More Masks

This photo is notable for the regrettable use of the filters that were popular during early iPhone photography. We lived in a house in Xiangshan at the time, the sick house as we called it. Large mold formations use to appear in parts of the kitchen, and Camren was always sick looking during the time we were there; he always had large circles under his eyes which cleared when we moved to the Science Park, where they constantly sprayed poison to kill off all signs of insect life. We enjoyed the neighbourhood for the most part, it was so close to walking trails, rice patties and country roads.

The mask might I was wearing might have been due to the Avian Influenza (2010) which was in Hong Kong at the time, or I may have been trying to protect my lungs from pollution while riding.


More masks

After searching my photos for and not finding any evidence of the strangeness that was living through the SARS outbreak, I’ve been looking for other photos of members of our family wearing masks. My #covidbrain finds this strangely interesting, either that or I am suffering from general tiredness brought on by neighbours who have taken the opportunity during this crisis to socialize more, and into the wee hours of the AM (I’d take the opportunity in response to start practicing fanfares again on my trumpet in the AM, but there are other more “turned in” people nearby).

This one was taken in January of last year when there was yet another viral outbreak making its’ way through the schools.


A Coffee Shop Guide to Hsinchu, Taiwan’s Fika Capital

I miss many things about our former home – the food, the density, and the language. But the café scene is really special and, with the exception of Receivers, an experience I have yet to find an equivalent of locally. Lauren Ku’s article in The News Lens misses my favourite haunts, but that is no doubt due to the fact that there are just so many great places to chose from.

Whenever I return to Hsinchu on the weekends, I feel as if I’m running away from Taipei’s hectic subway commute. Although Hsinchu is home to Taiwan’s youngest population, this city feels lazy and sluggish somehow. If you walk out of the historic train station and stroll along the city moat, you can often spot children playing around or people sitting under the trees to enjoy a soft breeze.
In Hsinchu, you don’t really need a scooter to get around. You can walk to most of the places aimlessly and just stop in a cafe when you’re tired. You can spend the entire afternoon listening to the high-schoolers’ gossips or observing the old couples who just mind their own business. Hsinchu has a surprisingly high density of coffee shops, with customers of all age groups. When I was a kid, my dad also brought me to a local coffee shop frequently, where we each read our own books.

A Coffee Shop Guide to Hsinchu, Taiwan’s Fika Capital


“perpetually dying of starvation”

For anyone who has not had the pleasure of meeting her, the utterly adorable Elsa. She’s sweet, affectionate, playful, and perpetually dying of starvation (her words, not mine!)

It makes me happy to see that all of Sheryl’s hard work has resulted in our old dog Elsa finding a home with someone who cares for her. It’s worked out better than we could have hoped.


A bathroom reno

The bathroom in our apartment in Hsinchu has seen better days.

On the Island, renovations such as this, well likely far less extensive than this, result in what people have been calling renovictions, whereby the landlord is using renovations as an excuse to evict tenants and charge higher rent. But in Hsinchu at least, workers seal off the work areas, people keep on occupying the space, but with the added stress of even more dust and dirt in their homes.


Netflix Series Street Food

Taiwan’s unique culinary traditions are once again making tasty waves in the international media, this time thanks to a new Netflix series called Street Food. The series (which made its debut on the streaming service in May) dedicates each episode to the culinary traditions of one particular spot on the globe. Though hardly surprising that Taiwan made the first season, the show’s creators make a bold choice by skipping the usual Taiwanese culinary tropes of night markets, dumplings and beef noodle soup, choosing instead to focus on the culinary traditions of lesser-known (outside of Taipei) city of Chiayi.

[…]

Over the course of the 33-minute episode, viewers are treated to far more than just mouth-watering shots of food preparation. They’re also taken inside the homes, personal struggles and family dramas of the people behind the dishes.
Taiwan Scene

I watched the Chiayi episode last night, and started the Bangkok episode, Bangkok is my second favourite city to find good food. It’s a great episode and series overall, which makes me miss the region we lived in for so long, but I don’t think I will sit with the kids and watch, as the calls to return to Taiwan will be unrelenting for days. They love 豆花.

Unlike so many food programs I have seen, this gives some great insight into Taiwan culture; the family relationships and work culture are pretty evident when you listen to Grace Chia Hui Lin tell the story of smart fish.

Highly recommended.


彭記燉

Discovered in one of the many small alleys near FE21.

There is much that I miss about living in Hsinchu – low taxes and a functioning health care system being on my mind most this season – but aimlessly walking the alleys only to discover some small hidden treasure is certainly near the top of my list. Weather permitting we would walk a lot in Hsinchu and I was always amazed at the sheer number of interesting places to eat.


Remembering San Mao

Taiwanese writer San Mao died 28 years ago this January. She was a role model for women of her time, casting off the social strictures of martial-law-era Taiwan, escaping abroad to travel, write, love and have the kind of exotic and tragic life that was the stuff of romance novels. I loved reading her short stories when I was learning Chinese and listened to an audio version of one of her short stories so often I had committed it to memory.

People’s Daily writes:

“She was born in Chongqing, moved to Taiwan, studied in Spain, and settled in the Sahara. All of her life she pursued freedom and touched the hearts of many with all of her words. Her love-story with Jose stirred people’s emotions. Her mother said that maybe her life was not perfect enough for her, but we now know that her life-long pursuit of her dreams has already become romantic legend. Today, in 1991, writer San Mao committed suicide.”

Remembering San Mao – the Bohemian Writer That Captured the Hearts of Millions of Chinese


The bathroom fan

From Seth’s Blog:

In our office, the kitchen exhaust fan blows the smoke from the cooktop–back into the kitchen.

It’s a closed loop, a palliative, a noisy device that doesn’t do much except make you feel like at least you’re trying.

Most of the exhaust fans in our lives are actually part of a closed system. The detritus, pain or actions we share don’t go very far away before they turn around and head back toward us.

The fan in the master bathroom in our apartment in Hsinchu was making an awful noise one day and eventually quit working. Upon installing a replacement we realized that the fan didn’t actually lead to anywhere – it simply circulated the humid air to the space above our false ceiling. I thought it was hilarious and synonymous with much of the problems I experienced in local culture – a face saving measure to cover for the inability to meet a requirements spec. Of course this resulted in more black mold and a rusty fan prone to failure.


Setting workplace norms early

Camren’s 5th grade classroom

In Taiwan elementary schools they prepare them early for what life will be at the workplace. He ate more nutritious lunches then, as lunch in PEI schools is sandwiches or fast food, and they don’t have the facilities to maintain a safe temperature of a hot lunch. But this habit, seen throughout many if not most Taiwan companies is toxic, as it increases the likelihood that you are still available for calls, and after you hurriedly eat, likely stay at your desk to keep on working after the obligatory nap.


The next chapter

In 10 days I’ll be leaving this island for another, thereby closing a chapter in my life, the life of my family, while opening another. I’ve lived here for just shy of 20 years, longer than any other place.

To say that I am reluctant to leave would be an understatement. For the past number of weeks I have been analyzing the decision from hundreds of different perspectives, have been filled with self-doubt, and anxious for the future. Taiwan in general, and Hsinchu in particular is a good place to live, but most of what I am feeling is just the normal resistance to change that many of us go through, especially after making such a significant investment in time as we have had here.

For my kids, Taiwan is the only home they have ever had. For them I think Prince Edward Island will be just about as different an experience as you could hope for. A bit like moving from Earth to Mars. Thats the point though, I want them to experience this contrast and learn to adapt in different environments. They have stood out for the entirety of their lives, with both good and bad effects, now they must endure the monotony of sameness. To stand out in the crowd will require more effort on their part.

Of course, Prince Edward Island is just a great place to spend your youth.

This isn’t my first time leaving, I left over 2 years ago to pursue work in China, which is why many people leave. Taiwanese included. China is the new America, without the freedom and open internet, and there are an enormous amount of opportunities there. It’s an exciting place where many things seem possible.

With my new home being in Charlottetown, I’ll be taking my excitement in smaller doses, maybe one to twice yearly to start. Well, if I remember my high school life correctly, I’m sure the kids will provide all the excitement I need.


In bloom

靜心湖

Woke up with less than a clear mind this morning and decided to take a short walk around 靜心湖 near our house. I’m glad I did as I was able to see the flowers in bloom inside the temple that is on one side of the lake.


A city that works

Bar in Central

When I was in Hong Kong for the day recently I was struck by the number of people who were in bars at midday drinking and how all the cafés were full. I’ve often found Taipei to be much the same, at least as far as cafés are concerned, where you will find people checking their investments on their laptops. I often think to myself when I visit these places, don’t people work?

It’s an interesting difference between cities. Hsinchu, like downtown Ottawa on the weekend, is largely quiet during working hours, which can stretch into the night. It’s a place where people work. In fact, outside of the young and other foreigners, most people I know have 3 “places”: work, home and wherever the whole family is going. There is little time during the week for any activity outside of work and home.

Much of Hsinchu has been designed this way, the districts are poorly connected, and public transportation poor. Driving between districts at rush hour or on the weekend feels like madness.

While I’m fairly accustomed now to the way life is structured here, and I’ve had my share of time working out of cafés this past year, I do look forward to experiencing a city with a more balanced work culture.


Sneezes

This used to be called 竹科 station but they changed the name recently and I can never remember it.

Since the SARS epidemic here in Taiwan, which served as a sneak peak into a dystopian future, I’ve been very careful about trying to prevent contact with virus’s while out and about in whatever city we are in. Not to the point of developing some kind of complex or OCD, but a gentle reminder to watch where we place our hands, keep them clean and away from our face. Common sense when living in crowded environments.

Unfortunately all these good intentions don’t help when faced with the other peoples lack concern with the health of others. On the train from the HSR Sunday an older woman felt it necessary to sneeze on me, and with boy body being run down from lack of sleep I’ve now caught a cold. My first in recent memory.


Our Hsinchu Food Tour

My one way ticket has been issued. With only 6 weeks left on this island, the clock is ticking and we are using all of this remaining time to visit those special local restaurants that we have been frequenting since we arrived here so many years ago.

When we travel we have always eschewed fancy restaurants, hotel food, or so-called expat eateries (expat is a term I abhor), as we have preferred to eat where the locals eat. Often these places are found off the beaten path and can require some effort to find. This same philosophy applies to where we call home, as you can walk around any neighborhood in Hsinchu or Taipei and find a new place to experience. Of course as a family with limited resources, there are good sound economic reasons to do this as well.

One of the great advantages of living in Taiwan is that despite being towards the end of the month, when the budget is tighter, you can still afford to go out to a restaurant and feed a family of 4. Taiwan’s “small eats” or junk food is far tastier than what you would find in Canada.

The other great advantage of living in Taiwan, is that this country has such a wide range of good food to eat. Within walking distance of our house the whole world is represented; Indian, Korean, Italian, Japanese, American (Cajun), Thai., and French food is all available. As well, as all the regions of China.

Here is some of the food we have started to sample:

酸辣湯 at 五花馬. A franchise in Taiwan. It wasn’t that great and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from a package. I might source a more homemade, replete with pigs blood, source before we go.

Inexpensive 鮭魚丼

Latte and blueberry cheesecake in Zhudong. Even in somewhat small and remote towns you can wander down some alley and find good coffee and pastries.

鍋貼 and 貢丸湯 at 新明牛肉麵

An Indian family opened a non-decript restaurant nearby. We stopped in for what could be best described as Indian family cooking. Tastey.

蔥油餅 is a favorite of the kids.

炸醬麵 at some some little place in the downtown.

鮭魚丼

I forget what this is called, maybe 綜合肉丼

高麗水餃 at十一街 in Zhubei

蛤蜊冬瓜湯 at 十一街 in Zhubei


Heavy Load

You will often see seniors here helping to support themselves by collecting recyclables. I suspect many are without family support. A couple weeks ago I was out riding on the nearby hills and came across an old lady laying on the road. I approached her cautiously, as Taiwan unfortunately has a reputation for using accidents for financial gain, scams abound. This may be a contributing factor as to why you often see people reluctant to help accident victims. But no normal person is going to walk by an old lady in need. Luckily she spoke Chinese, some in the rural parts of Hsinchu might be more comfortable with Taiwanese, and I asked her if she was ok. She had been hauling a refrigerator on a cart down a steep hill and it fell over taking her with it. I asked if she was ok and she said she was just a bit sore. I offered to call a family member, but she said their was no one to call, she was alone. With the help of passerby’s we got her on her way, but it’s unfortunate to see someone in this kind of situation. Growing old is hard enough without having to resort to collecting others garbage to put food on the table.


Street Food in Hsinchu

A street side shop specialising in lamb with noodles, rice or as soup.


I’m not a lover of lamb so would not have eaten at this street side shop in Hsinchu but it’s a very typical scene in the downtown area at night. Taken about 14 years ago when I used to still have my street photography hobby.


Science Park Life Hub to Taipei Bus Station Schedule

新竹竹科至台北轉運站

I’m posting this as a reminder that the bus from ZhuKe to Taipei leaves every hour, not half hour as I had thought. In the past couple of weeks I’ve arrived at all the wrong times to catch the bus to Taipei. The last time I arrived in time but I had the misfortune of being behind someone who was buying tickets seemingly for the next year at specific dates and times, and naturally would think to ask if I would like to purchase a single ticket before him. With this schedule now firmly in my mind, I hopefully wont make the same mistake again.

Otherwise taking the bus to Taipei is far less stressful than driving and more convenient than trekking out to the HSR.


Great people

This picture was taken during a somewhat yearly lunch get-together between some of the original team members of what was then ITRI’s web communications department. These people set the standard for all work experiences to follow. It’s amazing that as we approach close to 20 years since I first met them all we still manage to keep in touch and meet regularly.

Other than fostering a fun and enjoyable work environment we enjoyed so many early “firsts”, a few included: 20% rule whereby you spent a portion of your time on self-directed study, then share and apply; business blog networks before it was a thing; early standards based web development; and we established a robust information architecture practice within a very early for Taiwan UX team (there were no other UX teams for web at that time that we knew about).

It wasn’t all flowers and unicorns of course, there was conflict, we got emotional, but by and large we were more family than work colleagues.

As I prepare to leave Taiwan for the next chapter of my life, I will always remember fondly the experiences I had working with my other Taiwan family.


The Miracle of Taiwan’s Architecture

In the summer, it’s hotter inside than it is outside. In the winter, it’s colder inside than it is outside. Only Taiwan builders could accomplish such a feat.

What passes for winter in northern Taiwan has arrived. That means 10˚C or colder temperatures, which is fine, but the cool temperatures are accompanied by a constant drizzle, the dampness of which makes everything feel much worse. It also makes most outdoor activities too unpleasant to consider. Yesterday that meant a mind numbing 25km run on a treadmill, followed by an afternoon of binge watching Netflix, and capped with a dinner composed of 鮭魚丼 and miso soup. Not a bad day, all considered. Unfortunately, while I have lots of work to keep me busy for most of the day, the kids, my son in particular, would rather be outside riding their bikes or playing basketball. Now they are relegated to their rooms, trying to keep warm under their blankets.

To rub salt in the wound, last year at this time we just capped off a week on the beach in southern Thailand, after which I returned to my apartment in China, which had a great heating system. Of all the things wrong I found with living in China, at least as compared to Taiwan, I at least had heat.

Taiwan’s apartments, aka cement prisons, with the exception of some newer builds are all outfitted without concern for interior temperature, making them feel like ovens in summer, and fridges in winter. Many offices are somewhat the same, with scenes of workers wearing parkas and gloves, while trying to type on keyboards with numb fingers. In our apartment, I’ve complicated things by sealing all the windows, limiting air flow, to keep out as much dirt and pollution that fills the air as I possibly can.

The saving grace is that misery lasts less than a month, after which we can go on about complaining about other things, like scooters driving on the sidewalk, and how it is possible Costco doesn’t have butter.


Christmas weekend Star Wars

Big City lights up for Christmas so people can take pretty selfies.

Though I make a habit of photographing as a means of remembering even the most minor of events, I have nothing to show for yesterday’s Christmas celebration. Just ugly shots of what was a delicious meal. Taiwan is only international when it comes to government sponsored propaganda so celebrating Christmas here can sometimes be a challenge but we manage each year to have a great time.

The above photo was taken on the 23rd after we had seen the latest Star Wars which left me with a distinct feeling of deja vu. Dinner was at a mall joint – expensive and not all that satisfying. Catriona introduces here dish here and Camren here.


CHOCO RUN巧克力路跑

We took photos but I think my faced destroyed the camera as none turned out. I think the map was included on your shirt since there were no race officials to guide you.

We participated in the chocolate run 5K yesterday that was held in Zhubei. I think we were envisioning a repeat of a similar event in Taoyuan a few years ago, which was great fun for the kids (chocolate donuts at the aid stations) but unfortunately this race was poorly organized and poorly attended. Holding events is hard but for the most part, with the exception of some rough spots, most races in Taiwan are well done. Being as this was a branding opportunity for the sponsoring company, it must have been perceived as a disaster – there weren’t even many representatives from the company helping to run this slipshod event.

Complaints aside it was a fun run and the weather cooperated with cool temperatures and no rain. And what other time can you have chocolate ice cream for breakfast?

I ran with Sheryl for the first 3 and a half, then ran through a red light (they weren’t holding traffic) and ran at race pace for the last 2. It felt fine but for some stiffness in leg leg, likely my IB band. Unfortunately, my plantar fasciitis hasn’t disappeared despite 3 months of relative rest and daily training. I now doubt whether I’ll return to marathon training at the start of December.


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