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


Resident Visa Journey

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

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

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

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

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


Canada Day in Taiwan

The kids are still enjoy getting their face painted.

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

Unfortunately it rained.

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

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

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

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


Taiwan Flora

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

A photo posted by Clark MacLeod (@kelake) on

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


Taiwan home office soundtrack

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

This is the sound I was greeted with yesterday morning.

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

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

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

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


The Sound Of China

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

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


Comparing Taiwan and Prince Edward Island

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

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