Monday, October 17, 2016

Teaching English in Taiwan. Some Advice for Newcomers.

Five years. That’s how long I’ve been in Asia. One year in Beijing, and 4 in Taiwan. Here’s somethings I have learned...Some advice for the newcomer, or people who are thinking about coming to Taiwan. This post is specifically about work related stuff. 

  1. Don’t go through recruiters. Just don’t. Come here on a visitor visa and find a job. You can ask me if you want to know more details. 
  2. Try to get a part time job to sponsor your work permit rather than a full-time job. If a job holds your work permit, they have leverage over you. And there are lots of unscrupulous employers. It is better than, China, for example, or maybe even Korea…but nonetheless, there are still lots of scumbag employers here. Plus, if you get a part time work permit, then you can get other jobs as you please, and transfer ARC if necessary, which is much easier than applying for a new one. 
  3. Overtime abuse is rampant in Taiwan…especially among Taiwanese employees. Yet another reason to avoid full-time jobs. It is very common for jobs to ask you to attend events or do out of class paperwork or any number of things that you will spend your time doing and not get paid for, even though you are being paid by the hour. If you’re full time, just forget about it…they own you. Contract terms do not apply. 
  4. Contract terms do not apply. Asians don’t give a shit about contracts. They will violate your contract without thinking twice about it. Having a personal relationship with your employer is much more important than negotiating a contract. Taiwanese labor law is good and fair, but you don’t want to go there unless you have to and are sure you don’t want to work at the place anymore. Legal issues are exhausting and inefficient. 
  5. How to set personal boundaries the Taiwanese way. Here’s how Taiwanese cross the street: they look left, see that a car is coming, choose to walk out in front of it, then turn their head right to look at the next lane. Lesson: pretend to be busy or unaware of your blatant disregard for policy or rules (in this case traffic) and all will be well…in this case, literally, looking the other way. One of the most infuriating thing about Taiwanese culture for me is this playing dumb stuff. They will avoid confrontation at all costs, but that doesn’t mean they will not screw you. So, just get creative with it. If they tell you you have to show up for an event and not get paid for it…whoops! You got terribly ill that morning and had to stay home. They tell you some bullshit nonsense policy or paperwork Yady yada and whoops! You forgot about it! See if they push you. Don’t do what I did and call them out on their nonsensical policies. Just so you know…here’s what happens if you do.
  6. If you call them out. a) They will blow smoke to obscure the structure and responsibility…it’s like fighting a 7-headed monster who’s heads regrow every time you cut one off. You will never know exactly who you are fighting…and if you take it to the top level, the CEO or owner will claim they don’t have the power or some such shit to intervene and just play like they’re on your side until you leave…at which point they will immediately resume plotting against you.  b) They will blame it on the policy as if the policy is some living creature that has a mind of its own…and they have no control over it c) they will target you for elimination, which will come when you least expect it.
  7. Don’t believe the hype. There are there ways that shady employers will try to scare you. 1) They will claim the police will show up at your doorstep after they cancel your work permit. Bullshit. The police will not come to throw you out of the country if an employer cancels your work permit. In fact, they cannot legally do so without a document called a “cancel contract agreement” that has your signature on it.  Actually, the notion of the Taiwanese police actually enforcing the law is kind of comical to me...since they usually do as little as possible. Anyway, even if your work permit gets canceled, you still have 2 weeks. And even if your two weeks runs out, you can just do a visa run to hong kong. It’s really not a big deal. Go to the CLA (Council of Labor Affairs) for advice, in English if you wait. 2) Taiwan has criminal Libel laws. Which means, if someone makes a complaint against you for libel, the police will get involved. I’ve been threatened with this, and I know others who have too. But I’ve never heard of anyone actually doing it, and furthermore, they'd have to go to court to prove you libelled them anyway. It's only libel if you said something about them publicly that they can prove is untrue or injurious. 3) They will enforce an “early termination penalty” from the contract. Contrary to popular belief, it is blatantly illegal to withhold this penalty from your paycheque. The clause is legal, but they must seek the money in civil court if you don’t pay, which they never do. If they withhold money from your pay, it is time to file for mediation at the CLA…provided that you have a work permit and are working legally there.
  8. Asian Management: sucks. It’s very top-down, they don’t care about consensus building and their favourite management style is intimidation. They also love being obscure about company organisation. Your manager may not actually be a “manager”. It’s confusing, but it’s safe to say that most of the stuff comes from the top, which you also may not know about. Like, is it the branch manger, the owner, HQ? You’ll probably have no idea. 
  9. Big brother is watching. They love observing you and forming opinions about you without you being aware that it’s happening. They don’t see this as a problem or creepy at all. Your co-teachers, or classroom teachers will report to management on what you are doing, sometimes in real time. People will complain about you without your knowledge and then management will act on their complaints without telling you even what was complained about. It’s part of being an outsider. Taiwanese culture is very homogenous and intolerant to outside influence and ideas. They have their own way of doing things and due to their communication style (or lack thereof) and the language barrier, you will be out of the loop 90 percent of the time. This can make a person paranoid and skittish over time. Just smile and nod and if things become too crazy, just go find another job. These jobs are a dime a dozen. I've literally been hired, fired and hired again within a month time span. 
  10. Revolving-door industry- teaching English in Taiwan is a bit like waitering back home. People are in and out of positions all the time for all kinds of reasons. Turnover is ridiculous. Schools have adapted to the high turnover by hardening their policies and being even less flexible. They look out for number 1. You are a slab of English speaking meat to them. You provide a commodity, and make them look cool for speaking English to them and gaining your approval of them personally. When it comes to you getting screwed though, nobody will stand up their boss for you, and bosses don’t give a shit about you…you are human product to them. It’s a jaded take, I know. But many will read this and agree. 
  11. They’re not educators! A lot of these “private” schools are stocked with low-paid , recent Taiwanese graduates and owners who don’t have a clue about education or have a degree even in a related field. There you go. You put the pieces together. 
  12. There are a few different types of schools you can work at. 1) Pre-school. 2) Kindergarten 3) Public School 4) Private School 5) Buxiban 6) Anqing Ban. Both 1 and 2 can be private or public. They can be stand alone, or part of a larger school system. 3 you can only work in if you have a teaching license. There are lots of “English Camps” going on inside these places. Some people love working for these circus type jobs. I hated it personally, but I know people still doing it. 4, there are lots of big private schools you can work for. The problem is they have their own way of doing things since they are private…and there is little oversight (objective oversight). I’ve worked at two private schools. There is no guarantee that they will be good or bad, they could be either. I’ve worked for private schools who violated contracts and others that didn’t. 5 and 6 are “cram schools”…6 is more of an after school daycare. They are soulless institutions that force children to sit in tiny classrooms with no natural light and “cram” more information into their already tired from the school day heads. OR, they have no rules whatsoever and the kids have the run of the place. I hate these places. They are where most of the jobs are. Mismanagement is endemic, the environments are often poorly designed and controlled, and they have little knowledge of education. Business ethics are often horrible and law breaking and all kinds of foul play can be found at these places. I advise avoiding these places. I like kindergartens and preschools. It’s a tough job, but at least it’s real teaching. But, if you can find a buxiban that you like, you can give it a shot…I advise the part time approach, however. The other option is adult teaching. The downsides are the students cancel all the time and you don’t get paid. They often have stupid policies, lots of paperwork ,or intimidating management. The pay is not great, and the hours suck. On the upside, however, it’s pretty relaxing just teaching adults. The other problem is that these jobs are hard to find and they know it.  I recently worked 7 days a week morning kindergarten with nights and weekends adult teaching. The adult place ended up being of the lawbreaking, intimidating, scumbag variety, so that one has ended. Currently, I am saving up money and trying to think up a long term career plan. Cause this just aint cuttin' it. Teaching English abroad is more of an one year adventurer thing or a few years traveling kind of thing. Long term plan it is not. Again, some would disagree. Some are just fine with all the bits and pieces. But it's my assertion that those people are a bit outside the curve. You can take that advice or leave it, but it's free!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Even Fresher Cultural Perspectives After My Latest Visit Home

First impressions as I enter my apartment:

Wow, everything is so short and small. The table is like half the height of American tables. The Couch is half the size of American couches. The Refrigerator, cabinets…literally everything about my apartment is a significant downgrade when it comes to size compared to America. The ceilings even seem lower. It reminds me of how Japanese this place is actually. You could fairly say that Taiwanese people and their culture are a good part Japanese. The food, the styles and even their excessive politeness. 

As I completed each leg of my return Journey, I went on a kind of a reunion tour through all the places I’d lived in the past decade. I left from my childhood home in Upper Gwynedd to go to my beloved city of Philadelphia. After that, I took a flight to Beijing, where I had lived for about a year. Then, I arrived in my current location of Taipei, where I have been for the better part of 3 years. Each place reminded me of why I felt the way I did when I lived there. And, the unique experience of being in these places one after the other afforded me an opportunity to make some new observations and to compare and contrast once again from my present perspective.

Upper Gwynedd left the same impression as it always does on me. It was really nice to see my parents and family and they have a beautiful home, but one must drive about 10 minutes to access even the closest business. I got the feeling after being there for about a week of being trapped on all sides by oceans of roads where only single file traffic passes. All goods and services are restricted by a tide of very slow moving drivers in single file, cramming through town intersections to access the large strip malls and shopping centres. I find that the wanderlust in me cannot tolerate knowing the sparseness of the sprawled suburban towns that awaited an hour in each direction. The wait in the traffic lines is a heavy price to pay for limited cultural experience if you ask me. 

Let me backtrack a little bit there though. I used to say that the Lansdale area had no culture. But that is definitely not true. It has a very distinct small town culture. It is the historic American culture first brought by the immigrants who came to the American East coast and settled in Pennsylvania. When growing put here I perhaps did not appreciate these things, but on my return visit, I paid special attention to the colonial architecture of the houses and businesses, surely some of which must be over 2 or 3 hundred years old. These towns and hamlets are breathtaking beautiful…rolling across the rich farm land and forest south of the Lehigh valley. You can see the small nuclei of what used to be disparate towns. This area has as much history if not more than anywhere else in America. The Pennsylvania Dutch, the Schwenkfelders, the Irish and Italian Catholics, the Presbytyrians, the Swiss-German Mennonites,  and our own tiny town of Upper Gwynedd, which was founded by Welsh Quakers.
At this time, many immigrants from other places have come to call the region home. There is now a Jamaican barber shop on Main Street Lansdale, and plentiful Korean owned stores with Hangul translation on them. A Greek restaurant and a Spanish restaurant (although I severely doubt its authenticity) now also inhabit Main Street. There are sushi restaurants run by Chinese people and even Vietnamese pho restaurants. There have been improvements in diversity no doubt, yet I still feel that all of these places have been extensively “Americanised”. While at a local sushi restaurant, I ordered the aptly named “Godzilla Roll”; A freakish conglomeration of fish and mayonnaise all rolled together in seaweed and rice wet with the tears of Japanese sushi chefs who lament the bastardisation of their magnificent art. 

The Korean grocery store Assi is certainly authentic enough however. Complete with ridiculous English translations of Korean product logos, this place gives one a true feel of what Asia is like. I think the Koreans have really colonised the area quite extensively. They have their own Churches, supermarkets, restaurants and schools now it seems.

Because I have forgotten to do so, let me now say a bit on the magnificent Italian American culture which is uniquely American. “Italian” restaurants in America can be found nowhere else. Even in Taiwan, the Italian food is quite accurately Italian. You cannot find a Chicken Parm Hoagie at these places, or even Chicken Parmesan at all, “Italian” hoagies, or even the American pizza which has denser dough and is much larger than usual. You can only find what we would refer to as “artisan” pizza, but is probably just what the Italians call “Pizza”, although I have also heard of it referred to as “Napoli” style. Don’t misunderstand me though. I LOVE American Italian food. It’s one of my favourite things to eat back home. The Italian American deli, or even just the deli in general (Jewish I suppose) seems to be pretty uniquely American. You just don’t find that stuff here. I don’t think there is anywhere in Taiwan that you can just walk into a deli and tell them I want such and such on a Kaiser roll. In fact, I don’t even think they have kaiser rolls. 

So, these are the things I noticed in my home town. Everything seemed bigger and clumsier than I remembered. And although while in Taiwan, I have touted the superiority of American drivers, I actually found them to be cumbersome and fearful upon my return. I have become used to the free flowing Taiwanese way of driving. That is not to say that I am used to psycho drivers here. After all, a psycho driver is a psycho driver no matter where you live. 

Next on my reunion tour was Philadelphia, a city of great culture, history and character where I spent about 5 years working and studying. I returned to West Philly to visit some friends and was quickly reminded of how much I love the place. So beautiful…so rich in culture and history, and with such a wealth of diverse, intelligent, and interesting inhabitants. And the musical culture is so rich! There is not enough room to begin to elaborate on everything Philadelphia has to offer. It is the “big city with a small town feel”, the home of Rocky, and birthplace to some of the greatest musicians in American history. It is a foodie and a beer snob town, and also home to some of country’s best universities (namely Penn). 

While in Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to compare it with Taipei. Everything downtown seems to be in a large stone building, which is a bit different from Taipei, which has haphazard stands everywhere. I wouldn’t have noticed that before. I was struck there by the relative sparsity of nearby businesses in West Philly. Every destination required a walk of several blocks or so. Which, in the bitter Pennsylvania cold, was something I had to reacclimatise to. Taipei has spoiled me. There are like 50 businesses within a 5 block radius where I live. And the climate is much warmer here.

Beautiful, however, Taipei is not. The architecture here is straight up ugly. It’s just a very ugly place. It has a ramshackle charm to it, no doubt, but it does not even pretend to approach the beauty of a city like Philadelphia. After the awful experience I had as a customer in the Philadelphia and Chicago airports though, the Taoyuan airport just outside of Taipei was a breath of fresh air. Nobody does convenience like the Taiwanese, with the exception of perhaps Japan. Everything is clearly marked, and there are uniformed attendants waving you in the correct direction, even though the airport is very small. When approaching the baggage claim, there was a mobile digital display to tell you where to go to get your bag. That is the asian proactive customer service that I have become accustomed to. In Chicago, I had to get the attention of restaurant attendants to find out where to go. And in Philadelphia, only a passing pilot assisted me with where to go. The checkin lady didn’t even tell me which direction to walk in after checking me in. It was a bewildering experience and triggered some rather strong feelings about how far my own country has to go to improve things.

So I am back in the city that the Taiwanese tourism department refers to as “The Heart of Asia”. It is good to be back, but I have had such a whirlwind readjustment in the last two weeks. Traveling to America after a year and a half abroad entailed some serious reverse culture shock. Everything is just so huge in America. After re-acclimating to a more regal space, I find myself a little disappointed coming back to my little apartment. We live in very close quarters, and the walls are quite thin. Every morning I get woken up by a phone alarm that plays music from what sounds like a nintendo game and it’s impossible to know where it’s coming from because of the way the sound echoes off of the many building facades lined up facing each other. I often hear the children in the apartment above whining when I’m in the bathroom, and the sounds of the street drift right up and keep me awake if my windows are open. Taipei is a loud and ugly city. This is kind of the stark reality that I have to accept as I return to spend the next 1-2 years of my life here. 

An ugly city, but a convenient one. Everything is so convenient here. Doctor’s appointments, job interviews, traffic. Everything moves quickly and efficiently. You simply make an appointment online and then you are in and out within an hour usually. There are convenience stores everywhere and so many businesses are packed together so tightly. It’s a very dense city. 

Beijing was pretty much the same as I remember. With every sentence ending in an “Arrr” and everything moving at a snails pace. I even snapped some hilarious misspellings on the restaurant menu at the airport. I don’t know what it is about that place that they can’t spell English words correctly. Of course, Beijing is the place where I was delayed overnight because of a luggage issue. It took them about an hour of deliberation and about 10 phone calls to figure out that I had to stay overnight. Everything in Beijing just takes like three times as long and has like three times as many steps as it should. Even at the currency exchange booth, they had to stamp like 10 documents and sign like 4 carbon copies. But one thing I will give to Beijing airport: it is still way better than Chicago! I leave you with these hilarious photos: 

PA is cold!

That's a noodle boi!
Nobody does sandwiches like Wawa!
Scooter culture slowly creeping into Lansdale? 
West Philly Charm (Ali's Place)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fresh Cultural Perspectives After My Latest Visit Home

Each time I come back to my home country, it is an opportunity for reflection. I observe, with wonderment, the things and places that have changed since my last return. Of course, not only have the places changed, but so have I. My expectations are so different this time. On my first visit back home, it was kind of a shock coming back into the US airports. The service sucks, the facilities are dirty, and there is no proactive help. This is quite different from airports in Taipei and Tokyo, where neatly uniformed attendants greet you and smile and are far more available to ask questions. In many ways, I have an easier time navigating facilities and ticket problems while living in Asia than I do even in my own country. 
People at the airport here can just be straight up rude. They cop an attitude when you have the gaul to ask them to do their jobs. Now that’s not everyone of course. There are plenty of nice and helpful people too. But as I observed on my last visit home, it seems like customer service is conditional here. It may be given if you are polite and not inconveniencing the working person that much. And it’s not that I’m not polite in Asia. But it’s almost as if polite is not enough in America, but you have to be practically obsequious to get people to do their jobs.
Case and point: When at Christmas Eve dinner with the family, I overheard a customer pleading with the waitress to bring their check so they could finally leave. They were slammed and the service was rough that night. People were waiting way too long for their drinks, meals and checks. The customer entreated the server “I know it’s super busy and you’re working very hard, but we would really love if you could bring us the check because we’ve been sitting here a while and would really like to leave.” This type of thing is very unlikely to happen in Taiwan or China. Most likely not in Japan either. In Taiwan the interaction would go like this, “excuse me, I want the check. I’ve been waiting so long. Thanks.” ”不好意思,我要買單,我等很久. 謝謝。“ Let’s take a look at them side by side:

America: I know it’s super busy and you’re working very hard, but we would really love if you could bring us the check because we’ve been sitting here a while and would really like to leave.

Taiwan: 不好意思,我要買單,我等很久. 謝謝。

So at’s one of the things that has been difficult for me coming back. I find that I have really internalised Taiwanese service norms and I think Americans actually find it rude and sort of shocking. I really had forgotten how much small talk people make at the check out or to just any type of employee at all. It pains me to be rude, and after my second week, I am more adjusted, but I feel like it would take even longer than two weeks for me to really get back into it.
But it’s not only the length of the interactions. I had forgotten that the USA is a place of many cultures, and that I come from but one. White suburban culture. There’s city culture then too, and many different types of that as well. So America I think is actually quite difficult to navigate in general with regards to behavioural and cultural norms. Taiwan is actually largely homogenous. I mean, they will openly refer to me in the third person as “the foreigner” right in front of me. Can you imagine that happening in an American city? 
Now, I would like to state a kind of disclaimer and say that I experienced beyond kindness and warmth more than negative experiences. So, for the record, I would like to say that my experience in America was spent mostly dealing with very warm, kind, loving and generous people. And those people were all different colours and ethnicities.
But, I had an interesting conversation with my friend Sam, who said he had taken some courses on body language and communication with regards to race. To make a long story short, people internalise and carry with them racial anxieties and tensions and then express them in their body language. And in America, we have a dark racist past (and present). So for example, a white woman is in an elevator and she unknowingly clutches her purse a little tighter as a black man steps in. Now that’s just one example and I think it is worth noting that these type of racially heated moments can be expressed passive aggressively in all types of interactions…probably mostly subconsciously. Like, for example, I had a very rude experience with an African American woman at the checkin counter. 
They announced that if you were in the boarding group I was in, and had luggage that would not fit under the seat, they would tag it and send it to your final destination. Now I had a backpack with stuff for the plane and my trumpet. As such, neither of these things could be sent on the stowaway. So I approached and verified that there would be no overhead storage. She repeated the line that bags could be tagged. I told her I could not send my trumpet on stowaway. She repeated the line again that bags could be tagged. I repeated, I have a sensitive instrument that cannot go in stowaway. She repeated the line again, at which point I stopped her and said “I know that you can tag the bags, that’s not why I’m talking to you.” When I pressed the issue, she said, “well, do you wanna miss your flight?” Now I was heated. I won’t regale you of every last detail, but let’s break it down for a moment. 
I had an expectation that the customer service person would try and find a way to help me, because that’s what they are supposed to do. Her expectations were apparently very different from mine. She didn’t really give a shit if my problem got solved, she was just chucking out the stock line that she knew and that was it. But what made it much worse for me was that she really patronised me on top of it. Her tone was condescending, she laughed and looked at other people while I was talking to her, and wouldn’t even let me speak barely when it became apparent that I was irate. Now I didn’t use abusive language or threaten her in any way, but I felt as though I was the recipient of more than just bad customer service. 
Now what was the origin of this “more than”? Perhaps it was cultural, American vs. Asian service principles. Maybe I was too rude for her and she wanted to make me pay for it. Perhaps, and this is what I believe, she (a black woman) was in a service position to me (a white man) and couldn’t help herself to dish out an attitude in response to what surely must have been an observation of the smug surety of my white privilege. Or maybe she was just not a very helpful individual. Now, we will never no for certain what the cause was. Maybe you all could comment below and let me know what you think. AND, I am in no way saying that all, or even  many African Americans act this way towards white people, I am merely saying that it happens on occasion. Also, I accept that it could have nothing to do with race. She just may be an obnoxious individual with a poor (perhaps American) sense of what it means to do your job. I guess I just forgot how complicated life in American can be with trying to navigate different cultures and locations. Here I was in Asia, thinking of how hard it was to do this…but I actually genuinely think it might be harder to do in America, even though I speak the language.
That was one thing that was really surprising to me. I thought “oh great! I’m coming back and will be able to deal with things in my own language.” I thought things would be way easier. But there are so many factors at play here that I just didn’t expect. Even now, as I sit on the flight to Chicago, I have some moderately loud Chinese people sitting behind me. I want to turn around and  tell them to be quiet, but I can’t tell if it’s just my prejudice against loud Chinese people (and they are loud), or if they are actually too loud. Update: I turned around and politely asked them to be quiet. I think that was a good solution :). 
So I guess a lot of it comes down to how we approach situations. But I’ve got a lot to learn about how to react to situations as well and I’ll be honest, it’s really hard for me to not get upset when I feel like someone is being unfair on unjust. Do you swallow your pride or stick up for yourself and press the issue? I suppose these are questions that everyone deals with on a regular basis. 

On a broader spiritual path, this may just be another life lesson for me in patience and expectations. With regard to the former; have it, and the latter, do not have them. This will improve any situation no doubt. I am a bad horse, tough to train and stubborn. But there is hope for me, for as Zen master Suzuki says, “a bad horse is a good horse”. Demystified: it is our faults that we learn from. We learn more from having more faults. We also probably suffer more too… but that’s neither here nor there, is it? Happy 2016 everybody.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cost of Living, Taiwan Vs. 'Murica!

So, recently I’ve been taking a look at some jobs back in the US. To determine the feasibility of an eventual return. While it looks I could probably make a living there, I’d be living off of much less. Let’s do some of the math here…

There was an ad for a public school teacher in Phoenix, AZ at $38,000 a year. Of course, numbers are deceiving seeing as how nearly 9,000 of that is going to go to federal and state tax and social security. 

By comparison, a foreign teacher in Taiwan can make about 28,000 a year, more or less, but only 1400 of that will go to tax. 

Adding it up, so far it’s $26,400 in Taiwan vs. $29,000 in the US

Now lets factor in health insurance. In the US, it's going to cost you about 1,200 a year if you're enrolled in the company plan...if not, could cost you $5,000. The Arizona gig is a public teacher job, so lets call it company sponsored. In Taiwan, national health insurance is free, besides negligible deductibles...let's call it $400

After that, we’re at $26,000 in Taiwan vs. $27,800 in the US…

Now look at rent:

In Phoenix, the average rent is about $800 per month. In Taipei, it's about $450. 

Taking rent out of the pile, now it’s only  $20,600 in Taiwan and $18,200 in US leftover for everything else.

Now public transit is up to the individual. But, it is true that there are many more jobs that you need a car for in the states than in Taiwan. Here, you can just ride a scooter, which you can buy for about a grand and which takes very little gas. Or, you could just take the very timely and convenient public transportation here, which is world class. I’ll take my car payments for example when I was living in the US. All told, I paid about $500 a month for financing, insurance and gas. To be fair, I did have to replace a bunch of things on the scooter. Amounted to about a grand US…hopefully the thing will be tip top for some time to come now though. Gas doesn’t cost anymore than like 10 dollars a month.


In Taiwan with a scooter (including cost of purchase): 18,500 …In America with a Car: $12,200.

Of course, that’s not all! The cost of eating must be taken into account! Now, for eating out in the US, we're talking like between 7 and 30 dollars usually (if my memory serves). In Taiwan, it's usually between 3 and 15. I mean, you can get nice lunches here for 4-5 dollars and nice dinners for 9-12 dollars. In the states, anything marginally nice costs like at least $20.

So, I’m not going to do the math for that part, but I think you get the point! Taiwan is tough to beat for cost of living and expenses. America really needs to get its act together though and start giving average Americans a bigger slice of the pie. Good, I'm sure now that I've said something about it, our senators will have a good think and get right on it! Only in my dreams....

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ko Wen Jie Vs. Taipei Traffic ROUND 1!

So Taipei has gotten this new Mayo Ko Wen Je (柯文哲) This guy is the ultra coolness. The now Mayor of Taipei City, has had very little political ambition from his job as a doctor before. Politicians went after his team at his hospital, provoking his augur and ultimately leading to his bid for Taipei City Mayor's office. A bid which he won in a landslide election as an Independent.

This guy does not give a hoot for ceremony or any kind of bullshit. He cuts straight though the crap. He halted construction on the Taipei Arena after finding all kinds of problems and corruption with it. He just shut it down. Things in Taipei are getting better with this new nonsense mayor. He already made new rules to improve parking issues and the like. In this article, he proposes cameras to do the job. 

Several law experts from National Taiwan University (NTU) yesterday joined a district court judge who criticized Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je's (柯文哲) idea of using surveillance cameras to arrest individuals who...
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 Let me just give you a taste of the kind of crap I deal with on a daily basis with these fools on the Taipei roads. People stop their cars wherever and whenever they please. They don't care if it's at a red or yellow line. I have seen people park right around the corner or a busy intersection right turn lane, in the actual turn lane itself, or just straight up double park right in the middle of the street, effectively cutting off a whole line of traffic. Or, on a major arterial like Xinyi during rushhour, they will just park their little fucking luxury cars right on the side of the road because they can't be bothered to go find appropriate parking so they can run in and get whatever it is they want to get while the entire city suffers because of the reduced traffic flow on that major roadway. 
It doesn't even end there. People back up on the middle of the road like it's no big deal. They will swipe in front of you coming out of an alley and then just stop and "park" in the middle of the road, as this has now become somewhat acceptable.
So I say if he wants to cut that shit out...more power to him! I'm tired of these jackasses as much as the next guy. If we didn't have people who so flagrantly needed to break the laws, we wouldn't have a need for enforcement. Already, we see police ticketing people for coming too close to pedestrians in the crosswalk. So far since then, I have noticed significantly more respectful drivers in the crosswalk. 1984 my eye...Let's hear the alternative solution: 
"An increase in police manpower and the use of surveillance cameras are not solutions to the problem, the judge said.
He suggested Ko should investigate why illegal parking is so common and seek ways to increase parking spaces for motorists in Taipei."(Taoyuan District Court Judge Chien Chien-jung (錢建榮))
Bump that yo. These fools are mad out of control and this whole governmental laissez faire attitude is exactly the kind of policy that makes it OK for people to do as they please. Maybe we need to design better parking areas, or maybe, just maybe...people need to exercising a modicum of common sense and stop parking their shit where it is obviously dangerous to do so, like in the afore mentioned places. All it's going to take is for one guy to whip around a turn lane on a green light to be met by the back end of a car that's not supposed to be there in that lane and *!whack!* Honestly, the amount of times I avoid scooter wrecks per day not because of traffic laws, but in spite of them is simply amazing. You just always have to expect people to be doing shit here that is completely ridiculous. But what's nice, is apparently, others think it's ridiculous too. So more power to you, Ko-Wen-Je. Keep on doing what you're doing. 1984 my arse! It's more like Mad Max with people scooting around on bikes in a lawless post-apocalyptic landscape!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sloppy has had Enough of China

This morning I stayed home sick from work. I took a half day yesterday and had a relatively peaceful late afternoon and evening in the apartment. This morning, I stepped into the shower in a pretty good mood. I had Dylan playing on my little bluetooth speaker and was feeling overall pretty good. Then I heard a really loud drilling noise that made the whole room vibrate so much that I thought it may be coming from my bathroom. 
7 Months ago, I would have popped off at that and went demanding that whoever was making the noise cease immediately. However, it would seem that over the months, I have grown accustomed to regular intrusions into my personal space and repeated crossings of my personal bottom lines. 
I began to entertain something absurd. What if the drill just came right out through the wall and did a little rotation in my face? Cut to the drill coming out of the wall and a man peaking his eye in the hole. No wait, this is China. He probably wouldn’t even notice he had just drilled through my shower and would have kept on drilling. Then I would have had to ask him three consecutive times to stop it please before he decided to understand me. 
“Only in China”, as the co-CEO of my current company likes to say. “There are things that happen only in America, but then there are things that happen only in China and no where else in the world.” China is in your face. There situations that can be overcome in a foreign country with the simple attitude of "do as the natives do". Trouble is, I don’t even think the natives like Beijing. 
To put it quite simply, there are just too many damn people. It is nearly impossible to find peace and quiet here. Not in your apartment, not at the park, not at work, not on the street. Beijing is just deafeningly loud and way too close. You can’t walk anywhere without getting cutoff. and I mean that quite literally. I can’t walk down the street for more than 5-10 minutes without getting cutoff. Every single day, on my way to work, cars swipe in front of me within a foot while I am in mid stride crossing the street with a green walk sign on the other side. Yesterday, I was crossing the street on green and a scooter nearly hit me. But they didn’t even slow down, they just said excuse me a bunch of times louder, with out making any speed adjustment other than just what they needed to not kill me. 
At work, I can’t even choose to breathe non-polluted air. Last week, we had 450 AQI, and the kitchen staff had the doors to the outside wide open. The entire building was completely contaminated and our air filtration capacity, although existant, is totally inadequate. Judy had to actually wear a mask IN her office because Chinese people apparently just do not give a fuck. 
I would say, on the days with the most serious air pollution, maybe 10% of the population wears a mask. Anything below hazardous, however, and they couldn’t care less. Judy said that a team of her coworkers was even playing basketball outside. When I go to the indoor gym, I have the same problem with people opening the windows on days above 200 AQI. I mean really, they could not care less. 
So how about getting away from it all? Maybe a nice vacation is in order. Well, last week, during National Day, Judy and I tried to take a taxi to a place where we could ride a boat down a mountain. We went up the freeway north. We began to see big trucks parked on the road to the right side. Other drivers who were turning around because of the apparently stopped traffic up ahead were driving on our side of the road in a makeshift lane coming at us. It went on like this for miles. Truck after truck…just sitting there. We still hadn’t gotten it quite figured out yet when the cab driver told us that these same people had been stuck in traffic when he came up this road, YESTERDAY. 
We turned around and tried another route with the same result. Then, we tried the mountain route. No luck. We just gave up and decided to head to a section of the great wall that was nearby.
Of course, the wall is packed with wall to wall people. When trying to climb up 45 degree angle sections of the wall, you still have to deal with the impoverished sense of navigating space that the Chinese have. They observe no safety rules, walk on whatever side they want, run up the stairs and down them and stop whenever and wherever they please. You just don’t get a break from it. 
The next day we tried a park called Fragrant Mountain. There was a long hike to the peak and every. single. step. of the way…there were people packing every square foot of the path. Sitting, standing at junctions, people selling cucumbers, water bottles, and popsicles. And endless stream of people. Every where, anywhere, all the time. Beijing. 
Cab drivers blocking bus stops, people cutting you off in line, waiting for security checks at subways. Walls surrounding every establishment, walls built in the middle of sidewalks. No reason and no rhyme. Beijing.
People singing in the subways the streets and the trains, waiters talking real loudly in restaurants. Polluting the air and your ears and the streams, the smog it is thick. Beijing. 
There is no common sense in Beijing, only nonsense. And it is time for Sloppy to GET OUT OF BEIJING! 
Judy and I have decided to move back to Taiwan in December…and not a moment to soon!

The drive to fragrant mountain. 

450 AQI

More pollution shots

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Summer Palace (Yi He Yuan)

Take a look at the beauty of the summer palace. This is a picture I took at around sunset from the bridge inside the southern gate.
 The royal summer place of Ming and Ching dynasty Emperor's was built in the 1700's, burned down and rebuilt once and is now a national park in Beijing. Like the Forbidden Palace, the summer palace is breathtaking in expanse. 

We live right next to this place and have still only seen maybe half of it. These pictures are from two separate visits I made. One was by myself briefly after work one day where I entered the south gate. The other is with Judy where we entered the east gate.

 Both visits were on beautiful weather days in Beijing. The day Judy and I went was bright and sunny and clear and clean, the city at its best. We first hiked around the inside perimeter and through some smaller buildings and gardens.

Then, we hiked through what seemed like miles of highly refined nature trails, lined with lanterns and stone benches. The trails meandered gradually uphill until we overlooked Kunming Lake.

This is the entrance to the Buddhist Tower of Incense, which is boasted as an architectural achievement of the day. 
This is the tower from the south side of Lake Kunming.

And from right outside. 

These are the buildings located behind the tower in the mountain. I think it was a sanctuary for monks.

And this is why the Buddhist Tower of Incense has such a name. The great bronze and gold gilded"Thousand Handed Buddha" (Chien Shou Guan Ying)
Then it was down and back up the stairs on the exterior facade to the next pavilion, the "Bronze Pavilion". You can see how far away the west side of the palace is if you look at that tower in the distance. 

The Bronze Pavilion. The doors were stolen when the place was burned to the ground and then later returned to China as a gift.

We then descended from the pavilion through narrow and ornately decorated hallways that looked like this: 

The roofs are fashioned the same as in the Forbidden City.

After hiking through that bit and pounding up and down steps for a few hours in the dry summer heat, we were ready to get inside. On our way out we saw some of the bronze items, including a very strange mythical creature peculiar to Chinese culture. 


The obligatory lion to guard the entrance.

During my days at work, sometimes I go out for lunch. I always pass around the Summer Palace, around its outer moat, which is choked with mighty lotus flowers stretching towards the sun's blazing glory.

The day I visited alone, I crossed the bridge to a little island that can only be accessed from the south. Some nice parting shots.

Go ahead, you can look again.  You deserve it! I hoped you enjoyed the pictures and also that you enjoy the rest of your day or evening!