Archive for December, 2007

shi nian quai lu (or something like that – happy new year!)

Monday, December 31st, 2007

After seeing New Year’s celebrations in two countries, I’m beginning to believe Americans are weenies when it comes to fireworks, with stern nursemaid laws. While they don’t get quite as wild as the Dutch (who get to escape their own strict laws and go wild once a year) the Taiwanese put on a spectacle too.

We decided to just go to the riverbank park a five-minute walk from our apartment, to see the Taipei 101 fireworks. We’d considered going closer, but neither of us wanted to brave the crowds downtown, and there was a perfect view where we were; we could have followed the river to get closer but the view was excellent right there. The Taipei 101 fireworks were supposed to be something really special this year; the building is 75% occupied now and is expected to be fully occupied by next year, leaving them no empty rooms to shot fireworks from. Also by this time next year it will probably have been surpassed as the world’s tallest building by a tower in Dubai. So this year they had planned the best show ever.

We had dinner early, spent the evening playing games (the ASML version of monopoly, our company’s holiday gift to us!) and arrived at the park around 11PM. About half of Taipei seemed to have had the same idea, but the park, which stretches down the banks of the Keelung River, is big enough to absorb large numbers without crowding. We stood on a curb and had an unobstructed view. The wait wasn’t boring; there were fireworks all over the city, especially all along the river bank. There were everything from sparklers to the fountains and Roman candles Americans set off in their front yards for July 4th to the huge fireworks arching high overhead that we usually restrict to professionals, but here they seemed to be set off by any individual who wanted to.

The big fireworks at Taipei 101 began at midnight and lasted just a few minutes; first all the normal lights of the building were dimmed, then layers of lights raced up its segments, then the fireworks began, in separate volleys arcing out from the sides and up from the top. Later there were some hearts and other shapes lower down, but we were too far to see those as clearly. (You can see a video of last year’s fireworks here.

We came home after they and the majority of the independent fireworks were done, took a look at our pictures (we’ll post some here tomorrow), and finished the champagne. I’m up writing this at 3AM because the smoke from the fireworks didn’t do my lingering cough any good, and because there are still lots of fireworks being set off along the river, close enough to be very loud. Fireworks were invented in China, and apparently they’re a part of the cultural heritage here that is still fervently embraced. We do have New Year’s Day off, fortunately.

sightseeing a little (finally)

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Boxing Day is ending here; I suppose most of y’all in the States are still sleeping off the ham or turkey or Chinese food. We finally got around to going out and doing a bit of sightseeing, in a small way. We went to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, or rather, as of the beginning of this month, Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. (An unfortunate choice of name; I’m sure they didn’t mean to imply that democracy in Taiwan is deceased and in need of a memorial.) It’s in a nicely landscaped park with the National Concert Hall and National Theater; unfortunately both of those are being renovated at the moment and have scaffolding and draperies hiding most of the buildings. There may have been a protest going on; at least, there were lots of people sitting on the ground in front of the complex and a lot of yellow signs, but no one appeared to be particularly emotional and we couldn’t tell what the signs said. (According to the Wikipedia site linked above, there’s still some disagreement as to who should have jurisdiction over the hall.) The day was cloudy, so we didn’t take many photos; I’ll post one of the few we took if they turn out better than I expect.

We began with the Concert Hall, which turned out to be unexpectedly commercial. In addition to he Hall itself, it houses a restaurant, bookstore (part of the Eslite chain, though it did seem to be specializing in music and theater), silver jewelry shop, gift shop and cafe. There wasn’t a lot to see there, so we walked on to the Memorial Hall. There we saw an exhibition of some very intricate jade and other stone carvings (most of which were also for sale) and a large exhibit of drawings o traditional warriors, students, maidens, and laborers, with the faces and a few other focal points colorized, and calligraphy above each one. I think they were probably meant to tell a story but again, we had no way to tell.

The Chiang Kai-shek exhibit itself was obsequious but surprisingly lackluster. I mean, the National palace Museum can stand next to ay museum in the world for the quality of its exhibits, not just its contents; in contrast, this one looked like something set up in a small town’s museum and not altered since Chiang’s death in 1975. The glimpses into history were interesting: his partnership with Sun Yat-sen, a couple of wonderful etched ivory miniature portraits (one of Sun Yat-sen made entirely of the words of his own will), pictures with assorted dignitaries, and medals presented from what seemed like most of the countries in the world. The presentation was somewhat amateurish, though, and I think some of those artifacts are not quite being protected as well we they should be (the most important documents on display were duplicates, though).

Afterward we walked over to the Chinese Handicraft Promotion Center. We managed not to spend too much money (we still don’t have a bank account here, so we still haven’t gotten paid) but now we know where to go for several different kinds of pottery, leatherware, jade, glass art, paintings, silks, and assorted other souvenirs.

holiday in Taipei

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Ted is out on quest for Worcestershire sauce; if he finds some I will attempt New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp for Christmas appetizers. (I could have *sworn*) we had some or I’d have looked for it yesterday.) Otherwise dinner will be simple: the smallest turkey I’ve ever cooked (under 10 lbs, because I think we still have a little left in the freezer from Thanksgiving but mostly because that’s the size the store had), green beans, mashed potatoes, French bread. Dessert will be the butter cookies I made yesterday, from Mark Bittman’s cookbook How to Cook Everything. I don’t recommend the recipe; there is way too high a rati of flour to sugar, but I sprinkled the second and third batch heavily with sugar, which improved them. (That makes it sound like we have a ton of cookies; actually I don’t have a cookie sheet, and the oven is tiny and has only one rack so I baked them just 12 at a time in the bottom of the roasting pan.) I think I will make bowties and kasha tomorrow to have with the leftover turkey. Well, first I need to check to make sure my memory that we brought kasha from Eindhoven is correct, and the noodles with it will be not bowties but spirals because – say it with me now – that’s what they had in the store.

This place is great for my cooking creativity, but I think it will be better if I just learn to cook more actual Chinese dishes.

I’m not quite sure if Ted enjoyed the way I wrapped his presents, but I did. First, a Lego motor and a set of video (Kenneth Clark’s Civilization because we both need to brush up our history further), individually wrapped. Wrapped around the two of them, a short-sleeved rowing shirt. Wrapping paper on top of that. On top of that, a wallet (wrapped) – he has one but I thought it might be easier to have a separate one to stash different currency with all the traveling. The whole bundle wrapped in one of those sports towels with a daily calendar (wrapped) on top, then the whole thing in wrapping paper again, with a long-sleeved rowing shirt folded into a tiny cylinder, wrapped, and sitting on top of the other package.

Merry Christmas to those of your who celebrate it and happy new year to all.

On a less happy note, my uncle Larry went in to the hospital today for major surgery tomorrow to deal with his cancer; for those who know him, he’s started his own blog to keep people informed. It’s here, but as he warns, he’s not likely to spare the details, so don’t click on the link if you don’t want them.

almost in

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I am proud of us. We (and our most excellent movers) were very efficient. Our container got delivered yesterday (sing hosanna!) and there are only a few boxes left in the flat. Of course the weight room (where all the sports / outdoor gear is) has enough stuff on the floor that it’s unusable, there’s still another box or two of clothing and accessories I don’t wear much lying around, and the books are entirely unorganized and things are generally not in the state where you’d be comfortable having your grandmother visit. (Actually, given that my grandmother’s been gone a decade now, if she wants to come pay a visit she can come no matter what the house looks like.)

But things are in or near where they belong and now they just need to be organized a bit. Even more impressive, we got the tree up and decorated. Every year, when we set up the tree and it tries to poke holes in my arm and gives me small itchy red spots, I comment on how much friendlier menorahs are. It turns out fake trees are just as hostile as real ones, to the point that someone at work asked about all the cuts on my hand. It looks nice, though, and there are even a couple of boxes under it already. Too bad we probably won’t be ready for our house-warming party before it’s time to take it down.

I’m taking off Mon-Wed off next week for Christmas, then possibly Monday of the week after (Our office isn’t closed on Christmas, but is on New Year’s Day.) I was expect to spend most of that unpacking, but it’s far enough along that we might get to do some sightseeing too. Most of what I need to do now is just organizing my clothes and books, which is sort of fun. I do still need to shop for one of Ted’s big presents (one for Xmas, one for his birthday Sunday) and also for a turkey. Our office is having a Christmas party (at Hooter’s, of all places!) so we do have one thing to do other than the holiday dinner by ourselves and the fancy restaurant for Ted’s birthday. It won’t be our most exciting holiday season ever, but it should be kind of nice.

faster than I thought

Monday, December 17th, 2007

I’ve been thinking of this whole adventure as “three continents in three years”. I just realized that’s not quite correct. Right now, we can actually say we’ve been on – not just visited, but actually resided on – three continents in under a year and a half.

For the record, if you include visits, we’ve been on four continents in the past 12 months. No wonder I feel a bit dizzy.

a trip back

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

It’s kind of strange visiting the place you used to live a month after you’ve moved away. Convenient, though – we know where all our favorite restaurants are, we’re familiar with the hotel, we’ve kept a membership at the local rowing club, we know the driving laws, and we know our way around in general. It’s also been a geat opportunity to do things we meant to do but didn’t get around to before we left.

The last time we ate at our favorite restaurant here (Bistro Tout le Monde, which anyone who’s visited us will rememer fondly) we saw they had a couple of new special dinners. There was a fish / shellfish one that looked good, but the idea that really interested us was the Trip Around the World. Eight (small) courses, each from the cuisine of a different country, and you have to make reservations at least two days in advance. We made the reservations last week and went for dinner Friday. Mmmm…. everything from Norwegian smoked salmon wrapped around crevettes to springbok with chocolate sauce (from Africa), finishing off with an Austrian apple strudel. Good stuff, and I always love walking into a place where they know me.

On Sunday we went to the boathouse to watch a race, so I got to cheer for my quad with their new person. They did well, I think, though they were the only women’s 4x in the race so they’d have won anyway. Ted’s doubles partner was just getting over an illness so he didn’t race.

Last night, Ted finally got to go to a football (soccer) game in the company box, to watch PSV play Italy. He enjoyed it, but said it was quieter than he expected. He hasn’t mentioned the actual game at all, though, possibly because they lost (someone else told me). Meanwhile, I went to a local cafe where the knitting club meets. It wasn’t a meeting week, but one of the knitters came out to meet me there. (And the cafe people recognized me as a regular, which was nice. I feel like I still have a place here.) She and her boyfriends are the ones who took our cat, so I got to hear about him. It sounds like it’s working out relaly well; he likes to sit in her lap (though not her boyfriend’s!) and she says he’s “the sweetest cat ever”. The bad news is that he may have diabetes, so she’ll keep me updated.

Today I got to have a “ladies’ lunch” with two of my former co-workers; we’d planned this a few times over the year we worked together but had to cancel for one reason or another, so I suggested we try it again while I was here and this time it worked. We’ll try to do it again next time I come back, only this time without the requirement for XX chromosomes and with my former boss invited.

And tomorrow, we’ve got a dinner invitation. Before we left, we had Ted’s rowing partner and his wife over for dinner, which we intended partly as a thank-you because he’s done so muh for Ted – the biggest thing was driving to Germany with Ted to pick up the new Empacher and bring it back. (Since we didn’t have a car with a boatrack, that would have been difficult otherwise.) However, they’re just rfusing to stay thanked, and have invited us to dinner in return, so we’ll get to go have a nice Dutch meal there.

So it’s been a very good visit, though we’re looking forward to getting home next week. The day after we get there, we finally get to have all our stuff delivered! It will be so nice not to have just the clothes I could bring in a suitcase. And it will also be good to have the ergs and weights there, if I want to be able to still fit into my clothes.

Ten things

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Ted and I have been talking about it, and we’ve come up with this list:

Ten Things You Need to Have to Move to Taiwan

  1. A liking for bok choy In the lunch cafeteria every day, included in soups and all kinds of dishes. A dark leafy green, so it’s even good for you.
  2. An English-speaking doorman This was not on the list when we looked at apartments, the guard at our place speaks prety good English and it’s been hugely helpful – he’s able to do things like call a cab and tell the driver where we want to go, or tell us where places are. He’s also very nice.
  3. Spot remover For what inevitably happens to your shirt when eating noodles with chopsticks.
  4. The ability to not think about what you’re eating In case it turns out to be beef tendon or pig intestine.
  5. Strong thighs Some places only have squat toilets, or have a mix of some squat and some “seat-type” toilets.
  6. A quick foot on the brake pedal For when people pull out in front of you. The pyback is that they will also let you pull out in front of them.
  7. A good sense of direction Because the GPS is not always reliable.
  8. Skill at pantomime It’s amazing what you can get across without using words.
  9. A willingness to look like an idiot Pantomime may be effective but it’s not always dignified. Also, there will be an astounding range of the things “everyone knows” that you don’t know, anything from what’s on your plate to what size shoes you wear to the polite response when [fill in the blank here].
  10. A notebook What you can’t communicate with gestures, you might be able to draw. Ted’s U-bolt and my alarm clock were particularly well received. Also useful for having people write addresses in Chinese that you can show to taxi drivers (never go out in a cab without being able to show or say your home address!) and for the lists necessary to track all the minutiae of an international move.

We’re back in the Netherlands now for two weeks (we were luckily able to time our business trips together). Don’t tell anyone, but we’ve decided that the Netherlands are actually prettier than Taiwan. They shouldn’t be; they’re all flat farmland, while outside the city Taiwan has tree-covered mountains. I think it’s mostly because of the quality of the light; the slanting northern light of Holland makes colors glow in a way that tropical light can’t match. (However, there’s not much to choose from on the overcast days both countries have most of the time.)