Proof of slowdown – no traffic

If there is any evidence that work has slowed in Hsinchu it must be the complete lack of traffic around the Science Park last Friday morning and a noticeable let up in traffic this morning on a Monday. Last Friday the areas I drove seemed like a veritable ghost town.
Today it was busy but it felt more like the roads were at capacity versus the clogged conditions I usually experience.
With no products shipping everyone is staying home.

New Hsinchu Park

View Larger Map
The above map is an approximation of a new Hsinchu park that encompasses a series of hiking trails, look out points, large fields, and general ‘get the heck out the noisy city’ ephemera. I don’t know the exact name due to my stumbling through the characters but it’s really worth the effort if you can find it. It has the feel of a closely held secret. I’ve been going there off and on prior to it’s recent opening and it’s truly a great escape. And it’s only a short distance from our house. Amazing.
Someone deserves a big bonus this year for making this area happen.
It feels much bigger than what I drew on that map.

Why Mandarin for our children

Our efforts to enroll our daughter in local school for the September 2009 semester have largely failed. She is just past the September cut off date for admission and this rule is seemingly the one rule in Taiwan that you cannot gain some flexibility. I think the following passage, from Mandarin for BC schools, generally illustrates why we feel it’s important for her to be educated in a bilingual environment and why it should be Mandarin. It is the major reason why we stay in Taiwan.
“Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world (1 in 6 people speak it worldwide) and currently the second most prevalent language of business, after English. As the “Gateway to the Pacific” we believe that providing a Mandarin language option for our children will provide them with significant advantages, both from a global citizenship and economic perspective. Foreign countries have prepared their children for decades by teaching them English as a second language, it is our desire to also reach beyond our official second language of French and provide options.
Even educators such as Mr. Emery Dosdall, former BC deputy education minister who now heads a new provincial government office charged with improving relations between BC and Asia-Pacific countries, recently stated: “French is great…but as a language of industry, I’d certainly recommend…Mandarin. They’re going to create great opportunities for your children in the future”. He goes on to say that, “Parents who really want to give their children an edge in the global economy should be clamouring for Mandarin immersion”.
There are cognitive advantages as well: as a level III* difficulty language (it takes about four times longer to learn Mandarin than French or Spanish), Mandarin’s complexity stimulates the brain more than, and differently from, other languages, thus improving the child’s ability to learn other subjects as well, including English and mathematics.
For optimal results, starting as early as possible, ideally in Kindergarten, is the key to success in second language mastery. An early start will also ensure our children can speak without an accent.
Though there is presently a Grade 4 entrance Mandarin program at Jamieson Elementary School in Vancouver (which is the only formal bilingual program besides French in BC), starting so late means those early critical years for developing oral fluency are lost. A K/Grade 1 start would certainly enhance the acquisition and development of oral fluency in this already difficult to learn language.
*The Foreign Service Institute, a major US government language school, ranks languages according to the length of time needed for a native English speaker to achieve oral fluency in a language. For French, it is 24 weeks. For Mandarin, it is 88 weeks, or about 4 times longer. See for further details:
I’m less interested in the practical applications as I am the positive effects it has on her as a person.
Via I’ve removed my usual blockquote quotes for readability.

That 3C store on Kuang Fu Rd.

I actually had a good customer experience in Hsinchu yesterday. It’s such a rare event that I had to write about it.

I have been buying most of my 3C hardware lately at a large shop on Kuang Fu Rd. near all the other 3C shops. It’s just down from the roast duck place and the sex toys store on the corner. I’ve never had any luck with the normal tenets of customer service when shopping for computer gear here and I usually buy with the realisation but it looks like that pattern has been broken. About 1 month ago I purchased a Belkin power bar from this ‘3C store on Kuang Fu Rd.’ and the switch didn’t work properly. So I brought it back and they actually replaced it, apologised, and were friendly. Astonishing. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the place as I couldn’t read their shop sign but if you are shopping in the area, it’s the only store that stocks Eizo monitors (and follow the directions above).

New start

I often complain about the rapid swings in weather here but when I see images like the one above of a street corner in my hometown I feel somewhat fortunate. Starting the new year after a quasi-holiday here in Taiwan is hard enough, but I can’t imagine enjoying waking up early to shovel a car out of that mess.

It’s oh so quiet shh shh

In a country where people revel in clatter above 85db the relative silence I experienced when walking in Siangshan this morning is something of a revelation. I had forgotten that it could be so quiet in Taiwan.
At some point today I am sure someone will start lobbing firecrackers, deploy fireworks, race around on their hot rod scooters, or perhaps the contractor next door will start drilling into the concrete again. Until the ordinary happens I’m enjoying the quiet.

Hell’s highway

I had an ‘altercation’ on the highway this morning with a van load of dick heads. In order to make my exit while driving on highway 1 (3 lanes of which were occupied by slow moving trucks) I squeezed in front of this van, safely though perhaps too close by Canadian standards. My mistake and I berated myself for the maneuver. Unfortunately I somehow made the driver lose face in front of his tribe, who instead of simply cursing you silly f*** decided to take action. First came the repeated horn blaring, then the speed quickly past maneuver, followed by the dumping of garbage out the window in hopes of hitting me tactic, and then the rapid slow down whilst in front move. And I had my two kids in the car. No doubt they wanted to follow me to a stop light in order to give me a ‘talking to’ but I made the light and they didn’t.
Sadly this didn’t phase me as it’s a common occurrence on the highways around Hsinchu.
Too bad I’m not more like Alec Baldwin who in a profile in the New Yorker said:

He recalled a day, a few years ago, when he was driving through L.A., saw a car run a red light, smash into another car, and keep moving. Baldwin gave chase and, eventually, blocked the culprit in a cul-de-sac. Before the police arrived, the driver got out of his car — “Typical drug-addict, alcoholic, fuckhead look on his face. He was, ‘O.K., what? What? You’re chasing me. What?’ This nineteen-year-old kid, his eyes blazing. I’m thinking, I’m going to come over there and knock your teeth down your fucking throat just because you’re asking me ‘What?’ You know what, you little fuck? I saw you. I’m a pretty liberal person, but my liberalness comes from what the government should be doing with its excess of wealth. That doesn’t mean I’m not a law-and-order person. I’m the kind of person — you catch the kid who’s drunk and high and he almost killed a girl, let’s take him in and beat the shit out of him for a couple of hours. Then he’ll learn.” He laughed. “I believe that!”

In fact too bad there weren’t a few dozen like him driving the roads around Taiwan. We have no police so this might be a good substitute.

Hsinchu HSR station and bling

I arrived by car at the Hsinchu HSR station yesterday to two full parking lots. I thought at first that somehow the concept of driving to a station at least 20 minutes from anywhere in Hsinchu had at last caught on. After parking on the street two blocks away, I discovered that someone had the brilliant idea of sectioning off a 1/3 of the available parking spaces to store construction materials for a building going up next door. I guess the open fields adjacent to the project weren’t suitable.
I missed my train but luckily still managed to arrive in Taipei for a meeting with a minute to spare. Once you get to the station and get on the train it’s the most convenient way to arrive in the city.
Post meeting I had a spare hour and decided to roam around the streets of Shi Da. We lived on the lower depths of Tungan St. for our first year in Taiwan and like a million other people had many of our first food experiences in the Shi Da market. Since I hadn’t had lunch I was anxious to try something from one of the restaurants I used to frequent. Unfortunately mid-afternoon isn’t the best time of day to go shopping for food so I decided to try the old foreigner haunt Grandma Nitti’s. I’m happy to report that the place is still a dump and the food still somewhat a health hazard. I guess when I arrived ten years ago it seemed quaint – we didn’t have a real kitchen and wanted to eat the familiar but it now seems like a waste. I ordered a burger and it arrived rare and squirted blood all over my pants. They did have a beautiful overweight dog laying around which I guess makes it feel more bohemian. He seemed interested in my raw hamburger but I didn’t want him to get sick too.
Though it came too late, I did get a nice twitter message from Steve Leggat with advice: ‘ … good pizza and pasta over the road at Peacock though. Or KGB across from Wellcome. Mo!Relax cafe is good too, but smoky’. I might try those next time.
After lunch I made a hasty exit to the bathroom to wash the evidence of my carnivorous ways. My server breathed a sigh of relief when I met her on the stairs – she thought I left with out paying. I smiled and paid my bill.
Next stop ATM machine and the MRT which I think doesn’t have enough strategically placed route maps. Those of us who don’t ride the system everyday need a little reassurance that we are lining up for the right train. They line-up to get train tickets on the HSR was long and hot. I stared in disbelief at the two ladies wearing far too much cheap bling discussing on their mobile with someone who seemed to be standing off in the distance somewhere just how many tickets they need and for what time. This decision seemed to be of the utmost importance and very difficult as after 30 minutes of multiple calls and running back and forth they were still standing there.

Elementary school morass

There is an increasing sense of panic in our household this week as we come to terms with elementary school enrollment rules in Hsinchu.
Until earlier this week, we thought we had our daughter’s education under control. She’s had a good nanny who has helped make her completely fluent in Mandarin, we chose a small kindergarden in a great location with an emphasis on the kind of learning we value at her age, she goes to dance twice a week, and we plan on sending her to a math class on Saturdays. We want her to go to a local school and we had a few picked, both public and private, but what we completely glossed over was the age requirements for entering grade 1.
Our daughter, Catriona, was born on Sept. 25th but the rules state that a child must be six before Sept. 1st in order to gain admission. In order to attend ‘early’ a child must take an exam, an exam that reportedly only 10% pass. Of course the date to apply to take the exam has passed as well. One gets the impression that you start planning your child’s entrance to elementary school before they leave the womb.
Of course this is pretty critical. I cannot accept having her wait another year to attend elementary school and be the oldest child in the class.
So now we have to start getting favours from our network here, writing letters, and making phone calls in the hope that she can be allowed to write an exam. An exam that she will have prepare for daily. That’s allot of pressure for all involved and it seems insane to have to study for an exam at age 5. But that’s the system here.
Photo is from March 2007 of Catriona checking out Ming Fu elementary – one of our choices.
Update: We were told by the one private school in Hsinchu City that Catriona could attend ‘early’ without exam but not if she was going to stay for the full 6 years of elementary school. Also, she wouldn’t be able to transfer out of the private school to another local school. So they are able to bend the rules but if we plan on sending Catriona to elementary school in Taiwan longer than 3 years we are sol.

Catriona and Hsinchu Bikini Girls

On early Saturday morning LuLu and I were out for an extended walk along Da Hu rd. and across the train tracks. It’s a nice walk but one I try to avoid as people, including tricks laden with flammable liquids, treat it as their own private race track.
LuLu and I came across a celebration of some sort (my 20 character vocabulary didn’t cover the titles on the sign) in a stage area just off Chung Hwa Rd. Seeing as there was to be dancing and an abundance of balloons I called Sheryl and she brought the kids. The mayor was there, who we seem to meet often, but I left before Catriona started asking for candy or gifts from him.
The only way I get to meet girls in bikini’s is via Catriona and she unabashedly agreed to have her picture taken with these two groups of ladies.

Read more

Casa de socrates

Hidden away on the campus of Tsing Hua University is Casa de socrates, a café following the bohemian tradition of many of my former Toronto haunts. If it weren’t so removed from the rest of the city (which may be part of it’s charm) it might just become my home away from home.
We had dinner there last Wednesday after going to see the Australian production of Thomas the Train which was being shown on the Tsing Hua campus. The kids seemed to enjoy it. The greatest thrill for me was watching the performers try to lip sync to the Mandarin sound track. Attendance was light at our showing no doubt due to in part the outbreak of enterovirus.
I love the atmosphere of the café. Used books line the shelves, many in English and French, and jazz plays on the huge audiophile set-up they have at the front of the main room. A large grand piano is there as well and seating is either comfy couches or swirly old chairs. Swirly old chairs are like a ride at the circus for the kids which doesn’t make for a relaxing start to the ‘meal’. Cats roaming the room round out the ambience.
The food is rubbish. Our first and second choices were not available. My wife eventually could order pasta which somehow is always, not so good – not so bad, in almost every restaurant in Taiwan. I was hungry so I ordered ‘peach pork’. The dish was a large plate with 4 slices of dried ham with peach sauce on top. Craptacular and expensive. I didn’t try the coffee but I suspect like the pasta, the coffee would be passable in much the same way as my morning Nescafé.
But I will go back. The staff is young and sickly cute. It seems like an excellent place to have a lazy afternoon of reading, or to spend a morning writing, and it would be a great choice for meetings. It’s nestled in the beautiful Tsing Hua campus and is quiet. If you keep your menu expectations low it’s certainly worth the effort.
Google Map of location.

Bad start

I finally got to sleep before midnight but the kids woke me having bad dreams. Later Elsa was whimpering and not settling down to sleep so I took her downstairs to the first floor bathroom in the chance that she was going to be sick. Later I was awake a few other times with more bad dreams from Catriona. Slept in late until 6am when I heard Elsa crying downstairs. She had diarrhea all over the bathroom. Nothing like that smell first thing in the morning. I took her outside for a walk and she relieved herself numerous times on the street prompting a return trip for me with a bucket to clean the mess. I took her to the roof and gave her some water. After the diarehea in the bathroom was cleaned I returned to the roof to give her some medicine when I stepped on a piece of glass which went deep into my bare foot. Hobbled down the stairs spreading blood everywhere. Luckily LuLu, our other dog, is fine.
In theory this morning was going to be the start of a good day. The kids are coming off of a quarantine after both being infected with enterovirus, whatever virus I had seems to have weakened, and Sheryl starts her holidays.
Theories seldom seem to work in practice.

The RT-Mart date

I wouldn’t call trudging through RT-mart an enjoyable shopping experience (RT makes Wallmart seem exotic). We shop there because they have a good selection of fresh foods and the cheapest prices in town. And yet each time I go there, a shopping cart full of vegetables, fruit, and rmb for the dogs I see couples leaving with nothing or on occasion a box of cookies or some other small sundry items. Of all the places to do the ‘shopping date’ so prevalent this strikes me as the oddest place of all. I wonder if this is an indication of what the future holds for these couples relationships. Would shopping together at Jason’s market indicate something more auspicious?

Hsinchu lawn mower

Pictured below is Hsinchu’s answer to both the climate crisis and the rising cost of fuel. Instead of hiring workers to whack the grass into dust with their noisy polluting weed trimmers, they have instead stationed two goats at a local park in what could be the start of a country wide program. As an added bonus I’m sure the grass gets a much needed nutrient boost.
Coincidentally, if the goats continue in their current direction, the park leads them directly to a large meat packing plant.

Thursday’s night out

Tonight I pick up my daughter Catriona from school, make her some dumplings, head out with her in her pink ballet tutu, pick up my son Camren, drop off Catriona at dance class and head off with Camren to enjoy the wicked sites of this crazy Hsinchu town.
It used to be that a night out with the boys meant heading to a bar to listen to some old crooner, drinking some kind of stale pale ale, and heading home realizing that you were going to feel like crap in the morning. These days I substitute the old boys with my son and hit the juice bar at the top of Sogo where we gulp down all too sweet watermelon juice.
An evening out like this used to be far easier when we lived downtown. Then we used to walk everywhere. Somehow during the planning of our move to the wilds of Siangshan we neglected to take into consideration just how long it takes to drive to the city center. I leave here at 530 and arrive at Catriona’s dance class an hour later. In Taiwan that’s a journey.
Tonight in addition to heading to the juice bar, where they actually prepare our order before we arrive – like Cheers*, we will check out the Cars toys which are reputed to be on sale, head to Eslite for a brief look at books, throw rocks in the ‘canal around’, listen to either the natives from Central America play muzak or to the out of tune garage bands playing at the circle, watch the kids practice their dance routines, feed some stray dogs, refuel with an ice cream, practice our numbers while we pick up Catriona. A far more entertaining Thursday night.
*There is an old bar called Cheers off Kuang Fu rd. near Tsing Hua University.



Elsa the newest member of our family comes to us via Animals Taiwan in Taipei. She has literally taken our house by storm (and chewed to pieces my favourite black jacket in the process).

Over the next few days I hope to bringing home a beautiful lab that is being fostered in Taipei. It’s a lively household.

Summer AC

Summer is approaching. The weather has been fantastic of late, except for the seemingly endless days of rain, with temperatures and sunshine similar to a hot summer day in Canada. Soon when the temperatures rise to the mid 30’s and the humidity makes the air feel like a wall of water it will be time to gather round the family air conditioner.
Our bedroom air conditioner literally blew a gasket last year and it’s time to purchase a new one. Purchasing stuff is something that I have avoided for years on the simple assumption that we would be leaving this place at any moment. Those moments have lasted years now and everything is getting old or broken (like our ac).
This weekend I will succumb and head to the local hyper mart to purchase an ac with a brand name I am sure I will not have heard of. But only one. Which means all of will be sharing a single bedroom until sometime in the fall when the temperatures start to fall. I wonder how many people in Canada would consider sharing a bedroom with their kids in the winter in order to cut costs? Would I if I was rich?

Lets not be friendly

I’m back in Taiwan and still feeling the effects of being home in Prince Edward Island. Since it’s so common to greet and strike up conversations with strangers there I somewhat out of habit said hello to the new neighbour who was moving in next door. Just a simple wave and hello. Naturally he ignored me. I had forgotten for a moment that in Taiwan there seems to be some unwritten rule that you must never make eye contact or acknowledge another expat. I’ve always found it to be the most strange of rules but after almost 10 years here have grown accustomed to all the strange facets of life here.

New Hobby

For years I have missed the quality bread of home. In Taiwan especially, with the exception of a few isolated bakeries, it’s pretty difficult to find a quality loaf of bread that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. Actually it’s difficult to find quality bread at any price. Why it didn’t occur to me earlier to stop complaining and just take matters into my own hands is a mystery. This latest result may look ugly but it tastes fine.

A Taiwan Moment

I love these guys. It’s not enough that they have been working on the apartment across the alley for over a month – with their usual crap Taiwan contractor aplomb. Now they block the exit to my house with their little white truck. Think they would stick around to move their truck if a fire broke out?
Carpenters and woodworkers where I come from would be shocked at the methods employed here in construction (and the resultant quality). I hope this spells the end of the constant dust, toxic fumes, and machine gun nail gun sounds. Not likely.

Anniversary past

It was eight years ago, August 23rd 1998, when I first arrived in Taiwan. I forgot this auspicious date this past August, perhaps in an attempt to keep the length of my internment as vague as possible. Everyone always asks how long I have been here and being unsure if being apart of this long term foreigner click is good or bad, I never really give a definite answer. Time is a blur anyway – it still seems like yesterday when I was playing on shag carpet with my then ballerina friend to the tune of “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. Didn’t I just meet Sheryl on the streets of Antigonish, her holding a stack of books, me trying to look cool but failing (as always)? I still remember the smells of Taipei, the heat, it wasn’t the smell of sewer, the dominant fragrance of Hsinchu, but of eucalyptus (perhaps). It was pungount and nice and new. Memories of events are always stronger than the events themselves.
I swear that on August 23rd, 2008 I will fly out of CKS airport, or whatever name they will call by then, for the last time.

The Taiwan Name Thing

I have been having some problems with my name lately. At my bank my account name uses my full name while my visa with the same bank uses just my first and last. Mail arriving to my house uses either my first and last, my Chinese name, or my first and last with an initial.
I get cheques from the US monthly and if you know Taiwan at all you know it’s an absolute miracle to be able to cash these. This enthusiasm tends to be tempered with the realization of all the forms you have to fill out. 30-40 minutes later you leave unscathed.
If there is any slight difference between what appears on the cheque and your name, hassles ensue. No amount of identification or proof will make a difference if the cheque does not match visually with what they have on file. Rules are rules that only they can break when it’s convenient for them. So, I change the way my name appears on the cheque. Now unfortunately the post office doesn’t recognize my name and returns all the cheques.
That useless middle name of mine. Prince had the right idea.