Observations of Taiwan

Angela and I spent over two months in Taipei, Taiwan for work in March and April of 2003.  There were some less-than-perfect things on this trip, starting with the fact our equipment was set up in a building which is still under construction, meaning we wore hard hats as be walked through mud and guys arc welding, painting, and cutting marble to get to where we do our jobs.  The dust and occasionally unstable electrical power, as well as some software problems, kept us on our toes.  The site is also about 45 minutes from the hotel, so the commute got to be a little old after awhile; remember, we are definitely anti-commuters, preferring to live as close to work as possible so we think 45 minutes is a long time to be in the car each morning and each night.  And then thereís there was the rain; if anyone ever tells you it never rains in Formosa, they are probably trying to sell you a time share you are NOT interested in.

But I should be fair.  The island of Formosa, on which the country of Taiwan is located, is a pretty place; or so we hear, as we didnít make it very far from Taipei city during our time there.  In fact, this article should probably be titled, ďObservations of Taipei.Ē  We stayed at a nice hotel, but itís greatest feature was itís location, namely thatís itís located right next to the construction site for Taipei 101, a building which will be the worldís tallest when completed later this year or early next.  Itís fascinating, to me anyhow, to live next to such an audacious piece of architecture.  Of course, Iím of the opinion that tall buildings, fast cars and cool electronic devices donít really need any utilitarian reason to exist, I just like being around them.

Speaking of electronic devices, Taipei is a great place to shop for electronic accessories.  Big items, like digital cameras or palm pilots, arenít any cheaper than the US, but little things like flash memory cards, mice, and adaptors can be found for very good prices, in many cases less than half the cost of comparable items Stateside.  We went shopping because most of the guys we worked with in Taipei have these chewing gum-sized devices which can hold anywhere from 64 Megabytes to 1 Gigabyte of data and connect to the computer via a USB port.  We bought one that holds 128 Meg for less than $40 and are ready to throw away the floppy disk drives from our laptops.  Whenever we have data to move, we use the stick.  We highly recommend them to everyone; they are available in the US, and though they are more expensive than in Taipei they are probably worth it.

The streets of Taipei are a little crowded, as is to be expected in a city of a few million, but the thing we found unusual were some of the large one-way streets.  They are separated by two different medians, so if youíre interested in turning left or right you have to plan ahead and get into the far left or right lanes when thereís a break in the medians.  In the middle section there are four lanes.  Only two of them are for cars, and those are in the very middle.  The other two lanes are for buses, one going in the same direction as the cars and the other going in the opposite direction.  So, there are six lanes of cars and one lane of buses going one way, surrounding buses going the other way.  Itís a little disconcerting the first time a bus is coming the other way, thatís for sure.

But the funniest thing about being in Taiwan is hearing ďFur Elise,Ē that lovely little piano piece by Beethoven, being played several times a day.  For the first few days, we couldnít figure out where the song was coming from.  It wasnít good sound; itís sort of tinny, like music from an ice cream truck, so we thought maybe it was a classical ice cream truck driving around our site.  Finally, I asked one of our co-workers, and he told me itís from the garbage trucks.  Every garbage truck in Taiwan is constantly blaring ďFur EliseĒ to let people know to bring out their garbage.  I think this must drive the drivers insane, hearing the same song played badly at high volume day after day.  We wonder what Beethoven would think of his music being used this wayÖ

At the end of the day (which we often spent eating fabulous dumplings and Chinese pancakes from a restaurant in an alley near the hotel) Taipei is a nice place to live for awhile.  Get rid of the commute, throw out some of the rain and add some variety to the garbage truckís song selection, and itíd be fantastic. 

Our next stop:  Munich, Germany.  For almost five months, start in May.  Expect some European observations in the not too distant futureÖ