I am an American technology worker who just moved to Taiwan.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's just a house

Near the end of the movie Up, Mr. Fredericksen says, "It's just a house" as he watches his balloon laden house float away. Fredericksen was held captive by his wife's desire to move the house to "Paradise Falls" but, perhaps, ultimately freed in his pursuit of adventure.

A major factor in the Taiwan situation is, what do we do with the house? I, too, feel somewhat held hostage by home ownership but at the same time, free from the dependencey that comes with living in someone else's home. When we first had the opportunity to go to Taiwan several years ago, the house was the kicker that prevented us from even thinking about it. Now, we're seeing things a bit differently. The cost of maintaining the driveway alone for the six years we've been there would pay for a decent apartment in Taipei for a year. That's JUST the driveway.

The big question is the liquidity of the market and being able to get fair value in selling the home. I wonder if we'll be able to sell it or if we'll have to find renters. We've put a lot of effort into the house: furnishing, painting, laying hardwood floors, decorating and carpentry, but we're hoping to sell it and move on; it's just a house.

Monday, December 28, 2009

One question of many: Why Taiwan?

Last night Shirley and I met up with some college/high school friends while visiting her parents in FL. This was the first time we have been around such a group and exposed the "Taiwan situation". Several of them have travelled and lived abroad for work so they had keen interest in this situation and the most basic and justified yet, somehow, most difficult to succinctly answer is, "Why do you want to go to Taiwan?"

Sometimes, answering a tough question is easiest with a cliche:

"To broaden my horizons."

  • I'd like to live in a foreign country. Like, a real foreign country. I've spent some time in the Netherlands and the Dutch would kill me for saying this but, it doesn't count. The Dutch certainly have their own idiosyncrasies but the change of culture is not that much of a stretch for Americans. The language barier is almost nil, the food is comparable and they have an H&M in every mall.
  • I'd like to make an attempt at becoming somewhat conversational in a foreign language and I can't do that via a book or CD
  • The last time I arrived in Taiwan, I felt like I was at the center of the world, much like the way I remember New York City in the late 70s and 80s. I want to be a part of an emerging market. You could certainly argue that I'm showing up late to the party in Taiwan and I really should be in Bangalore, Dubai, or somewhere else that I probably haven't heard of, but Taiwan is doable with reasonable inconvenience.
  • The opportunity that I have within my company could be good, really good. The job description was basically written just for me and has a combination of stuff I've done, stuff I'm looking to do, and stuff that I never even thought about being involved with. I want to look forward to going to work in the morning and just feel stuck in a rut here in the States. Once my project winds down in 2010 it could be a year or so before I move on to something of equal challenge.
  • Being based in the Far East will allow us to travel to places that would have never made the top of our list.
  • I would like to get an MBA in something almost useful. I've scoped out some "Global Enterprise" focused programs and that might pair perfectly with working in Taiwan for a few years. If I don't make any friends over there I'll at least have plenty of time to study and bang out an MBA

I heard back from the HR rep about my question on the pension situation and the answer, while meeting the standards of proper grammar, does not really answer the question. I realize this will become common place. For now, I'll wait until they roll up all the #'s and I'll probably be able to answer my own question. I did gather that I can't join the Taiwan pension program while holding a U.S. passport. Therefore, the company does [something else] and that's the part that I can't quite understand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Number crunching

I heard back from HR today and they requested a bunch of info about my income and expenses(insurance, 401k, tax rate) to be used in determining my compensation package. I think they are trying to come up with some scale factor to provide a comparable living in Taiwan and I'm sure they have some crazy complicated formula. I wonder what the whole pension component is so I asked the Taiwan HR rep. If I put a lot in 401k does that work against me because my takehome is less and they assume I don't NEED the money or will I get some comparable pension savings arrangement in Taiwan?

We saw the movie Avatar today and the idea of the humans living among the na'vi and assimilating into the race drew some parallels in my mind to the potential life in Taiwan. The protagonist learned the native language in 3 months. I'll be lucky if I can order cold soy milk in Mandarin and not get dried deer penis instead.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

XMAS in Taiwan?

We are at Shirley's parents' house for XMAS along with her sister and brother-in-law and Shirley found the opportunity to conveniently segway into, "speaking of Taiwan...we might be moving there." I was afraid it would be met with much more drama but, not so. Her mom grew up in Taiwan and her Dad was an American living in Taiwan when they met so they have some very valuable insight into living there.

I heard back from the boss guy in Taiwan; he has successfully created this job opening for me. Our HR group is putting together an offer, I should have it to review by mid-January. At that point I need to decide if I'm likely to accept and, if so, break the news to my boss. I have been compiling a list of questions for my HR group but I'll review the offer first which hopefully answer them. I don't know the details of house hunting, shipping my stuff, car hunting, etc.

I've also been trying to maintain consciousness of what the negatives are and coming to grips with those sacrifices before making a decision. Depending on whether or not Shirley get a job on an American schedule, this could be our last XMAS in the States for a few years. I wonder what XMAS in Taiwan would be like. If I can adjust to XMAS in Florida after growing up in New England, I think I can handle it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Obstacle #1: Importing a pet into Taiwan

We have 2 dogs and a cat and this is a limiting factor to our mobility and one of the toughest situations to resolve to move to Taiwan. After some deliberation, we resolved that the cat would come to Taiwan; we need to find alternate arrangements for the dogs.

One dog is 14 years old and we can't see putting him through the export/quarrantine process and don't really think a Taipei apartment is suitable living for him. He may still become a K9 expat as my mom in Canada has expressed willingness to take him. The other dog we rescued from someone who wouldn't keep him any longer and let's just say he doesn't mingle well in big crowds. We'll have to find him a suitable home.

That leaves the cat and it took quite a bit of reading to figure out the process to get him into Taiwan but I think we have it down.

  • Step 1: Implant him with an ISO (15 digit) microchip
We checked with local vets and nobody normally used an ISO chip as the U.S. has a different standard but our dog vet was familiar with export and said he would implant it if we could get the chip. We bought one for $50 from pettravelstore.com. The implant went very smoothly as the vet gave Tucker a lidocaine shot to numb the back of his neck before the injection. In the same appointment...
  • Step 2: Update rabies vaccine
Even if your pet is curently vaccinated, when he enters Taiwan, he must have obtained an "inactive" rabies vaccine between 6 month and 12 months prior to the day he enters Taiwan. So it can't be too long ago nor too soon; you have to time it right and be sure to specify "inactive" to the vet.
  • Step 3: Vaccine titres
About 2-3 weeks after the rabies vaccine, you need to return to your vet to get a blood sample drawn and sent to a specific lab. There are supposedly 2 in the U.S. My vet works through the one in Kansas, there is one in Texas, too.

  • Step 4: Vet certificate
Later we'll need to get him a certificate from a vet center that has export authority and file with Taiwan >30 days before arrial.
  • Step 5: Quarrantine
He'll need to be quarrantined in Taiwan for 21 days.

Here is a resource for anyone investigating importing their pets into Taiwan:

Taiwan Pet Import

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I wonder if I'll hear back...

Immediately after clicking "Send" I started running through plan B. I had made some contacts in Taiwan and would then have to shift gears and take a bottom-up approach which I knew would be difficult to gain traction. Luckily for me within 5 minutes of sending that email, I had a response and the guy was very interested in talking and asked his admin to set up a conference call when I get back from Vegas.

By buddy RJ had been through this process in transferring to Europe so I have been consulting him on a frequent basis regarding this matter. He advised that the first interview would not delve into my qualifications but focus more on finding out what I was looking for. He couldn't have been more wrong. This guy doesn't mess around.

Interview #1 lasted 1.5 hours and got into the nitty gritty of my experience and qualifications. The boss is Chinese-born, then moved to the west coast US at a young age and stayed there until the mid-90s when he moved to Taiwan. This made the interview much more comfortable than I expected as his language skills put me at ease and he was quick to use American idioms which makes the conversation go that much more smoothly.

He interrogated me heavily on my motivation to come to Taiwan and at the end commented, "Your motivation is sound". I think I passed the test. I expressed that with the globalization of manufacturing and the shift of work from the U.S. to Asia, rather than complain about Americans losing jobs, I want to build my skills in this area and go with the flow. I have experience with going into Europe and shutting down assembly lines and moving them to the U.S. Now I'm just looking to shift farther west. Or is it east?

He gave me 2 names to schedule further interviews with, each of which lasted at least an hour. Each person seemed impressed with my credentials but neither had a vacancy which was suitable; I am looking for something more technical than what they had open. I reconnected with the boss and he had a plan. He has a new hire in role which he thinks is a stronger fit for me, so he is asking that person to step into the less-technical role to free that job up.

He is hoping to create the vacancy before the end of the year and thinks I can expect an offer from HR mid-Jan.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I wonder where to start...

I was on a Wi-Fi equipped Delta flight to Vegas in early November with my wife, staring at the "Send" button in MS Outlook. About five years ago, my company opened up a major hub in Taiwan and the head of that division came to the States on a recruiting mission. At the time, we had just gotten married, bought a new house, and felt like we were settling into a location where we'd live for the lifetime of our mortgage. In the years since my wife had mentioned a few times that she'd consider going to Taiwan if the opportunity ever returned.

This past October, I was sent to Taiwan to assist a customer and started thinking that maybe it was time to "expand our horizons". I scanned through our company's HR intranet site and noticed that there were some vacancies in Taiwan, none of which were perfectly suited to me and something told me that HR might be a dead end. So I decided to do something out of character for me: dodge the system and contact the person at the highest rung of the ladder. I attached a resume and plead my case for an "opportunity" in Taiwan.

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