Archive for May, 2008

gas lines!

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Apparently people here take their gas prices seriously. On Wednesday night at midnight, prices here went up about by NT$3.9 per liter, taking it to NT$33.9/liter or about US$4.20/gallon, which makes it still cheap by most countries’ standards. This was done by the government-controlled distributor – there’s a private one too, but they’d already raised rates. Since it’s controlled, rates went up at a preannounced time, as opposed to usual practice in the US, where news programs say something like “Gasoline prices are expected to rise aover the next two weeks,” and then they rise that day.

It turns out there’s a downside to knowing exactly when prices will rise: the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen at gas stations (and I can remember both 1973 and the time the main pipeline to Arizona broke in around 2003). Unfortunately, we’d been planning to fuel the car that day, not because of the prices but just because the gauge was getting low, and when we turned onto the street where the station near work is, it was a parking lot. We gave up on getting an gas there, because it was bad enough to get past that station in the far lane, let alone actually getting to a pump. We had another long wait at the freeway exit near our house because of people coming from all directions to the gas station there. Reports on the radio said conditions were the same everywhere. Fortunately, we had just enough in the tank to get us home and back to Linkou the next morning, though the low-fuel light was on by the time we pulled into the station. I was just glad it was open – I was afraid their tanks would be empty after the rush!

Ted and I have staggered but overlapping trips to the Netherlands coming up; he leaves home the second weekend in June and I leave the third. As always, email and cellphones will get us wherever we happen to be. I’m hoping I’ll have a trip to the US sometime in the next few months; if so it will probably be to Tempe. I anticipate lots of rowing and shopping!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Back home, no later than I’d get home on a workday when Ted had his usual number of late meetings. The drive wasn’t bad: it helped that I’d asked someone local about getting back on the freeway to go home, because I really wouldn’t have expected that, if you’re heading west on a surface street, you have to turn left to get on the freeway going north. I’d been warned repeated about the traffic in Hsinchu at rush hour, so I asked because I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, not having to change lanes in heavy traffic at the last moment. There was some traffic for two or three exits, then everyone got off. I’d been told, “between Hsinchu and Linkou it’s rush hour all afternoon!” Well, don’t tell anyone, because I’ve observed that people in most cities are very proud of their terrible traffic and don’t like to be disillusioned, but for the record:

I’m not getting cocky, though, because it’s entirely possible I just got lucky and traffic is usually much worse. Also, while I’m uploading, here are some flowers I pass on the walk to work from the parking lot each morning. I have no idea what they are.

Hsinchu! (bless you!)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I made it to Hsinchu and found the hotel for my training with no problem. All that worrying did bear fruit, though; I doubleched with a coworker very famliiar wiht the are, and if she hadn’t told me which fork to take at the exit I’m fairly sure I’d have gotten that wrong. The GPS was actually completely correct about that, but didn’t tell me to stay left until the very last second, and anyway it’s not like I would have been sure to believe it. (It has a tendency to tell me things like “go right then make a U-turn” at intersections where “go left” works just fine.) After the training I cabbed to the hotel where I’m staying with another coworker, then we went out for the kind of Italian food where the menu alone tells you you’re in good hands. (When you see truffles in a sauce or meat cooked with fleur de sel, it’s generally a good sign.) I don’t know if the cook was Italian or just spent time there, but the place was decorated with a very Italian sensiblility, no local style influence at all. The server was Taiwanese and it was plainly a family-run place as her kids were running around in the back and up a flight of stairs most of the time. I didn’t get a good enough look to be able to guess whether their father might be Italian.

The class was interesting. The teacher is from Singapore, so English is his first language. He claimed to only speak a few words of Mandarin, but from the phrases he used, I’d say it’s more than that. I understood a whole Mandarin sentence he said, (“Bu shi laoban”, “[You’re] not the boss”) so that was a proud moment for me. The class material was useful, but since this was my first training in a Taiwanese setting with all Taiwanese classmates, the cultural things were even more interesting. For instance when he was talking about how some arguments are difficult to win, many Americans might agree that “customer is king”; I think a lot fewer (and almost no Dutch) would agree that “boss is king”, but the rest of the class plainly did. (Actually, to be fair, both the bosses I’ve had here, one Taiwanese and one from Singapore, are very nice people and quite reasonable.) There were morning and afternoon snacks and lunch was a traditional banquet, a far cry from the miserable sandwiches at my Dutch training a few weeks ago. There were about ten courses, including shark-fin soup. (I ate the broth, not the shark. They’re beginning to be endangered.) The teacher was often smiling for no reason, and it did look to me like a learned cultural behavior rather than just being a naturally smiley sort of guy (Occasionally it came out as the kind of grimace that, on a toddler, would mean a diaper-change was due.) And when he discussed how you decide what to do if the lights go out at home (the class was on problem solving), it was plainly assumed that “home” is in a big apartment building, not a house.

The actual material he taught was good too.

getting ready

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Tomorrow’s my trip to Hsinchu – wish me luck. They moved me to a different hotel, right in the middle of downtown. My final decision is that I’ll drive to the hotel where the training is being held. (Directions: take the same highway I drive to work on, take exit 95, go left away from downtown, go straight for a kilometer or so. I think I can handle it. People keep warning me about the traffic, but after all I’ve driven in NY and LA during rush hour, not to mention Taipei. It will be a little more chaotic but it’s not like I’m looking for lots of turns.) However, then I’ll leave the car there and take a taxi or shuttle to the hotel downtown. I know of at least one other person in the training who’s staying in my hotel, so I can even share a cab (he’s going in tonight, though – he’s just here for a couple of weeks so might as well be in one hotel as another).

I’m feeling very reassured about the weather. It hasn’t been bad at all yet. This past weekend was the hottest so far; I wished I’d taken a sunshade when I walked to the grocery store and it would have been unpleasant to row once the sun was high, but not deadly. Today I wore a long-sleeved shirt and jeans to work. It was almost but not quite cool enough to wish for a jacket when I walked to the car after work (Linkou is higher than Taipei, so cooler and windier) and when I went to pay a bill at the 7-11 near home, I was comfortable without even needing to roll up my sleeves. I figure this isn’t bad compared to Houston or Phoenix: even if it gets a lot worse I can stand three months of awful. It’s when it goes on for five or six that I’m really bothered. I do hope it doesn’t get too hot to walk to the store, though – that would be annoying.

the moving finger writes

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

You know what I just did? I clicked a button and had a day’s pay deducted from my check and sent to China. And here’s the thing: that money is going to help people who need it for the most basic survival needs *but also* it’s coming through Taiwanese charities. The government here as pledged a couple billion and individuals have raised that much again and – here’s the incredible part – China has said they’ll accept it. (They’re accepting help from Japan too, apparently also a big deal.) So I can help the starving and just maybe further the cause of world peace, too, by moving one finger (well, and getting a little less pay this month). Pretty cool, huh?

not meant to be adventure travel

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Next week should be interesting. I have to go for some training in Hsinchu, another city an hour from work and a couple hours from Taipei. I was going to be able to ride with someone else, but now it looks like she won’t be going, so I’m on my own. I think I will drive: I could take a train but it just seems even more complicated, and with Ted away I have full custody of the car. I’ll be staying overnight, so I will also have to figure out how to get from the hotel where the training is to the one I’m staying at (they wouldn’t let me stay in the same hotel because apparently it’s too expensive). Unfortunatlely, Google Maps is the only online mapping site I can find that covers Taiwan, and it’s only in Chinese. I guess this is where I put the GPS to the test. Eek. Or else figure out how to buy train tickets.

I’ve had the earrings I’m wearing today for a few years, but I’d forgotten they had Chinese “coins” on the back, with characters on them. I tried looking up the characters on my own, but couldn’t get too far with the meaning – there are four: going clockwise from the top they show a plant sprouting, meaning going outward; the words for flat and for entrance; and a woman under a roof, which has the meaning peaceful. I asked a coworker, and apparently the four together say something about peace and safety as you go in and out – that is, as you travel. Maybe I’ll wear them to the training for luck.

wind power

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The last couple of days have been the windiest I’ve seen here yet – the sort of day when driving in an SUV comes with all kinds of sound effects (I noticed especially because of course with Ted away I’ve been driving). Linkou, the town where we work, is in the mountains, much higher up and therefore much windier than Taipei. It’s also extraorniarily windy on our Dutch campus in Veldhoven, much more so than in Eindhoven as the wind whistles aroud our buildings, so perhaps the powers that be in our company just like wind?

As a Dutch company, we really ought to mount a few windmills on our buildings to supply some of our power.

another difference

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Yesterday we went to the local movie theater to see Iron Man. The experience was almost exactly like seeing a movie in the US …. except that the combo pack we thought was a large tub of popcorn and two sodas turned out also to include a container of soup for each of us. (Soup in a dark movie theater with nowhere to put it down doesn’t strike me as the most sensible snack ever. Then again, it probably wasn’t hot enough to burn.)

also not a mother

Friday, May 9th, 2008

I could probably post one difference a day out here. Today’s was a nice one: at work, someone came around and gave every female employee a flower and a bar of fancy (Lush) soap for Mother’s Day, whether or not she was actually a mother. (In fact, the vast majority of women I know who work here don’t have kids.) My colleagues and I are now curious to see if they do anything for Father’s Day, which comes in August here.

pretty sure he’s not

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

It’s common in Europe and Asia to see people wearing shirts with English words that don’t make much sense. However, I have just seen a new record for silliness: a young guy in our office today is wearing a sweatshirt that reads:

San Jose


State University