A couple of stories ago, I mentioned that I'd taken a job (still with Intel) that would send me to Taipei. I'm now in that job, and am now installed in my apartment, mostly chosen for being very close to work. I should be here, with a few business trips to the US, until the end of March, 2006. It's only another 9 months, so you've not much time to visit me while I'm here! Make your reservations, now!!!!
So, now, a little bit about my apartment. It's about an 8 minutes walk to work, door to door, which includes the minute or so I use to lock up my apartment. I've seen this sort of security in Taipei, before, and it seems so incongruous with what I've experienced. There is a locked door at the entrance to the apartment building, and during the day, there is a security person who sits at the entrance with that door open (no airconditioning). And then, the entrance to each apartment has a big metal door surrounding the door, and then there is the normal door to the apartment. When I was talking with another expat who was staying in an apartment without the outer metal door, it turned out that while his apartment wasn't robbed while he was there, the apartment one below his was robbed. I guess the metal doors do deter. . .
When I moved into this apartment, which is 46 ping big (one ping is about 36 square feet), which means this is around 1656square feet (very big by the standards in this expensive area of Taipei), the air conditioning wasn't quite working. It actually took a little bit to realize this, and even a greater bit to get everyone else (there were 5 others in the apartment in addition to me when I took possession!) to agree that there was a problem. They finally settled on saying that the airconditioning needed to be "checked." I blurted out that it needed to be more than "checked" - it needed to be *fixed.* I finally decided that that was just the way things were said, here. Ok, it needed to be checked. By the time it was checked, it was *clearly* not working, and I'd spent one almost sleepless night, so I was a bit cantankerous. It turned out that there was a leak, which is why it apparently worked at first, and why it was difficult to convince people that it wasn't working, originally. When they put in a temporary fix and said that they would be back in a week to fix it, permanently, I started to complain. I probably didn't fit in, culturally, at that point. . . The agent for the landlord brought me an electric fan, just in case. This made me happier. I was also happy that the air conditioning actually did work when I needed it, and so when they came and fixed it, permanently, I was less cantankerous. The agent kept buying me tea/bubble tea to make me happy, too. . .
I'm right across from the Taipei city airport, and about a 5 to 8 minutes walk to the MRT, the Mass Rapid Transit system that is like the light rail in Portland. It's very cheap - anywhere between about 50 cents to about 2 dollars for the most far away locations. I bought a card that can be used on that and the buses, and it turns out that it discounts all trips that I take, so it's even cheaper than the normal cheap rate.
The apartment has 2 full bathrooms and 3 rooms outfitted as bedrooms, one as a study, a living room, a (small) dining room, and a lovely kitchen for Taiwan. It also has a balcony in back where the washing machine and a dryer, which appears to have come from the US, reside, next to the whole apartment airconditioning unit (unusual for Taipei as far as I've seen - most have room units in the major rooms). Kitchens frequently have a sink, a two-burner gas (Yay!) stove, and no oven, and mine is no exception. The refrigerator may or may not be in the kitchen (mine is in the kitchen, although with the door opening in the wrong direction). There may be a sanitizer, something I've only seen in Shanghai and Taipei - the idea is to sanitize the dishes that have been washed in perhaps lukewarm or cold water. I don't have one, but I do have an excellent, efficient, on-demand, whole house hot water heater. There were a few apartments that I looked at that had dishwashers, but they were few and far between, and mine is one that does not. . . I do have a microwave, and a little toaster oven, and, after buying one, a rice cooker (essential!).
My master bedroom has an American king sized bed, which is bigger than any normal bed in Taiwan. I bought the biggest sheets that I could find in Taipei, and they were still too small. Typical sheets in Taiwan consist of a non-fitted bottom sheet, a sort of top sheet that is like a duvet cover, meant to have a blanket in it (so it's like 2 more sheets, sown together on 3 sides with an opening on the fourth side to insert the blanket), and some pillow cases. I asked the landlord's agent where people purchased sheets for the bed, and she gave me the landlord's old sheets (with a fitted bottom sheet - yay!). I don't know what to call the other beds in the apartment - I have to look up the sizes on the web and see what they are close to. They look sort of like a 3/4's bed, rare in the US, or possibly a short double bed. The beds here do seem to be shorter, on average, than US beds.
I have ADSL, which is quite a treat. Dialup is going to be a drag when I go back. . .
The food here is superb. There are also at least 3 completely vegetarian restaurants within easy lunch-walking distance from work. The city is riddled with vegetarian restaurants. There is a vegetarian section at the local little food market, where I can pick up nice little taro "cakes" for frying (these normally have shrimp or pork in them). And, yesterday, I went to a market and bought some of the nice small hot slim red peppers (I think of them as Thai peppers), that are most excellent, so I'm set! I also did find some good, locally made 70% chocolate. However, so far, I've only seen it in small, expensive quantities. I'm hoping to find out where it's made so that I can pick up larger quantities. I'm not sure if that is possible. . . I didn't bring my intended supply of Trader Joe's 70% Belgium chocolate, and I do admit that I notice the lack. I try to make up for it with Hershey's baking cocoa powder mixed with sugar. Not QUITE the same, though. . .
Many on my team (and their spouses!) have been great at helping me get situated - taking and driving me to the not-so-local, but well known places to shop, and helping me find necessities. One place was similar to the Dollar store in the US, only here, it's the 50 New Taiwan Dollar store - with the exchange rate at about 31NTD per US Dollar - but the concept is the same - everything for 50NTD, except for those marked only 39NTD - which was mostly what I chose. . .
Ok, this is getting long, and I wanted to update people on the Bubble Tea/Tapioca Tea/Tapioca Milk Pearl Tea. It seems that it has been exported to the US and other places. I had a number of people tell me that they'd like to try it, and another number of people tell me all the places they've found it. Places include: Shanghai, in China; In Canada in Windsor, Ontario; in the US in Ann Arbor, Michigan; the Bay area of California; at a Vietnamese restaurant just west of Cedar Hills Blvd on Canyon Rd, at Jih-Wah, and at Taiwanese café near Walker and 158th, and at another place at West Union and 185th all in the Beaverton/Hillsboro area, and in Portland's Chinatown in Oregon; Great Wall shopping center in Renton, Washington; Grand Asia in the Durham area of North Carolina; near the U. of Penn. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; in Cambridge, Massachusetts. People also read about it in the Wall Street Journal and heard about it on National Public Radio in the US. It's taking over the world, but nowhere near as popular as it is, here!
Hope to see you, here! Don't be shy about coming here!