Surprises

sheep's foot

With regards to food, living in Taiwan, and now China, for the past 17 – 18 years I’ve just about seen it all. Living and traveling throughout the region has opened my eyes to all kinds oddities, but I still get surprised now and again. This past weekend when visiting for what passes as a high end grocery store here, I noticed tucked amongst the neatly packaged pork, a pair of hooves. It would be interesting to know what kind of recipe calls for sheep’s feet.


Cabin Fever

Campus

I’m very much the classic introvert, I love to talk and discuss all kinds of things, love being around people, but at any party, or room full of people, unless necessary, I would never naturally gravitate towards the centre. My voice doesn’t boom and I don’t seek out the attention of others (to a fault – you need to sell yourself). Often this is called shyness, or more rudely anti-social. I just explain that I like to be quiet, listen to, and observe others. Qualities I think also coincidently are good when being concerned with design.

I love my time alone and one of the benefits of being an avid runner is that I often get at least an hour everyday to recharge my mind, body and think through various situations or problems. Walking during lunch has the same or similar benefits, and I believe also improves a persons ability to think creatively. Unfortunately, creative ability hasn’t been in demand in Taiwan these last few years, and so I have no real proof of it’s effects. No correlation, or A/B test.

Being alone here is a state of mind, a perpetual choice, and an occasional imposition, a burden, and a gift — and sometimes the very best way to meet a fellow stranger. “Every form of human expressiveness is on display,” Vivian Gornick writes of walking the streets by herself, “and I am free to look it right in the face, or avert my eyes if I wish.”
Link

But though I love my alone time, these days I am amazed at how strong the effects of being constantly alone have been on me. It’s feels like being stuck in a cabin in the woods in winter.

I left Taiwan over 3 weeks ago, part of that time has been spent in Hong Kong and Fuzhou, places teeming with people. These last 12 days have been spent at the company campus, where they had placed me (dumped) just before the long holiday. The campus is isolated, and though the facilities are first class, there is absolutely nothing to see or do. And no one to talk to or run in to. I think this just might be the first time in my life that I have felt being lonely for any significant period of time.

I don’t seek people out, I am terrible at striking up conversations with strangers and I am happy exploring a strange city alone. I don’t seek out political discourse with opinionated cab drivers or boozy bonding with locals over beers into the wee hours. By the time the hours get wee, I’m usually in bed in my hotel room …
Link

Being away from family is a contributor (attachment theory), and all of the support system I have built in Taiwan over the past 17+ years. People are generally friendly here, in a different way than in Taiwan, they just naturally assume you speak Chinese and go from there. People in Taiwan don’t often greet you, and will not often speak for fear of a misunderstanding.

The effects have been noticeable, with a more general gloomy outlet and decreased productivity. It’s nothing serious, if anything it’s disappointing.

I’ve often dreamed of having an extended period of time alone where I could focus on getting things done. This was a small part of the motivation to come to China in the first place. Focus now so that later we might reap some kind of reward. When in music we would call it woodshedding, and I would often tell stories of how my trumpet instructor spent a long period of time in cabin alone relearning to play his instrument. He came back renewed and a new musician.

Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to work with me. Without some kind of social activity, or the inspiration of colleagues, the pressures of public failure, I don’t seem to function at 100%. There aren’t even many distractions here, during the day the connection to the outside work (VPN) is all but unusable.

Like many experiences this has been a great learning experience and a reminder of the importance of getting out and being around people. And the importance of having people nearby you to inspire and push you to do more things.


Staying in after the typhoon

The army was out for the clean-up sporting all new equipment. From the chainsaws to the large tractors, everything looked fresh off the assembly line.

The army was out for the clean-up sporting all new equipment. From the chainsaws to the large tractors, everything looked fresh off the assembly line.

Typhoon Meradi arrived across the Taiwan Strait and brought with it high winds and flooding. Work was cancelled and the highway to ChangLe closed, so there was no moving to my more settled location. I spent the day indoors reading, the upside to not having Internet or interest in work.

Staying in all day wasn’t by choice, though by yesterday morning the typhoon had subsided, the flooding it caused resulted in water outside my door that was just below my waist. Not knowing the street and what might be under my feet I heeded the advice of the security guard and stayed in. I’ve lived through typhoons many times in Taiwan and we are usually quite prepared. This time I wasn’t. I hadn’t known how serious the flooding is here and that I wouldn’t be able to get to a store or restaurant for food.

So here I was in my room with 700ml of water, 4 bananas, and a small bag of almonds, wondering how long the flooding would last, and wishing I knew how to swim.

Company HR never got in touch during this time, to let me know about work closures, weather or if my meetings with them were cancelled during the day. It’s been obvious for a while that despite individually being nice people, that they have no systems in place for dealing with foreign hires. Luckily I reached out to them and my contacts to see what was going on.

There was running water that I could double boil. I had enough water and food to survive of course, and it’s nothing compared to the struggles of others, but in talking to the security guard I lamented that I hadn’t prepared well, and that I hadn’t eaten. So he gave me one of his dried packages of noodles to eat. And later in the evening showed up at my door with a hot lunch box. Fantastic guy! The cleaning lady kept me abreast of the weather situation. They were the bright points of my day.

Looking outside my window I see people busily starting to clean up all the sludge and garbage that remains. Strangely, despite it being on all day yesterday and though the storm, there is no water today.


Now in Fuzhou

Many of the streets in this district of Fuzhou are lined with mature trees.

Many of the streets in this district of Fuzhou are lined with mature trees.

I arrived in Fuzhou, Fujian via Hong Kong a few days ago for a work opportunity, a change which has been in the works since November of last year. This has involved the longest, most convoluted hiring process I have ever heard of. I plan on writing something down about the whole on-boarding experience after it has reached some sort of conclusion. I haven’t actually started working yet, and won’t for another couple weeks as HR goes through the process of making everything legal. Why in my case this takes so long hasn’t been communicated to me.

Its bit of an adventure, one in which I thought I needed. It’s difficult to move to a strange country alone, start a new job, and make your way. I thought this might be one of my last chances for this kind of personal growth before we head back to the quiet of Prince Edward Island. Being away from family makes it much more difficult.

Arriving in any strange place the first order of business is shelter and food. The company took care of the shelter part, and I have set out to find something edible. An HR rep. did graciously treat me to lunch/dinner, after hearing I hadn’t eaten all day. It was a delicious meal of dumplings and winter melon soup.

I’m not fanatical about it but I do have a strict dietary regime, if in Prince Edward Island in summer one should eat Cows Ice Cream and go to Strawberry Socials. But I as a rule don’t eat processed foods, nor do I often eat bread, noodles, rice or deep fried things. I tend to eat simple whole foods make up of vegetables and meat, followed by my indulgence of too much fresh fruit. I love curries but generally like to recognise what I am eating.

Thanks to the news, before landing I had already formed an opinion of the food in China, it’s an overly simplistic view that much of the food here contains some kind of poison. I have towards Taiwan’s food a similar perception but to a lesser degree.

Of course, there is also what I can see with my own eyes. The quality of some of the food I have seen is not that great. The steak, well my initial impression is that I don’t think I’ll be eating any cheap beef anytime soon. So I have been very cautious when trying new things and it’s been difficult finding restaurants that serve food that fit my criteria.

I have had some luck. One of the La Veritas chain restaurants nearby has a salad bar, with lettuce and tomatoes comprising what I consider salad. Chicken and salad bar is a bit expensive by local standards but I found it acceptable. I found a Japanese restaurant in the same building, one of the department stores with poor interior design called WangFuJin, that had food similar to what I find in Taiwan. Subway salads due in a pinch, and there is a Taiwanese style buffet nearby that has some egg dishes I like. My lunches have always been a coffee, lots of nuts and fruit. Imported nuts are expensive here, like everywhere, but at least they can be found.

The biggest problem is breakfasts. I tend to eat eggs, meat, fish or occasionally a home made cereal made from ground nuts. But people here seem to carb load. Lots of bread, noodles, or rice. In Taiwan there are breakfast shops galore, and it’s easy to ask the boss to simply fry you some eggs, if you don’t mind the oil. 7-11 has some ok options – tea eggs, fruit, and even salad. Unfortunately in this area none of this is possible. I haven’t even come across breakfast sandwiches, food that is ubiquitous in Taiwan.

Hopefully this is temporary, and when I move to my new place next week I’ll be able to find food closely resembling what I grew accustomed to in Taiwan and Canada.


Sometimes amongst the noise of Facebook a signal appears; some great advice from a high school classmate.

I’ve always taken risks in my life, sometimes they didn’t work out and I was embarrassed. I learned from every one, because I looked for the learning. And I didn’t stop taking risks. Over time, they stopped feeling so much like risks and it’s gotten harder to embarrass me. I’ve learned a lot.

What are you afraid to do? Be bold today. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, something you’ve been scared to try. Look for the learning and do it again next week.
Kirsten

Fear of embarrassment has long been a motivator for me but also an inhibitor to stepping outside my bubble and trying something new. I think I’ll take her advice.


Talent takes hard work

Contrary to the views of the Taiwan Ministry of Education, who believe that genius magically appears in children prior to entering elementary school, a recent New York times column by David Brooks entitled Genius – The Modern View leaves behind the more romantic view of a divine spark, and takes a more prosaic view which emphasizes genius as something to be learned through effort and application.

We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.
What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had – the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

In his article he mentions two books that have been recently published on this theme, “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.
Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)

Genius: The Modern View


Still recovering


I think I am still recovering from Catriona’s birthday party at Hong Kong Disneyland and our camping trip to Hualian. Traveling used to be far less exhausting.


Time keeps on slipping into the future

Dates seem to be playing a larger role in my life than at any time in the past. The past is something that I spend far too much time thinking about as well. Perhaps this is a symptom of my advancing age or more likely I have allowed myself to settle into the boredom of ordinary life.
Either way the next few months seem to represent a number of milestones:

  • this month I have been married for 12 years
  • this month marks my 10th year of living in Taiwan (9 of it in Hsinchu)
  • next month my daughter turns 5
  • the month after that marks 19 years that I have been with my wife (we lived in sin for 7 years)

Writing it down makes it seem less auspicious. I’m not convinced that having spent 10 years on this rock is something to be proud of. It feels like an endurance test more than anything.
The title comes from Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle (songza) which for some reason started playing in my head when I was jotting this down. Perhaps Daniel Levitin’s book has an answer as to why.


Black Elk Quote

I’ll start this month with this thought:
“Any man who is attached to things of this world is one who lives in ignorance and is being consumed by the snakes of his own passions.” – Black Elk


Hello Mr. Back

One sign of the onslaught of middle age is the surprise realization that you have a back and it causes you pain. I didn’t know this before. It seems that this back needs constant care and attention. It needs to be stretched and exercised. The back doesn’t like sitting in a sub-par chair all day in contorted positions looking at a computer screen. We learn these lessons the hard way as I eye the bag of pain medications which I don’t want to take but since I am still at my keyboard I know I will ultimately succumb to.
Another sign of the onslaught of middle age (I still have time to go) is that despite the fact that I eat very little my belly keeps growing and growing. But I have been noticing that for months now.


666 – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell who does not have the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom: let anyone with the understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred and sixty-six.

Revelation 13:16-18
Prayer vigil targets Devil’s Day.
On June 6 2006 (6/6/6), the evangelical Ambassadors Ministries from Holland held a 24 hour prayer vigil to ward off ‘evil spirits.’ The prayer marathon began in Jerusalem.
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is a fear found in the Western Christian world, which originates in the belief that the Biblical verse, Revelation 13:18, indicates that the number 666 is linked to Satan or the Anti-Christ. Outside the Christian faith, the phobia has been further popularized as a leitmotif in various horror films.
Courtesy Wikipedia.


No Good News

I had an insane idea Sunday. Why not start a site dedicated to reporting only good news. A web site with content similar to what you find in those “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books but injected with a bit more humor. Their are seemingly endless web logs and general news sites dedicated to nothing but sarcasm and negativity. Surely there must be some demand, an audience, people who want some balance in the stories they read. I was sure there was.
So I designed it.
But as I was working on it I was also “sourcing sources” for content. It was hard. Very hard. I didn’t intend for this to be a full time research project and it shouldn’t be. It’s probably pretty telling about the current state of our media and society when someone has to actually work hard at finding something positive and enlightening to read. Is the world that dark a place or is just not profitable to write something that is positive or enlightening?
Here are a couple sites that have managed to find something positive to say: Good News Network and Good News Blog


Sick

pills
I’ve been back from my mini-break but somehow managed to catch a terrible infection in my chest. Ugly stuff coming up. I thought I had left these kind of colds back in Canada years ago. Visiting a doctor here is always a cheap and relatively quick experience. Doctors here love to prescribe drugs and the visit I had this week was no different. I left with a cocktail of drugs which only last a few days thereby guaranteeing that I will return if I am not cured. Luckily each visit to the doctor, including medication, only costs about $4.50US.
One of the downsides of working independently is how much more inconvenient being sick is – no one can cover for you and you don’t really have “sick days”. It’s times like these that I miss working in a large company.


Merry Christmas!

christmasbeach.jpg
My bags aren’t packed and I still have a desk of work to clear (notice how I am writing this instead of doing it) but tomorrow I say good bye to the cold and head for the warmth of a sandy beach. Though a short break it beats eating what they pass for turkey here.

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honour to this Day,
That sees December turned to May. -Robert Pinskey

Hope you have a safe and happy holiday.


Not Enough Seconds in a Day

I watched television last night and it inspired me (gasp!). Not real TV since I don’t have cable nor do I have a real TV by Canadian standards, just one snagged from the dust bin. It was a show tapped to vhs then digitized to vcd. I hate television generally but watching this sweet slice of life from the hallmark channel made me realise something. It seems I am always busy but never get anything done. I have an aunt like this but the key difference between us is that I do stuff. The days are too short for me. I would work all night if I could.
The slice of life I was watching from the Hallmark channel was illuminating. Here was an old couple driving place to place actually doing things in the real world – you know that place not formed from pixels and bits but that lives outside of your screen. However simple there life was they were getting things done. This was circa 1980 so no distractions from a blackberry, no mobile phone, no email, no weblogs you have to check every hour, no flickr, and no chat IM. Go here go there, do this do that.
Computing and IT suck at allowing you to get things done.I’m doing so much more, and getting so much less done.
In the grand to do list of life I got more things done in a day driving a tractor cutting grass for the City of Charlottetown (back in 1985) than I did at a job where I “think” for a living. I’m getting tired of thinking – I just want to do.
Todd Levin says: “If I were to make a list of things I am “doing” right now, it would be long and impressive and possibly even make you wonder how a man of my size living in a universe of such constricted physical laws – 60 seconds in a minute, 24 hours in a day, etc. – can get it all done.” You can read more on his site.
Perhaps at the least it is time to unplug the wireless router or just unplug.


How to Become an Early Riser

“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
– Aristotle
Are morning people born or made? In my case it was definitely made. In my early 20s, I rarely went to bed before midnight, and I’d almost always sleep in late. I usually didn’t start hitting my stride each day until late afternoon.

The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am), but I go to bed at different times every night.”

How to Become an Early Riser » Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development Blog
(Via http://del.icio.us/popular/.)


Stress and Relaxation: Ten Ways to Relax and Reduce Stress

Dr. Weil offers 10 tips on relaxation.
“The following are some wonderful ways to reduce anxiety, agitation and stress and promote relaxation, calm and peace within yourself. Some techniques take practice, and most require some commitment on your part to achieve results. However, the results are well worth any effort, as a calm and relaxed body and mind are less prone to health issues than an agitated body and mind.”


Common Misconceptions About Hearing

Any musician who has had to work with sound reinforcement will appreciate this article. Here is an excerpt:
“In the range of safe sound levels (let’s say up to 85 dBA for a 8 hour exposure) adjustment should not be restricted. However,levels above 85 dBA are dangerous and can cause permanent hearing damage. Given the choice, most sensible people would not knowingly choose to put themselves in an environment that was considered hazardous to their health. However, many patrons are unaware of the potential danger of sustaining permanent hearing loss and are also unaware of the fact that noise levels over 85 dBA are dangerous.
An informed public, coupled with rational behavior, are key ingredients in the protection of individuals from both hearing lossand extra health costs. Unfortunately, existing legislation does not require informing patrons of potential health hazards that could harm them, thereby eliminating the concept of “informed consent”. Enforcement of existing work place laws should protectnightclub employees, patrons, teachers, musicians, D.J’s or any other individual who may be exposed to dangerous noise levelsthat could pose a potential health hazard. Regretfully, such laws are very seldom implemented or enforced.”
In my youth I was exposed to far too many lousy sound engineers who hadn’t a clue about proper reinforcements levels. The sound levels I had to endure were excruciating. As well, an old Austrian trumpet teacher of mine used to instruct me to practice with the bell of my trumpet facing a wall where I could get a better idea if I was “playing in the slots”. Well it worked, I was playing in the slots but that coupled with the noisy bands contributed to the tinnitus I have today. A factor in ending my performing career (the most mitigating factor was the simple fact that I wasn’t that good).
Read the full article


What a wonderful … life.

Louis Armstrong’s song made famous by “Good Morning Vietnam” is now stuck in my head but Seth Godins article “Time to take action” offers some common sense inspiration. The following quote strikes a chord:

The thing is, we still live in a world that’s filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing. (found via Good Experience)

Read the article


Things that annoy me

Every once in a while I feel the need to scream. Chronic fustration rears it’s ugly head.

Things that annoy me

  • The absolute lack of speed in OS 10.2.
  • Font management in OS 10.2.
  • How editing on line of text in Flash has apparently caused the audio and visuals of the whole piece to be totally out of sync which will undoubtedly result in another days work.
  • How politics rule product development to the detriment of quality and everyones sanity.
  • 3 1/2 days at work last week of which 1 /1/2 days were spent in meetings. Most of which were poiltical.
  • The phrase “I must insist you change this text because I am the author”. 200 pages of mediocre writing for a corporate website, 1 line of text set in bold to enhance usability and this is what we will meet for hours to argue over changing. Forget about the multitude of other issues that need to be addressed.
  • The fact that I am sure there is a person responsible for the variations in the amount of hot water we have in our apartment but I don’t know who it is.
  • The fact that I forgot to bring a URL home from work and now I must drive my motorcycle in the rain, on Sunday, in Hsinchu traffic, in order to retrieve it from my workstation.
  • My increasing apathy.