Archive for November, 2009


Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Whew. The turkey’s cooling so it can be sliced, the potatoes are boiling, the sparrow-graass is all ready to be popped into the microwave, the cheese is grated and the orange zested for the potatoes and asparagus respectively, and I’m into that period of the calm before the guests arrive.

I did all the cooking, but Ted did some cleanup and making things pretty, and will be chief dishwasher after dinner. (I miss having a dishwasher! I’d trade in the dish dryer anyway.)

Guess I could go open some wine and test how soft the potatoes are….

No matter what, I’m fairly sure this will be beter than last night’s turkey dinner. Restaurant Thanksgivings never seem to get it right.

I don’t think that’s how it normally works…

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

After work tonight I went to the dry cleaner to pick up some clothes. A man I hadn’t seen working there before gave them to me; I paid him and went off to dinner at a place called Cha for Tea, where everything has tea in it. I had set meal: a salad with tea in the dressing, soup with green tea wontons, spicy bamboo shoots with tea oil, tea-flavored shumai dumplings, with tea jello and pu-er tea for afters. Obviously that took a while, and then on the way home I started to remember that I’d taken my good dress to the cleaners, too. It wasn’t with the clothes I had.

So I went home, looked around the apartment and found no dress. The people at the dry cleaners don’t speak any English, but you get good at improvising when you don’t speak the language. Fortunately, since it was the dress I’d worn to Alex’s wedding, there were plenty of photos of me in it. So I printed out one that showed the whole dress and walked back to the cleaners, who fortunately were still open. This time the women who usually work there were there (and their babies – it seems to be a family business). I don’t think they’d realized I hadn’t been given the dress, but they caught on right away, gave it to me — and then gave me a little baggie with money and a receipt in it.

I’m still puzzled about that. It wasn’t because they’d made a mistake; it was corrected the same evening and anyway the baggie was already there. It looked to be about the same amount I’d paid, so I suspect what happened was that Ted had prepaid when we dropped the clothes off and I hadn’t realized and had paid again. People here do tend to be very honest – even taxi drivers won’t let you tip them if you try.

Still, I’ve never had anyone give me money to get my clothing cleaned before!

measures of fluency

Friday, November 20th, 2009

The other night, because Ted was away and I didn’t feel like cooking and did feel like greasy food, I went out and picked up some fast food for dinner. It occurred to me that that is the perfect measure for the difference in the difficulties I have with the Dutch and Mandarin languages: after one year in the Netherlands, I had just gotten to the point where I could place a complete order in Subway without having the person behind the counter switch to English; after two years here, I can just about place a complete order at McDonalds. And even then I can say the words but usually don’t understand what they’re asking me, even though I know the words for “what do you want to drink”, “here”, and “takeaway”. I have a feeling that I’m having a lot of conversations that go,

Me: “I want number four” (pointing to combos on menu).
Counter-person: “OK, do you want that for here or to go? (In Chinese)
Me: Coke, please.
CP: “You want Coke to drink? DO you want to super-size that?”
Me: “Take-away”.
CP: points to amount on cash-register, having given up. They’re always really nice about it, though. I think they appreciate that I’m at least trying.

Whereas, in case there’s anyone who hasn’t been to a Subway, there you have to tell them what kind of sandwich, what kind of bread, whether you want cheese, if you want it toasted, select from eight or ten vegetables, and then tell them which sauce and seasoning you want. We don’t eat at Subway much here.

Yesterday was also the first time I went to the post-office and was served by someone who didn’t speak any English. Fortunately the P.O. is English friendly – he had the word Registered written out, so he could just point to ask if I wanted things sent that way, and the registered mail form was in both languages. Fortunately also, I’d remembered to bring stamps so I could just show them to hm and say “I want [more of] these.” (“Wo yao tzige”) I did mess up in telling him how many I wanted, and had to apologize and correct myself, but overal I used a lot more Chinese than he used English so I count that as a win. (While not forgetting that I’m in his country.)

I really need to start a series of posts on what I’ll miss / what I’m looking forward to in moving back to the Netherlands. One thing I’m looking forward to is hving more people speaking better English and when they’re not, speaking something that I at lest halfway understand. On the other hand, Dutch coworkers speaking Dutch (in casual conversation, for instance at lunchtime) are not nearly as nice about translating for the clueless foreigner as Taiwanese coworkers are.

at the Asian Rowing Championships (not as competitors!)

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

We drove out to Yilan today (on the eastern side of the island, about an hour and a half) to do some work on Ted’s boat and watch the Asian Rowing Championship and Junior Rowing Championships – it’s been going on for a few days, but we could only go today. We went to a wedding yesterday; I will try to write more about that later.

The most interesting thing about the regatta were the participants – countries we are not used to seeing at rowing events. In addition to the ones we’d expect, like China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and of course “Chinese Taipei”, there were rowers from India, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Quatar, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Iran and Kazakhistan.

At one point as we were sitting watching a race, one of the rowers from China came up to us and, for no apparent reason, asked if his buddy could take a picture of him with Ted. We couldn’t quite figure out why – maybe the first Westerner he’d met? But it was the last day of races, and he would have had a chance to talk to some of the Caucasian rowers participating (in fact, possibly quite literally Caucasian, from the Caucasus region). Maybe we were the first Americans he’d met? He spoke a little English, so might have overheard us and guessed where we were from.

Odd. But he was very nice about it.

the next move

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Anyone who plans to visit us in Taiwan needs to do so in the next five months, at least if you want to guarantee I’ll be here.

Barring catastrophe, strange clauses in the final contract, or caprice of upper management (all of which I think is the office worker’s translation of “the good Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise”) I will be moving back to the Netherlands to take a role as quality manager within the Customer Support department. I take on the new role as of now, pretty much, but will move back as of April 1. Ted will remain here in Taiwan until the end of October, but I expect him to continue to do a lot of traveling back and forth, which is why I agreed to the move.

So now I spend the next five months figuring out the answers to a lot of questions: what do I want to see here before I leave? Do I want to try to take my boat or sell it here? What can I ship and what do I need to take with me in my luggage, to have with me until the cargo container arrives? Given that I’ll be in a furnished apartment, what kitchen gear do I need and what should I leave with Ted?

Transportation will be a challenge: they are only giving me a car for the first three months. After that they figure on me buying one – but if Ted has an expat contract a car will be provided, so I’m thinking of trying to do without one for those four months. It’s about a 10km ride to work each way, on safe, level bike paths, and there are bike racks everywhere. it might get rainy but the weather is a lot gentler than what I rode through when I biked everywhere during college. My bike has panniers that should be sufficient for one person’s food shopping, and it will be good cross-training for me. If I need anything too big to carry on a bike, I can always wait for Ted’s next trip in, since he’ll have a car.

I’m ambivalent: nervous and looking forward to it all at once. The job will be hard, but interesting, and really, so will a lot of the rest of it.

crisscrossing the city

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I goofed again. I decided to have more dresses made. Problem was, the tailor I went to has fabrics that are not even in the arena with the fabrics Ted’s tailor has – his has fine English and Italian wools, mine had a wool / poly blend. But his doesn’t do women. Since he wanted some more trousers anyhow, I went along, bought some fabrics at his tailor, then took them to *mine*> (Mine did a fabulous job on the fitting and tailoring part, it was just the fabric that wasn’t as nice as I’d like.)

Then in an additional series of errata, we headed diagonally across the city to our favoriite brewpub near Taipei 101, found they had a Halloween party with an 80-90 minute wait, decided we both really needed food soon, went back across town to the tailor because the best burgers in town are in a small pub around the corner, ordered, and then while Ted hung out I walked back to the tailor and droped off the jeans I needed hemmed but had forgotten to give them.

The real goof wasn’t actually the jeans or the food – it was that I left my tailormade dress with them to copy, totally forgetting I wanted to wear them to a wedding Saturday. Oops!

But at least I’ll have good dresses in a couple of weeks.