Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time Flies...

I can hardly believe that only a week has passed since my last post, for it feels like months.  Work has ramped up to full speed, and I kick off my days like a horse lurching from the starting gate.  During the course of an afternoon, I and my trusty sidekick, Arnold, will negotiate our way around and over the many hurdles to doing business here in Taiwan.

On Wednesday, I paid a visit to a wire warehouse where they distribute all kinds of copper electrical conductor.   Now, this trip I made took place only as a last resort.  I imagine that I could have watched the centipede that frequents our office spin its own cocoon, transform into a butterfly and migrate to South America while waiting for the vendor to drop by with a sample of 12 gauge single-strand.  My patience ran dry, so I demanded for the vendor to take me directly to his supplier, in order for me to view the product, make my selection and wait as a quote was drawn up for the cost of what it is I need.  Easier said, than done.

I first took a look at all of the wire before being escorted to their company reception area to write up my request.  But before anyone would put pen to paper to prepare a tally, I was invited to my first vendor lunch in Taiwan.  Whisked away from the office, I landed at a restaurant that serves up a rich cuisine to the locals who entertain their clients in style.  A large round table accommodated the six of us with plenty of room.  Upon taking my seat with my new Taiwanese acquaintances, I looked up at the waitress as she placed firmly upon the table, two bottles of scotch whiskey.  What the heck was I getting myself into?

I sipped daintily as the gentleman across from me, identifying himself as "Roger," uttered something in Mandarin.  Arnold took over.  "He wants to know if this is your first time to Taiwan."  "Yes."  And taking the lead before his next question, I said that I have found the people to be pleasantly warm and receptive, even to those who can't even communicate with them.  Glasses were raised, in honor.  What followed was a lively time that included a meal of pork, large peel and eat shrimp, some amazing fish fillets, marinated chunks of beef, soup and octopus with pea pods...I think scotch is my new favorite drink.

Hours later, I found myself in our truck, negotiating my way through Taichung City during rush hour.  Like a three dimensional video game, the city comes alive -- scooters from all directions, lights, giant buses, narrow streets and everything else you can imagine.  I told Arnold I was about to lose my mind and he laughed heartily.  As I said, he leaves the driving to me.

The week included a little trip to the southern end of the island and a town called Kenting.  The bullet train shot us down there in a little under an hour.

That's what 180 miles an hour looks like.  Nope, I didn't speed up the movie. 

The beautiful beach at Kenting. 

Poking around in the sand, I noticed some oddly colored rocks, which turned out to be anything but rocks.  Here are worn slivers of broken bottles known as beach glass.  I wish I could stroll along the shore in Santa Monica and find stuff like this. 

I placed my treasures on a piece of paper, lit from below with the help of my hotel room lamp.  
Neat stuff.

Here's a hotel we stopped at, along the way.  

Apparently cycling, specifically mountain biking, is a huge industry in Taiwan.  Giant is a Taiwanese company, and many high-end component companies call Taiwan their home, as well.  Because of that, a large community of expats from Europe, South America and Australia has added a unique flair to the island by creating a demand for multicultural restaurants, bars and cuisine.  I just had no idea.  I met one guy from South Africa who has lived here for twelve years.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Blog

"So, are you going to blog about it?"  I must have heard that question a half dozen times while sharing with people my next job prospect, in Taiwan.  Having traveled out of the U.S. on only one other occasion, the thought of going to such a far away place that I knew nothing about was at once exciting and unnerving.  Nine months removed from everything within my comfort zone without the ability to hop on a plane for a quick dose of "known quantity," I knew I'd be testing my resiliency, for sure.

"Can you give me twenty-four hours?" I asked my new potential boss.  After figuring everything out with my girl, it was decided.  I would be heading out for eight months for an experience of a lifetime.  I ran to the store and picked up "Mandarin for Dummies" in order to create my flashcard list.

The welcome packet from the production company included a list of suggested inoculations, a brief synopsis of Taiwanese culture along with my travel itinerary.  A fifteen hour flight in Business Class seemed like the right idea for a proper send-off.

The LAX business class lounge -- all you can eat food and drink.

The flight included linen table cloths, china and metal stemware, bottomless glasses of water and wine, headphones, slippers and shaving kits.  And, standing at six feet, I appreciated the fact that I could extend my legs without ever coming close to the chair in front of me.  That worked.

23 floors up, one is treated to quite the view from my hotel room.  

First things first.  We got the car!

And off we went into town.  I began to assemble the office for our department, which includes desks, chairs, lights and all of the stuff you need to get things going from scratch -- times four people.  

Arnold, our assigned translator, eased my fear of getting lost in the vortex of a foreign country.

Arnold drives only a scooter, so he left all motor-vehicle operations to me.  I welcomed the challenge.

I wondered why anyone would even bother to take a car out to the store.  Everyone else seems to get by just fine on their scooters.  This is the first floor of the building where both Home Depot and A-Mart reside.

Venturing out on one's own takes a bit of fortitude, at first.  It's easy to default to an afternoon spent within the safe confines of the hotel, if for no other reason than the fact that everyone can understand me when I speak to them.  And, I am well aware that putting myself in the position of embarrassment for not knowing a language is part of the growing pains necessary to develop a functioning comfort level here.   

So, with a few phrases under my belt, off I went.  I was told that by heading southeast of the hotel, I would encounter a neat zone of European-friendly establishments.  

Water drizzled down - nothing too imposing - while the temperature hovered at comfortably warm.

I landed at Robot Coffee.  I just loved the vibe, so I had to go in.  

I felt like I was at home in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles.  I knew the folks here would "speak my language."

All of the quirky dolls with large faces and the crazy rabbit and cat figurines with exaggerated features I've seen for years in Chinatown gift shops, indeed, came from the culture I now witnessed first hand.  It definitely has its charm.

The robot heads on the tabletops are napkin boxes.  

  The girl behind the counter presented me with a set of flashcards drawn in Taiwanese cartoon cool that had English translations of everything on the menu.   

Engaging a silent flock of confused hipster Taiwanese kids, I struggled to communicate my desire for a cup of coffee and something sweet, while very quickly realizing that English subtitles on menus do not stand as any indication, whatsoever, of whether or not English is spoken in a business establishment.  I guess it's the same as the Americans I've seen who get Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies without having the faintest idea what they really mean.  It's just cool...I guess.