Get Out of Debt Now!

So far, my life in Taiwan has been supported purely on borrowed money, courtesy of my private Siblings Bank. Had to foot the bill for the first months of expenses -- rent+deposit, scooter, normal life needs, transportation, etc -- without shifting my assets from North America.

The result? I'm already $140,000 TWD in debt. Lovely way to start. And I'm just getting my first paycheque (assuming the direct deposit has gone through okay) today!

Tangential To Me

Oops, I nearly forgot: congratulations!

Music Baton, Passed It On

Because I'm not so much a meme whore, it took me a while to get on this one. And because the guy who named me in his music baton is so damned persistent, I gave in. Here goes ...

Music Volume. Upwards of 38GB now (much of which I haven't even listened to yet).

Last CD Bought. Unless you mean CDR/CDRW, it was probably ... hmmm ...

Song Playing Right Now. I don't know who it is, or what song it is, but
it's a 70's duet with this line in it,

"Suddenly, [something something] emotion, and I ... am ready to take any oceana. Suddenly, I don't need the answers 'cause I ... am ready to take all my chances with you."

[ Edit: I dug it up. This song is called Suddenly, sung by Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard. And I got some of the lyrics wrong. ]

Oh, and it's also interrupted periodically by,
"We appreciate your continued patience. A customer professional will be with you shortly. To avoid long wait times, you may also visit us at our website, at"

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me. These songs don't necessarily mean a lot to me -- there are some that have more meaning for me personally -- but I'm really enjoying these songs right now.

The Game feat 50 Cent - Hate it or Love It
Jojo - Baby It's You
Lil Flip feat Lea - Sunshine (Bosko Remix)
Lloyd Banks - Lloyd Banks feat Avant - Karma (Remix)
Usher feat Alicia Keys - My Boo

Five People to Whom I’m Passing the Baton. This didn't really come with one of those "if you don't pass it to five people you will suffer insurmountable bad luck and misfortune" threats, but I'm going to dupe five others into this anyhow.

* An Alias Foray
* Brain Doodles
* Head Dump
* Learning To Love Country
* Stuff in My Head

(Sorry, guys.) Okay, I promise my next post will be more fun for you. And of course, you're more than welcome to comment on my choices of answers or submit your own. (Duh, that's what comments are for.)


There are some words that I just can't type right, even though I know perfectly well how to spell it right. It's like my fingers always want to type something else, or I get muscle memory and they spit out another combination of letters. Here are the words that I just can't seem to get right on the first try.

- helmet ("helment")
- separate ("seaparate")
- Benny ("beeny")
- [my company's name, which is all caps] (always end up typing the last letter in lowercase)

Those are some of my recent ones. What are yours?

An Ocean Apart

It's over.

I'm both less and more affected than I thought I would be by this joint decision. I figured I might be less affected because I had kind of seen it coming for a long time now. I thought I would be more affected because I am somewhat emotional; I'm not a rock after all.

But the end of it all is that it's over.

[ EDIT: Okay, it's not over over; we're on a break. But it feels like the same thing right now. ]

Now I'm Part of the Problem Too

Over the weekend, I signed away my commitment to a major purchase and handed over my $2,000 TWD deposit, while several mosquitos snacked on my left leg. $62,500 TWD (about $2,000 USD) gave me ...

- Yamaha CygnusX SR in blue and white (the same model that is popular amongst youngster scooter enthusiasts here, like Hondas/Acuras in North America)
- some crazy-heavy chunk-a-metal U-lock, for securing the rear wheel (while parked, duh)
- disc brake lock, for securing the front disc brake and as a shiny visual theft deterrent
- theft insurance up to $35,000 TWD for one year (so I'd "only" lose 25 large if someone lifts my ride) -- people don't usually get the second year, because nobody steals year-old scooters apparently
- one white Yamaha helmet with visor, for protecting my noggin
- one additional white helmet with visor, for protecting my passenger's noggin (or for me if the weather gets too hot)
- license plates and registration for the scooter
- the scooter ID number branded/stamped into each major body piece
- fresh wash and wax on the new baby, to complete the Ben Chick MagnetTM look
- the illusion that my scooter will make me look cool, instead of just another scrawny Taiwanese dork on the crazy streets

I was pretty concerned about how I'd manage the traffic to get back to the office, and especially on my first ride home tonight, through the busy streets of downtown. My ride here (to work) was interrupted by a sharp fall of heavy rain, and a few nervous moments passing by police (and a police station) while hoping my inexperience on my little two-wheeled friend wouldn't be too obvious.

Here's hoping I don't end up in the hospital tonight on the way home, before I even move into my apartment!

Reject then Outlaw

I took my scooter test this morning. Written test was a breeze, used 2 of 20 allotted minutes and got 100%. It's in English, that's why.

The road test (on a closed course) was a different story. The hardest part is the first stage: ride for 20m within a 30cm lane in over 7 seconds. Slow, steady, straight. You get two tries. After that, the rest is pretty easy: follow a curve to the left, and then three stops of various types (traffic light, railroad, flashing yellow).

50% of the people I watched failed the first part, including me. I have to wait 7 days before I can try again (but only need to redo the road test). I used one of the scooters they lend out, but wasn't really used to it, and I didn't get to practice much before (only twice while visiting my brother).

Well, I'm still going to buy my scooter this weekend, and then practice (license-less) over the next week and use it in the test. I'll be an outlaw like my sister.

I Dunno

Something I noticed: Taiwanese people won't say "I don't know." They never actually say it, even if you know that they don't know. Instead, they will say they're not sure -- "not sure" to me implies kind of knowing, which they are clearly not in the state of -- and/or give a stupid obvious, needless-to-say, help-desk-style answer.

Behold, an example follows.

"Miss X, why is our luggage not out yet? It's been a long time already."
"Oh, I'm not sure, there's probably a delay or something."

Oh, there's a delay, you say? And that's why things are being delayed from their regular schedule? No sh!t, Sherlock. A babboon could have given that answer.

Okay, granted, Taiwanese people also tend to ask stupid-obvious questions too, like, "Why is it so hot today?" Questions that are generally rhetorical, except that they actually expect an answer. I suppose the responsibility of answering a rhetorical question bears on the listener so hard that they feel obligated to propose a response, but that's just silly, no?

Even when the question could have an answer, I don't know why Taiwanese (that I've noticed) will ask questions to people who clearly wouldn't be able to answer properly anyhow. Like that luggage question: it was asked of the tour guide when they were at baggage claim. I mean, how is the tour guide supposed to know?? What, are you expecting her to say,
"Well, the previous flight's baggage was routed to that next terminal, and the underground conveyor system had a glitch in section 13A so they brought another belt from storage to get our bags here. Probably just another 7 minutes to fix and 2 minutes to warm the system up again, don't worry."

Maybe that's just part of the banter that keeps Taiwan from being too quiet. Yes, because that the problem they're facing in this society. I dunno. Wait -- I mean, I'm not sure.

Luck All Around

Throughout my life, I've had the great fortune of meeting and getting to know some truly wonderful people. Friends who are supportive, creative, and fun; friends whom I'm proud to call lifelong.

When I moved to California in 2001, my friend put me up for two months in his living room without so much as a peep to rush me out. And when I did move out, I found, by luck, two roommates who are so very dear to me today -- never had to experience that "roommate from hell" that you hear horror stories about. I made great friends where I previously had none, and established a life that one might call pleasant.

Moving here was loads harder than scuttling around North America, but I've somehow found myself being "protected" as I go along: I've had a cousin and aunt who have been kind enough to shelter me for weeks on end while I get my stuff together, offering their help and advice whenever I ask.

During a recent apartment hunting trip, I dropped by a lunchbox store and ordered. I got to talking with the lady owner, and after 20 minutes, she walked me down the street and showed me where to look, what places were good to eat at, and gave me her cellphone number in case I needed any help. She even offered to help me find students if I ever wanted to tutor English in my spare time. She was like a new-found aunt or something!

While checking out another apartment, the lady who showed it to us (her daughter owns the place but wasn't home) kept beaming at us, so courteous and friendly. She recommended we take a look around more and see what we liked, and told us to take our time. (Okay, I guess it was because she had three daughters, so maybe I was like the son she never had.)

And again, I had a chop* made last night. After it was done, I stuck around and chatted with her for another half an hour, where she gave me advice on how to save money quickly here, the cheapest places to eat (and where not to go), and said if I needed anything to just drop by the store anytime.

I sometimes wondered if there was some kind of general aura about us and our lives that make us destined to find such people wherever we go. I don't feel gifted (as in that I'm special or anything), but I can't help but feel like something protects me and makes my life less cruel than it could otherwise be. Someone out there likes me.

* Chinese stamp used as an official signature, or in conjunction with a hand signature

At Lease That's Done With

So today, I took my first major step to establishing residence in Taiwan -- okay, second, after actually stepping onto a plane with a one-way ticket to TPE. I went and signed a year away to rent a place to live.

It's a tiny little fully-furnished 420sqft apartment with a "second floor", where the bed and some storage space sits. Kind of loft style, but without the spacious high ceiling and luxurious feeling. The building it's in is only 8 years old, in a nice area of NeiHu (across the river from all the cool stuff in Taipei), and has a hotel-like lobby with 24-hour security (ie. hired sleepers). There are washing machines, pool tables, a karaoke room, sauna and steamroom, and some other little amenities in the basement which are nice to have, but I doubt I'll use them much.

Rent ends up being $14000NT/mo ($450 USD) and includes maintenance fees (about $50 USD), cable TV with HBO ($18 USD), and a gas water heater. The secured parking spot is an extra $3500NT/mo ($110 USD), but that hardly matters since I don't have a car anyhow. A spot for a scooter is $200NT/mo ($7 USD), but ample street parking is available as well, if you're okay with exposing your scooter to the elements outside.

My lease with the landlord officially starts on June 1, but I can move in on the 25th if I want to. (I will probably want to.) It's been a long and hard (and picky) road to this place, and even though this apartment is not ideal (nor even as nice as the first place I saw in this building), I'm happy that it's finally done.

And I'm super excited about once again having a place to call my own, and to decorate with accents just the way I like it. My first purchases will probably be a bottle of whiskey (Macallan 12) and a Mac mini. :-)

Ross vs Rachel

So a question came up over conversation: what does it mean, relationship-wise, to be "on a break"?

The initial response was that a couple would split up, be able to see other people, yet still hope they might get back together. My first thought was, doesn't seeing other people then negate the true intentions of hoping to get back together?

So the way I see it, I suppose everyone falls into one of two general trains of thought: Ross' and Rachel's. They took a break from each other, but Ross ended up sleeping with another girl in a drunken stupor (and he was drowning himself in alcohol only because he was depressed about Rachel). She finds out, and for many episodes later, brings it back up to haunt him. His response is unwavering:


So it seems that when you're on a break, the following items need to be clarified:
- are you allowed to see other people?
- ... sleep with other people?
- are you intending to get back together?
- is there a time limit?

And based on those questions, my main question is, what's the point of being "on a break" instead of, say, "staying together" or "breaking up" clean?


... and a happy birthday to my sister who today adds 1 to her age. We're gonna go celebrate it this weekend like the wild kids we are, with a crazy night on the town where any kind of adventure is game! (And by that, I mean, dinner with cousins, and then probably turn in early and hang out online.)

Like High Fructose Corn Syrup

There's nothing quite as sweet as spending an hour hunting down and killing (mercenary style) the four mosquitos who had enjoyed their last 2 hours tagteaming you and causing in excess of 15 bites across your arms, legs, neck, and even your chin in exact spots that will surely cause you the most irritation during the course of a day while rubbing against your shirt cuffs, shoes, collar, or whatever ... but it's okay because it's so exceptionally satisfying to swat each one to incapacitate them, and then violently squeeze their insides out between some layers of tissue paper.

What does dampen the sugary sweetness, though, is realizing that the blood you just spilled in the apartment was really originally your own. But still.

Shiny Happy People

Polished black tiles lend an elegant aire to an office building's bathroom. And in a way, its mirror-like properties are kind of useful so that you can see what's going on behind you while you're standing (rather vulnerably) at the urinal. But it can also be not-so-nice when you catch a glimpse of your stall-neighbour's ass on the toilet in the upward reflection during your poo. You have been warned.

Over Our Heads

My sister has a natural talent for languages; I don't think anyone who knows her really well would deny that fact. It's a natural talent that my brother and I lack; I don't think people would deny that either. But it's interesting how dramatically my sister's Chinese has improved in the 6 months that she's worked in Taiwan. She somehow has the ability to pick up words and phrases from around her, as if they were a direct feed into her head. That's a neat thing to have. I want that!

This past weekend, we were Skyping -- wait, is Skype popular enough to be a verb yet? -- with our parents for Mother's Day and she had the headset mic. She updated them on recent events and whatnot. (That isn't the interesting part.) And every other minute, without fail, a word or phrase came out of her that just prompted Kevin and I to trade looks of ...

"Uh, what was that word? Where is she pulling this stuff out of?"

Phrases we could derive the meaning of from their context, but usually just glean over when we hear the general gist, and would definitely never be able to pull out of our mouths during normal use.

What? No, nothing; that's all I had to say about that. What, you were expecting me to set a goal to work harder on improving my own grasp of this Asian language? No, that's it. Go on about your business.

My PC is a Wanna Be

So last Wednesday, I got admin access to my laptop (at least temporarily). I remember reading an Engadget article some time ago, and figured I'd use it to ease the pain of moving from a Mac to a PC.

So here's what I installed to turn my PC into a Mac (on the surface):

- To make all the window frames look Mac-like, I installed StyleXP with the Panther theme pack (which loaded automatically). Now at least my windows have the right looking borders.

- Then moved the taskbar up to the top, I dragged it up there. Hey, it's not an exact copy of the Mac menu bar (because it shows the running apps like the taskbar), but it worked better than ObjectBar, which somehow seemed pretty flakey for me.

- And iTunes.

- Now, the fun part. ObjectDock does a great job of replacing the Dock in MacOS X, except there are a few issues with the icons not showing properly, and it's a little buggy with the layering. Otherwise, nice.

- Of course, what's a good wanna-be without trying to mimic the slickest part of Panther's Mac OS X interface, Expose? I have a trial of Entbloess 2. It's good, but it's not Expose. It doesn't shrink the windows into view as nicely as Expose does, and while it's quite a lot slower and choppier, it might still do (functionally).

- And finally, I installed a launcher that's similar to Quicksilver on the Mac (arguably my most-used and favourite productivity utility): it's called AppRocket, it's free, and it works mostly the same (though not quite as pretty). I can conjure any program, utility, control panel, bookmark with just a few keystrokes!

- Oh, and Konfabulator, of course, which some argue is what Apple ripped off for its Dashboard feature in Tiger.

Now my PC is a nice Mac wanna-be, and way more usable! (Oh, wow, look what I found.) Yay! And serendipitous benefit: nobody else can figure out how to use my PC, which means more privacy. Now how to go about fixing the cheap plastic feel, and expand the 14.1" screen out sideways ... ?

Disjointed Comments

I hate looking for apartments. It's tiring, depressing, and time-consuming.

Funny, but now that I'm in Asia, it's actually harder to find a good ol' (cheap) congee place. And even harder to find any fried noodle joints to speak of! I might have wandered by one tonight, but it was 3 minutes past their closing time, so I had no opportunity to taste their wares.

Mosquitos love me; I'm their buffet. I can tolerate most of the bites, but the ones around my shift cuffs, on my fingers, and around my ankles are the ones that constantly irritate me.

It's my first week at work (wrapping up shortly). I'll be damned if I'm expected to work this Sunday, but I might have to fire an email or two out, just to foster a harder-working culture around this lax establishment.

It's sweltering hot outside. And it's only May.

The Reverse

I started work today. And they gave me a laptop.

So at home, I have a Apple Powerbook G4 17"; at work, I get this Dell Latitude D600. I moved from Mac OS X 10.3.9 to Windows XP SP-frickin'-2. I hate it, I just hate it. I hate Windows. I hate Dell. I hate how cramped the keyboard is, and how narrow and tall the screen seems. I hate how Windows seems unnatural now, and how you can close a window with CTRL-W but can't close an application with something similar -- you instead need to shift your left hand to hit the ALT-F4.

I wouldn't wish this reverse switch on my worst enemy. Well, actually, I would, because it would be super funny to watch them get frustrated the way I did today. And it was just the first day of many that I get work on that Dell P.O.S. Yippee. I think I should have just mandated an iBook at work for myself.

But actually, I think what I hate most is not having admin privileges to my own computer. That sucks rocks. But I think I will be able to change that over time. I have to install my iTunes and Trillian, after all. And at least I have my Firefox now.

A Welcome Shower

Wow, the rain comes down hard and fast here.

There just isn't much warning, aside from the weather reports. Of course, it's all misleading because the reports say thundershowers, and that morning you wake up and it's actually partly cloudy/sunny and you think (like back in Vancouver/Bay Area) that the meteorologists are just full of it. But suddenly, you get these tiny little nothing-droplets and then another few seconds later, it all comes down. You can get drenched in under 5 seconds -- I was soaked just running across the street! And these are no ordinary drops of rain. No, these droplets are huge. Raindrops on steroids and creatine. Mr. Universe Raindrops. They're like little water bombs that absorb straight into your fabrics and your bones.

But it sure is a fast way to cool down this city and cleanse some of the streets a little. Too bad it leaves your clothes smelling like ... well, like Taiwan.

Time Shift

Just a quick note: you may have noticed that all the times have shifted on my blog. Seeming that I'll be here for some years, I've decided to shift my timezone from GMT-8 (Pacific/Vancouver DST) to GMT+8 (Asia/Taipei). So for those of you back in North America, sorry for the confusion. (Plus, then it doesn't look like I'm blogging at like 5am because I have no life.)

Life at 36

Crazy hot today; my widget weather report says today is 36C (97F). Yeah, and it's only May. The A/C in this apartment are operable by remote only, and we can't find the remotes ... so we are at the complete mercy of open windows for outside breezes, and two circulating fans in the place. Was going to go apartment hunting, but thought it better to stay indoors and catch up on various emails and news. (I have an appointment to check a place out at 6:30pm tonight, when hopefully we won't be at the highs of the day.)

I'm back to praying to the wireless gods again, which is a term my friend KC coined. It's a condition where, for me, I have to stand by the window with my laptop held up shoulder-height, typing with one hand and balancing my precious beast on the other ... in order to maintain good reception to somebody's unsecured wireless broadband internet connection. It's a tiring position to be in, let me tell you. So I now treat it almost as if it were dial-up: I do my praying, sync all my emails, read the RSS headlines and bring up the pages I want to read, pull up the webpages I need, and then return to the comfort of a seat and table to read/work offline. Once I'm ready to post a blog entry (like now), have a queue of emails to send, or need the "next" pages of an article, I make another offering to the gods. And the cycle continues.

One of the goodies I bought over there and brought over here was my new Linksys WRT54G wireless router. I was hoping to hack it and use it as a repeater, and put it by the window to repeat a wireless signal into the rest of this apartment. But it doesn't seem that aftermarket firmwares will work for repeating signals from other companies' routers (since I don't know what kind of hardware those guys have). Ah, well. I suppose it can wait until I move into my own place and get my own legitimate connection. Soon, I hope.

Oh yeah, and my glasses are broken, and very likely irrepairable. So far, I'm impressed that I can actually spend this much time reading and typing with my contacts in (because of the astigmatism), but it's working out alright. And at least I get to rock my Oakley Pennies.


So I landed a little ahead of flight schedule, despite the plane taking flight a little behind. My iPod battery died after about 10 hours of use (that's about right), and I got bored, so I conjured ways of scoring two nearly-complete sets of airline utensils, possibly the result of watching Ocean's 12 in-flight. (I'm so ghetto.)

I stepped out to the steamroom that is "outside in Taiwan" and drenched my shirt almost instantaneously. Headed to my temporary "home", and after a quick nap, I woke to prepare for a birthday party and experienced a small swaying earthquake.

Huh. This is definitely the beginning to a slew of new experiences. But for, now, I sleep.