Friday, 7 December 2007

Interesting Japanese Blogging Phenomenon

Because of the Japanese culture and the use the mobile phone as an Internet browsing platform, the Japanese blogging behaviour is quite different from the American one:

A Japanese robot playing the violin

As a musician, this was very interesting for me to see.  I wonder if they could program the robot to play with dynamics and work together with an accompanist:

Friday, 23 November 2007

Bus accident

Yesterday I was taking the bus when it got hit by a car making a left term.  I think the hit was rather hard as the bus shifted and made quite a noise.  I wanted to take a picture but there was too much traffic and I couldn't get a good enough shot so I gave up.

I ended up walking home in the snow - my first pseudo-workout in nearly a month.  So in a way this accident was good for me.  Hopefully the next time I am forced to walk the weather would be nicer.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Just some thoughts

About a week ago I learned that my grandma from my dad's side had passed away.  Although I had expected this because she's 87 years old and she had been ill, it was still somewhat difficult to believe that she's not going to be with us anymore.  Losing her just felt sad and a bit strange.

I still remember when I was little, about 15 years ago, my grandfather and her owned a small shop in a small town selling miscellaneous things on the roadside.  Cab drivers would come and buy some food before they hit the road again.  My brother and I always paid a visit there and although my grandparents were poor, they'd always encourage us to take lots of snacks before we go back home.  My grandma was always very happy to see us and she's not afraid to show it.  She's always had that innocence and simple way of life that makes her extraordinary.  She always put others first, and I don't know of many that can be like her.

My grandparents weren't rich, but my grandmother always tried to help others out.  When a person who was mute came to the store one time, my grandma took pity and gave him food for as long as the person was in the store.  I am not sure how long this went on, but it was years and years.  This is just one of the many stories of her generosity.  These stories never cease to amaze me.

My grandma's passing away reminded me of a few things.  First, you don't have to be a rich person to be able to give.  You can give always, and at anytime.  She didn't wait until she was more capable.  She gave right away, and that made her happy.

Secondly, she wasn't afraid of being called stupid for showing kindness.  She did those things because she thought they were the right things to do.  Others say she's not street smart and my grandfather yelled at her many times but she kept up with her principles.

Thirdly, it is possible to lead a simple and fulfilling life.  The most important thing is to not lose what makes us real human beings, and we should take pride in striving for those great qualities - honesty, integrity, compassion, and generosity.

I am sad that my grandma, who is an inspiration of mine, had passed away.  In a way I'm glad that she's not suffering from illness, but somehow I selfishly hope that she's still around to show me her way of life.  Then it dawned on me that I'm the (hopefully) new and improved version of her.  She led her life and my father learned from her life examples and he passed them on to me.  In a way, during the process of handing over one generation's teachings to another generation, the content is improved.  I can sort of see how certain quality of mine came from her, and that's comforting.  It's nice to know that she's with me in a way, through her teachings, although she's gone.

I hope I always remember the lessons she's taught me and live them out day by day to inspire others just as she would have if she were still around.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Slashing my information overflow

Yesterday I finally took the initiative to go to my Google Reader (for RSS subscriptions) and start unsubscribing from a bunch of feeds.  I just found myself not being able to keep up with amount I have, and frankly, some of the information is redundant and not very useful.

As I was going through and unsubscribing, I asked myself "what sort of information I want to keep".  I kept what I like and what I think will be useful in the future.

We'll see how this new set of subscription keeps me up to date and yet not overfeed me.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

For all those who are somewhat new to car rentals...

Since I am taking a road trip soon, I went online to do a bit of rental car research.  The car prices themselves were pretty much within my expectation but man, the insurance and underage fee in Toronto is expensive!  It can't be helped though.

The thing that was most confusing to me was auto insurance.  How can I be legally covered and what does that include?  It took me a few phone calls and research to understand.  Here it is:

In Toronto it is required for every vehicle to have third party liability.  That means when you get into an accident and it's your fault you can pay the other party.  There's full insurance as well, which covers your own loss in an accident.  The third party liability insurance, since it's required in Ontario, is included in your rental car price.  (at least that's the case with Hertz and I'm pretty sure for every car rental place)

If you want to get more coverage, here are some options:

  1. Insurance from the rental company: this covers your rental car and if you get into an accident, don't worry, it won't show on your record so your personal auto insurance won't increase, even if it's your fault.  You can just walk away from the accident without having to pay anything extra.  (Well, you kinda paid extra for this insurance beforehand...)  This is the most hassle free option.  You just call the rental car company, and if you rented from a large rental company that has a branch where you are, they might just give you a new car and you're good to go within hours,
  2. Insurance from your credit card: if you have a platnum or gold card, you probably have rental auto insurance on it.  Every credit card has a different coverage so make sure you know what is covered.  If an accident happens, it'll be on a record somewhere, but the chances of it showing up to increase your insurance is not very high.  You will have to report to the credit card company and the rental company.  It's a little bit messier but not very bad.
  3. Extension of your personal auto insurance to cover rental insurance: if your personal insurance policy covers rental then you can just use it to rent a car.  Don't have to buy any insurance.  But, when you get into an accident it'll be on your record and your insurance would increase.  There's another catch - depending on where you are and the local laws, taking this option may be a big pain.  For example, if your insurance is for Toronto, although it may cover you for rental insurance anywhere in North America, when an accident happens, you might need to come back to Toronto to sort things out.  You should ask your agent about these things.

I usually just go with option 2 since it's the cheapest and decreases my chance of leaving a record for any accident, should any occur.

I'm somewhat new to this insurance thing as well so feel free to correct me.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Facebook privacy improvement

The question of "what to share about yourself on the net" is always an interesting one. How do you restrict access so that your friends may easily access your information without hassle yet certain outsiders are blocked from stalking you?

In the blogging times, before Facebook (I'll use FB for short) came into the scene, if I wanted to restrict access I have to verify the reader. That usually means they must log in to see my blog. For example, if I have a private blog on blogger, the people who I invite to be my audience explicitly must apply for membership at blogger so they can log in to see my blog. I think for people who already have a gmail account this is all simple but for my friends who don't have a gmail account this is more hassle. Could there be a better way? Would you be willing to apply for a user name and password just to see a blog?

Now that Facebook exists, I was using its "Notes" function. Now the issue or privacy came up. Nowadays a "friend" on your FB could range anywhere from a drinking buddy you met at a bar to your boss at work. However, you do not want to share the same information with each person, but it seems in FB there's no easy way of doing it. I couldn't think of a way to restrict the people seeing my notes other than friends/non-friends.

It would be great if FB allows for greater privacy control. Perhaps I can rank my friends by closeness from 1 to 4. 1 being most intimate and 4 being the least. Then whenever I want to place restrictions I can just select up to which "grade" of friends I want to allow it. So for example, if I choose 3 then all friends in grade 1, 2, and 3 can see it.

Another solution I can think of that's more dynamic would be "tagging your friends" and put them into a category much like the group contact used in our email software. For example, I can tag my brother as "Family" and my friends from university as "University friends". That way when I want to have an event for my family members I'd just invite the whole group. Even if I just want to invite part of the family, it's easier to select from individuals from the "family" group rather than selecting from all your facebook friends.

To extend this idea further, it'd be nice if we can have subgroups. For example, the people you met in university might be classmates or professors. Then, we can have two subgroups under the group "university friends". We can call them "university classmates" and "university profs". This would be useful for people who's got hundreds of contacts.

Maybe we can have a marriage of the first idea and the second idea. Then we can look for something like: the group of friends who I met in university and who also is of grade 3 closeness to me. lol Maybe I'm going a little overboard.

Facebook already has the "friends detail" dialog where you describe how you connected with your friends. Maybe this can help out automatic categorization....

Either way, my goal is to keep my information open but also under control. I hope that in the future my friends can easily access my information. Other than what's described above for control from the controller's point of view, there should be something done for my audience as well. They should be able to just sign in at one account somewhere and wouldn't have to sign in to a bunch of other places in order to see information I meant for them to see. Currently every time I turn on my computer I've got to sign on to at least 4 accounts. It would be great if there's single sign on or some sort of central identity keeper so you wouldn't need to sign on all the time.

Just some thoughts.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Taiwan Trip Afterwords

If I hadn't decided to go back to Taiwan I would've gone to school for this term and finished my undergrad degree in computer science. Now that the trip is over, I'm very happy for the decision to go back to Taiwan with my brother rather than going to school. School can wait, but the experience won't wait. Because of my brother, I am way more inclined to go on trips because there's someone to go with. We also have different interests and wanted to go to different places. At the end we went to all of those places. We were a great team as well. He was booking the hotels and getting the tickets while I managed our schedules and booked engagements. I couldn't have asked for a better companion. Thanks Daniel!

I want to also thank all of the relatives and friends who have helped us so much and just treated us like two kings. My brother and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You took your time and energy to make our trip such a wonderful one. I can't ever forget it. There is way too many of you for me to list out, but you all know who you are. Thank you thank you thank you!

Also, thanks to my parents, who never allowed us to forget who we are, we were able to enjoy Taiwan to its fullest not just in its tangible aspect but also its intangible aspect (culture, for example). It really was an enriching experience. Thanks!

Although Daniel and I were considering to delay our flight date, but we've decided it's time to come back home. As much as we would love to stay longer, we do need to get back to Canada and get back to study/work. We'll save certain parts of Taiwan for next time!

I often think of what I've learned through this trip, but man, the answer to that came like a giant tidal wave. There were too many things!

Going back to Taiwan was a great experience because I was in the culture again. It's like getting together with an old friend. So familiar and yet refreshing. I was able to compare the Taiwanese and the Canadian culture again, and put my life under a different lens. I feel more assured of who I am and where I'm from. That was very valuable.

Throughout the trip I've also interacted with many people who told me stories or their own experiences in Taiwan. There are so many lessons within these stories and they come from some of the most unexpected times and places. I'm grateful for all those who shared their life stories with me. They are inspirational and I'll always keep them in my heart.

Things I'll miss the most about Taiwan (other than the people and the culture):
1. Convenience. I'll miss the 24 hr convenient stores that are 200 m from wherever I am (Taiwan has one of the highest densities of convenient stores in the world), the cab that comes to my door 3 minutes after I call for one, and being able to get many things done quickly.

2. Weather (somewhat): being able to walk out and exercise any time of the year.

3. Food. The many varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Oh, and also the roadside vendors.

4. Beaches.

5. High Speed Railway.

Things I won't miss about Taiwan:
1. Summer heat of up to 37 degrees, and the humidity.

2. The crowdedness and pollution. Taiwan is very crowded in general. To have the space we enjoy in Canada we have to pay way more.

3. The pests. Flying roaches, super smell-sensitive ants, etc...

In the future, I hope to see Taiwan improve in at least the following ways:
1. Education. I hope it focuses on a cultivating in students the diverse skills practical to the job market and caters to the specific gifts of individuals. I hope the kids in Taiwan can learn about their unique ability through fun activities and be able to see how their skills can be valuable to the society. I hope kids can learn to be more innovative, daring enough to dream, and be more entrepreneurial, while at the same time being great team players. I hope children of this age can learn to think more critically and know how to use technology as a tool to discard faulty information and gain truthful and valuable information.

2. Government. I hope the people can have more trust in the government and that the government would set more reasonable laws and execute them fervently.

3. Technology. I hope Taiwan keeps taking advantage of its unique government/business relationships and quickly advance in technologies. I hope the software and hardware industries can grow hand in hand, complimenting each other. In the future I want to see some global brands from Taiwan having its own products, and not just mainly OEMs. I also hope that technology can play a bigger role in education and in the general daily lives of Taiwanese people, not just in entertainment.

It's a lot to ask for, but I'm hopeful that people in Taiwan can do it. These changes will be gradual but there are already signs of such trends. Every trip to Taiwan I'm pleasantly surprised at how far we've come. I can't wait for my next visit!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Taiwan trip Day 30 - 35 (July 24 - July 29)

This is the final week of our stay in Taiwan. We went back to my grandparents' place in Pingdong (水底寮) for a few days, then went to the science park in Shinchu (新竹科學園區), then to my aunt's house in Taichung, and left for Canada on the 29th.

When we were in Pingdong, some of my cousins, uncles/aunts and my grandparents drove into the mountains stopped by the stream. All my younger cousins were so happy to see the stream. They took all their floating devices/toys and went in at once. My brother and I were too old for swimming in the stream so we toned down our craziness in the water. But the stream did bring back great memories. We used to camp along it every new year. Now because the kids have all grown up and left to the big cities to work, it is harder to have a family reunion/camping trip. Those were the good days...

My little cousins have all grown up (duh, 10 years) and have become more mature and considerate. They took good care of me while I was there, and helped out with chores from my uncles/aunts. We had great fun hanging out together.

On the 27th, we said goodbye to our grandparents and came back to Kaohsiung. The next day we went to the Shinchu science park. This park was built as part of government's effort to centrally organize the technology advancement in Taiwan. It's quite big and has many manufacturers in it. There are also R&D labs. It is the Silicon Valley of Taiwan. There are six major industries in the park - integrated circuits, telecommunications, opto-electronics, biotechnology, computers and peripherals, and precision machinery. The biggest one is the integrated circuits. Taiwan is a major manufacturer of circuit boards. Most of the brands here are unheard of to consumers outside of Taiwan because they are OEMs. This means they are suppliers for parts in some other brand's product. For example, there are iPhone parts made in Taiwan. I saw a similar product by HTC that has touch screen. In the future Taiwan wishes to sell products under its own brand and be recognized by consumers overseas. I hope that Taiwan can put more emphasis on software as well, and not just regarding software as just a way to control the hardware.

After my tour at the science park museums I went to Taichung to my aunt's house and stayed there overnight. We rarely get to see this aunt because she's way too busy. It always surprises me how thoughtful she is. Before we went, she had the AC turned on for a few hours to really cool the room. Then, she put everything we were gonna need in the guests room - towels, toothbrushes, etc... It felt like a hotel but with a touch of home! We had a great chat with her and my cousin. I hope they come to visit. We could only stay for a night. In the morning we took the train back to Kaohsiung.

We met up with some more friends and spent some time packing up our stuff, and left for Canada. Even till the last day we had engagements to eat with people. What a full schedule! Leaving Taiwan I felt somewhat sad but at the same time I knew it's time to get back and do some work. It's been quite a break. I'm tired from the trip and need to recuperate in Canada so I can get going again. There were some things I didn't get to, but looking at my schedule, I'm happy with what I got. I'll be looking forward to my next visit!

Taiwan trip Day 22 - 29 (July 16 - July 23)

I stayed in Kaohsiung for this week so people can take this time to get together with us. It's quite hard to imagine just how many meals we've had with people. On average we have two engagements per day, sometimes even 3 (midnight snacks). We met up with our elementary school teachers, high school friends, church friends, and family friends. It was such an eventful and fun week! I had some time during the week to go see the largest bookstore in Kaohsiung to look for the books to buy, and I also got to see my old school buildings.

We started the week with lunch with our elementary school teachers. Our grade 3 homeroom teacher and grade 5 music teacher were there. I always visit my grade 3 homeroom teacher because she really helped me to appreciate myself for who I am. I was a rather shy person at grade 3, but she encouraged me to write down my thoughts and also to dance. I was apparently some good at doing both so my article was published in a children's newspaper and I got to represent our school to dance with a bunch of kids at an event. She made me feel important and helped me to interact with others from then on. My grades have also improved under her care. I'm really grateful of her teachings.My grade 3 homeroom teacher on the left. On the right is the music teacher.

As for my music teacher, she is a very elegant lady. She also remembers all the silly stuff that I used to do. I had no recollection whatsoever about the things she said I did though. She was quite a good teacher and cared for my brother's journey in music. I'd say she helped to cultivate my brother's love for music.

These are great teachers, and yet I don't think they realize how much of an impact they've had in our lives. To them, they just care for the students and did what they thought was right. See? Anyone can make a difference!

My brother and I met up with our respective friends from elementary/high school. We had a blast. I was able to see 8 of my good friends from high school. When we get together it's like we're all back to 15 years old. We talk about the inside jokes, the stupid things, and the gossips about our friends now. It's been ten years since I've left them for Canada. Everyone is now thinking about jobs or going to the army. Most of my friends are already working. Most of them tell me that they change because of work/army. But to me, they're still the same good friends. We shared experiences in Taiwan/Canada and I hope what I said have helped them, because what they said did helped me! Who knows, maybe our next reunion would be in Canada!
From all the getting together this week, I've really gathered stories from lots of people; many of which are inspirational. Seeing how everyone, irrespective of their age, has changed and yet still remained quite the same, is fascinating. Everyone's personality and values are constantly being shaped by his/her experiences. I've been lucky to have heard these stories, and even luckier to be inspired by some of them.

Taiwan trip Day 19 - 21 (July 13 - July 15)

We got to Chongli on July 12 to see my uncle's family. They treated us warmly. We rode on our cousins' scooters to go around the city at night in search of things to eat/buy. It's much quieter and the weather is much more bearable. We often chatted with our cousins until 3 or 4 am. After all, there's at least 3 years of catching up!

We left my uncle's on the third day and rode the train to Changhua, where our family reunion was. It's too bad that my parents couldn't be here. It was so much fun. Since our relatives live all over Taiwan, everyone brought the specialties from where they live, and shared it with everyone. In the end, everyone got a bit of everything. Having all the aunts and uncles over made the place a bit like a Chinese market, except there was way more laughter. I get to see a lot of my cousins as well. When we were together, it didn't matter the generation, we were all back to our youthful self. The inside jokes, silly comments, and the reciting of memorable events made it really fun. There were all 15 of us, the adults and the kids, crammed into a hotel room with two king beds, just talking, together or in groups. I don't know when the next time it would be before I can see us all like that, since many of my cousins are in the States and I'm in Canada. When possible I should organize the family reunions myself!

On the night of the 15th, we got back to Kaohsiung, concluding our week up north. Thanks to all the friends and relatives, we really got to enjoy different cities. Special thanks goes to my cousins in Taipei, who accommodated my unreasonable demand to see so many things. They had no complaints and just took us everywhere we wanted to go and treated us like kings! Thank you all!

Taiwan trip Day 15 - 18 (July 9 - July 12)

For this week we went up north to Taipei again, after having stayed in Kaohsiung for a few days. We visited our aunt in Taipei, our uncle in Chongli, and finally our family reunion in Changhua.

I've been waiting for this trip partly because of the Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR). It's one of the top priorities on my to-do list. It didn't disappoint. We got to the Kaohsiung station and started taking pictures/video clips of the shiny train and admired its top speed of 300 km as it zoomed by many places. The HSR uses the infrastructure from Europe but the trains from Japan because of government's change of mind to use the Japanese system midway through the HSR construction. My brother and I loved the Shinkansen (bullet train) system in Japan and were glad to see that we're getting it here in Taiwan. The HSR isn't only important for Taiwan (it shrank the travel time from Taipei to Kaohsiung from 5 hours to an hour and a half), but it's important for Japan as well (it's the first time they've exported their high speed railway system). The ride was smooth, and I can't believe how short a time it took the train to take us to Taipei! What an achievement!

We got to our aunt's house and immediately started planning the places to visit. There was no time to waste. We decided to go to the National Museum (故宮博物院), Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館), Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂), the biggest Eslite bookstore in Taiwan, the tech district, the old shopping district, visited 2 friends, and ate at numerous places. My cousins loved fried pork chop so we had lots of those. We did this all in 3 and a half days!

I've been to some of those places before when I was still in elementary school, but of course going now has a different meaning. I got to know how the revolutionaries fought against Imperialism and how Taiwan entered the modern era. While we were at the Sun Yat Sen memorial, a person came up to me asking for the name of one of the revolutionaries on the wall painting. After I told him the name for the person in the painting (戴德賢 I think it was) he told me that's his great grandfather. He was born in the States I think and this time he came with a group Taiwanese like him to visit. I asked him to take a picture with me and wanted to ask him more questions but he left already. Too bad. It would've been fun asking him about the stories of his great grandfather and what an impact it has on his life.

As for the National Museum, we didnt' get to see all of the things in it. There was not enough time. But for what we've seen, it was already well worth the ticket. It made me proud to be Chinese, with all the heritage from thousands of years ago. Seeing how our ancestors used their wisdom to advance themselves was quite fascinating. To this day, there are still many mysteries as to how certain things could have been constructed at such precision so long ago. I hope we find out, so all of us can appreciate and learn from ancient wisdom not only in technology/manufacturing, but in their thinking/philosophy as well! History repeats itself, just in different forms. We can definitely take advantage of ancient knowledge.

Our last stop in Taipei was Taipei 101 - the tallest building in the world, and the only super high rise in an earthquake prone region. It's got the fastest elevator (takes only 37 seconds to go to the 101 floor) and the biggest damper (to dampen the wind and earthquake effect on the building). It was designed and built by Taiwanese engineers. It was a monumental task but they did it!

I was so moved by the HSR and Taipei 101 that I bought a model HSR train and a discovery documentary on Taipei 101!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Taiwan trip Day 9 - 14 (July 3 - July 8)

During this week we went for a "round-the-island" trip (I'll call it the island trip from now on). We started from Kaohsiung, went to Taipei, to Hualian, to Taidong, then back to Kaohsiung. After that we met up with some family friends and my high school friends over the weekend.

To be honest, if it weren't my brother I probably wouldn't have gone to the trip. He was the one who had the patience to look up the internet and found the places to stay and the trains to take. I was gonna say "forget it" when I saw how much planning there was. He insisted on the trip so we went. It was well worth the effort. I ended up seeing some great places of Taiwan and made some friends along the way!

For our island trip we stayed in Hualian for two nights and one night in Taidong. All we've planned is the Bed and Breakfast (B&B) that we would stay in and the trains we were gonna take. We talk to the owners of the two B&Bs and asked them about the tour packages that they can provide. We were lucky to have met pretty good owners or we could have been totally ripped off.

Along our train ride to Hualian, on the east side of the island of Taiwan, we could see the sea on our left and the mountains on our right. Taiwan really is a very beautiful place. Hualian itself is famous for its marbles of many kinds. I was told that their quality and variety is on par with Italian marbles. We went to the Toroko National Park nearby and the beautiful marbles and clear water were really breathtaking.

Besides the marbles industry there, Hualian is still rather undeveloped. (Cities on the east side of Taiwan generally are) We still see many farm lands. We'd sometimes drive between the rice farms. The downtown isn't that crowded either. People here move at a slower pace, and there are not that many cars around. Things are quite cheap here, too.

I got a chance to talk to the couple who owns this B&B and the lady told us that she moved here because she loved Hualian a lot. They set up the B&B in the hopes of giving her two kids a great place to grow up. Their house is right behind the B&B and the whole family lives there. Her kids would usually roam the yards of the B&B and enjoy the walkways in front of the house. Sometimes they go into the mountains for a stroll. The owner (Ms. Huang) told me that she's lived in Taipei before but didn't like the pace there. Everyone was constantly going somewhere, doing something. No time to rest, and the land is too expensive. They didn't want their kids growing up there, so they settled in Hualian (the husband's from Hualian). Then from this dream she told us of how they designed and built the B&B. Everything in the B&B has a story. The fence, parking lots, garden, and the pond, all has a reason why it is the way it is. They didn't have much budget so they reused some of the things people threw away. They shared with us how their business grew and we shared our experience in Canada. It was a great exchange.

I really admire the owners' courage to pursue their dream. It's not easy starting up any business. Yet, for a rather simple dream they really went after it until it was realized. I'm really inspired by them.

Before we left Hualian we gave Ms. Huang some tip for the many things she did for us - upgrading us to a better room with a porch, taking us around Hualian any time we're not on a tour, etc... In the end, she took the money to buy some good food that Hualian is known for, came up to the platform where our train was, and gave us the food before the train left. Before we left she told us "next time you're not my customers anymore, but my friends". What a wonderful stay at Hualian!

Our next stop is Taidong, which literally means "Taiwan's east". This city is known for its hot springs and nothing else. Its feel is a bit like Hualian. Daniel and I got our own tour guide who took us around and showed us many sceneries. You can see them in the photo. What really impressed me was the trip to see the natives. I've always loved music and those natives can really sing. The tribe we saw was Bunong. (布農) Each of them are such talented singers and they can naturally harmonize really well. I went to a museum there to learn about their daily lives, but I would much rather live with them for a few days to talk to the people there and hear their thoughts about their lives. There wasn't enough time this time. Maybe next time.

At night we got back to the B&B in Taidong. The owner, Mr. Chen, asked us about Canada. We told them about Canada and they got quite excited. Being the curious person that I was, I had to ask some questions in return! I inquired about their motives for the B&B, how the business is in Taidong, and why he chose to live there. Mr. Chen shared candidly. He's actually from Taipei, but he loved the life in Taidong, and that's why he moved there. He loved how people are so friendly. Sometimes when there are people at his door but he's not home to answer, his neighbours attends the guests and calls him up on his cellphone!

Mr. Chen is an insurance agent and he told us his stories of how this came to be. He was quite shy before becoming an agent. Some considered him nerdy. But for his job he trained himself to be a good salesman. Everything else is history. He started the B&B as a side thing not only to have extra income but also to introduce to others the goodness of Taidong. He shared not only the history for that B&B but also the vision he has for it. What a night of stories!

The next day we left for Kaohsiung and went out with our friends to eat. Overall, I loved this island trip. I got to experience not only some of the most famous tour places but also the culture of the two cities. This is all because our tour guides were from the place. I can see their passion for the city. I went to see the night markets, the downtown, and the seaside. The sea side is the most memorable. Although Taiwan is such a small island, I'm amazed at how many different kinds of shore conditions you can have - the waves are of different strengths, the rocks are different, some shores are made up of small, round stones while others are beaches. I can never get tired of watching the sea, pounding again and again at the shore. Looking at the openness of the sea makes me feel free. The mountains by the sea are a good contrast. I lived in Taiwan and never really got to appreciate it all. I'm thankful that Daniel went with me. Without his help I probably have not made the trip!

Taiwan trip Day 3 - 8 (June 27 - July 2)

For these days we went to Tainan to see my aunt, went down to Pingdong to see my grandparents (from my dad's side) for 3 days, met up with people at church, then went to one of the biggest night markets in Kaohsiung.

My cousin from Tainan:

Visiting my grandparents was definitely an unforgettable experience. It reminded me again of what a privileged lifestyle I lead in Canada. Taiwan is a really hot place, but for the sake of saving money, my grandparents don't turn on the AC and are sweaty all the time. To enjoy a hot shower, they have to boil water on a stove and bring the water into the bathroom. They don't have a heater for water. There are just so many things I take for granted. My parents live in a more rural area and people generally live a very modest lifestyle. Perhaps because of this, they're pretty good problem solvers for many things. When something doesn't work, even small things, they'll think of ways to fix it where I would have just bought a new one. This makes for some pretty creative solutions. To many of them, life is simple. They just solve problems that's in front of them and forget about some of the smaller details. It was nice to be in that environment for a while. It helped to put my life into perspective so I can re-prioritize the things in my life.

My grandparents were really glad that my brother and I went back. I can feel how much they cared about us the way they were preparing the meals for us. It was really heart warming. Listening to them and sometimes hearing their stories reminded me of who I am and the where I come from. I won't forget some of the valuable lessons and principles that they've taught me.

My aunt in Pingdong:

Taiwanese traffic

It's a 40 minute walk from my grandma's house to the noodle place described in the previous post. It wasn't such a long journey but I was getting a bit of a culture shock from my hometown!

First of all, the side walk. In Toronto, the walking experience is pretty much the same. There's a side walk and you just walk on it. The side walk is flat. Walking on it is quite easy. Not so in Taiwan. Side walks are not that flat, and sometimes there are scooters parked on it so you have to walk under the building but since those are private properties, the owners plan however they want. We had to step up or down many times sometimes. Other times there are uncovered manholes on the sidewalk. If we didn't pay attention we'd step into one. That was just on a particular street under construction though. But still, it was a law suit waiting to happen. I haven't seen this in Canada yet!

Second of all, the shop signs. They are everywhere. Perhaps because the nature of Chinese characters allow them to be written top-to-bottom, there are signs sticking out of every building, making the streets look a bit cluttered. Although in a way, they do add to the personality of those streets.

Third, and most interesting of all, is the traffic. In Taiwan there are scooters. I was told that Taiwan has the highest density of scooters in the world. Almost everyone in Taiwan has a scooter. The reason for their popularity is the lack of parking spots in Taiwan. They are also quite cheap (a new, mid range scooter costs about CAD $1500) I would guess that making the law for scooters is quite hard. In Taiwan there are lanes for cars and one lane for scooters/bicycles. Unlike Canada, where a motorcycle is treated like a car, all the scooters share a lane, so passing other scooters isn't as orderly. Also, think about this: naturally, cars are faster and must be in the inner lanes so the outer lane is for the scooters. However, what if the cars want to turn right and the scooters are going forward? It's an art for a driver to maneuver around scooters in many situations like these. Scooters complicate the traffic conditions quite a bit. On top of that, there is the problem with people not obeying the traffic law. Scooters could ride in reverse directions, or turning left cutting into car lanes, or there could be businesses on the scooter lane and scooters have to go into the car lane, etc... It makes the traffic condition very interesting to watch. Taiwanese people don't like waiting. They don't yield to pedestrians. They just find ways around them when they're crossing the streets. When I was walking there it was scary because scooters and cars were coming at all directions and it felt like they were going to hit you. However, I've realized that to survive the traffic there as a pedestrian you just have to watch out for unsafe drivers, then for all other drivers, just keep in mind where you're going, going at a predictable direction and speed, walk forth slowly but steadily, then all other vehicles will go around you. It's worked quite well for me. Still, the image of all vehicles coming at all directions is quite a sight!

Monday, 6 August 2007

Taiwan trip Day 2 (June 26)

Today Daniel and I woke up early because the day before we slept at 8 pm. Also there's jet lag. We decided to eat something we've been craving for 10 years - "hill side noodle restaurant" (斜坡麵店). This place has been here for more than 30 years. We really loved their noodles but had to part with it to come to Canada. Now we can finally eat it again!

When we reached the noodle place, we were surprised to find out that the owners could still recognize us, after 10 years. When our orders came, we were glad that the noodles tasted the same after 10 years. I noticed on their menu that they don't have many selections. There are about 3 types of noodles they sell plus some side dishes and that's it. Nothing else. Yet, they maintain quite a customer base. Perhaps having a simple menu is their secret to success - it makes managing materials really simple and the procedures for cooking them simple as well. This is a different philosophy compared to the one that my uncle and aunt use.

After the noodle place, we bought some snacks from the convenient store. I was like a little kid, trying to buy everything I wanted to eat. I bought some pudding (統一布丁). Feeling satisfied, we walked back to my grandma's house awaiting tomorrow's journey.

Taiwan trip Day 1 (June 25)

After we were picked up by our uncle from the Kaohsiung airport (小港機場) we went to my grandma's house. My first impression was "Man, Taiwan's really hot and stuffy". The air quality isn't all that good and the humidity is through the roof. The temperature that day was somewhat low because it just rained, but it was still in the 30's. Everyone seemed to drive rather slow on the highway but there was quite a number of cars. They were all following each other pretty closely, too. I can see that there will be many surprises coming from the traffic here...

My grandma was really happy to see us. She helped us settle down and prepared fruits for us. She's 87 but still very active. I don't think I can be as active at her age.

We went for my uncle's restaurant for lunch. Ahh the familiar taste of their noodles. I missed it. The last time I tried it was 3 years ago. I stood on the side watching my noodle being prepared. It's fascinating how fast my uncle/aunt can make the noodles. They are quite well known in the area and during lunch time lots of people come; mainly for take outs. There isn't really a receptionist. Customers yell out their orders, then there are paper orders, and my uncle and aunt prepare the food at the same time while taking orders. Then they calculate the price as well. I don't know how they do it. It really fascinates me.

We didn't eat much for lunch because the meals on the plane really fed us well. In the afternoon we basically sat at my grandma's home watching TV and planned the schedule for our coming weeks. It didn't take long for me to fall asleep in the living room. I slept early that night as well because of the lack of sleep on the plane.

Taiwan trip Day 0 (June 23 - 24)

The day we were leaving for Taiwan was also the day I had to get together with some friends. They have been rare guests and I was probably not going to see them for a while if I didn't go. So my flight was at 9 pm, which meant we were leaving at around 6, but I got home at around 5 pm. No wonder my parents were getting a little bit anxious.

Our flight back to Taiwan took 3 separate flights - Toronto to Vancouver (5 hrs), Vancouver to Taipei (10 hrs), Taipei to Kaohsiung (1 hr). Whenever there are this many connections I always get a bit tense because of all the regulations and the passport things I had to worry about. Well, this time the worry was valid. At the Toronto airport, the person at the baggage claim was checking my passport and was wondering if I could be allowed in Taiwan. She said that airline companies are responsible in making sure that passengers have the right legal documents to go to their destination(s). She was checking the regulations for Taiwan and my documents just didn't match. I gave her my Canadian and Taiwanese passport but for some reason she just didn't think they were right. I was thinking to myself: "well, if I have a Taiwanese passport and I'm going to Taiwan, shouldn't that be enough?" She called others to help and at the end she sorta believed me and let my brother and I through. We stood at the counter for about half an hour, but it was a good thing she did let us go. Maybe she was new but man, that was not very good customer experience. I think she probably got China and Taiwan mixed up. Oh well.

Our flight from Toronto to Vancouver went pretty well. We got to Vancouver without a problem. It was at night so there weren't too many people at the airport at that time. Everyone we saw were going on the same flight as us. The design of the airport seem more Asian, with warmer colors and more shops. There were also lots of Asian people, even amongst the airport staff. I saw some cute carts just hanging around in the airport and took a picture. We were taking Eva airline, and they even had tea and hot chocolate for people to drink at the gate to the plane.

Daniel and I sat down to wait for the plane thinking all would be well, but little did we know that there was something else awaiting us. We were required to have our boarding passes re-printed at the gate so we lined up. Just when it was our turn the printer broke down. It took them about 30 minutes to fix it but in the end I only got one boarding pass when I was supposed to get 2 (one for the flight from Taipei to Kaohsiung). Daniel was luckier - he got both. What's with us and standing today?

Finally, we got onto the plane to Taiwan. As we were getting on we noticed that people weren't exactly following instructions. When the staff called for passengers from row x to row y, most of the people just went up. I'm not an airplane expert but I know for sure 10 rows can't fit THAT many people. Does it really make that big a difference to be on the plane first?

After we got on the plane it was all good. The flight attendants were all really nice. The food was good (I finished every single thing in my plate), and the best thing was the in flight entertainment system. This was the culprit for my lack of sleep during the flight.

From that point on our plane ride all the way to Kaohsiung was really smooth. I got to see the Taoyuan international airport. It got renovated and is quite nice. There is even a food court with lots of expensive food - even some 小吃 like 小籠包 can cost quite a bit. While I was there, I heard lots of people speaking fluent English - American fluent. I guess they were born in America. I finally realized how many visa students or ABCs (American Born Chinese) there are. According to my friend, during the summer there are lots of such Taiwanese that come to visit. They're mainly in Taipei. This explains the American style I see in Taipei.

When we got to Kaohsiung our uncle came and picked us up. None of our luggage was lost and we are on our way to my grandma's place!

My trip to Taiwan

I'll be writing about my trip to Taiwan from June 23 to July 29 in the next few posts. It's been a week since I came back but it just didn't feel right not writing about my trip. Enjoy!