An update on our journey home

I shared a little over a month ago the difficulties we were having in finding a place to live in Prince Edward Island. It was something that we hadn’t planned for, nor experienced in the past.

To get past this roadblock we decided that we would simply buy instead of rent. We have long planned to have property on PEI of some sort, either for the summer or long term habitation, and this would simply push forward our plans a year or so. Of course thinking of buying a house and actually buying are widely disparate things.

So for the past month I have gone down a deep deep rabbit hole which is the home buying on a budget experience. Doing so from Taiwan made the process all the more difficult and expensive. Not being from the 1%, or the 10% for that matter, we need to secure a mortgage. Being away for so long meant we were treated as non-residents, which we were, despite my attempts this past year to the contrary. So we didn’t have access to programs and rates available to other Canadians.

It’s a funny thing how banks decide what kind of mortgage you qualify for. It’s always geared towards the maximum – you go through the process and they proclaim you can afford a huge home you don’t need. Even the bank’s online calculators are far too simplistic and don’t take into account how a heavy mortgage changes a person’s lifestyle. Luckily we were looking to downsize, and looking at a more sustainable long term living.

Most of the houses we found were of the fixer-upper type. I prefer older homes but not being “handy” I was getting concerned that my first year back on the Island was going to be primarily spent renovating or fixing whatever problems might occur. I had really hoped to focus on my work and getting the kids settled on their other Island adventure.

But as luck would have it, our house buying experience and my deep dive into home renovation how to videos, was for naught. Through a connection, everything seems to be through a connection on PEI, we heard there was an apartment available in the Charlottetown area. A few phone calls later, and after a relative went to have a viewing, I signed a lease and paid the fees to secure the apartment. It would appear we have a place to live.

What a relief.


Hello, is anybody there?

I start our move to Prince Edward Island in earnest at the end of this week, all of our planning has been long finished, and for reasons mentioned in “Difficulties in finding housing in Prince Edward Island” it’s going to be more of a challenge than I ever imagined. I’m actually concerned about moving forward.

My concern stems from a belief that if a business with established communication channels cannot bother replying to inquiries then they are not deserving of my business. If I send a business an email, essentially wanting to give them my money, and they don’t reply, what else should a person do but move on to another company.

But there are only so many companies on Prince Edward Island. I have already sent email to a range of banks and rental agencies in PEI. None have replied. If I continue and I get the same lack of response than I’ll have no one to do business with. It’s funny.

Perhaps this is simply a case of a clash between business styles, and not rude as I feel it is. PEI might be like the small Islands of Thailand, relaxed, slow, and informal.


Difficulties in finding housing in Prince Edward Island

This summer we are we are planning on relocating from Taiwan to Prince Edward Island, which feels more like emigrating than a simple move, and despite that day still more than 3 months out, and a year of planning, it’s proving to be far more “complex” than I ever imagined. I’m already losing sleep due to the uncertainty of what will come.

It’s a high risk move, a much larger challenge than when I left PEI, my birthplace, many years ago. Leaving Taiwan and China means leaving behind stable employment, good continued job prospects, a higher standard of living, and the comfort that comes from living in a region for almost 20 years. Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to leave Taiwan, I left for this reason before but have returned, was due to work. In the tech. industry, salaries in Taiwan are the amongst the lowest in the developed world, work life balance is a problem, and industry growth stagnant. PEI doesn’t have a tech. industry to speak of and most similar job openings advertise salaries that are on par with what you might find here, less than in China, but with much higher taxation and a higher cost of living. Of course larger centers in Canada don’t suffer from lack of choice and low salaries, but Toronto isn’t home, PEI is.

The lack of employment opportunities in PEI came as no surprise, it’s known for its beauty and people, not for abundant industry. We are attempting to work around it by working remotely, starting a “wee size” business, and living apart for one year. One of us will stay behind in Taiwan to guarantee a stable income. Splitting the family takes some serious commitment.

What does come as a surprise is the complete lack of housing. The lack of housing is compounded by the fact that before we can register our children for school, we must provide a verified address, and schools are zoned aggressively, which if we are interested in our children attending a particular school, limits our choices even more. Our daughter taking the I.B. program at Colonel Gray or Charlottetown Rural, hangs in the balance.

When I first surveyed the rental market in the Charlottetown area many months ago I was primarily concerned with making a budget – I wanted to make sure we could actually afford to live there. What I found then was a grand total of 3 rentals that suited a family of 4! I thought it might have been an anomaly, but subsequent searches these past months have shown similar results. This morning when I looked across the whole Island the majority of ads on Kijiji were for people looking for places to live, not houses for rent, which while not remotely causal, might indicate that demand far far exceeds supply. Plea’s for help on social media also indicate difficulties in finding a place to live anywhere on the Island.

Buying is an option, but that market is difficult as well. And while I wouldn’t mind taking a risk on a cheap fixer-upper, these types of homes are rare in Charlottetown. Though the housing market is far more favorable than large centers in Canada, after your downpayment it’s cheaper to own on PEI than to rent, it’s still a significant investment and committment.

I can deal with some employment and business risk, we’ve embraced all kinds of risk over the years without any possibility of assistance. But the uncertainty of being able to have a roof over our heads is a whole new experience for me. Never in the past 30 years has there been any doubt we could find a place to live, until now.

While no plan survives first contact, hopefully this will all work out and the kids can start their new Island adventure in warm beds and a stable environment. I’ll just be sporting even more gray hair as a result.


PEI Gov. says: Need a tech job? Come to PEI

Upon reading the title from this short piece from the Government of Prince Edward Island I was naturally intrigued and interested in what new developments could be happening to the developing economy of the place of my youth. Especially so with our impending move there this summer. Unfortunately it’s a poorly formed success story of one remarkable individual, and not local industry looking for talent. The title is weak sauce at best.

So no, there isn’t a sudden demand for iOS devs, software engineers, interaction designers or user researchers that you see in demand elsewhere.

What they could have focused on, and what I would have liked to have read, is more detail into what advantages that the Island provides. There surely are many. I would love to read more about Emily Coffin and how she makes her life there, her story. What services are available for her and like minded individuals? What detailed advice does she have? How is Prince Edward Island a competitive location for remote workers, independent contractors, tech entrepreneurs and the like, over larger centers like Toronto or Montreal? Or why choose Charlottetown in the summer, over popular remote work locations like Chiang Mai? How about more detail about her work with Canada Learning Code, and how she is helping Islanders prepare themselves for the realities of work today, gaining new skills, or enabling them to start what Chris Guillebeau calls a Side Hustle. I’m sure this would be inspirational, important, and stand a far better chance of influencing more to invest in a move to the Island, than the current hollow piece.

Need a tech job? Come to PEI


A Tale of Two Cities

I prefer the number on the right.

I think Spring in Prince Edward Island has been cancelled this year and we might just slip into summer, if we are lucky. Meanwhile, it’s almost time to turn on the air conditioner in Hsinchu.

My wife laments the heat and mosquitos while running. I wonder if it’s possible to get frost bite (actually it’s too cold for me to run outside and I opt for a treadmill).


Training in PEI

Judging by the number of people running throughout the time I have been home here on the Island, I’m likely in the minority in thinking that training here is an exercise in frustration. Perhaps the years I have spent overseas have weakened my ability to withstand the cold.

The weather today called for high temperatures around 15C with the ever-present cloudy skies. As I step outside the door to go for a long run it’s raining and only 4.

The locals know that weather reports are at best entertainment, something to be talked about, but certainly nothing to count on. Hence the CBC weather man.

I came here 7 weeks ago for family reasons but hoped to keep my training schedule for a race in June. Running helps me concentrate, think and maintain focus. It’s helped me physically too, but I have problems with that scrawny runner body. After running there is little time for a weight room, little energy either.

Initially instead of opting for expensive running gear, and the risks in running in the near constant snow storms this past 7 weeks, I joined a gym for a month. Running in a gym takes most of the joy out of running, so I bought a couple articles of clothing, thinking that the weather is breaking. I didn’t buy rain gear. Getting wet in Taiwan is no fun on long runs either, in China my clothes might melt.

So I sit here looking at this blog and fuming that I have to spend a couple hours on a treadmill, while being forced to watch CNN or the food network on a screen right in front of me, while listening to some ugly loud music blaring from the overhead speakers. If we move back here, an investment in a treadmill will be necessary for all but a few months a year.


Prince Edward Island Reverse Culture Shock

The reverse culture shock W-curve was developed by John and Jeanne Gullahorn. Upon arrival in the “home” culture, the returnee experiences a “honeymoon” period where all that is grand about home seems to shine through. Visits with old friends and family are refreshing, and you may notice some exciting changes. The honeymoon period doesn’t last long, though, as cultural differences and the stresses of reentry continue to mount. For people not expecting reentry stress, the challenges can be even more severe, plunging repatriates into the pit of reverse culture shock. As returnees cope with the cultural differences of their home culture and manage the logistical tasks, they climb up the slope of re-adaptation and again regain their psychological stability. As with initial culture shock, the duration of this phenomenon varies from person to person, but the phenomenon itself is prevalent among returning members of the foreign affairs community.
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When working in China I’ve often looked forward to the time when I would leave, now that I back in Prince Edward Island I’ve been missing some of the differences that set the places apart.

I’ve been doing more than my far share of moaning, complaining and generally far too critical of all things local of late. Which is to say for the first time I am experiencing reverse culture shock. Over the past 18+ years the majority of my experience on *the Island* has been on holiday, always immersed in the honeymoon period, but now that I have returned to live the experience is naturally entirely different. Here are some of the differences I am adjusting to after almost 19 years in China and Taiwan:

  • No one seems to reply to email – of all the email I have sent to local businesses and government none have replied. I’ve often thought that email was broken, and I guess this proves it, as despite advising you to get in touch via email, the most I have gotten is an unrelated automated reply.
  • The weather makes training difficult. This is my first Canadian winter experience since I left. It’s cold. I opted for a membership at a local gym vs. the hefty investment in winter running gear required to survive running in -10 temperatures.
  • Sugar sugar sugar. I tend to make most meals myself and rely on whole unprocessed foods but in the few times I’ve tried a few treats I’ve almost gagged on the amount of sugar — even spicy Chinese style food hurts my teeth.
  • Mobile phone plans tend to emphasize voice and text messaging – I haven’t used either regularly in years. In fact the phone app isn’t even on my home screen. It’s a data device for me and most people I know; communication is via WeChat, iMessage, FaceTime and others. The plans themselves are easily twice as expensive as what I pay in Taiwan and China. Data speeds are ok.
  • At many places cash is still most convenient. In China I grew accustomed to never needing to take cash with me – everything was paid with my mobile. Even little fruit stalls in a market allows for payment via WeChat wallet. Here in PEI my pockets are flooded with change, it’s a never ending stream of metal, and this annoying nuisance even has resulted in huge innovative machines at the grocery store where it will sort and give you real money in exchange for a fee. Splitting a bill here also requires far more work than simply sending money via mobile.
  • Online shopping seems far less prevalent here. In China I would order everything via mobile and despite living in a rather remote location it would be arrive quickly; it was almost a nightly habit. In Taiwan, items would arrive within 24hrs. The few items I felt like ordering here all required 2 weeks to just prepare the order, then another length of time to arrive at my door. I understand that this is a big country but surely orders could arrive within a week. I ordered a razor 3 weeks ago and it’s still stuck in some clearing centre somewhere. Online grocery shopping doesn’t seem to exist.
  • Jobs. I always knew the job market was … difficult on PEI, otherwise so many wouldn’t leave, but I hadn’t really thought just how challenging an environment it is for design all over Canada. The economy here really is different and it takes a great deal of time to really understand the fact that there aren’t a seemingly unlimited number of companies “making things”.
  • Big box stores abound. I suppose that there are similar problems in Taiwan, but you soon get tired of dropping in to each and every big box store just to grab an item or two (and you can’t buy online). I really don’t see the attraction of all the big box stores, but I guess this just requires better planning skills. Taiwan’s convenience stores really are the best.

These are just little things – there are many habits that need to be changed and it’s just a matter of time. There are a whole host of other deeper cultural differences which I face, or observe, which will may never be adjusted to, but like arriving to a foreign country, I’m sure I will eventually accept or move on.


Prince Edward Island Stories and Films




These videos are quite interesting for a look back in time at what my hometown looked like before I was born. Some things change, others stay the same. It seems like an attractive age to grow up there. Amazing.
While the videos are great what I am most enthused about is the fact that there is someone making an effort to give us a glimpse as to what life was in the past. Pex Mackay is sharing video, audio, and short stories to share his life growing up on the Island, surely this is a great application of social media and online story telling. I’m learning the background behind all kinds of accepted cultural euphemisms.
If we could only get more people to do so.


No Umbrellas

It’s pouring rain in Charlottetown today and as I was being driven into the Food Court, my supplanted office, we made the somewhat interesting observation that no one seems to use an umbrella. It’s almost inconceivable where we live to not have one. In fact we might have eight or more strategically placed between house, car, motorcycle, and office. In Charlottetown rain jackets are the norm.


Urban Eatery Pizza

I just finished another slice of pepperoni pizza at the Urban Eatery in the Confederation Court Mall’s food court. The pepperoni was salty and it was far too oily but compared to the stuff they pass off as pizza in Taiwan it’s an absolute dream. Highly recommended, especially if you like think light crust.
I’ve heard of people asking The Wheel in Antigonish to ship across Canada a large donair pizza. I wonder if the Urban Eatery would do the same to Taiwan?
Note: The meal isn’t cheap, a huge slice and a juice is $7.00CAN (approx. 221NT$) making it at least twice as expensive as most quick lunches in Hsinchu.


Not Pining for Pine

The Confederation Court Mall Food Court is becoming my Island office as I make use of their open wifi set-up here. I’m appreciating this more and more as the days go by here. Someone deserves kudos for setting this network up.
I’m spending my time at the family cottage which while not off the grid is about as remote as I have been in these past couple years. No high speed data and thankfully no TV. It’s wonderful to unplug if only for a short stretch at a time.
I did during the past few days manage to get a dial-up account with ISN, this on a promise for my mother, Connie, that I would have her new MacBook set-up before I left for Nova Scotia and Taiwan. Unfortunately it’s completely unusable. I’ve resorted to using Pine to check email which is somewhat better than attempting to load Gmail and certainly a fun trip down memory lane. I can’t imagine Connie investing in satellite service or paying the cable company to run a line for the road.
Maybe she too will have to resort to using Pine and a feed reader over the summer.


How things should be

This is what I have been missing. Strangers greeting you and initiating conversations. Cars stopping and letting you cross the road. Cars waiting for you and your kids to be well clear before they continue on their way.
The staff of Air Canada, the waitress at the Town and Country, people working as cashiers, our neighbours, with few exceptions every person we have talked to have been extremely friendly and if needed helpful. Living in Taiwan for so long it seems unnatural. It isn’t. This is how a society should be.


Charlottetown – A Good Choice for Relocation

It’s been a couple months now since I have returned to Taiwan from my 3 week visit home to Charlottetown. P.E.I. There are a series of selected photos on 35togo and my flickr stream. It’s hard to say whether it’s my age, the length of my summer absense (7 yrs) but this trip home gave me a whole new perspective on just how special a place PEI is. I was so impressed with my visit that I hope to set-up a summer residence there in the hopefully not to distant future.
There is much to admire about the place. The scenery, people, and laid back culture are all pretty common refrains whenever anyone describes PEI. But what isn’t said all to often is just how much PEI, or I guess more like Charlottetown, is shaping up to be an ideal location to locate a technology based business or a telecommuting career.

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my Aunt Mary

I am beginning to feel like my Aunt Mary. Whenever I visit home, which is only once every year or so, my Mother always comments about how I am just like my Aunt. Of course she is an Aunt from my Fathers side. Aunt Mary is getting on in age and always complains/whines that she has so much work to do but no time to do it. Well thats how I feel except I don’t want to do more work I want to actually go out and enjoy life. So my complaint is that I have no time to do the things I really enjoy. But like my Aunt Mary I have no idea where the time goes. Is it ok to still want to have fun at 34 or should I content myself with toiling all day and night?
I would like to buy Sam Brown’s Exploding Dog book. Wonderful illustrations. It will certainly make my coffee table look all the more interesting.