Archive for November, 2007

the medical system; a first visit

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Well, I can now report on the Taiwan hospital system. No, don’t panic (she said, in large friendly letters); in this country all the doctors are kept in hospitals so even if you have a hangnail that’s where you go. As it happens I didn’t have a hangnail, but that’s not too far off anatomically. I’ve been having some pain in my left foot, at first at the base of the big toe and moving to sort of the middle of the metatarsals. It’s been hurting for a while now, but first I was waiting to see if it would get better on its own, then it seems like a waste to go see a Dutch doctor right before we left since in case treatment was required I’d need to see a Taiwan doctor anyhow, and then I was waiting for our health insurance here to kick in. By this weekend, though, it was hurting enough that I’d begun to limp, so I decided not to wait any longer. I was worrying that it might be a bunion because I do have a bump at the side of the base of my big toe, and according to the internet reading I’d done, those just keep getting worse until you need surgery.

When I asked our HR manager for the list of Englishspeaking doctors she says she has, she sent me the link to the National Taiwan University hospital instead. (According to one website for expats, this is the “jewel in the crown of health care providers in Taiwan”.) I’m not sure why; it may just be because she didn’t have a podiatrist / orthopedist on the list. I was worried about whether they’d speak English there, though. So I called the Taipei Community Center, which despite the name caters to the expat community here rather than to Taipei as a whole. The British woman I spoke to there suggested that since I didn’t have insurance yet anyway it might be better to go to a private clinic rather than to a public hospital, and gave me the numbers of several. I selected Shin Kong because she’d said it had something to do with orthopedics. There is a Shin Kong Orthopedic Sports Medicine Institute, but I’m not sure if I ended up there or in the regular Orthopedic section of the hospital (or possibly they’re the same and the Orthopedic Institute is just one section of the hospital). When I called, they transferred me to someone who spoke English, and I was able to get an appointment for the very next morning (first difference from the US!). They don’t give you an appointment time, just the number in which you’ll be seen. I was number 34, and when I asked the apointment person, he recommended showing up around 10:30.

I took a cab to the hospital, walked in through the crowds at the entrance, and walked across a huge and crowded lobby not unlike one at a high-end US hospital. There were lots of people walking around with bandages or on crutches, a few in wheelchairs, and in one case a woman shuffling along with (presumably) her husband holding an IV bag above her, its drip line snaking down to her arm. Across the lobby opposite the doors I saw a big desk with a big sign saying INFORMATION (and what was presumably the same in Chinese), so I went there and a nice lady in a bright yellow staff vest took me down to the registration desk and then to the waiting room for the Orthopedics offices.

I was waiting for number 34 on room 28; I’d gotten there early, just in case and they were on number 9. The nurse popped out of the office door frequently to show people in or out and updated the number, and it moved up to number 13 fairly rapidly. Then the process stalled; people who had been in earlier came back, the nurse was out talking to people in the waiting room, and people seemed to go in even when the number hadn’t changed. Most patients were accompanied by 2 or 3 family members. At one point the number went up to 16, then a few minutes later blinked back to 15. I was sitting on the far end of the row nearest the door, the only Westerner in the room, the nurse figured out I was for her room because I was watching her and the door. After spending some time with the people on the near end of my row, she came over to talk to me; fortunately she spoke some English. Then she asked me to fill out a family history form, which I’d have been happy to do except it was entirely in Chinese. I think she was a little taken aback, not having thought the matter through. But she gamely translated the questions as best she could (a native Mandarin speaker with heavily-accented English takes some serious decoding when she’s using words like “hypertension”). It has to be difficult – anyone speaking a Romance language or one with technical vocabulary borrowed from Latin can make a good stab at what the (usually Latin-based) English word should be, but from Chinese I don’t think you can do that. For some odd reason, she didn’t write down any of my answers.

A few numbers later, she called me in. (Actually, she called me “Miss Paula”.) The number above the door was now up to 19, so I hope I was being brought in early just because I’d gotten there early and not because she was jumping me ahead of others. The doctor spoke pretty good English and seemed as competent as any I’d get in the US. The best part about him being in the hospital was that he was able to send me right upstairs for an X-ray (they promptly sent me back down to the cashier to pay for it first) and then have the X-rays delivered a few minutes later. The hall by the radiology room was lined with people on gurneys, some with bandages or IVs, many with family keeping them company. It was right next to the ER, so they may have been waiting to be seen – apparently here you get to lay down while waiting for the ER. The X-ray tech just stretched out and positioned my leg; he didn’t put a lead blanket over me, though he did leave the room himself, closing a heavy metal door behind him. (I don’t expect those few roentgens in my foot did any harm, either, but US X-rays always seem to use the blankets.) He took two images, then sent me back down.

I only had to wait for another 10-15 minutes before they called me back in. (“Miss Paula!”) The doctor showed me that the bones are intact. (I do have a bunion, and was surprised how canted the bone is for my big toe, but he said it was just a minor one, no problem at the moment.) He gave his opinion that the pain was due to a strained ligament, and told me not to wear high heels, stand on my toes, or do sports that put pressure on that part of my foot. Then he wrote a prescription for an analgesic/anti-inflammatory, and told me I could pick it up upstairs. I stpoped back at the cashier’s desk to pay for the pills; the total for visit, X-ray, and medicine was NT$1147. Even at today’s abysmal rate for the US dollar, that comes out to a whopping US$35.

My foot should be better in a few weeks, and the pills should cut the pain for the next week. (They do seem to work, and without making me groggy or giddy or queasy.) I think if either of us get the kind of illness that leaves you feeling generally awful, as opposed to just aching, I might want to find one of the smaller private clinics. They don’t take national health insurance when we get it, but I can afford these rates – or else turn our bills in through Ted’s US insurance. On the other hand, though this hospital was big and noisy and busy, I think the care I got was very good. And I’m pretty relieved that my foot will get better on its own.

Thanksgiving, necessity, invention

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

I think this is the smallest turkey I’ve ever cooked (just under 13 lbs). That’s OK; it just fits the roasting pan we bought here, which just fits in our little oven. Only before we did that, we had to the measurement and analysis; weigh the bird (on the bathroom scale), convert kilos to lbs, convert oven temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius, working from memory since my Joy of Cooking isn’t here yet.

Our little oven only has one rack, and the turkey fills it all. It turns out, though, that you can make perfectly adequate little one-potato pans from aluminum foil, to sit on top of the bigger sheet of foil draped over the turkey. (I’m making my brother’s recipe, potatoes slice almost but not quite all the way through, fanned out, with melted butter and herbs poured over them and cheese melted on top.) We don’t have a grater, but that’s OK too, because the Tillamook cheese we were lucky enough to find came in slices, so I’ve just crumbled one.

The salads were made into individual bowls, because the only large bowl I have is metal – I don’t think it will react with the tomatoes, but just in case. We have the thinnest asparagus I’ve ever seen, which will go into the microwave sprinkled with a bit of water and salt, with a Ziploc bag draped over the top in lieu of plastic wrap (what we thought was plastic turned out to be more foil.) On the side will be garlic bread from a local bakery, and for dessert a cheesecake from the freezer aisle of Carrefour. We have olives and pickles for crudites – the pickles were easy but the olives took two stores to find.

It won’t be easy and a fair share of creativity was required, but I’m pretty sure it will all taste good. It seems appropriate, anyhow; I’m sure the Pilgrims had to improvise a lot too.

…but Ted still misses his Hummer

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Traffic in Taiwan is sort of a microcosm of the whole society. It’s not rule-based but relationship-based. Instead of being where the rules say your car should be (such as, oh, say, between the lane lines) people just squeeze in wherever they can fit, trusting to other people to let them in. The way to change lanes is to signal, poke your nose in, and wait for the driver behind to let you in.

It actually all works surprisingly well; people expect other drivers to pop out in front of them and so they are alert for odd maneuvers. We have probably seen a few more accidents than in a comparable time in the Netherlands, but then we’re driving longer distances in a much bigger city with much more traffic.

Actually, Taiwan may be ahead of the latest European trend now being pioneered in a few small towns: removing all traffic signs, crosswalks and sidewalks. The idea is to declare all streets as mixed-use zones and force people to interact with each other, with drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all staying alert and actually making eye contract. This is supposed to lead to fewer accidents, because people are forced to acknowledge each other’s presence.

That’s pretty much the way it works here; there are lane markers and signs and such, but people more or less ignore them (at least cars don’t drive on the sidewalks as I’ve seen in Seoul). As I said above, it does seem to work. In fact it’s much easier for clueless foreigners than drivng in countries where everyone follows all the rules and if you don’t know them you’re likely to get hit.

The big email and weird little differences

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

First: I sent out our big change-of-address emails. If you didn’t get it and you need our address and contact information, please let me know. (It looks like the one to all of our families might not have gone out properly; I promise I didn’t neglect you all on purpose, so let me know.)

I have a feeling there will be a lot more posts on differences between places – I’m sure there are a lot I’m forgetting and a lot we haven’t even encountered yet. There’s all those weird little differences you’d never even think about, like:

  • In Taiwan they dn’t seem to have much understanding of the concept of meal timing – yesterday we ate at a TGI Friday and after maybe a 15-20 minute wait, the appetizer came out, followed five minutes later by my meal, followed five minutes later by Rudder’s. (This is immensely preferable to the Netherlands, where after 30 minutes wait we’d get an appetizer, followed 45 minutes or more later by both our meals.)
  • You know those peel-off strips meant to rip the gunk out of your pores? You can get them in all three places, but the ones in Europe suck – adhesive sticks too hard and doesn’t remove cleanly, and they smell funny. Asia seems to have the same ones as the US.
  • You cannot buy OTC drugs in supermarkets in Taiwan. However, you can get nearly everything else in the big ones- including mopeds.
  • There are fifty kinds each of rice and soy sauce in the supermarket, and they are sold in very large sizes. This makes it hard to figure out which kind you want, and to get a reasonable amount for Western-stype cooking.
  • Methods for something as simple as buying vegetables is different. US: select, place in bag. Europe: select, place in bag, place on scale, push button for appropriate vegetable, push button to get sticker with UPC code to print out, place sticker on bag. Asia: Select, place in bag, take to special counter where person will weigh and sticker bag.
  • Stores of one kind are grouped together here: there is one street that is the best place to buy cameras, one street full of computer stores, etc. In the malls, floors are dedicated to one type of store: women’s clothing, men’s clothing, cosmetics, etc. There are three hypermarkets in town that I know of (so far), two Carrefours and a Geant; two of those are in our neighborhood across the street from each other.
  • In the US we constantly heard and saw aircraft going over head – well, we were right next to a small airport and twenty minutes from Sky Harbor, but still, they’re a common sight and sound in any city. In the Netherlands, we almost never saw any in Eindhoven, and not often in Amsterdam despite its proximity to Schiphol, one of the world’s busiest airports. Here they seem to be more common again – I’ve been noticing their sounds this evening, probably because I have a window open.
  • The smells are similar in the US and Europe, but very different in Asia – different foods, different flowers. The smell of people is more noticeable here than in the US, but less so than in Europe. (It varies quite a bit in the different countries of Europe, though – not bad in the Netherlands, quite pungent in some countries.)
  • My colleagues in the Netherlands would often wear the same outfit to work a few days in a row. That’s unheard of in the US (at least for women; men might get away with it) and seems to be uncommon here as well.
  • Girls here wear dark knee-highs with short skirts, sometimes layering them over hose – I think the idea is to mimic the look of boots in a way that makes sense for this climate.
  • Fewer people speak English here and those that do generally don’t speak it as well as the Dutch, yet there are many more product labels in English and many more English-language books available. (Probably not entirely fair, since I’m comparing to Eindhoven bookstores – Amsterdam is a fairer comparison to Taipei and it has two large bookstores entirely dedicated to books in English.)

As I said, I’m sure there will be more to add to this list!


Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

One of the things that’s interesting in going to a new country is how many tiny differences there are from home, or from the Netherlands. Electrical outlets are the same as US ones, except that our apartment has only two-prong sockets so that we’ve had to get 3- to 2-prong converters. There are separate heating and cooling controls for each room, instead of one for the apartment (they’re all in Chinese characters, so we haven’t fully figured them out yet). Lunches are paid for by our company, and there are more differences. There are several choices, including two small buffets. I usually get my food from one of those, which is nice because usually I can’t recognize about half the choices available so I can try a small bit of each thing (Mom would be proud). Generally, it’s turned out that the things I can’t recognize are better than those I can – today there were what looking like coconut-crusted shrimp that turned out to be 75% breading. The exception to this rule was the one bite of liver I ate by mistake the other day. I didn’t know what it was until I ate it.) Bamboo or metal chopsticks and plastic spoons are available but people usually bring their own – for environmental reasons, I was told.

Driving is particularly interesting, very different from driving in the Netherlands. It’s very free-form and people often exit a freeway in three lanes where there are meant to be two, or enter into a lane when there’s not exactly a space for them, or drive for a while half over the line. You just need to be clear about what you’re doing and then go. It’s easier in some ways than driving in the Netherlands, where everyone knows all the rules and expects you to follow them all. Here, people are much more alert to what everyone else is doing, and drive very carefully. It actually makes things easier when you’re new and not used to roads here.

Office hours are as late here as in the Netherlands – almost everyone works 9-6. We can’t really get in much earlier, as we’re used to doing, because of the
length of our commute. (Though actually this morning, nearly half of it was just
getting off the freeway at our exit.) Our office has the most sensible smoking area I’ve ever seen, matching something I’ve been suggesting for years; there is a break-room with a kitchen, and opening off that is a small room with a tight-fitting door and a few chairs for smokers. Presumably smokers don’t mind sitting in a room full of smoke, and this way they can be comfortable and the rest of us aren’t troubled with it. I’ve gotten no more than a faint whiff of smoke when the door opens when I’m in the room, much less than I’ve had to breathe while running a gauntlet of smokers evicted outside an office building.

Last night we were going to eat at a local TGI Friday’s but ended up in the food court because we didn’t feel like waiting. Mall food courts here seem to have a lower percentage of junk food and more real food, and they tend to have pictures or plastic replicas of each dish. The main thing I noticed, walking around, is that the place was absolutely awash in squid. Squid noodle soup, squid and noodles without soup, squid salad, squidsquidsquid everywhere. I guess it makes sense; if you think of squid as a normal meat like beef, then you should expect to find as much of it as you’d find beef at a US food court. I half expected to see saying a sign “Squid: It’s not just for breakfast anymore.” I’m sure Taiwanese mothers tell their children, “Now, Chin, eat your nice cephalopod. It will help you grow big and strong. Think of all the poor children starving in North Korea!” And Chin answers, “Then all the children in North Korea can have my squid!”

Later note: my coworkers brought me something to try for dessert. (Someone went out and got some for everyone.) It seems to be large chunks of slippery tofu (absolutely flavorless, as tofu is) in a hot, sweet and slightly spicy ginger soup. There are tapioca ‘pearls’ on the bottom. It’s not bad, but …. add one more to the list of concepts I’m not quite getting.

good hunting!

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Yesterday I got to indulge myself in someting I’d been wanting to do. Ted was working late, and I was going to take a taxi home, so I decided instead to go to Taipei 101 to raid the excellent Page One bookstore there. I had taken my computer in its backpack carrier since no one seems to leave their laptops here overnight, so in addition to getting to buy books I got my share of exercise as well. Carrying a stack of books while wearing a backpack is tiring! (There’s no room in the pack for much beside the computer and my purse.) But it was a prosperous expedition, so much so that I may have missed entire sections of the store because my arms were already too full.

Only problem is, they were the sections I came to see. I was surprised to find no specific sections for mysteries and SF, with adult fiction being divided only into Literature and General Fiction. Moreover, I saw both Janet Evanovich (not the Stephanie Plum books, the more recent series) and Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) in General Fiction. But Ted’s pretty sure he saw Mystery and SF sections when we stopped there during our house-hunting trip here. It’s a huge and fantasic bookstore otherwise, with more English-language titles than your average Barnes & Noble, and with more depth than I’ve seen in any American bookstore – not just bestsellers, but lots of older books as well. I guess I’ll have to go back to check the other sections for myself. (What a hardship.)

I need to write an entry on all the little things that are different here, but I need to collect all my memories of them first.

all shopped out

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

This weekend we did our parts for the economies of Taiwan and Sweden. (Also Romania, where IKEA is apparently getting its stuff made these days, according to the stickers.) Yesterday we malingered around the apartment until about 1, when the telephone guy *finally* deigned to show up. In about ten minutes he had us connected, and our number was not what we’d been told it would be so it’s a good thing I hadn’t sent out the big address-and-phone-number change email. I need to do that in the next day or two. (Email me if you want to get that and aren’t sure you’re on my list – if you got last year’s new address mailing you already are.)

Once that was done, we finally got to go out on our errands, secure in the knowledge that we’re now in a country that doesn’t close its stores early. We went to the equivalents of Home Depot (B&Q), The Great Indoors (or Bed, Bath and Beyond, but fancier) (HOLA, short for Home Living Arts), Circuit City (I forget what it’s called), and then to Costco (the real thing, not an equivalent), all right next to each other. In the process we bought another set of sheets for our bed, seets for the spare room, another set of towels, trashcans, pots, electrical converters (same as US but 3- to 2-prong since our flat has no 3-prong outlets), a power strip, a microwave, drinking glasses, mugs, and a huge load of groceries. Signing up for a Costco membership in another language was particularly amusing, but they do have a lot more brands and types of food we’re familiar with, as long as you want them in large quantities. We passed on the three-year supply of Q-tips, but did get some salmon, pre-made ravioli, steaks, hamburger, and frozen shrimp, as well as one of about every fourth thing in the store.

Ted did all the driving and needed all of last night and today to recover – well, actually it had more to do with the cold that’s still belying him about the head and chest. But also ou GPS is nt as helpful as we’d hoped, so though this He managed to last through the four roundtrips it took us to carry all the stuff from the car up the elevator to our apartment, but faded soon after, so I got to do all the unpacking and all the resulting dishwashing – we have a dishdryer but no dishwasher.

This morning he was still feeling pretty battered, so I got to do the remaining errands solo. First there was a walk to the market to get all of the stuff that either wasn’t available at Costco or that we didn’t want in bulk. (This was only partially successful since the market a block away is actually a Geant hypermarket, and te one half a block from that is an equally huge Carrefour. They have everything but some of it is still in fairly large quantities.) Then I brought all that home (Ted unpacked) and took a cab to IKEA. Two cabs, actually; the woman driving the first one did not in fact know where the IKEA was. She took me back to the HOLA where I’d been yesterday, drove in circles around it and Costco a few times, asked a few people including her dispatcher and finally concluded it was nowhere nearby. (There are two IKEAs in the city; I knew one was downtown but didn’t know where the other was; it could have been near there for all I knew.) Without speaking any English, she managed to make it clear that the HOLA was the same thing and I should just go there. She was mostly right, except that I’d just been there and knew they didn’t have what I wanted. (For one thing, they had very nice fine china but no everyday plates.) I folded my arms and said “No. IKEA.” She gestured and told me to go to HOLA again, so I thrust the amount of the fare at her and got out. (She was honest, anyway – gave me some of it back.)

I walked up to the line of cabs outside the store, approached a driver standing outside his car and asked if he spoke English. He spoke just enough to say, “No!” but handed me over to another man who took me to a cab toward but not at the front of the line and told the driver what I wanted. This one took me straight to the downtown IKEA. I decided never to get into a cab without a map again. The IKEA is in a big mall (Asiaworld, but I think it has a different name in Mandarin) so first I found a bookstore and bought a map. Then I made my sortie into the store, emerging with three big bags full: plates, bowls, kitchen towels, a roasting pan (Costco had turkey!), some utensils, placemats because all the tables in this apartment are covered with glass, a couple of serving dishes, a cutting board, and probably a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten. I managed to stagger with it to one of the cabs lined up outside the mall (this sounds terribly extravagant but cabfare was about $5 US), where the wisdom of my map purchase proved itself. I showed him my address (a small Moleskine notebook is being extremely useful for keeping things like lists for shopping and addresses to show cabdrivers) and told him the district, managing to pronounce it well enough so he understood, but he did still need to see the map. What I probably need to do is to make laminated wallet cards for both of us with our address on one side and a map showing the nearby mall and Carrefour on the other. So I got home, and we got everything unpacked.

After an hour of relaxing, I decided I still had a little bit of energy in me, so I walked to the mall to go to the smaller grocery on its basement floor to get the few things we *still* hadn’t managed to buy in all that shopping – cooking oil and a few spices, mostly. I brought it all back, and Ted was fortunately recovered enough by then to do the cooking. That part is being really nice: ravioli for dinner last night, salmon and corn on the cob tonight, made on out gas stove. And we’ve got our oven figured out (courtesy of the fortunately-English manual; this oven does all sorts of fancy tricks, so the manual was needed), and we have sheets to sleep on and towels to dry off with and food to eat. About the only thing we’re missing is salt and pepper shakers, and I know where we can get simple ones. And an alarm clock: for some reason we can’t find one of those anywhere.

Shortly before dinner, the back of my throat suddenly announced I’m probably getting Ted’s cold, but at least if I have to have it I had time to get everything done and everything bought first. We’ve thrown away a really appalling amount of packaging, even with reusing plastic bags. I don’t think I bought anything my least-materialistic, most-carbon-footprint conscious friend would disapprove of (that would be Rebecca), but it’s astonishing what it takes to set up an apartment for comfortable living by American (and Western European and Taiwanese) standards.

settling in

Friday, November 9th, 2007

We moved in last night. Ahhhh, a good bed – so so welcome after the horrible squishy thing that was our waterbed in the Dutch apartment. I am online here at home, but tethered – the cable guy managed to install a modem last night, but had to put it in the dining room because when this place was renovated they did a crappy job with the cabling. There are outlets everywhere but they’re all split off a single cable and the signal happens to be strongest in the dining room. Ted thinks he packed the AirPort (wireless hub) in the air-freight stuff that ges here on Monday, so that won’t be inconvenient for long.

The apartment also has more electrical and phone outlets than I’ve ever seen anywhere else – very convenient, though I still keep wondering why anyone would need not one but two phone jacks on either side of the master bed. (Not one on each side, two on each for a total of four.) Maybe it’s in case you were using the phone line instead of a cable for internet and wanted to plug in a laptop in bed? The lighting is also extremely good – lots of well-aimed spotlights in every room, so many that it’s hard to keep track of what switch goes to what light. Yesterday evening I was working on turning a sock heel, thin sock yarn with size 1 needles; that’s about the tiniest fiddliest thing I do, and I had no trouble working on it with just the built-in lights. It will be nice not to have to get any extra task lighting.

Comfortable place, so far. Now if only we had some food in it.

the day in detail

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Today was meant to be our day to take off from work and do lots of shopping and chores, but Ted’s caught a cold and elected to stay in bed in the hotel all day. He’s generally pretty stoic, so that probably means he’s feeling entirely rotten. So I did all the errands and shopping on my own – it’s actually easier with just one person, except for carrying stuff. (And I figure it’s an investment in being taken care of next time I catch something.) We move in to the apartment Friday night, anyway, so getting some things done was essential.

The first thing was to be in the apartment to let the guy in to install cable. We’d been told he’d be there at ten, but he didn’t show up until 11 – apparently some things are universal. Ted had considered staying at the apartment to take care of that, but decided he’d be more comfortable in the hotel – I figured my shopping tolerance was probably only a couple of hours anyway, so being freed to go earlier wouldn’t have helped. After the experience of driving home last night, I decided I was too chicken to drive in Taipei without an able navigator/observer, even with a GPS, so I cabbed it. (Really need to figure out the bus system here.) Arter an hour or so, the cable guy left, leaving the TV working (though not a great picture) but the internet not. I set off for a housewares place someone at work had recommended, and scored a sheet, pillow shams (can’t seem to find actual normal cases here), duvet cover, duvet (ours will be arriving but not for weeks, so the spare will go on the spare bed), and 2 pillows (ditto); enough flatware for the two of us until our full set gets here, chopsticks, chopstick rests and those Asian ceramic soup spoons, a traveling chopstick/spoon set because I notice my coworkers use them int he cafeteria (yes, there are disposable ones there. Shut up, it was cheap); mugs for us to take to work; and probably other stuff I’ve forgotten. I would have bought plates, pots, and glasses but couldn’t carry any more home in a cab.

I had so much stuff I decided to make an extra trip leg and take it back to the apartment instead of just going to the hotel and ferrying it later as I’d planned; good thing because the (wonderful helpful and friendly) doorman told me the cable company had called and “might be here at 3 to fix the cable”. I have no idea how they knew to call him; I don’t understand how things work here at all yet. It was 2, so I went off to the hypermarket to buy a phone and to try to get my toll-pass card loaded up so we can get to work tomorrow. I finally found the place to do that – conveniently, the main one in the city is in the foyer of the market two blocks from us. (If you imagine a Walmart on top of a giant supermarket on top of a small mall, you will have a good idea of this place. It’s a Geant, called I-My in Mandarin, and is right across the street from a Carrefour which is exactly the same thing. Opposite both is a mall. This place is the polar opposite of the Netherlands, shopping-wise.)

The cable guy came not at 3 but at 4:30, but after an hour was unable to fix the problem; if you haul the (large) TV into the dining room the picture is perfect, but I don’t plan to do that. No joy on the internet, which I’d much rather have than TV any day. Apparently the cable was somehow screwed up when the apartment was renovated. The cable guy is going to be “thinking about how to fix the problem”, I was told. The phone is supposed to be working but isn’t; the phone guy should be out Saturday morning.

We’ll move in Friday. Hopefully Ted will feel a lot better tomorrow. Plans for the next few days include the Mac store because it’s convenient to the hotel, to get a new computer for Ted and a new plug for my laptop (same prongs as the US but our flat has no 3-prong outlets); the housewares place for all the small stuff, a full (very!) load of groceries, and maybe the bookstore Sunday if it sounds like fun to me by that point.

birds and flowers

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Taxis are a convenient and reasonably-priced way to get around Taipei – it’s about $6-8 US for the 20-30 minute drive from our hotel to our flat, for example. (Yes, we did ask if we could stay in a closer hotel; apparently work has special arrangements with this place. As it’s a five-star hotel, we’re not complaining much.) The cab drivers never seem to have any problem finding places or getting in the correct lane, which is especially impressive after the debacle that was our drive home yesterday. I suppose taxi drivers more or less live in their cabs in most places (or at least spend most of their awake time there) but here’s it’s really, really obvious. These cabs are decorated; they generally have lace slipcovers over the front seat, and sometimes lace or one of those beaded mats across the back seat. The drivers often wear gloves. I’m not sure why; the degree of customization in these cabs makes it pretty clear each one has only one driver. There are always tassels or charms or beads hanging from the rear-view mirror. At least a few drivers keep bunches of live flowers hanging there, making the cab smell like a particularly pungent funeral parlor. (Sorry, bad image. Just the smell of lilies, not of dead bodies.) Small televisions in the dashboard are common, too.

Today, one driver pulled out a disposable razor and began dry-shaving while we were stopped in traffice. I suppose I should be glad he didn’t lather up. The champion of Cab Oddities, however, still has to be the guy who took us to the airport at the end of our trip here last month; he actually had a live bird hopping around, uncaged. can sort of see the point; driving a cab must get a little lonely, especially if you have many passengers like us who can’t talk to you. Still, that one deserved a picture: