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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

St. Baldrick's Day

For several years Shirley has told me about some work colleagues of hers that participate in a fundraiser known as St. Baldrick's Day. The premise is you pledge to shave your head if your friends pledge donations for children's cancer research. I always thought it was a cool idea but never felt THAT connected to the cause. Even though my grandmother died from cancer, the St. Baldrick's Foundation is specific to children's cancer. I realize it's all part of the same disease, but the connection wasn't really there until I attended an alumni reuinion in Florida in 2009 and found out that my college roomate's 9 year old son had Leukemia.

So I did the fundraiser last year and shaved my head for the first time ever, raising $1300 in the process. I once had a "crew cut" when I was 8 years old or so. It was a great experience to see how connected people felt to the cause and even hear stories about their battles with cancer. I'm fortunate that I've been a relative bystander in this disease.

I signed up again for the event in 2010 and will be shaving my head at lunch time tomorrow at Shirley's school. The event was started by one teacher there and has caught on to several faculty members and some students. There is currently no St. Baldrick's event in Taiwan but there is in Hong Kong. I was talking to Shirley about trying to start up an event at her new school in Taiwan. It would be awesome to start the first event in Taiwan. I wonder if it will catch on. If not, it might be a good excuse for a trip to Hong Kong.

You can see my profile and join me in donating at:


The beard alone should be worth something!

I will post photos/video after the shearing...


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dog eat dog world

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, "What are you going to do with your dogs?" There were two tough pills to swallow with this opportunity, one being the house and the second being the dogs. There was actually a point in time where I envisioned bringing one of them to Taiwan with us but I fortunately came to the conclusion that this would be self-serving and the right thing to do would be to find them both suitable homes. Living in an apartment in Taipei is not suitable for these guys.

Kramer is 14 and I've had him since a pup. I actually solicited my sister to enter as a silent partner into his purchase from a mall pet store. They had two Bassets at the time, Kramer and his brother. I got to play with them and Kramer mauled his brother so I chose Kramer. Also, his brother had only one testicle.

I recently read that Bassets rarely live past 12 years of age. Kramer is still going pretty strong at 14.5. Luckily, my Mother has agreed to take Kramer and we'll be hauling him up to Canada this weekend. I'm sure we'll have more to say about that later in the week.

We got Ozzie from a coworker of mine who had an uncle who had a kid that worked at a pet store who brought home this dog and their condo association allegedly told them they couldn't keep the dog. Ozzie is a handful. I think they were just looking for an exit strategy. We took him in when he was eight months old and he is now 10 years.

We've been working through a Basset Hound rescue organization to find him a home. Anyone who runs a Basset Hound rescue has to be insane, for multiple reasons. I called the rescue lady tonight and she didn't disappoint. There's just something not right, in that crazy cat lady sort of way. But I'm really hoping that she can find Ozzie a good home before I leave in May. Go crazy Basset Hound Lady!

We'll be sad to part ways with our dogs. I think the void left by bringing Kramer to Canada this weekend will propel the imminence of this move into a new league. I wonder if he'll like life as an ex-pat.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Paradigm shift funk

I'm sort of in the calm before the storm as I'm down to 45 days before departure and in limbo on a few things:

  • waiting for some paperwork to go through
  • sprucing up the house before putting it on the market
  • getting all of the cat import documents filed
  • etc, etc, etc
I was at a coffee shop once (the American kind where there is no pot smoking going on) and a band of three teenagers took to the stage. The lead singer started with, "Our name is Paradigm Shift Funk and we are a funky, funky band." He played lead guitar quite well, had a mediocre bassist and a terrible drummer. I was impressed that they opened with a Steely Dan song, forget which, but impressive for someone that age to be into Steely. But, I guess if you are a funky, funky band, that might not be so odd.

Anyhow, paradigms... It's amazing to me how our daily thoughts are confined by certain perceptions and visions of the future. You know how, at the end of a cold harsh winter in the northeast, you just can't wrap your head around the notion that in July it will be 90 degrees? Just a year ago, I would have never thought that we would be moving to Taiwan. Never thought we'd be living in another home. Never thought we'd be speaking a foreign language. It all seemed so alien at that time. Now, it's the opposite:, can't envision sitting down to watch football on Sunday, driving a pickup truck, ice skating on a pond. It's all practically been erased, like when looking at the light in Men In Black. Gone.

I was working on mulching some of the planting beds the other day and uncovered, for the first time, an engraved stone that the previous owners had laid in the ground. It said, "The Mills, est. 1993". They got divorced in 2004, forcing the sale of the house to us. I wonder how soon before 2004 they realized how different their lives were about to come.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

If you notice at the top of my blog I have a series of random "I wonder..." questions, one of which is, "I wonder if my wife will be able to find a job?"

I'm glad to say that said quote will be coming out of rotation as Shirley accepted a job teaching math (in English) and, get this, "robotics". Myself and several of my work colleagues are very jealous at the whole robotics thing, especially since my company has a core competency in mechatronics.

Her interview process ended up similar to mine in that before making an offer, they asked to hold a video chat interview. She thinks one of the interview factors was her enthusiasm about the possibility of starting up a surfing club at the school. Surfing and robotics... Is this really "work"?!?! Can we switch jobs?


Monday, March 8, 2010

Always thought that I'd see you again

Putting another check mark on the Connecticut bucket list involved a stop at Tucker's in Fairfield where Neil, a friend of Shirley's from her first job tends bar on Friday nights. We were fortunate enough to be joined by 3 other colleagues of Shirley's and their significant others who also worked with Neil at the same school. It quickly turned into a combination of reunion and going-away as we received our first "going away gift", which caught me a bit off guard and served as a reminder of the imminence of this move.

I made a slip when we were leaving and said, "We wanted to see you one last time..." to which Neil retorted, "Hey, I'm only 55!" My comment came from 2 issues:

1) I often get asked, "How long are you going for?" When I first thought about exploring this idea I had envisioned going on an ex-pat contract with a finite time of say, 2 years, upon completion of which, it would be unlikely for me to be offered the opportunity to stay. Long story short, that did not pan out that way. I am taking a permanent job on a localized package, for many reasons, some of which will likely surface in future posts. In my interviews with my new boss, he warned me, "Mike, in 1994 I took a job in Taiwan thinking much like you, to stay a couple years and return to the U.S. I haven't been able to convince myself to leave." So Shirley and I being open minded about the time frame. I think it comes down to doing what will make you happy and eliminating obstacles that stand in the way.

2) The other issue is, you never know when you are seeing someone for the last time; don't take it for granted. What would things be like if we treated every encounter as though it was the last time we would ever see that person? Not easy to do. I wonder what I would have said differently if I had known that I was seeing my father for the last time ~6 years ago.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

And we're worried about texting while driving...

I've been wondering what we'll do about a car. We want to live near the MRT and my company is outside the network of subway stations so I will need a car to get back and forth to work. Shirley will assumedly be within the grid of public transportation so we'll at least be able to get by on one car. My plan is to purchase a car used, which should be the most economical solution, rather than lease or buy new. I'd like something small to navigate the city (park), fuel efficient, yet big enough to transport bikes to races, either inside or on a rack.

We currently have a Mini Cooper which fits the bill but the import tax on cars is crazy so it will not come with us and, anyway, is probably not the easiest or cheapest to maintain in Taiwan. I started doing some research into Japanese Mini-substitues if you will, cars like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Mazda 3, Suzuki Swift and Nissan Versa, which is apparently the "Tilda" in Taiwan.

I'm fascinated by cars that have different names in different countries. I mean, the names are generally meaningless to begin with. What's a Corolla? a Prius? Impreza? Hummer? well, forget that one! How is the "Tilda" more marketable in Asia than the U.S.? Maybe they need to make it less likely for the factory to accidently ship a Tilda to the U.S. because it has a feature that would bar it from the road in the States. What would that be?

Oh, just an LCD TV screen with a DVD player built into the dash; this is stock! Driving in Taipei is insane enough. Now we need people watching movies while driving? And with subtitles?!?!

When I was working in Korea there were three of us travelling to a factory in Icheon, a couple hours east of Seoul . We made the trip out in a small taxi, with all our luggage, most of which I ended up sitting on. During the week out in Icheon, we saw a cab parked at the curb which was a nice looking roomy minivan. We asked the driver for his card and called him to come pick us up at the end of the week for the journey back.

We hadn't seen the inside and were pleasantly surprised to find that it had multiple flat screen TVs and a crazy surround sound system with fiber optic lighting. I made a comment to my coworker that involved "Pimp my ride..." and when I said that, the driver's ears perked up and he gave me the thumbs up sign in the rear view mirror. I guess they get MTV over there. I also noticed that the driver had a screen for himself up front, much like this Nissan.

I wonder if it is interlocked such that when the car is in drive the DVD turns off. Anyone know? Apparently another feature in cars in Taiwan is wall-to-wall carpeting, on the dash! I think the carpeting is aftermarket, though. Maybe they watch MTV in Taiwan, too.

Signed, sealed, delivered

I am often asked, "So is this a done deal?" and my typical response notes the way things work with my company, it's not a done deal until I'm actually there.  But I'm about as close as I will ever get to a done deal as I have finally received an acceptable contract. The first contract goofed up my original hire date based on a "glitch in the matrix" so we had another go around. Next up is gathering the documents for a Taiwan Work Permit. I need to get one before I arrive in Taiwan, then I need to apply for an ARC.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I started on Pimsleur lesson #9 on my way home from work today. I discussed the ever important lesson 8 which addresses how to order beer and it was only appropriate that lesson 9 focus on trying to score with Asian chicks, which is apparently what most Pimsleur customers are looking for.

The whole situation kinda snuck up on me as the previous lessons have delved into food and drink and little bit with time and location such as now/later, here/there. Then lesson 9 starts to get into exact times, 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock. Then out of nowhere it reveals the word for "impossible" which leads to the final conversation of the lesson between a guy and girl:

Guy: Would you like to have a drink with me at 1 o'clock?
Girl: Impossible!
Guy: Would you like to have a drink with me at 2 o'clock?
Girl: Impossible!
Guy: Would you like to have a drink with me at 8 o'clock?
Girl: Impossible!
Guy: Would you like to have a drink with me at 9 o'clock?
Girl: Impossible!
Guy: Would you like to have lunch with me?
Girl: You do not understand what I am saying.

Much of what I read about the ex-pat social scene involves a bunch of desperate white computer geeks trolling Taipei for an Asian girlfriend that would be a solid two notches out of their league in the Western world. I wondered if that was really true but since it only took until lesson 9 to enforce that behavior, I think I can count on it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

CT farewell tour stop #2: Merritt Canteen

The CT farewell tour continued this weekend with a trip to the Merritt Canteen. Almost as controversial as pizza in CT is the hot dog. Travelling along any major artery in the state will yield roadside hot dog stands one after the other, and once you choose sides, loyalty is expected. Don't get me wrong, I have dined at other decent hot dog joints, Swanky Franks, Super Duper Weenie, the Greeks, but my heart lies in the Canteen.

I grew up not far from here and worked across the street at Pathmark Supermarket and probably ate here 5 nights a week for the good part of two years of my life. They say, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and in retrospect, I am surprised that I survived my "regular" order:

  • 2 cheese dogs with bacon
  • Mozzarella sticks
  • Grilled cheese sandwich with bacon
All 2500 calories (?) of which I was able to put down in a 15 minute break. Oh, to be 16 again...

In some ways the Canteen has stayed true to its heritage and in other changes leave me yearning for the good old days.

The good:
  • The hot dogs taste the same as they did 30 years ago. The dogs are natural casing mix of beef/pork. I think they are deep fried in lard and then grilled to order. The chili is the same recipe and is crazy hot
  • Whole belly clams are still served in season
  • They make a cheese dog by frying a piece of cheese on the grill and then putting it on the dog. I've tried this myself an there is a narrow window of opportunity where the cheese is cooked just enough but not too much.
  • There's something good about the breading in the mozzarella sticks. It's a little bit thicker than normal and they served them before the trend caught on.
  • There's a method to the ordering system that exposes the locals vs. the out-of-towners. 
  • No credit cards accepted.
  • They've always had a cheesy arcade game in the corner. It's now a crane game. It may have been a crane game for quite some time.
  • The bathroom looks like a great place to commit a murder. I'm not saying that murder is great, but it's great that the food is so good that the risk of being murdered in the bathroom is worth it.
  • It is kinda dingy inside with terribly uncomfortable tables and because it's small and the door is always opening and closing, it can be pretty cold in the winter
The bad:
  • They have an ATM machine on site. This removes one barrier to entry at the Canteen, you used to have to go find a bank, or perhaps rob the place
  • They have a website. In the old days, much of the good stuff wasn't even on the menu
  • They changed French fries. They used to serve a thicker, longer crinkle cut and now are a bit on the skinny side, still crinkle cut though.
  • They have a more diverse menu with items that are actually healthy, like salads.
  • They painted the place
  • There aren't as many shady characters roaming around the parking lot as there used to be
This was planned as our last visit to the Canteen. I wonder if the sausages at the Shilin Night Market will serve as a worthy substitute. I think so.

My brother ate at the Merritt Canteen almost every day until he turned vegetarian around age 15. I've been trying to think of a clever message in that fact. While I haven't come up with anything, I don't think such a message would be used in a commercial for the Merritt Canteen.