It's Monday and I'm feeling extra slow this morning. I mean, slower than I normally am anytime, slower than I normally am in the mornings, and even slower than I am on the particularly slow Monday mornings. I'm so slow this morning that I haven't even been able to coherently string together sentences in Chinese. And these aren't even difficult sentences I'm trying to conjure up, but they just aren't coming out. (But my English seems to be okay still.)

The weekend was mostly R&R.

Slept through Saturday afternoon, hit up Costco, and enjoyed an awesome BBQ at my cousin's place, and then darts at a pub until 2am (while nursing my fruit tea and avoiding all alcohol). (Side note: had to completely deconstruct my darts technique to try to learn it the right way.)

Slept through Sunday noon, watched Superman Returns, and then dinner at a famous Chinese hotpot place. (As with such restaurants, your clothes will bring the aromas back home with you, long after you've lost all desire to smell it any more.) Then vegged at home watching Lucky Number Slevin and crawled into bed.

Oh, you know what, though ...

It could be that I had a 12-hour workday on Friday, followed by a dinner meeting with head-office folks which I thought would actually be a dinner meeting, but instead turned out to be a pre-meditated plot to lure me out for a night of unwanted coworker bonding: basically just heavy drinking at bars I didn't like with people I didn't want to be with. I'm too old to properly recover from a long night of double gin-n-tonics and shots of Belvedere, all after a few bottles of sake and Kirin.

After that, the weekend R&R was all I could do to get my braincells back to life. But apparently, it isn't working.

Told You I Called It

Ha. I knew it.

Apparently, these two folks from HQ were sent to our location not just to help with sales by leveraging their personal connections in the market -- which, by the way, they try to remind us of constantly by naming dropping at every possible opportunity. They also had ulterior motives, like a full evaluation of the staff here (which always starts off with a negative view, doesn't it) and then to perform some "clean up".

And then I found out that me and those two, we each have different "direct reports" in the company -- I don't know how/why that happened. Possibly because there's a rumour about a shake-up all the way up to the Directors' level (in HQ), so everyone has a bunch of their own motives and ... well, after that, it's about spinning things "your way".

And you all know how I feel about politics.

It feels like "Office Space", except I didn't have the pleasure of being hypnotised into calmness. I have to be here directing the professional location photographers for our new brochure until 8pm. And then after that, have dinner and drinks with these conniving colleagues, and try to figure out their game.

I suppose I am at some risk in this bullsh!t, but I don't know how much I really care about that. I think part of it is the pride I'm trying to keep about it. Of course, I had a phone interview two days ago for a different possible position anyhow, but still.

I just want to go home.

Not So Funny

Sometimes when I have bad news to announce -- to clients, friends, whatever -- I try the sitcom approach to breaking it across gently.

"[hesitantly] You know, it's a funny story ...
[chuckle forcedly] You're going to laugh when you hear this ..."

But somehow, when they hear the news, they don't laugh and they never think it's funny.

Also not funny is how I wasn't informed of a last-minute meeting change, and these German taskforce people went and did the off-site client meeting without so much as notifying me. Obviously, I feel disrespected; it was neither a funny story when I heard about it, nor did I laugh.

(I will, however, get the last laugh.)

Twist of Fate

I like typhoons. They're actually pretty fun, and they're not so much dangerous as they are just miserable to be outside in.

When a typhoon comes along and pummels our island, sometimes it becomes "dangerous to be outdoors", so the local government calls a meeting the night before and issues a decision (by 10pm) on whether the following day will be a typhoon holiday. If it is, then you get the day off and are not obligated to come to work, and won't suffer pay deduction for it. (And sometimes, the day will clear anyway, and you can go to KTV or watch a movie or something anyhow.)

We had that opportunity again as Typhoon Kaemi tapproached with a path that would cross straight over Taiwan. It was scheduled to hit over the island with the worst of it falling upon us around 8pm last night, ensuring the government folks would see how bad it was during their decision-making period. And it wasn't a weekend -- last year, most typhoons just managed to ruin our weekends and then clear up the skies for the workweek.

But not this one: this one and perfect timing and path.

I watched with anticipation, even gleeful excitement: I don't know what it is, but I've never wanted a typhoon holiday so badly before. I mean, I really craved this free day off. Two days before, I even hit up Carrefour and bought a jug of water, some non-perishables, and mentally ran through the movies I wanted to watch that day at home.

Monday morning, I took the bus to work instead of scootering in what I expected would be tough rains. As the afternoon approached, sheets of rain would fall, and then stop, then fall again. I checked the Central Weather Bureau website with the same reload-reload-again fury with which I check my blog comments. Evening came, rains came, and I was half-prepared for a day off.

What's the b!tch of a typhoon do?
Changes direction southward.

It passes over Taiwan, alright, but over the southern half of Taiwan, so Taipei had declared it a regular workday even before 7pm had come around! Bastards. Stupid Kaemi. All it did was make it a terribly windy day with light misty rains, and then destroy our crops to hike our produce prices up 30%!

Argh. I hate typhoons.

Out of Nowhere

I have a problem, and I need your help.

Shortly after returning from my China trip, I began to notice something. Everytime I stepped into my apartment, I smelled this smell in my place, basically when I left some clothes undried after washing. And then it basically starts to grow stuff. I liken it to a wet-grass smell, and it's gross.

That's the problem, and my bigger problem is that I can't find the root of that problem: I have no idea where the smell is coming from! For the past few days, I've been sniffing around like a bloodhound in every nook and cranny of my apartment, and I can't find the source.

I've checked all my laundry -- dried and smelling nothing like wet foilage. I've taken my couch apart, and vaccuumed all through and under it. I've sniffed through the bathroom, the kitchen, even upstairs in the closets (in case there was a leak and somehow my clothes got wet). Nothing. I checked under the kitchen sink, around the bedroom, under tables and behind the TV. I opened every umbrella and took a good whiff. I stuck my nose in every shoe I own. Nope.

Where the hell is that smell coming from??

I can't figure it out, and it's driving me nuts. I even went to Carrefour last night to buy cleaning agents for the air conditioning unit, in case it's coming from there, but I doubt it, since I believe the smell to last even after running the AC for some time.

So far, I think I might have localized it to around the couch or fridge (just beside it) or the aircon (directly above the sofa). I just can't seem to get any closer than that, though. Ugh.

Worse yet, each time I come home, I only have a few minutes to do my nasal research before my sense of smell acclimatizes to the scent and filters it out in my head.

So Long, Salons

I don't know what it is. Maybe I don't know what I want, maybe I don't know how to express what I'm looking for, maybe I don't know where to look for whatever it is I want. But whenever I step out of a hair salon, I never get a style that I like. Perhaps it's that I look young for my age, and the damned stylists keep trying to pair me with some teenager's hairstyle.

No more salons for me. I can get the same not-what-I'm-looking-for at half the price, thank you very much.

Conflict of Interest

So. Another crazy week, particularly since this was a work week.

I think we may have just signed on a really highly-intensive project: one that has a strict one-week deadline instead of our normal 3-4 week schedules. Needless to say, we have to find a few more people to do 24-hour runs in our lab, plus enlist subcontracts for other labs to help out. Logistically, this project will be a nightmare; that, besides the fact that we will probably lose money on this project.


But the real kicker is that it coincides almost directly with my planned vacation to Vancouver, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It wouldn't be so bad if it were just any other old trip to North America, but this is a special trip: one of my best friends is getting married. And I'm a groomsman. And the MC for the banquet.

I'm not really sure what to do about this. Will have to sleep on it.

In case you missed it, I put in a bunch of backdated trip blogs: "American Football in Shanghai", "Food, Drink, Music", "Tables Turned", "Shop? Nop.", "Black Rainstorm Warning". Enjoy.


While packing for my trip, it suddenly struck me that I've been using the same travel pack for some 5 years now. And mainly the same stuff in it -- I packed it the first time, and loaded it with some new things each trip, and when I get back, I only remove the stuff I need. Then the pack goes back in the cabinet until my next trip.

In the pack, there's usually your travel necessities: first aid, contact solution, compact versions of your normal toiletries. This includes medicines / ointments / antibiotics that are almost used up, or those little sample size kinds.

So anyway, I noticed that most of the meds in my travel bag are actually expired. And I don't mean expired like,

"Oh, I could have used it last week, but it's the 20th today so I better toss them."

I mean more like,
"Wait, I know it says July, but that year printing is kind of rubbed off. I think it got rubbed off from before I graduated."

Clearly, those have to go in the trash, but some things are more critical than others. To be honest, I still keep headache meds as long as they're not over six months expired, because I figure it's not such a big deal.

Where's your personal threshold for expired meds?

I Call Bullsh!t

Back at work (whee.) and I've discovered that in the past week, my lovely visitors from head office have taken over the location and made all sorts of rash decisions. In 30 minutes, I will have a briefing with them and see what they've done around here, but so far it feels like the company is operating differently, and not all of it is good/bad. I'm going to reserve my opinions until I find out the facts first.

Anyway, I will slowly backdate a few missing blogs about my experiences in Shanghai and Hong Kong. But that will have to wait until this bullsh!t is done first.

Black Rainstorm Warning

Saturday night. After a fantastically delicious Cantonese dinner with some 8 bankers and their partners, we hit up Pi and Volar, two pretty happening nightclubs in the Lan Kwai Fong district. We partied it up with some old faces and new friends, a grand old time. (But note to self: if someone asks if you've ever drank a Flaming Lamborghini, do not reply with, "A flaming what?" because chances are you'll get one.)

Then somewhere around 2:30am, decided to call it a night. And someone commented.

"It's raining outside."

From the basement entry, I looked upwards through the front door. In between the huddling clubgoers, all I saw were crowded vertical lines of water pouring down. There was a sudden silence as we realized how bad it was.

My jaw dropped onto my foot.

But, banking on my experience in tropical climates -- where it rains hard for 30 minutes, washes and cools the city, and then the sky opens up again -- I made a suggestion.
"Let's just wait here until it calms down."
"No, it's going to rain for a long time. If we want to go, we should go now."

So we joined the huddling masses at the door, heads lowered, watching the river flow by. Taxis came one by one, and we couldn't even get close to them before someone jumped in the middle of the street and stole it. S and I, being the gracious men we are, decided we'd head "upstream" around the corner and catch one before everyone else.

It only took a few seconds.

Huge bullets of rain pelted at me, and I was drenched. I stepped off the curb to catch an approaching cab, and found myself completely immersed up to my ankles in Hong Kong rainwater. Worse yet, the cabbie told us he was only picking up people heading into Kowloon -- so we had to get back out.

We finally get one. The two of us are completely soaked to the bone, and we get a call from the girls saying they're already in a cab -- we agree just to meet at home. Of course, it's Good Luck Day, and driving halfway home, Kennedy Road is closed due to flooding. (We had to turn back, drive all the way around to the other side, and ascend Kennedy Road from the opposite end.)

Many minutes later, we're home, showering, and tossing the wet clothes into the dryer for an overnight quick-dry.

The next morning, in our mad rush to pack (and do an early in-city check-in so we can shop more) ... they were still wet. Plastic bags loaded with soppy jeans and shirts, I stuff it into my duffel and haul the heavy load back to Taipei to launder. (Wet clothes, left to fester for roughly 10 hours. Mmmm, what a lovely thought.)

And that's why when Hong Kong gets a black rainstorm warning, you stay out of the rain, dammit.

Shop? Nop.

About a week after we booked our tickets (to PVG via HKG), a commercial started airing on Taiwanese TV, touting the great deals to be had at the Hong Kong Shopping Festival. Score! It coincides with our trip!

Anyway, we're here now, but so far I haven't really been so enthralled in the deals that I've bought anything. There just aren't that many things I want to buy. So then I thought about what I really actually "need" to buy:

- casual walking shoes (like my brother's, but not)
- shell jacket (for when i'm riding and it gets chilly)
- runners for cross-training (for the gym or other)
- another pair of blue jeans (but slightly dressier)

That's pretty much it. That's pretty much all I want out of my Hong Kong stopover. Oh, and to see my friends, of course. And eat tons of delicious Cantonese food -- Taiwan's Cantonese style foods are not much to speak of.

Getting Gritty in the City

Hm. Today is the day where I really get to walk around, get down and dirty with the city and see where the "real" (poor) Shanghainese reside, and explore the French Concessions, where some of Shanghai's first foreign (occupied) history took place.

I've been here for some 2.5 days now, and haven't yet eaten where I really want to eat. I've had enough of the lavish restaurants that only foreigners (and people on expense accounts) can afford, even though it's just $10-$15USD a meal. I want the real stuff: some random gritty little place where the locals gather for really cheap grub at fantastic value. (Try 8 RMB for 10 dumplings at one of the more famous dumpling joints, albeit in an overly-touristy area.)

I'm all ready to get my backpacking on,
as soon as I take care of this mild case of food poisoning.

Tables Turned

Had plans to meet a friend (CBC now living in Shanghai) and his wife (local Shanghainese) for dinner. They picked a restaurant, 1221, and she calls to book a table in her native tongue.

"No, sorry, the restaurant is fully booked."

Maybe she felt like something wasn't quite right, or maybe he figured he'd book it too. Whatever the reason, my friend calls not 10 minutes later to book a table in fluent and unaccented English.
No problem. A table for 4. Available instantly.

Wow. That's reverse discrimination, against the local people! I mean, clearly, 1221 is completely catered to serving foreigners. Even if you were local, and even if -- as possibly one of the fabulously wealthy locals -- you could easily afford dining at this establishment, you weren't welcome to it simply based on the fact that you were local!

Anyway, we still had that table, and as we stepped into the quaint restaurant, it was clear their policy was in place: very few Asian faces in the space, and those we saw were one or two who were likely entertaining visitors/clients. We were probably the only table comprised solely of Asian people.

Huh. Reverse racism, that's quite a saddening sight to see.

But hey, the food is quite good and the atmosphere is not bad, if you overlook their attitude of putting foreigners on a golden pedestal (with diamond credit cards). To me, we still enjoyed the dinner, but I won't support a restaurant that's outright like that.

Food, Drink, Music

So yesterday, after the whole taxi experience, we managed to make our way to famed Shanghainese restaurant 新吉士 (XinJiShi). This is one that even the locals acclaim (if they can afford to eat there), and there's no argument for me about that. The food was fantastic, including some fried prawns and chicken under a thick layer of red chili peppers, special braised pork in brown sauce, salted chicken, and tons of others that I can't remember right now (but took macro pictures of). Cost per person was 200RMB; good food, but ouch on the value.

Anyway, stuffed with great food and lots of beer, we hobbled our way around 新天地 (XinTianDi) in search of some night entertainment. There's actually a lot less choice than they'd have you believe, and we finally decided upon jazz lounge CJW (Cigar-Jazz-Wine) where we watched Joan Cartwright perform live. I didn't think she was that great. (Or, giving her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she wasn't used to the sound system and acoustic setup of the place.)

Somewhere around 11:30pm, I was tired from the long day and started nodding off. In the lounge. It was around then that everyone decided to call it a night.

Sidenote: shortly after we started our meal, 林志穎 (Jimmy) and his crew took the table next to us. I only vaguely remember what he looks like, but some of the others in our group confirmed it.

American Football in Shanghai

In Shanghai, the taxi drivers will always tell you that traffic in the tunnel is too conjested, and that you should save money/time by taking the Metro. They will suggest to drop you off at a Metro station ... but of course the official receipt has already printed, so you'd have to pay the 11 RMB minimum. See, the issue is the tunnel's not as bad as they say -- they're just trying to make away with the 11 RMB for a really short trip, too lazy to cross the tunnel. So obviously, you should just stay in the taxi and insist on the trip across. Still, that was tons better than my Beijing taxi experience.

But this was something I hadn't encountered before.

We hop on the Metro (already victims of the above scam) into People's Square. So there we are:

8 people.
In one of the city centers.
During weekday rush hour.
And then it starts to rain.

Getting a cab was clearly not going to be easy. We stand patiently at the taxi stand at first, but realize there are no taxis: it's full of illegally parked cars. To get one, you have to step out into the street and almost literally stand in front of it.

One cab slows to a stop to let a lady out, and quick as lightning, another lady hops into the front seat, staking her claim. Except ... the first woman hasn't even gotten out of the cab yet -- she's still paying the fare!

Wow. Rough crowd.

Even worse than the day's experience when E and I were trying to hail a taxi, and got "beat out" by old ladies and even schoolgirls. I vied no more of that, even more determined to get aggressive in obtaining a ride for us.

I spotted the next slowing cab, saw the girl inside paying her fare, and made my approach. Out of the corner of my eye, a middle-aged woman came trotting up from my right. I stepped in front of her to clearly signal my intent on this cab. She gave me a pretty clear signal on her intent too: she elbowed me to the side and charged through like a football player to the rear car door to get in! What the--??

When she realized she couldn't get in the rear door -- the previous cab passenger hadn't gotten out yet either -- she walked slightly past to wait. That was her mistake this time. I followed her, and then continued to push at her personal space until she backed way past the back door.

Blocking her, I let the lady out of the cab, and quickly motioned for our crew of 4.
"I got a cab!
Hurry, hurry, get in!
I'm holding her back!
Get in, get in, get in!"

See? I can adapt quickly. If I were to live in Shanghai for even a year, I fear I would quickly turn into one of them and lose all my sense of etiquette.

The Future of China

I've been in Shanghai for about 24 hours now, and it's a real mix of opposites. I won't say it's an equilibrium, because I find it's sort of a crazy melange of contradictory properties in all kinds of weird ways.

It's old/traditional and it's new/modern. It's beautifully spacious (Pudong) and it's sardine-crowded (everywhere old). The people are rich (like Mercedes and Shangri-La Hotels), and poor (hanging clothes out to dry in the middle of the alley). It's expensive (high-end restaurants) and it's cheap (those same restaurants with take-out option for the same food).

But one thing doesn't have an opposite: the people are rude. Even in the high-end restaurants and places where you'd expect service, they are. I mean, they give you service alright, but not really with a smile, and not really with the courtesy that we've come to take for granted in Europe, North America, Japan, and even Taiwan.

Shanghai has a long way to go in learning how to grow up, and how to control that growth. But that's just my first impression so far.

Do Not Eat

You know that silica gel stuff that's always in our packs of stuff? Packs of stuff like some dried snacks. You know what I'm talking about? The little (typically) white pouch with (typically) faded blue printing on it.


They look like pop rocks, little white pebbles/crystals gleaming in the light. HowStuffWorks says that "Silica gel is nearly harmless, which is why you find it in food products". Huh, nearly harmless.

So, "do not eat" even though it's nearly harmless. With the curiousity of a young child, how nearly harmless is it? What happens if you eat it? Do you shrivel up like those vampires who have exposed themselves to the sun (by accident)? Or just get really really thirsty? Or feel like puking?

As I prep for my Shanghai trip, you try it. Let me know.

The Great Taste of Lemon-Lime

I'm scooping lime-coated avocado flesh into the blender and whipping it into a guacamole-to-be. I give it a whiff, and it doesn't have that rich, creamy aroma that I love so much -- instead, it's kind of ... sour.

I make a slight face that my guac isn't turning out nicely, and my guests will be here in under an hour. My sister sees me out of the corner of her eye as she continues to dice the jalapenos.

"Something's very not right about this," I comment.
"Did you put in enough lime?"
"I think I put too much, actually."

We followed Alton Brown's suggestion of coating the avocado in a bowl of fresh lime juice and then fishing it out, but this result really doesn't seem right.
"Really? How much is there?"
"A whole lemon's worth."

She stops dicing, and gives me this look: would I like to review the past 10 seconds and conjure up a different statement? I stand there, basking in the bright glow of realizing what just came out of my mouth. She knows she doesn't need to, but she adds the verbal nail to my coffin of stupidity anyway:
"A lemon's worth ... of lime?"

D'oh. I almost felt like I was asking for change.

Just Anecdotes

Over the past months, I've come to notice that you, o loyal readers of my blog, seem to visit only to read the short (under 3 paragraphs) funny stories in my life. Moreover, you seem to prefer the kinds that are at my expense.


I'm not sure if it's maybe the longer or more serious entries still have you interested, but not leaving feedback ... or if you just see how long it is, and get frightened by it. ("If I had a nickel for every time ...")

So let me know what's up, and what your blog reading patterns are like. I won't promise to cater to it, but at least it will be considered.

Weapon of Choice

Fewer mosquito rants this year than last, but it doesn't mean they've just upped and disappeared. I'm still getting the occasional bite while sitting in my underwear at home, and am starting to come to grips with the fact that it's just a part of Taiwanese life. Heck, I might even be healing a little quicker than last year!

For now, I have my little electric tennis racket of death, ready at the kill for them now at home. So let's turn our attention to after the bite.

What remedies do you have for mosquito bites?

I think most of us have heard of soothing calomine lotion to get rid of that itch. My friend even told me about using antiperspirant on it to stop the itch! Of course, it doesn't always work: that's when we try to thwart the definition of scratching that itch by creative means!
What else did you used to do to make mosquito bites more bearable??

You know what I'm talking about; you're probably guilty of it, too. Scratching with one finger on either side of the bite? Yeah, because then you're not actually scratching the bite, just around it. (Like that's better.) Or even resorting to the fingernail-cross, where you dig a nail right across the bite's Ground Zero and then lay another one in the other direction, making a little plus sign of scratching rest.

First and Second of July

What a weekend.

Had a bunch of friends over to celebrate Canada Day / (early) Fourth of July / housewarming. On the menu were as North American as I could cook up in a tiny kitchen and on a budget: nachos, chicken wings, sliders, poutine, apple pie, beers & drinks. Even tried my hand at whipping up pineapple soju (which was moderately successful).

Speaking of whips, I'm rather disappointed that the little plastic hand flew off ours in the midst of a rather entertaining drinking game, but I guess that's what you get for $79NT. At least it didn't snap in half like the $19NT one I bought (within seconds of stepping out of the store)!


Woke up late and spent some time with the siblings and chatted about everything and about nothing until the evening. It was really nice; what with everyone having different schedules, even getting three people together is a rare treat.

Dinner consisted of trying to finish the rest of the 5lb of ground beef in a pasta sauce. Tons of burger patties and other slider ingredients are still patiently waiting in my fridge: the plan is to make them extinct after the gym tonight, which of course will warrant many more trips to the gym!

All in all, a good weekend, plus the sudden realization that I'm off to Shanghai next week. But somehow, the glow from the weekend past still gets overshadowed by the intense depression that is a Monday of work.

Ooh, I just found this blog about tiny hamburgers! And perhaps a new place to visit when I'm in SF again!