Archive for January, 2010

Fortescue said “Comparisons are odious”

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I think it’s time for the big moving / comparisons post. This is still not definitive, though – I’m pretty sure there will be more stuff. These are in no particular order.

Things I am looking forward to in the Netherlands:

cleaner air: People keep telling me that Eindhoven has some of the worst air in Europe. But at least you can see through it, which is not always true in Taiwan.
colder air:I just don’t like hot weather much. It’s chilly now, but by Sunday, the high temperature here is predicted to match Eindhoven’s average high for July.
language: – This is a big one, with lots of facets: first of all, a lot more people speak English, and the ones who do speak it better than here. (Chinese and English are so thoroughly different that each is very hard for native speakers of the other – even people who are comparactively fluent here have heavy accents, and even with my small knowledge of Chinese I can often hear the difference between a native speaker and an English speaker who has learned Chinese.) Second, Dutch is much easier for me – I can pretty much handle menus, for instance, which means I can eat at any restaurant rather than just ones with pictures or English menus. Third, I’ll have Dutch lessons and the teachers and facilities were much better than the ones here.
walking around more at work: I don’t like sitting still all day, as I mostly do here. There, it’s a much larger campus and I’ll have meetings all over.
getting out on the water: rowing, not just erg. Yay!
better social life: because of the rowing club and the local Stitch’n’Bitch group.
bread that isn’t sweet: They don’t really “get” bread here. Dutch bread is great. Even better, restaurants often serve it with herb butter. Pastries are also excellent. (Another two-way street – people from here complain about the Dutch serving bread at every meal, and aren’t thrilled with the amount or quality of rice there.)
vacation time: Another big one. US: 2-3 weeks vacation plus about 8 national holidays and three days floating holiday. Taiwan, 112 hours (= 14 days) vacation time, 7 holidays, and 8 floating holidays. (This is my fourth year with this company – you get one extra day per year.) Netherlands: forty-one days vacation time – actually, 28 days (27 plus one for being over forty) and thirteen of what they call ADV days, which if I understand them right are compensation for working 40 instead of 32 hours per week.
drinkable tap water: something we didn’t have in Arizona either, so I really appreciated it. In AZ it was safe but tasted awful; in Taiwan it tastes OK but we were told it’s bad for you, though no one was clear on details.
more choices in the cafeteria: Here there are two plates, and can be some very weird combinations. I keep PB & J on hand. There it’s a much bigger site, so bigger cafeteria with a lot more choices.
cheap and good wine: Wine is expensive here, due to taxes.

Things I will miss from Taiwan:
customer service: Not a Dutch core competency, very much a Taiwanese one.
quick restaurant meals: partly related to the above (servers work hard not to catch your eye!) but more because lots of people eat out or do take out all the time here, while for the Dutch eating out is an occasion and they don’t want to be rushed. (It’s much faster in Amsterdam than in the south where I’ll be – maybe the tourist influence? But possibly also because there is a culture difference between the north and south Netherlands.)
Taipei taxis: cheap, safe (well, other than the crazy driving) and everywhere.
kindness: This is not at all meant as a slur on Dutch people, who were very nice to us. I’d be proud if a foreigner in the US was welcomed as we were. But the Taiwanese take kindness to a new level – it’s practically a national sport.
cheaper electronics: Electronics, food, and clothing are much more expensive in the Netherlands. Clothes don’t bother me because at least I can find more to fit. I can deal with paying more for food when someone else covers the housing. But electronics are very expensive!
Mexican food: Surprisingly there is some decent Mexican food in Taipei. Not in Eindhoven!
milky pearl tea: But I know it’s getting more popular in the US, so maybe the Netherlands has it as well. The good coffee there is famous and would more than make up for it, but I can’t drink real coffee, not more than a small cup very occasionally.
Costco, Carrefour, and A.Mart: I’ll miss being able to get American brands and US-style cuts of meat at Costco. Carrefour and A.Mart are hypermarkets only a short walk from our apartment.
shopping on Sundays: And until nine or ten at night. In Eindhoven, grocery stores are open until 8 or 9, but otherwise shops close at 6 except for one night a week, and they are closed on Sunday except for the first weekend of the month.
my American fridge, washer and dryer: The one is big and the other two get clothing clean and dry, quickly and without ruining it. None of those could be said of the appliances we had in the Netherlands.
our apartment guard: who translates Chinese for us (though the current one has more limited English) and can accept packages. In the Netherlands, getting a package meant waiting for the mail carrier to try delivering it twice (when we were at home) and then picking it up on Saturday at the post office.

A few other things I won’t miss from Taiwan::
guys making horking noises in the men’s room No, I have no idea why, but it’s all the time can hear them all too clearly from the women’s toilet and the pantry at work.
our doorbell: which is very loud and plays inane versions of American songs like Yankee Doodle and Merrily We Roll Along.
an uninsulated apartment: which means not only is it cold in winter, but we can hear next door’s annoying doorbell too – and their screaming kid, not to mention every time the people upstairs run the shower or flush.
having to be home for the cleaning people: I find it embarassing to have someone else cleaning my home while I sit on my butt (working on the computer, knitting or beading usually). The only reason we keep them is that we’d hate doing the cleaning ourselves even more. (They do really do a great job, except that they keep finding new and unusual places to put things every time.)


Monday, January 11th, 2010

We were a bit tardy in planning this year (because our initial plans fell through) but it looks like we’ll be spending Chinese New Years in South Africa, shooting big game (with cameras only). We’ll be spending time in the Kruger national Park and the Madikwe Game Reserve; I’m not sure I would call this trip a ‘safari’ since we’ll be sleeping in the same place for a few nights in a row in each place, but that’s the general idea.

There are only two problems with the trip: first, one of my bosses (from the Netherlands) will be on holiday in South Africa at the same tme, and I think might even be in Kruger NP at the same time! Oops. However, he’s a good guy and being Dutch, I think he will be able to leave work-talk behind if we do happen to run into him and his famliy.

And second, there’s the point Ted raised: what do we do next? An African safari was always one of those things we wanted to do, and so was the Ice Hotel we went to last year. And the visit to the Pyramids, and the one to Antarctica. We need to put more adventures on our “bucket” list! (That is, the list of things we want to do before we kick the bucket.)

After we get back, I’ll only have a bit over a month before starting work in the Netherlands. Planning that transition is tricky. What I’d like to do is to have a week off here before leaving for packing and a week off there after arriving. However, that’s not working out well; for one thing I may not have any vacation time left to take here, since they’ve prorated my available time. Second, I’m supposed to start there on April 1 – but April 2 is Good Friday, and we have April 5 off for Easter Monday. That means all the stores will be closed there, which is not helpful for settling in! This is tricky… I think what I’ll have to do is take a week off here and then only two days there.

Happy new year!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

I’m not sure whether to be thrilled or scared. Apparently by the end of two weeks without a big project to work on Ted turns into Martha Stewart. This afternoon after making up batches of fruit (to freeze and take into work next week) he set this down next to me:
A note on scale: those orange slices are not unusually small – the grapes are enormous, taking two bits to eat. The other fruits there are pomelo slices (sort of like grapefruit but bigger) and pineapple chunks.

We made brisket in the crockpot today, so now he’s in there taking the brisket juices and adding ground beef and beans to make chili for tomorrow. I’m not complaining about any of this, you understand!

Aside from the cooking (I made bowties and kasha to go with the brisket) we spent today just hanging out and drinking mimosas. Last night was a lot of fun, I don’t think e had quite as good a spot to watch the fireworks as in previous years, but we spent it with a whole group of people and had a blast – first a party at Steven and Josine’s (we work with Steven) and then we all headed out to the Grand Hotel to see the fireworks. Actually, though it wasn’t as close to Taipei 101, it does have the advantage of altitude – we could see out all over the city. After that we set off a few small fireworks of our own down in the river-side park, then Ted and I walked home (about 3km). There were more people still setting off fireworks (and not necessarily small ones!) to entertain us all the way home and every time a group of people passed us they’d all shout “Shin yen kwai le!” and “Happy New Year!” at us. Here’s the whole group:


and here are some of the fireworks on Taipi 101 – we brought the good telephoto lens, as you can probably tell: