Archive for March, 2010

moveblogging: … and there it goes

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

When the movers came back after lunch, they took all my stuff downstairs and stacked it on the sidewalk. I felt sort of like a homeless person. Well, OK, a homeless person with a truly ridiculous amount of stuff. All told it came to 50 boxes, which seems like an awful lot considering it’s only clothing, books, assorted stuff, one bookshelf, one small chest of drawers and a storage ottoman.

They packed up everything, from my rowing shell (carefully labeled “CANOE”) and oars (carefully labeled “PADDLES”) on down to a big piece of styrofoam I took in case I need to cartop the boat to the boathouse in EIndhoven. Even the styrofoam was boxed (carefully labeled, you guessed it, “STYROFOAM”).

I can’t say I’m totally sure my boat will survive the voyage unscathed, but they really did a pretty good job; it’s supported by boxes and tied to the roof of the container so it can’t move much. I thought the container would be quite empty, but it’s fuller than I expected. Not as full as it looks, however; in a really genius move, they used empty boxes to fill out the remaining empty floor area, so nothing can shift. They were good about taking suggestions from me, too, so the boat is padded with cushions of extra bubble-wrap at all support points and under all the tiedowns, and they taped all the empty boxes (which, by the way, are carefully labeled “EMPTY BOX”) together so they’re less likely to shift in rough seas.

I got pretty filthy climbing into the truck to check on stuff and take pictures. I’ll have to do at least one more load of laundry before I leave. Luckily, since I don’t have a whole lot of clothing left, it turns out Ted’s cargo shorts fit me quite nicely!

moveblogging: the visual evidence

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010



You can see why that room was ideal for my craft stuff; I’m going to miss it. (Especially because Dutch apartments don’t really do storage – though this new one is a lot better than our last place. (Walk-in closet!!) Hopefully, someday we’ll build or renovate a house back home and I can recreate something like it.

moveblogging: 11:35 AM

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Nearly done packing – I found my hamper and my top nightstand drawer were still unpacked, so they’re boxing those now. I think that’s it.

The truck this all goes into will arrive at 14:00. The movers go on lunch break until 13:00 – long lunch but they worked hard!

I really don’t like looking at empty bookshelves and empty yarn shelves!

moveblogging: 10:00 AM

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

They’re on a well-deserved break.

Wow, I have a lot of stuff – 20 boxes packed so far, plus one erg, and they haven’t even gotten to my clothes yet. It’s all books, yarn, the few kitchen things I’m bringing (my favorite knife, graters, and mixing bowl, none of which Ted uses much; a rolling pin since they sell baking ingredients there and not much here; the lettuce keeper and new popcorn maker Ted gave me for my birthday – better birthday gifts than they sound because they mean he knows what I like and use).

I bet they’ll be done by noon, except maybe for getting the boat fitted in.

liveblogging the move

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

No, not really.

Of course I realized what else could go in the air freight (I get 30 kilos) right after they sealed the box. Oh well. Supposedly the airfreight will arrive in 10 days and the stuff that goes by sea in 5 weeks, but when we came to Taiwan the air freight got hung up in Customs and the sea freight arrived early, so they were only a week or two apart. My luggage is already at 20 kg and I haven’t added my computer yet (I’m bringing both work and personal laptops, one in my suitcase and one in my carry-on) so I’m pretty sure it will be overweight, but if it is I’ll just pay for a kilo or two. Hopefully I can use air miles from their partnered program.

The movers seem slightly taken aback by my boat – they knew about it, of course, but it is 9″ longer than the container, so they’ll need to be a little creative. The coordinator asked if they could move it with Ted’s boat when he comes out if the fit is too tight, but to do that I’d have to take it back to Yi-Lan – if I leave it in the park here it will get damaged whenever they move it out for typhoons. I think they can slant it if necessary, on a base of boxes.

They arrived 45 minutes ago and have packed about 15 boxes so far. Pretty fast!

checking off all the stereotypes

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Today I had a taxi driver who spoke a little English. (Most of them don’t, but to be fair, earlier today I’d had one who spoke excellent English – he was Filipino.)

He asked the usual questions, why I was here and how long I’d been in Taiwan and if I liked it, and where in the US I was from. Then he wanted to know how much money I make. (I told him I wasn’t sure what the actual amount was, before all the deductions.) Then he wanted to know if I could ride a horse. Then he asked if there were a lot of cowboys in Arizona, and if it was near the Indians!

How to be an expat

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Last night I gave my last Toastmasters speech here – probably my last one ever. Here’s what I said:

Toastmasters, ladies and gentlemen:

I am here tonight for my last speech to you, maybe my last Toastmasters speech ever. Of course, for this special occasion, I needed a topic that is important to me, so I’m going to talk to you about How to be an Expatriate. I know that a lot of you have worked or studied abroad, so you can tell me afterward if you think I got it right.

Here’s my rule #1: “Don’t be afraid of looking stupid.”

You’re going to anyway, so you may as well just accept it. There are so many things that “everybody knows” that you just don’t know, and it’s even worse if you don’t speak the language. If you’re willing to look silly though, whether it’s by sounding like a three-year-old or by using body language, at least you can manage to communicate. I once figured out how to ask for mosquito repellant in a pharmacy – I was going to go like this:

[use one hand to imitate a mosquito buzzing down onto my other arm, biting, then flipping over dead]

I have to admit that I felt even stupider when it turned out the pharmacist spoke English!

Being willing to look stupid can also help you with learning a language. The problem is that when you’re studying one, you feel a little silly if you imitate the teacher too closely – it feels almost like you’re making fun of her. But that’s what you need to do. You all know I can’t speak much Chinese, but I’ll give a simple example: if I meet a new person in the office, I might say, “Ni hao. Wo jiao Paula. Ni yao he koffie ma?” If you’re an American, the temptation is to say that the way you would in English – but if you do, you come out sounding much sillier to the ears of Chinese speakers. [In monotone] “Ni hao. Wo jiao Paula. Ni yao he koffie ma?” [I tried to make it really blatant and did get a laugh]

Rule #2 is, “Don’t be afraid to not be in control of your life.”

When you grow up in a society, you know how it works: when you get into trouble you know how to get out of it. You know how to deal with the local government and businesses; you know where to go to buy things you want, how to find your way around, and what sizes you wear in clothing. When you move to another country, you don’t have any of that, and you can feel like you’re not in control of your life any more. The best thing to do is just relax; accept that everything is different. Trust yourself and other people to get you through anything that happens. (I’ll talk more about trusting other people a little later.)

You also need to accept that other people are going to do things their way, and they aren’t going to change for you. Take restaurants: if you’re eating in Taiwan, even if you’re eating at a Western restaurant, the courses may not come out in the order you expect, and don’t expect everyone at the table to be served at once. If you’re at a restaurant in the Netherlands, you’d better plan on dinner taking two hours, because it’s going to take that long whether you want it to or not.

Rule #3 is, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

There’s an old movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, whose most famous line is when the character Blanche Dubois says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Life as an expat is a lot like that, except that you will also be depending on the kindness of your friends and colleagues. I think for most people, it’s very easy to offer help to others and very hard to ask for it for yourself. But when you don’t speak the language in a place, or you don’t understand how things work, you need help a lot more often than you’re used to. What I try to do when I need help, is to think about whether it’s a favor I would be happy to do for anyone who was a visitor to my own country. If it is, I don’t feel bad about asking.

Of course, this is easier when you’re in a place like Taiwan – I don’t know if you realize it, but Taiwan has an international reputation for being kind to visitors and foreigners. In fact, I don’t even have to give you an example of asking for help, because over the years I’ve been there, I think I’ve asked about half the people in this room for help of one kind or another.

Everything I’ve said here really boils down to one statement: Don’t be afraid. Or at least, don’t let fear stop you from doing what you want to do. Moving to another country is a big deal; it involves a lot of work and it can be very scary. But if you dare to do it, it can be one of the best experiences of your life.

Thank you.

Taiwan earthquake

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

For those who have heard about the Taiwan earthquake on the news, Ted and I are actually both in the Netherlands this week, so we aren’t affected at all (perhaps we’ll find damage when we get home, but probably nothing major).

This quake was centered on land rather than in the ocean, so it sounds like it was bigger than any of the ones we felt. On the other hand, it was far from Taipei, closer to the south end of the island. I haven’t talked to our friends and colleagues yet, but it seems unlikely any of them in Taipei are hurt. There’s more damage down south, but Taiwan has good building standards and a high level of readiness to deal with earthquakes.