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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Choose Toscana

I'll often be out and something quite mundane will occur and I'll make a comment to the unlucky soul sitting across from me to the effect of, "Wow, that would make good blog material". In Taiwan that may involve a guy on a scooter with a Chihuahua, live chicken, rice cooker, and a 20' extension ladder bungie corded to his back.

I am working in Europe right now which sort of shifts the scale, but I had dinner out tonight and three potential blog posts unravelled before my eyes and I've decided to just roll them into one long post, arguably only connected by chronology.

Blog fragment #1: Don't be a cocksucker

There is a restaurant nearby the hotel called, Antonio's, a very good Italian restaurant, the likes of which I have yet to find in Taipei. One of the secrets to Antonio's is he employs about a 50% Italian staff which includes my bartender for tonight, Allesandro. Allesandro started out as a hyper-talkative bartender which for me, being from Connecticut, is naturally tough to deal with but by the end of the evening, "Alle" and I were paisans.

Alle quickly asked me where I was from, which for the first time, became a complicated question. Identity is a strange thing (see blog fragment #2) and saying I was an American but I live in Taiwan brought about an onslaught of questions from Alle. Alle knows that the tunnel from the NE coast (somewhat near Fulong Beach) back in to Taipei is the 3rd longest tunnel in the world so I was not in a position to bullshit Alle about Taiwan and he asked a million and one questions. I was somewhat embarassed that he, perhaps knew more about Taiwan than I did, but that's something you learn to deal with being a travelling American. He grew slightly uncomfortable talking about himself and work but said that he wants to stabilize himself and then figure out "what he wants to do with his life". In bartender simplicity, he noted, "The important thing in life is not to be a cocksucker." Aside from any homophobic implications, I think he hit the nail on the head. I took it as similar to saying, "Don't be a jerk off" has nothing to do with masturbation.

Blog fragment #2: Identity crisis

So it seems now when people ask, "Where are you from?", it becomes a complicated question for me. Alle was much more interested in life in Taiwan vs. life in the U.S. I haven't watched American TV since life in Neihu back in May. I "live" in Taiwan, work partially in the Netherlands, still own a house in the U.S., and in some way, don't feel 100% at home in any of those places. I recently attended a series of orientation events involving Shirley's school and found it to be uncomfortably..."western", unlike my work environment. It's not like I'm ready to pull the trigger on changing my name to Bruce but I sort of feel like a stranger in a strange land. Everywhere.

Such must be the case for Alle. He seemed to be quite friendly with the Dutch patrons at the bar, even though he is from the Italian Alps. At one point a male customer came in and some old man rolled out of the back room (watching soccer games on a laptop so I was told) to give the guy the triple kiss on the cheek so it really is an Italian sort of place. I envy the ability to pull off the triple kiss, even just with a woman, not to mention a mention, a man. I had flashbacks of childhood life where on XMAS eve it was a real family fest. There was a sense of neighborhood where when people asked you where you were "from", it meant what part of town which also indicated your ethnic heritage. Now it's effectively like, "So which Starbucks do you go to?" Times have changed. One tough thing with Taiwan is you are ALWAYS on the outside, wei guo wren.

Blog fragment #3: Choosing sides

Choosing sides is an important lesson in life.  Only douchebags fail to pick sides. You can't root for the Yankees AND the Red Sox. One great thing about sports, regardless of where you live, regardless of what Seinfeld says, it is critical to pick sides. Teach them young. I asked Alle for a "red wine". He said, "I have a house wine, or I have a Toscana, it costs a little bit more." This is an opportunity to choose sides, you have to pick the Toscana. We spent the good part of 2 hours talking about everything from tunnels to women (ubiquitous bartender topic) to sports betting. Every once in a while, in between the chaos, Alle would duck in to the back room to check the football score on a laptop to see how his 26:1 parlay was working out. One could make a case that sports betting is for douchebags but I wasn't going there, not tonight. I had picked my side.

So these guys sit down at the end of the bar and Alle gives them the house vs. Toscana pitch and the guys insist on the house wine (bad idea) and Alle says, "C'mon man, I need to eat" to which one guy says, "You eat just fine." And at this point I could tell this would end badly. Of course, when it comes to wisdom, bartenders are a step behind Master Yoda and Alle was no exception as he retorts, "You must be German" and you could see these guys faces sink into their house wine. Then Alle looks at me and I started laughing, being one to pick sides and knowing who's side to pick. I thought it was genuinely funny that I was presented the same decision point but realized that there really was no "choice". As Henry Rollins would say, "your choice is fish".

Alle tried to make light of the whole thing but as they were walking to their table, head douchebag said, "nice tan". Living in Taiwan has made me more sensitive to race issues, though I don't think Italian is a "race". It is common in Taiwan to try and be as white as possible. I know in India, men advertise their daughters for "sale" in context of how fair skin they are. I had a Taiwanese guy send me a resume last week in which he indicated his blood type, as the Japanese identified the "feisty" Taiwanese by blood type during occupation and some companies still follow this biggoted practice.

So if identity crisis isn't enough of a problem we now have to worry about exactly how white white people are? I tend to think Germans get a bad rap because of things that happened 70 years ago and then this knucklehead at the bar enforces a "told you so" mentality.

In my fantasy world where people ask me what it is like to be a blogger I confess that blogging involves maintaining a personality that is an exaggerated form of yourself. One where I take real situations and embellish them with wit and sarcasm such as to make it entertaining to the reader but not a total abomination of the truth. I had such a post evolving at Antonio's tonight that then recoiled into a sense of true reality. I watched the line cook put out a plate of salmon and thought a good blog punchline would involve, "Only a douchebag orders the salmon at Antonio's" but the true wisdom in this post is: don't be a racist douchebag when a bartender who is slightly less white than you jokes about you not taking his suggestion, because in the end, he is faking like he's watching football in the back room when he is really stirring your Rumple Minze with his schwanz.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The name game

Even before coming to Taiwan, I found it fascinated to meet a Chinese guy named "Wesley". Suspecting that, of course, his name wasn't really Wesley, I'd just figure that maybe he's a big Mr. Belvedere fan. But even the biggest fan wouldn't name himself after that little douchebag Wesley.

I've come across my fair share of slightly strange names in the past few months. By that, I don't mean Steven, Frank, Jason, Sharon. I mean names like Lester & Simon, stuff that's not really odd, but a little bit outside of the mainstream. I wonder how they come to pick their "Western" names. At first I thought, maybe it sounds a lot like their name in Chinese, but that's not the case, I checked the database, no resemblance, not even close.

I had a Ghanese friend who's name was "Harrison". When I asked about the origin, I had hoped to hear that his family had some link to someone in the UK with the surname, "Harrison" but my greatest fear was true: as a kid he watched Raiders of the Lost Ark and was instantly smitten by the hat and whip and decided he wanted to be known as Harrison. I met someone last week who had a coworker named "Maverick". I bet Maverick was 5 years older than Harrison. Nevertheless, Maverick is a pretty cool name. I really want to meet this guy; I wonder how much like his Top Gun namesake he actually is. I think I know the answer to that.

I've started to amass this inventory of stupid jokes that I tell to the Taiwanese to gauge whether or not they "get" my stupid sense of humor. We had the pleasure last week of meeting up with one of Shirley's former high school students from the States who is visiting her home  in Taiwan. We were out with her and her brother and I thought I'd put my witty personality to the test. I guess under certain circumstances, Westerners here sometimes choose a Chinese name much like Maverick chose his Western name.

I explained that if given the chance, I would pick a name that means a lot to the Chinese people. I would name myself after the most famous Chinese hero, someone powerful and loved by the people, someone who personified Chinese culture and delivered it to the rest of the world. A name that would instantly bring me honor. My Chinese name will be "Bruce". Their puzzled response was, "But Bruce Lee's real name is Jun-Fan."

Tough crowd.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Possessed by your possessions

Our "stuff" from home was delivered on August 1.

I left for Taiwan on May 1 and during that time, lived with the following key possessions:
  • 4 T-shirts
  • 5 combos of khaki pants/oxford shirts
  • Useless heart rate monitor watch (forgot the necessary chest strap)
  • Useless digital camera (forgot the proprietary cable)
  • Laptop
  • Atlanta Braves baseball hat (nobody wears baseball caps here unless it's a mesh trucker hat that says "GROPER" on it)
  • Deodorant
  • GPS
Since arriving, I had acquired two key things:
  • 2005 Suzuki Swift
  • Ikea Malm bed, 1 sheet, 1 quilt, 2 pillows
As Shirley was still living in the States for a while we decided that we'd wait until June to pack everything up. The shipping company loaded up a 20' cargo container of belongings from our house and sent it on its way with an estimated 6 week delivery time. For several weeks I lived in the new apartment with really nothing other than a bed and toiletries. Then the morning of August 1 came.

My experience is Taiwanese are never on-time, unless, they have a task to do, after which they are free to go, in which case they will be obnoxiously early, which, I guess, qualifies as NOT on-time. It was no surprise that well before 9AM the phone rang and it was the delivery crew. David, the boss, introduced himself and we maintained a serialized list of all the stuff that was packed. The agreement was that they would bring all the boxes into the apartment, unbox whatever we wanted, stick it somewhere, and remove the packing materials. Our apartment quickly went from empty and stark to this huge mess.

We didn't even send half our stuff. Some was given away, some sold, and the rest donated to charity, which is probably not at all a charitable act as I could just imagine what they'll have to do with some of that junk. Some critical items which I have so uncovered in the rubble:
  • Belgian waffle maker
  • raclette maker
  • George Foreman BBQ grill
  • poker chips
  • 5 picnic/beach chairs
  • plates, bowls, mugs, etc. service for 37
  • enough female garments to clothe Detroit
  • boxes and boxes of tampons (most scarce item in all of Taiwan)
We're stuck in a chicken/egg situation, we need to clean but have no room to clean. We also have only one closet in our apartment; most places in Taiwan have a freestanding wardrobe unlike the closet-in-every-room approach in the U.S. Having struggled with only 4 t-shirts for several months in the Taiwan summer, I was eager to resolve the clothing situation so we set out to Ikea to get those wardrobes with all the fancy storage drawers in them. Our marriage survived the assembly process and this got us over the hump to make some space.

We stayed focused on only purchasing only things which enhance storage space so we went to Piin this weekend and took advantage of a Father's Day sale. Father's Day in Taiwan is 8-8 because of the phonetics of 8-8 being "baa-baa" in Mandarin like "pa-pa". Oh, my company gave all the guys free movie tickets for Father's Day, haven't used them yet. Piin is like the Pottery Barn of Taiwan but with an Asian slant. We've quickly grown to love the place and ordered up a bookshelf, desk, entertainment center and coffee table, all with storage compartments. Pit stopped at Ikea to get a utility shelf for the balcony. I built it up in the living room and then realized that I had to take it apart to get it on to the balcony. Oops.

We've made a lot of progress this week, but it still looks like the place was ransacked. At least the bedroom is squared away. Also a key item we bought just before leaving the States is a Roomba. We only have it patrolling the bedroom for now but so far, it's awesome. The rest of the apartment is way too filthy. I would expect to come home to find a pile of melted plastic and some gears and springs scattered about.

Shirley has been talking about doing some clothing shopping now that we have some storage space. Considering that the guest bedroom is piled high with clothing,  I'm looking for a Goodwill box that says "Detroit or Bust" on the side. With that said, the other day I blurted out, "Since we have a gas stove, I want to get a wok". Shirley said, if we get a wok, something else has to go. I think that's a good policy, like a Conservation Law of Crap.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Preparing for the big one

Taiwan is no stranger to natural disasters with its proximity to the Ring of Fire and the typhoon season in the summer. Right before I left the US there was a massive mudslide across highway 3 that killed some motorists. People at work told me I was absolutely crazy for going to Taiwan. I put this photo up in my cubicle with arrow pointing to my fictitious "new apartment" on one side and fictitious, "Taiwan office" pointed out on the other. They got a big kick out of that.

We are apparently in the middle of typhoon season now which lasts through September, maybe into October, but no sign of a storm yet. I'm kinda hoping for one as we have this monstrous pile of boxes that need to be unpacked at the apartments and being holed up for 48 hours might be the only fix for that.

I've always wanted to be in an earthquake, but not the kind where the building collapses on top of you. The other kind, where the place just shakes and your colleagues have a panic stricken look on their faces and you cackle hysterically like you are insane. This is typically how I react in extreme turbulence on an airplane. I think it makes uneasy wimps freak out even more. I've always wanted to strap on my backpack and put my ski goggles and helmet on like I'm about to skydive out of the plane but post-9-11 I'd probably get jailed and/or put on the no-fly list for standing up while the fasten seat belt sign is illuminated.

They must have started construction outside my office building because every once in a while I hear a rumble and I think, "maybe this is finally going to be an earthquake!" To alleviate my confusion I installed this Android app called Earthquake! onto my phone. Whenever there is a quake, the phone rumbles and tells me where, when and magnitude. When I hear the rumble outside, and the phone rumbles, I know this is the real McCoy. I was actually in a pretty sizable earthquake at the Ambassador Hotel in Hsinchu in 2009 but didn't even feel it because the hotel must be so well built. Now I only stay in really crappy hotels so I don't miss out on the excitement, but I do miss the amazing breakfast in the atrium.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A (not so) well thought out plan day #2

Here's a better looks at the weapons of mass destruction our security crew has chosen to unleash on the suds monster. Next to the broom and dustpan is a carpet. I have no idea what the carpet is for but I'm not good at solving murder mysteries, either. Shirley, on the other hand, will watch a CSI episode, see a woman fall off a balcony in the first 30 seconds and yell out, "She was hypnotized!" and be absolutely correct (and ruin the rest of the episode for me).

Maybe the Hannibal Lechter security guard had a dead body in it and the suds involved flushing all the blood down the drain and the dustpan is to dispose of the dismembered parts. As you can see, not much of the suds has evaporated since yesterday. At this rate it will take quite some time. I think this snail could clean up the suds faster than those security guards. We saw this snail on our way home a couple nights ago; it's pretty massive, well, for a snail, which is kinda like saying "jumbo shrimp", huh?

I thought there would be no way a snail could be that far from water but Shirley corrected me that there is some sort of massive land snail. She probably saw it on a Murder She Wrote episode. If only the snail was massive enough to use that dustpan to clean up the suds...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A (not so) well thought out plan

We have 3 security guards in our building that work in shifts. They monitor the front door, handle mail and packages, and check people in/out of the fitness center, which involves handing you a safety cord to be used on the treadmill. The safety cord is tied in a not to make it even shorter making it so if your concentration lapses the slightest bit you will shut off the treadmill mid-run and go crashing off the front end of the treadmill.

One guard in particular is kind of wacky; he's always laughing demoniacally. One day he insisted Shirley and I follow him down the street so that he could show us where a breakfast place (sesame bread & soy milk) was. That was quite nice but afterwards he insisted that he show us his apartment which was right next door to our building. The inside of his apartment was about the size of our bathroom and it looked like Hannibal Lechter was the previous resident. I thought for sure he was about to chloroform us, tie us up, and kill us slowly. Instead he showed us his pirated collection of James Bond VCDs and sent us home with a stack. This was all while he was supposed to be watching the front door.

I came home from work today to find him and the evening guard in the parking basement with quite a predicament on their hands. Much of the floor was flooded with suds. There is no laundry room in our building so I could not figure out where the source of the suds was but it looked like they had a plan:

You can barely make out in the center of this photo that there is a broom and a dustpan. I don't know what they thought they would accomplish with a broom and dustpan. Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight.