Been a long time

Interior courtyard at Tsing Hua University

It almost feel like I’ve come full circle. I started studying Chinese at Tsing Hua University years ago, I started slowly with only a few classes a week and later left for an intensive program at Zhong Yang. So if the class gets approved I’ll be returning for 1 class a week as a sort of refresher course. It’s not a difficult class but it will give me an incentive to study and an opportunity for correction. It will be a nice change of pace too.

I’m back in Hsinchu for awhile to focus on a new project and do some necessary learning. It’s great to be wife family again.


I hate HDMI

We’ve gone 19 years without subscribing to cable. Half that time without a TV. But after spending time in Canada and China where each place I lived came outfitted with large screen TV’s, I felt like something was missing upon returning to Taiwan.

So I bought a large screen TV. And an incredibly overpriced soundbar (Taiwan import tax).

It worked well for a while but yesterday I spent over an hour trying to find the reason for nothing but snow coming from the Apple TV, and no sound coming through the soundbar. And all those cables are in the back of the TV, making every change a chore. I now hate HDMI. I feel like I’ve gone back in time to when plug ’n’ play was marketing speak only.

It’s apparent that the incredibly overpriced soundbar that has failed, which will necessitate wasting some afternoon taking it back to where I bought only to be disappointed by their customer service.


6 photos from last week

A trip outside of of Hsinchu almost instantly changes your perspective of this place. The beautiful scenery no doubt plays a big part.

Sun moon lake – resting during bike a ride

Sun Moon Lake – at the end of a run around the lake.

合歡山 – no hiking but a drive over the top. Remarkable the change in temperature 3500m up.

Cross Island Highway

Near Hualian


Resident Visa Journey

My Taiwan ARC expired while I was in China this year (the misfortunes due to that adventure continue to mount), and with trips to Thailand and Canada, I couldn’t get to Taiwan for any length of time to renew it. So I’ve found myself flying in and out of here on Visa exempt stamps. Which is fine, but not having an ARC (Alien Resident Certificate) means also no health coverage. Taking advantage of Taiwan’s excellent health care system before I return to Prince Edward Island is a priority, as PEI is better known as the land of “wait a year or more for a simple check up”.

It’s been years since I’ve had to apply for any kind of Visa here in Taiwan and I had forgotten all the rules and regulations. I figured I would have to fly to Hong Kong but the TECO office website there has depreciated from awful to really awful, so I relied on the wisdom of the internet to fill me in on the process. To my delight I was informed that you can apply for a resident visa in Taiwan, and since I vaguely remember doing so in years past, I set off to Taipei today. I ignored others advice and didn’t call ahead, part of my general aversion to talking on the phone; email replies from the Taiwan government are about as rare as they are in PEI.

When I arrived the whole process was about as informal as you would expect here (bless you Taiwan), and the official helping me was as polite any you would meet.

I was planning on applying for residency based on my wife’s employment but unfortunately you cannot get said visa in Taiwan when you arrive on a different date than your spouse. These little details, which I’m sure make sense somehow, matter. You can however get a resident visa if you gain employment.

So I am off to Hong Kong (I had a ticket booked already), or perhaps I can delay the process until November to coincide with a marathon in Bangkok.


Canada Day in Taiwan

The kids are still enjoy getting their face painted.

This year being Canada’s 150th birthday I decided to forgo my usual stay at home social tendencies and went with family to Taipei to enjoy the birthday celebration held by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan.

Unfortunately it rained.

While the rain cancelled most of the family friendly activities during the afternoon, it stop later and had we stayed we could have enjoyed more than our token Moosehead and listened to some live music in the park. But thats not really our thing.

Other than some Canadian-style treats, including an unconvincing poutine imitation that Sheryl lined up 30 minutes for, the highlight for me was listening to our national anthem. Don’t hear it enough.

Afterwards, we enjoyed some frozen yogurt, which was pleasantly sour, at the shopping center that sits atop and beside the bus station by the main train station. I forget the name of the shopping center, as there are so many. Before catching a bus back to Hsinchu we visited the theatre on the top floor to see if there was anything worth sticking around to see, there wasn’t, but I realized while there just how different the theaters are here than in Eastern Canada. Much better of the most part, and a far more encompassing experience. The Charlottetown moving going experience is sad by comparison.

We made it home just in time for the rain to stop.


Taiwan Flora

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

As time passes, one aspect of living here in Taiwan that I have come to appreciate more, is that no matter the time of year, there is always something in bloom. It’s a great escape from the dull office environments that we often find ourselves in by taking a short walk and seeing brilliant splashes of color. They stand in contrast to the often polluted gray skies that they must exist in.


Taiwan home office soundtrack

I started working from home on a new project this week and am aiming for a good 6 week effort before heading to Canada to finish. There I hope to spend some time at the beach and bathe in the fresh clean air. I was supposed to be in China but with all the delays that’s been put on hold until the fall. This past Monday was spent cleaning my workspace, setting up a new monitor, and planning out the week.

This is the sound I was greeted with yesterday morning.

Naturally as this is Hsinchu, the Science Park working crew decided to schedule 2 weeks of tearing down walls, thereby producing what is for me the most irritating noise imaginable. Spend any time at home and you are bound to be greeted with similar noises, as it seems the tile walls they use in homes here seldom last for any great length of time. Below was the sound track to our Christmas one year.

In fact if there was a soundtrack for urban Taiwan it would have to feature the concrete drill as it’s main instrument.

But few people seem to complain. My last company moved into a new building months before it was even finished. They were practically building the place around us.

It looks like the nearby Starbucks might be my new home for the next week or so.


The Sound Of China

Though recorded in China, it’s such common part of Taiwan’s soundscape I often call it Taiwan’s National Anthem.

It’s so common that I’ve given up considering spending any extended time at home, be it for study, work, Christmas or recuperation, because without fail someone will start making this or similarly aggravating noise.


Comparing Taiwan and Prince Edward Island

After living for 17 years in Taiwan it’s interesting to come home to Prince Edward Island, see the changes (or lack of), and do some comparisons between the 2 places. Some of the differences I’ve noticed during this visit home.

  • I’ve always enjoyed a good cup of coffee but with great Cafés like Ink in Hsinchu, and great small roasters seemingly everywhere, drinking and brewing cofee has taken on an obesession for me. Not a morning goes by where I try to perfect my pour over method. Hsinchu, of all places, has a rich coffee culture. Coffee culture in Prince Edward Island unfortunately consists of Tim Hortins and Keurig machines.
  • Running is all the craze in Taiwan at the moment, and with the Taiwanese penchent for looking the part, there are lots of places to gear up. I’ve yet to see another runner, yes it’s winter, and the sports stores I have been to have little in the way of gear – with the exception being underarmour. I’ve never seen some much of that brand in my life.
  • Groceries here are generally expensive and it’s difficult to find cheaper options, like cheaper cuts of meat. It’s winter so all vegetables are imported. But just like in Taiwan, it would appear that most people fill their shopping carts with crap processed food.
  • No PM 2.5 air quality warnings here. Often times being outside in Asia is a hazard to your health, not so here. You haven’t seen clear skies or breathed fresh air until you’ve been here, at any time of the year.
  • Clothes are ridiculously cheap here. Or at certain times of the year and if you are willing to be behind a season, ridiculously discounted. Levis jeans can be a quarter of what they are in Taiwan. Even Taiwan/Hong Kong brand names aren’t as inexpensive. I’ve been told that young ladies wear is cheap in Taiwan but I’ve no experience.
  • Going to the hospital here is a pain in the ass, unbelievable waits, but at least in my recent experience the care when you finally get it stands in stark contrast to Taiwan. Lots of questions, smiles and empathy abound. I love Taiwan’s easy access but it’s a factory model and the feeling is they either don’t have time to care for you as a person or just don’t care. While I would like to have a relationship with a family doctor, at this point in my life I prefer Taiwans easy quick access.
  • People in Prince Edward Island greet each other and are friendly to strangers. Taiwan is often characterised as an extremely friendly place, and I have met some the nicest people there imaginable, but I could go months there without a single person saying hello or sharing a smile. And it’s no due to my scary face, people in Prince Edward Island are constantly striking up conversations with me wherever I go. Imagine as a Chinese language learner how much easier it would be if you didn’t have to make herculan efforts to get someone to speak to you in Taiwan.
  • People talk to each other on the job, laugh even. They also work regular hours and sometimes take breaks. I’m sure there are problems here in the workplace but the feeling is it is far different from workers being treated like cattle in Taiwan. (I’m treated well and have been treated excetionally well, but I’m the exception and I still put in 47+ hrs week as a minimum with no holidays except cny.)
  • People give you an enormous amount of space when driving by pedestrians vs. not seeing/caring or lets see if we can hit that guy behaviour in Taiwan.
  • I’m walking far less, driving far more. It would depend I guess on your location but I’m walking very little here. The distances are too great. In Taiwan I tried to walk everywhere and due to the horrible driving conditions took transit to and from work. I could see living outside the city in Prince Edward Island would force me to set aside time for walking, in addition to my regular runs. Easy to see how easy it is to be sedentary here.
  • I’ve been conditioned from years of living in Taiwan to ask for a discount or a special price. It’s possible in PEI but people seem to get embarrased.
  • Thus far I have noticed that people take lines far more seriously here. I made the mistake in Toronto of accidently standing in front of someone in a line when I was told in no uncertain terms that they were ahead of me. Even seniors need to wait. Lining up in Taiwan is much more ordered affair that years past but people tend to be far more gentle in their reminders.

A cause to support

“Taiwan’s immigration policies reflect an official view that Taiwan is essentially a monocultural nation state based on shared ethnicity and culture. This illiberal view, combined with Taiwan’s isolated political situation and national development strategy have created immigration and labor laws that discourage immigration by tightly controlling residence, work rights, and the acquisition of Taiwanese nationality.”

Forward Taiwan believes that if Taiwan is to have an international economy, it also needs to have an international social and cultural environment.

From Live Wire: Ease up on foreign performers


Do you feel it’s possible for an American to call China home?

I think it’s possible for an American to think of China as home. Whether or not Chinese people accept that is probably another story. It’s part of the expat arrested development thing – everything about your existence is contingent, from visa runs to rentals to whatever. The baseline assumption is that you will be going home after a few years. That includes the assumption that you don’t really “get” China.

Whenever I’m asked “but do you really understand China?”, I just say “yes”, because fuck you. Ask a stupid question, get a flippant answer. People don’t really have a rebuttal to that. Try it sometime. I mean, I grew up in the US, but I don’t know that I “understand” the US – I don’t even know what that would mean.
Why I’m Not Going to Be Living in China Anymore But Might Be Back

You could substitute China for Taiwan and you would have something close to how I think about being a long term resident here. You are a welcome guest, treated well as such, but eventually long for a title with a bit more permanence or at least something other than your special status.


Casa de socrates redux

03/16/2009
While the atmosphere is somewhat unchanged, the music is a bit louder and a bit heavy on the easy listening cover tunes, it’s hard to recommend a restaurant that treats it’s customers with such indifference. I was there yesterday hoping to use one of the comfortable couch and tables to work with a Taipei based artist. Alas they reserved those tables for seemingly mystical customers as the waitresses kept saying ok have a seat and the boss kept coming over and saying no. No one ever came to sit in them.
It more inconvenience than anything else and perhaps not worth mentioning but if I can’t rant about the omnipresent poor customer service in Hsinchu here than where can I.
Previously: Casa de socrates


Overnight at Flying Cow Ranch

Mooo
We spent this past weekend on a quick getaway at Taiwan’s version of the American farm, Flying Cow Ranch. It’s nice to get some exercise, fresh air, and drink some tasty milk. The weekend was timed to coincide with Camren’s 3rd birthday.
While it’s a nice place to visit it starts to loose it’s appeal after you have been there a few times. But it’s close and there are very few places where you can go and experience some wide open fields. The overpriced pony rides and farm animal feeding provide some fun for the kids. It’s also nice to provide Camren and Catriona with some kind of connection with the food they eat and drink.
They used to have some fun classes at night where you could make butter and ice cream but they were replaced on this trip with DIY pizza which was disappointing. I bake with the kids all the time but how many times do you get to make butter?
Food choices were pretty slim this trip – overpriced Taiwanized Italian pasta, hot pot, or fried chicken and french fries. Non of it was very appealing. Breakfast was a slight improvement with boiled eggs, bread, and yogurt. They used to sell nice fresh brewed coffee at the outside concessions but it was replaced with some kind of boiled tofu junk that you see in 7-11. Perhaps there demographic is changing.
My wife has suggested we go back every month but I think a picnic in the hills near our house might be almost as satisfying. We’ll head back next year to milk the cows though.
More photos in my Flickr set.