Friday, October 19, 2007

A Few Random Points

I haven't posted in a long time, and Danielle has posted the last few times, so I figured it was time. Our friend William, was on the news... good for him!

Somewhere in the city, Danielle is supposed to have her first billboard, but we don't know where. We'll post pictures if we find it. You can see us on the Columbia website along with Sergey, and the TutorABC website, and a bunch of times on YouTube now. We're
Specical Session Stars, and many clients come to hear us lecture, so we have ads on a bunch of Taiwanese websites, including Yahoo. Exciting.

Looks like we'll be moving to days soon, which is a welcome change from working nights. The role that Danielle and I have comfortably settled into consists of managing Tutor's Special Sessions and editing teaching material.

Temperature is cooling off, so I think Typhoon season is over. We finally got one! It wasn't the end of the world or anything, but the wind was pretty strong at times. Also exciting.

I've also got the Purdie Shuffle down pretty good. I can play Rosanna without much difficulty, and make it 'feel good'. Trust me, click on those links! So my shuffle is working well (I'm really proud of that) and I've got a good Moeller triplet going now. I'm very pleased by that, and it's made my speed increase so much! Add a good double stroke on the feet and hands, and things are working really well. I might even consider going back to teaching drums sometime in the future....

See, I've been pushing hard to get things done, and make my first million dollars. Danielle and I have a couple of things we're working on (we'll keep you posted) but I realized that we're on a very good path with the real estate, and really, we need to find work we like, and enjoy ourselves now, and everything will follow though in time. In a few more years, our passive income will be enough to pay our OSAP, and we'll be free of financial burden. So I'm not sweating things too much. Going to focus on interesting and rewarding work, and just be patient. The beginning takes time (the first million is always the hardest they say).

So, I guess that's where I am. If you really want to know about Taiwan and whatnot, email me. I'll give you details.

We took some pictures, and I'll try and get them posted on here soon....

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Fifth Wisdom Tooth

One of the great advantages of being in Taiwan is that some things are just cheaper. Take for example my recent fifth wisdom tooth removal which cost about 3 dollars Canadian altogether. Dental clinics are as common in Taiwan as Tim Hortons shops are in Canada, so I guess that explains it.

...Yes, as some of you are already aware, I am the missing link between the Homosapien and the Neanderthal -- I have... or had a fifth wisdom tooth, which I was quite proud of, but had to have removed at some point due to the slight swelling it was causing. And so, last week, I went for a 50 NT dental checkup (the equivalent about about $1.50 Canadian) and had the tooth removed this morning for another mere 50 NT.

As I bite down upon the gauze the dentist applied to my wound, I am pleased that we decided to come to Taiwan... for many reasons. I will have to keep my lucky tooth close by as it's wisdom has served me well in the past.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Vacation that Wasn't

I apologize for the delay of this blog entry. Yes, it is high time that we blog about our company 'vacation' to Manila, which occurred over a month ago, in June.

Really, it should have been a trip to Phuket, an island off of Thailand, but the organizers failed to book enough seats... or to book all of them... or to spend money on the 'real' trip. Bait and switch.

And so, last minute changes were made due to a "tidal wave." Our trip was postponed until a week later. This, of course, was after employee spouses had already booked time off from their respective places of employment for the initial trip date.

As always, our company's thriving competitor, jumped on this opportunity to de-'face' (face is a big issue here) our company by booking their own excursion to Phuket on the exact week when we where supposed to have went. Hum, I wonder how it went. As for our vacation, well, I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

It all began after a long night of work and overtime, which lasted until 11:30 p.m.. First, we had to go home, finish packing, take a nap, and go back to work at 2 a.m. to catch the bus to the Taipei airport. The bus ride took a few hours, and the plane trip to Manila took a couple more. Not to mention, there was waiting time in between.

Upon our arrival in Manila, we came to realize why Taiwan is only 'subtropical'. The intense Filipino humidity and sweltering heat swallowed us as soon as we set foot outside of the airport.

The next step was the long bus ride to the beach (left photo) where we'd then take a boat to the resort. Along the way, we stopped at a few convenience stores. Every door was guarded by an armed policeman.

The convenience stores demonstrated the Americanization of the Philippines... or at least their aspiration for the American way of life... or their desire to project that they can afford the American way of life.

While we in Canada generally scorn brand names, Asians seem to celebrate them, especially in the Philippines. In China and Taiwan, I know that brand names, such as LV (which I didn't know about before coming here!), are badges of success. It seems, however, that American culture has more intimately permeated the Filipino existence, even more than in Canada. The food, products and television shows made that apparent.

On the bus ride to the beach, country roads were lined with tin-roofed shacks. Stores were covered with small signs bearing icons of the American dream, faded by the Filipino sun. Colour televisions flickered through the window of almost every home, and most families seemed to own a descent vehicle, or at the very least a quasi-bike/scooter. It was an unsettling coexistence of poverty and of American 'comforts'. Ironically, the comforts intended to shroud their poverty only seemed to magnify their desperation... or perhaps, their denial.

While people in the city and in the country greeted us with broad smiles, the people at the resort were of another breed. Their spirits had been weathered by their need to depend on the wealth of foreign vacationers for their daily survival.

After disembarking from the boat that brought us to the resort, we had to haul our luggage through muddy alleyways infested with questionable tourist practices, and make our way to the hotel. Crowds of desperate locals surrounded us, hoping to sell one of their trinkets or necklaces... or themselves. Man, woman and trans-gender alike.

At long last, we arrived to our rooms. The design of the complex in which we stayed was quite organic. Stairs led to neighboring 'cabins' and the rooms gave the illusion that they had been dug out or formed by white clay. I am sorry to say that we can only provide you with photos of the outside of the complex, as we got food poisoning from the slop we were served at the only group meal that we chose to attend. I had planned to take more photos of the interior of our room, but alas, we were incapacitated for the remainder of the trip.

After leaving the island, we endured a day of travel on a hot bus, in ill condition. We didn't have the option of taking another bus or a 'Jeepnee' (a kind of jeep/bus that litters the crowded streets of Filipino cities) because we had to stick to the schedule... which was constantly being changed. But this was out of the hands of our diligent tour guide, Micheal...

The trip to the volcano sounded splendid. Participants in this activity had to ride horses with broken legs on a precarious path to the top, after taking a boat to yet another island. James and I felt too sick to go. Phweh! But, we did hear about it afterwards!

When we finally arrived at the hotel in Manila, it was after midnight. We were too sick and it was too late to do anything by this point. James and I only had a few small things that we wanted to do in Manila: James wanted to have a Quarter Pounder (which are impossible to come by in Taiwan) and I wanted a Wendies burger. We had also planned to visit the biggest mall in Asia and to get a haircut.

However, to the dismay of most trip participants, our tour of Manila consisted of us rushing to the hotel on a bus, as our tour guide frantically attempted to describe the sites that we passed at about 70 km/hr -- including the Filipino Cultural Center. Still, we did have the time for an unplanned stop in front of this building for a group photo op. Face -- the veneer of Asian society.

During our vacation, we only ate Chinese food... no Filipino food whatsoever, we did not participate in or witness any truly indigenous cultural activities (as we were relegated to the resort for questionable tourists and scuba divers... although the rooms were quite nice), and we did not have the opportunity to visit the biggest mall in Asia, or any other important structures / monuments for that matter.

We had to get to the airport early the next morning. And then there was the long trip home.

The islands in the Philippines are really quite beautiful and I feel that we did get a good feel for the Filipino identity, simply by being there. We also needed the time off work. I do wish I could say more good things about our vacation though... but there is just no denying what it truly was. Maybe that explains why we took so long to write this blog.

I think the next time we have a vacation, we'll plan it ourselves. No more group trips for us. Group trip? What WERE we thinking anyways?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Taiwanese Hair

I thought that this was a particularly noteworthy Taiwanese experience, and so, without further ado, here it is:

A couple of weeks ago, I finally got my hair cut. After a failed attempt to do so in the Philippines (see our blog entry to follow, 'The Vacation that Wasn't', for details), I needed to accept what fate had in store: a Taiwanese person would have to cut my hair.

Since having my hair cut in China Town, back when I was a student in Canada, I have been painfully aware that having an Asian hairstylist near my head is not a wise plan. If it is not enough that the average Asian is unfamiliar with my Western hair texture, there is also a completely different sense of aesthetics here in the East. Bangs cut at a forty-five degree angle are just not for me.

That being said, I realized getting a cut in Taiwan was a risk... but it needed to be done. The distinct line between my brown and blond hair colour was getting to be too much of an eyesore; it was time to take action! Well, that's what the girl at Geant (spoken [eye-my] in Chinese) seemed to think when she approached me with a small promotional package containing a flyer for her hair salon and tissues... Tissues? Okay. Anyways, I took the hint. The lady even asked in broken English/Chinese if I'd been here for a year, after more closely observing the length of the brown portion of my hair.

The salon was more like a takeout joint. First, I had to feed a 100 NT bill into a machine, which quickly spat out my haircut voucher. I was then let loose inside. Upon entry, I was led to the closest of the three available chairs. As I began to take a seat, the lady who gave me the flyer only moments before promptly began the hack job. It was an interesting and efficiently executed hack job, nonetheless. In a mere 4 minutes, I closely resembled 90% of the Taiwanese office girls where I work.

Upon completion, the 'hairstylist' vacuumed, yes vacuumed, the residual cut hair from my scalp with a long tube that hung loosely from the wall, and sent me on my way in order to make room for the next customer.

Ah, Asia. Well, at least the haircut is not beyond repair. After all, James and I trim each other's hair all the time.

And, hey... I did get free tissues.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Little Things

Yesterday, Danielle and I went to the tea house for lunch. The usual, really. We usually hit it twice a week, and this was a particularly good day--sunny, warm and bright.

Well, it was busy. We had to physically take a table from inside to outside, but there I can practice my drums. Well, at the picnic table was a woman with about 6 kids. They had tea and snacks. It's amazing, the cultural differences...

In Taiwan, it's very common to go and sit at a tea house for an hour or two, chatting or reading, and sipping cold tea. And here was this lady, with these six kids, aged about 6 to maybe 10, all sitting there sipping tea, reading.

Kids reading. Voluntarily. For fun.

They sat for about half an hour, reading. Then they got up and went and played for a bit. Then sat down and read some more. The read individually, all together, in total silence.

This is Asia...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Unbridled Hedonism

Ah yes. Marie's drunken post has reminded me of something. Last week Nella and I took part in a real cultural milestone for Taiwan (and Asia as a whole). And it was an entirely unpleasant experience at that...

Well, let's start off at the beginning: we had a record sales month for Tutor. Yea for us. I'm hoping it had at least something to do with the new Demo that Nella and I developed for the sales department. I got the employee bonus this month, so kudos to me, I guess.

Anyways, the Dr. (our boss, Dr. Yang) decided that we had to celebrate by going to the KTV. If you don't know, it's karaoke. We went to the Golden Jaguar, the most ornate and expensive KTV in Taichung (the Vegas of Taiwan). Incredibly expensive, and incredibly tacky, just like Vegas. This is the kind of place that supplies the girls and the whiskey. And for a little extra, you can buy the services of the ladies for the evening. Even our servers were little Taiwanese girls dressed in Japanese schoolgirl uniforms, doling out the whiskey in jugs. You get the idea....

Anyone who knows me knows how well I deal with lots of people and loud cheezy music (not even real recorded music, but MIDI music recorded to CD...blech!). After half an hour, I was about to lose it. It was louder than any show I've ever played. It was some sort of Dionysian karaoke orgy. Just hedonism run amok. An utter assault on both my senses and my sensibility.

It's funny. Themes appear from time to time, what you learn you like and dislike. I know what I dislike about Asia. It's something that was easier to avoid in Canada (since I also disliked it there as well). It's the overabundance of noise, and loud, tacky music. Many shopping experiences here are mired in that sort of thing. Well...I guess it's a small price to pay, and not a big issue, if you know when to shop! It's confirmed. I'm not a party animal. I'll leave that to the office crew.
The enjoyment had by James is inversely proportionate to the product
of the number of drunken partiers and the decibel level of the music.

On a brighter note, one word: swag! For any Taiwanese reading this blog, swag is free stuff you get from other people who get it free from their company, usually as promotional or marketing material. Nella and I were the lucky recipients of a good amount of semi-swag (big discounts) because one of our clients designs for New Balance Taiwan. Danielle got some Yoga wear, and I got a sweet pair of runners/drumming shoes.

I love swag (hint, hint). I miss swag, not working at the music store....

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tomb Sweeping Day

Happy Tomb Sweeping Day, everyone.

An unexpected holiday for us, so no complaints. We're gonna take it easy, cause it's cold out. Maybe have some delicious food....

Enjoy your life!

And on a funnier note, here's Danielle on Youtube....

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Life's Guide Updates

Just a quick heads-up that I've updated the Life's Guide site. It continues to grow little by little. Someday it may be a book. But for now, it's just for us.

I'm very open to comments, so I've added comments to the site. Please, feel free to comment. I'm looking for input and suggestions.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Our Trip to Maoli

More pictures from another trip with Paul and family. This time we went to Maoli. Historical sights and lots of wood carving. We visited the wood carving museum, and did some shopping and sightseeing. Enjoy the photos...

The train bridge that fell after an earthquake. The station is deserted now and is a big tourist attraction. Giant-ass wood carving are all abound at the museum. This elephant is as big as a car, and it's carved from a single piece of wood. Very cool. This was an early industry for Taiwan, with master carvers producing works for export to North America, Europe and Japan.

We ate at an amazing noodle house. The best places are always very unassuming, and Paul knows where they are. Now we have to get better at finding the best places. We ate at the most tranquil vegetarian restaurant in the mountains. It was amazing. We talked philosophy and politics late into the evening. This place is the sort of place you dream about...and $4000 ($150 CDN) a night for one of the cabins.

Like I said, this place was a dream. The food was great and the atmosphere was even better. I loved all the ducks around, and the setting in the mountains was just amazing. Paul tells us that its very difficult to find land in the mountains that also has such a supply of water. They have their own septic lake for the restaurant and all the cabins.

NEways, we had a great time, and ate some fantastic food.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Odds and Ends


1. Turns out, the fireworks are celebrating the reopening of business after the Chinese New Year. That's what you see on TV as the celebrations with the Dragons and whatnot. That explains some about the various times....

2. I'm working on a new blog. You can read it here. It's about alternative health (and what shouldn't be considered alternative). It's just begun, so give it time to mature. I'm going to try and inform everyone on what I've learned.

3. Moeller Technique. Really changing the way I'm thinking about drums. More on that later.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Chinese New Year - The Down Side...

Okay, enough all ready!

Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, and I'm wondering how long the whole 'firecracker' thing is going to go on....There's no sense to it. People randomly light firecrackers at random times, for no apparent reason.

So, you're lying in bed at 6:30 in the morning, and all of a sudden, there's a gun fight outside your window! Or at 11:17am, or at 3:37pm or at 7:44pm, or 2:26am....

And remember how I mentioned there was no insulation in Taiwan, well...insulation keeps more than just cold weather also keeps sound out! Given the configuration of our apartment complex, there's a series of corridors between buildings, and it amplifies the sound. You never know when they'll go off (like right now!).

Enough already!!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Food Poisoning!

Damn Subway Subs!!

I had Subway Monday night (my favorite, Italian BMT) for maybe the fourth time since coming to Taiwan. I usually eat in the markets or one of the local teahouses. Once or twice a week we'll eat Western.

Well, this one's for my family, so if you're otherwise, don't read on....(this means Danielle was smart enough to go veggie).

NEways, I've never been sick like this before in my life. Food poisoning
really sucks! I mean, I puked all night (about 12 times) and just had the worst diarrhea ever!! Nasty stuff. Once when I was a kid, I was barfing non-stop when my dad took me to the hospital to see Dr. Leckie (thanks dad). I think this was worse. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. My chest is sore (two days later) from continuous vomiting. Danielle says it was like the puking scene from Team America....

At least I know my immune system is strong cause it got rid of
everything. I drank a ton of Supa Supau (Taiwanese Gatorade) and the next day, I could eat again. It's taking my bowels a little longer to come back online, but wow, what a ride.

We eat at all sorts of places, market food, etc. in Taiwan, and it's a damn Western restaurant that makes me sick. Go figure. I can even drink the water....

BTW...I'm just looking for sympathy... *puppy eyes*

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year!
Year of the Pig -- A very lucky year!

'Gong shee, Gong shee!' According to our friend/client, Paul, this is a New Year's wish that we must say whenever we encounter friends throughout the Chinese New Year holiday.

On the 17th of February, we were invited to Paul's house in Dajia, (大甲) in Taichung County (the country outskirts of Taichung) to celebrate Chinese New Year with his family and friends.This was our first time venturing outside of the city on our own. Thanks to Google Earth and Paul's directions, we arrived on our scooter with little trouble.

Paul's invitation was an opportunity that allowed us to gain a more profound understanding of the customs and meaning behind this celebration. I feel that in Canada, our interpretation of Chinese New Year was somewhat distorted as we were exposed to an adapted version of the Chinese New Year made to fit into a North American context.

In Canada, Chinese families seem to celebrate with other members of the Chinese community in their area to minimize feelings of isolation from family, friends and their homeland. This means parties in large halls, parades, huge fireworks displays, traditional performances and buffets.

The grandiosity of this event in North America gives the i
mpression that Chinese New Year is really big. However, after our experience and discussions with Paul and his friends, we have come to realize that Chinese New Year is in fact a more intimate, humble celebration in its native land.

Before, I had believed that Chinese New Year evoked the same great feelings of anticipation and excitement that Christmas gives to people in my country. Now, rather than comparing the Chinese New Year to Christmas, I would say that it is more akin to Thanksgiving in the West...that is, an extended thanksgiving which lasts 15 days.

In Taiwan, anyhow, Chinese New Year appears to be a time when families get together and give thanks. This is a 'spring' festival, according to Paul, that traditionally fell after the harvest. There is no extensive gift giving, but children and employees alike can e
xpect to receive red envelopes containing money from their relatives and employers, respectively.

One important custom is to give thanks to and to worship ancestors. Every home generally has a shrine, usually in a room called a temple, where food and burning incense are arranged on a table. Part of the Chinese New Year tradition is to bow before this shrine in worship and thanksgiving of ancestors.

Traditionally, ancestors are supposed to be located on the left side of a temple, but in Paul's temple they were located on the right, due to his ancestors' special status as generous people (this, historically, was decided by the emperor). Paul's shrine is also somewhat unique from the majority of the population because it holds a small box containing statues representing his great-grandmother and great-grandfather. His family must therefore worship two family names.

After worship, the meal i
s usually served. We enjoyed many 'delicious Taiwanese foods' (they like to use the word, 'delicious' here), including pig's knuckles, lemony chicken, angel hair pasta with Taiwanese pesto, seafood, and tofu with vegetables. The meal was prepared by Paul's wife and their Vietnamese housekeeper (Their housekeeper may later prepare for us a traditional Vietnamese meal, which Paul and his family have been reluctant to try on their own so far).

After the meal, we visited Maoli temple where there were large, paper mache pigs and other traditional symbols. The engravings and sculptures in this temple were amazingly detailed and historic. In history, Maoli is said to have been quite wealthy, according to the writings near the entrance of this traditional temple.

The behaviour of the people worshiping seemed casual in comparison to the solemnity practiced in many Western Christian churches. However, it should be noted that some of the traditions of worship have been forgotten here, as many contemporary worshipers unknowingly enter in the doors intended for the gods, according to Paul. In addition, 'Hell money' (traditionally burned to appease the spirits of ancestors) is now dumped into a trunk and burnt in an incinerator to reduce air pollution (traditional burning produced a lot of BAD smoke).

Later, we returned to Paul's house and continued to feast upon traditional snacks (nuts, shredded cheese and Taiwanese candies). At this time, we enjoyed the company of Paul's friends and family.

During our scooter ride home, the streets were lined with impromptu fireworks. The fireworks regulations are quite lose here, so people will set them off anywhere at any given time, especially during traditional celebrations. There were 163 fireworks related injuries this year.

I should add that Paul's house is located on the same property as his factory which produces 'puffed dye', and other water-based dyes, that they sell to companies like Nike and that are used on items such as runners. Paul gave us two traditional hanging mementos. One reads something like, 'luck and smooth sailing' and the other reads, 'prosperity and riches', in Chinese. It is a very personal gift from him, as the writing is printed using the puffed ink from his factory.

Paul is becoming a good friend of ours. A few months ago we all went hiking together
in the famous 'Shito Mountain'. It was a refreshing change from the densely polluted air of Taichung. We were sure to breathe deeply du
ring our hike.

Before the hike, we met Paul's best friend, Alex, who was o
ne of Paul's evening visitors during the Chinese New Year celebration. Alex treated us to some amazing soup at a small, but famous, Taiwanese restaurant in the foothills of Shito Mountain. He also took the picture of James and I. In the next picture (I took it) you can see Paul and his wife, Alex, Paul's son Michael, and some goon we don't know who just sat down at our table and started eating.

One thing that James and I have noticed during our time here so far is that everything is different, but at the same time, the same. Hiking up Shito Mountain was very similar to hiking in the North Bay area. With the exception of poinsettias, banana trees (with leaves the size of our bed), huge spider webs that could trap a bat, and other minor foliage differences, we felt right at home. It was very nice to get a glimpse of another part of Taiwan.

And what did we do for C
hristmas, you ask? Well, we attended a Christmas party thrown by one of our Columbia colleagues for homesick foreigners. There, we participated in a secret Santa gift exchange and enjoyed a turkey dinner with pumpkin pie and, of course, Christmas pudding for dessert.

December 25th, our families were missed, but it didn't quite feel like Christmas. I have to say, I think that both James and I felt that the Chinese New Year took on a greater significance and that we felt more festive during Paul's Chinese New Year celebration than we did at Christmas. It goes to show you, a holiday is not a holiday without family and friends.

Best wishes for the New Year and 'gong shee' to everyone back at home!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Earthquake MkII

My internet hasn't been working since we got another earthquake. A 6.2 is never fun, even when it's a couple of hundred km away. So my internet's been messed.

Just if you were in an apartment is kind of like living in a tent. No insulation, so if you heat the apartment (the heaters here are nothing but giant toasters), at night you get a lot of condensation when things cool down, and everything gets wet (like the inside of a tent). So you have to keep the windows open. Makes it even harder to's a losing battle.

IF you're interested, I'm teaching mostly online now. Notice all the women are first? That's Asia for you....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

90 years old and cold

Happy birthday to Ernest Borgnine, or as I remember him, Dominic Santini, or as dad remembers him, Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale.

NEways, just to let you know, Taiwan is FREAKING COLD!! Colder than Canada, in fact.

Don't believe me? Well. when it's 10C outside, it's 10C inside too. Taiwan has no heating or insulation, so you can't escape the cold. In Canada, you bare the cold for awhile, but once inside, you're tosty. There's no escaping it here.

It's damn cold in the morning!!