the lecherous old men that frequent there, but they were visitors. Further, they assured me they would fend off these undesirables, so I agreed to go. Carnegie's wasn't bad, although I was quite cold towards a guy who said "hello" to me as I left the restroom. The nerve of this guy, I thought, saying hello to random women as they exit the restroom. Then, I realized this guy was Mark, part of our party, who just happened to be standing there.

Saturday was a quiet day spent exploring the open-air market in Gongguan and the textile market near Dihua Street. Linda and I met Eugenio at the tailors for a second fitting. I had hoped to pick up my shirt, and although it was quite comfortable and very nice, it was not yet perfect. I want the sleeves to be shorter and the bodice more fitted, so hopefully everything will be to my satisfaction on Wednesday when I go to pick it up.

The three of us then rushed to Jeff's place, where he was hosting a grilled meat party. We ate, accompanied by firewater Joaquin brought from Colombia and fun music provided by Mate. We left early to hear Wall Tiger play at Witch House, and they were again lots of fun.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Taiwan is convenience exemplified. As in Japan, convenience stores abound in Taiwan. Within a block radius from Angela's apartment are at least two 7-11s, one Family Mart, and a Niko Mart. Not only can you dash into a convenience store to pick up a drink or a hot dog, you can also pay your utilities bill. Simply present your phone bill (they come printed with a bar code) to the cashier, hand over the money, and you're set!

Random note: while schlepping myself over a good portion of Taipei yesterday to apply for an Alien Residence Certificate, I noticed that just like the U.S., Taiwan's police officers drive Ford cars. Huh.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

A-ha! Success at last after an exhausting search on Google for the artist who composed "A Maiden's Prayer." Interestingly enough, the source of my information is a website entitled--what else--Sounds of Taiwan: Chanting Buddhists, Musical Garbage Trucks, Flatulent Scooters, Night Market Nakashi. Back to the song at hand, "Modlitwa dziewicy" (A Maiden's Prayer) was written by Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska, a Polish composer. Covers of this song have been done by many, many country-music artists, as a search on Google will reveal.
I felt an incredibly sense of accomplishment today because last night I took out the trash, a task that when finished left me quite relieved. "So what," you may think to yourself. "What's the big deal?" Well, in Taipei, every day (except Sunday) is trash day. The tricky part is, the trash truck comes only once and you have to meet the truck. So if you miss the truck, you have to wait another day. In Angela's neighborhood, folks gather around the corner near the apartment at 9:30p.m. Garbage collection trucks play either Bethoven's "Fur Elise" or "A Maiden's Prayer" (by whom, I don't know) in that tinny, ice-cream truck way (my brother Galen and I were really confused when we went to Taiwan in 1990 and heard the garbage collection music for the first time). Anyway, I hauled ass after my Chinese lesson yesterday so that I could pick up my drycleaning, dispose of the trash (which, as you know from reading this blog, is full of funky stuff), and the drop off more dry cleaning.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

TC pointed out it's usually not possible to withdraw NT$100,000, as NT$20,000 is the standard maximum for one time. However, I think I will let my blog entry stand as is, because it does illustrate what silly things us foreigners do.

I've also decided to keep this blog devoted to my adventures in Taiwan. Commentary on articles I come across online will go to electronic paths. (Hint: there is something new.)

Monday, May 06, 2002

I had quite a full and varied Saturday. After a lovely brunch at Very Very Good Bistro with Linda and Eugenio, we went to FNAC, where Linda gave me a crash course in salsa, merengue, and ska music. One of the best ways to learn something is to be guided by someone who is very knowledgeable and can point out the best examples and describe the differences between them.

Afterwards, we went to their tailor. Lately, I have been hear a lot about custom-made clothes. My interest was piqued when the Asian Wall Street Journal ran a feature story on custom manufacturers in Hong Kong. Then, Tom mentioned his bespoke shirts. Later, while helping Wayne move, I learned that many of his suits were tailored in Taiwan. Linda and Eugenio are planning on getting essential career items done before they leave Taiwan, and invited me to go along. The tailor has a good track record and gives great deals to the two because of all the business Eugenio has brought them (the Latin American diplomatic community in Taiwan goes there because of Eugenio?s recommendation).

While advising Linda on colors and cuts, I, too, succumbed to the lure of well-fitting clothes. I am getting an Egyptian cotton white shirt made, with French-cuffs, covered buttons, and a monogram. And all this for NT$800--about what I paid for a shirt at the J. Crew outlet last year. I also learned I could get a suit made for about NT$10,000. There is no way one could get a custom-made suit for less than US$300 in the U.S. I'm thrilled.

Later, Don and I went to a party that I had heard about from a person that I met on Thursday. Upon arrival, we discovered that we were the only straight people at the party. The party was like any other party, although I suspect a woman was trying to hit on me--definitely a first-time experience. I found the experience interesting and amusing, and also distressing--not because I am homophobic--but because regardless of whether the interested party is male or female, there are responsibilities and courtesies that should be observed when one is not able to reciprocate to the overture.

Friday, May 03, 2002

Whew, I'm tired. I suppose it's a good thing I can no longer blog as if I don't have a regular job. I'm actually feeling stressed, as I try to figure out my boss' preferences while under tight deadlines. I also feel really silly sometimes, as I am familiarizing myself with the all-Chinese versions of our software system. I'm usually okay with Microsoft products (one benefit from years of Microsoft domination is that I have memorized the locations of most functions), notwithstanding the fact that I printed out a Power Point presentation today when I intended to merely save it. I am still struggling with Lotus Notes, which I have never used.

Yesterday I was rather psyched when I arrived at work because I had first went to the Bureau of Consular Affairs to pick up my passport, with my new residence visa inside. Whoopee! With the visa, I can stay in Taiwan indefinitely. And with my passport, I was finally able to pick up my new ATM card and check my account balance, filled by my very first paycheck. Yay!

I'm immensely relieved that the ATMs at the International Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)--the bank that UMC uses to pay its Taipei employees--has an english option. Trying to withdraw money is very confusing when you can't read the options. Joaquin said that before he figured out which button was which at the ATM near his work, he once withdrew NT$100,000 when he had meant to withdraw only NT$10,000.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

Today (or actually, yesterday) was Taiwan's Labor Day. We had the day off from work. I didn't realize we had a holiday till Monday. This keeps happening to me in Taiwan. One of my co-workers or a friend will say something about a holiday a couple of days before the said event, and I respond, "oh really? I didn't know that. Thanks for telling me because I would have gone to work otherwise!"

Despite the fact that today was a holiday and thus, theoretically, an opportunity to sleep in, I did not get a chance to do so because I wanted to have breakfast with my friend Jeff. He is an equities analyst at JP Morgan Chase here in Taipei, so I figured, catch him before he goes off to work (those analysts never take Real Holidays). I asked him to call me when he woke up, and then I would meet him for breakfast. Jeff woke me up at 9:15a.m...I guess if you are one of those who regularly get up around 6a.m., then that's really sleeping in...but not for me!

Later, I took my sleep-deprived self to get a haircut at Jen's stylist. Apparently, this is also President Chen Shui-bian's stylist, although I'm not about to take style cues from Taiwanese politicans. Though the hair salon is located in the Presidential Office, it is open to the public. Jen's haircuts have looked great, and (the biggest draw) the cuts are cheap - NT$380 (about US$11). At that rate, I could afford to try it out at least once. Linda and Eugenio also went to get their hair cut. When I left, Linda's hair was still being worked on, so I can't ascertain the quality of the final result, but Eugenio's cut was very nice. As I told them, Eugenio looked like he could be the kind of guy that dates two women at once (i.e. very suave).

The other benefit of getting your hair cut in Taiwan (espeically if you are tired, as I was) is that they give you a nice scalp massage while shampooing (mine felt like I was being massaged for at least twenty minutes). Later, they had me sit in one of those massaging chairs while rinsing my hair. Ahhhh.

Oh, and I like my cut very much.