Author Archives: jason

It’s Shit Like This Taiwan …

One of our biggest problems with Taiwan – maybe our only big problem – is road safety. That doesn’t just go for seat belts (or lack thereof) in taxis and crazy scooters but also for pedestrians.

The other night was a typical example of that. We were on the sidewalk waiting to cross Renai Road (仁愛路) at Xinsheng South Road (新生南路) when suddenly we hear a horn behind us. What did we see? A taxi driver driving down the sidewalk and trying to get onto Xinsheng. After stepping out of the way (did I mention we were on the sidewalk?!) I snapped this photo:

A Taipei taxi driving down the sidewalk

Don’t mind me; just drivin’ on the sidewalk

A few seconds later, the taxi drove down the pedestrian zebra crossing in order to merge into traffic:

A Taipei taxi driving down the pedestrian crossing while trying to merge into traffic.

Pedestrian crossings: not just for pedestrians any more

Did I mention that this was directly in front of the police station?

Taipei must be one of the only cities in the world where you need to look behind you for cars when standing on the sidewalk (any crazier place, like Hanoi, wouldn’t have giant sidewalks). Taipei (and most of Taiwan) only has the illusion of having traffic laws: there are wide roads, clearly painted lines, plenty of traffic lights, and sidewalks big enough to drive a taxi down. And if you think the taxi drivers are bad, just wait until you see the bus drivers!

Seatbelts in Taipei Taxis – It’s About Time!

My #1 issue with Taipei – and the #1 thing that would keep me from returning – is road safety. The streets of Taipei are crazy. Yes, they’re a lot less crazy than they used to be, but there are still a lot of nutjobs. And it’s not just for drivers and passengers, but pedestrians too. Sylvia has been almost run down by drivers going the wrong way down one-way streets, driving down crosswalks (not through – down the crosswalk in the direction that pedestrians walk), and driving on sidewalks. And don’t even get me started on the scooters!

The Government of Canada’s Travel Advisory page for Taiwan puts it well:

Driving habits in Taiwan are often more erratic and reckless than in Canada. Driving or riding motorcycles is dangerous and should be avoided, even by experienced motorcyclists. Substandard road conditions and local disregard for traffic laws result in frequent accidents that cause serious and even fatal injuries to foreigners. Motorcycles and scooters weave in and out of traffic.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an end in site to the insanity on the roads, but as a regular taxi passenger it’s good to see that at least we’re going to get seatbelts in the back of taxi cabs, after Nora Sun (孫穗芬), a granddaughter of Republic of China (ROC) founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), was severely injured in a car accident on New Year’s Day.

This has been a major annoyance for me for years: taxi drivers in Taipei routinely remove, hide, or otherwise cripple the seatbelts in the back of their taxis. And if you do manage to find or repair the seatbelt and use it, the driver usually takes offence; I’ve heard it’s because you’re insinuating that he isn’t a good driver – and he probably isn’t – but it’s the other nutjobs on the road I’m more worried about.

Score one for road safety! Now, if only they could go about enforcing the other road safety laws they already have … and will Taipei County (sorry, “New Taipei City” now), where I work, follow suit?

中秋節: Mid-Autumn Festival

Last Wednesday was a holiday here in Taiwan, 中秋節 (zhōngqiūjié), also known as the Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival.

My parents were in town for the holiday (which was on Thursday in Hong Kong) so we received some much-needed babysitting from the grandparents. This was good timing as last week also happened to be our 4th wedding anniversary!

One of the classic hallmarks of the Moon Festival is moon cakes (月餅, yuè​bǐng​). Moon cakes are typically given to suppliers, staff, and anyone else you don’t like … er … they’re a lot like Christmas cake in Western countries – that is, they are passed around and when you get them, you often give them to somebody else! 🙂 However many Chinese and Taiwanese people love to get them, and unlike Christmas cake, moon cakes actually taste pretty good. That is, unless you get one of the “traditional” ones with the egg yolks inside.

Tastes great, until you get to the, not one, but TWO egg yolks inside!

I took home a box from my work as we were overflowing with moon cakes and other treats before the holiday. Thankfully this box contained one of the best treats available in Taiwan: pineapple cakes.

MIPS inspecting the merchandise

Mmm ... I love pineapple cakes. I devoured half of these myself.

For dinner on Wednesday night we chose to go to N°168 Prime Steakhouse in the Grand Victoria Hotel (維多麗亞酒店) in 內湖 (Nèi​hú​). The Australian Wagyu beef was incredibly good and it was a great way to celebrate the festivities. At the end of the meal we were given the other hallmark of Mid-Autumn Festival, a Pomelo (柚子, yòuzi). I love 柚子 as they’re like a grapefruit but sweeter, and they’re in season at this time of year. Also this week, we just found a great fruit market near out apartment so we’ll be buying up their 柚子 stock while it lasts!

Our First Typhoon: Fanapi

Last weekend we experienced Fanapi, a category 3 typhoon and our first typhoon while in Taiwan. To us in the North of Taiwan, it was relatively harmless, however Hualien County (花蓮縣) on the east coast was hit harder.

It's coming right for us!

Sunday was very bad weather so we stayed inside to watch the alternating wind and heavy rain. Apart from some felled tree branches on RenAi Road, there wasn’t much of an aftermath where we were. Taiwan is well-prepared for typhoons – here’s a restaurant menu that Sylvia found that even mentions being open on “typhoon days.”

A typhoon shouldn't prevent you from getting good waffles.

Stay tuned for our inevitable “first earthquake” post! 🙂

Never a Dull Moment: No Water at Home!

Living in Taipei there’s always something new coming up every day – and it’s usually a situation that forces us to use our (limited) Chinese! Like this morning, when suddenly our water taps went dry. Uh oh. Our water stopped working? Now what?

Well first, I remembered the landlord briefly mentioning that our water pump used a battery. Why? I have no idea. The only electricity it has is that battery, so I figured it needed replacing.

Off to 7-11 (given that a typhoon is on its way this weekend I didn’t want to go much further). Do you sell batteries? (你們賣出電池嗎?Nǐmen mài chū diànchí ma?) I have no idea how to ask for “D-Cell” batteries specifically so I brought the old one with me.

Nope. That didn't do it.

But that didn’t work. So I ventured out and considered trying to ask a neighbour if they had any water (I guess it would be: 你的公寓有水嗎?Nǐ de gōngyù yǒu shuǐ ma?) when I noticed a new piece of paper taped to the inside of our elevator:

Ah, of course! Written right here, plain as day.

Uhh. Yeah. Well, it mentions today’s date (and yesterday’s) and it has the character for water (“水”) so I figured this was it. To my surprise, I was actually able to read the relevant bit: “9月18日(星期六)停水一天” (“September 18th (Saturday) water [will be] stopped for one day”).

The always humourous Google Translate version is:

Dear Neighborhood Hello, everybody!

More recently said, the elevator can not be used by the Friends of the lift in conjunction with worship and dealing with leaking water and other professional staff after survey has identified the reasons for the roof caused water seepage into the elevator machine pit.

It will be 99 September 17 to September 18, (Week 56 construction), and are scheduled from September 18 (Saturday) without water one day, please neighbor early water use.

Be between these, please forgive me!

Yeah. I wish I had noticed this sign yesterday! Looks like I’m going back to 7-11 for some more jugs of water!

Ghost Festival Continues in Taiwan

The Ghost Festival, or 盂蘭盆 (Yúlánpén), is typically celebrated on the fourteenth night of the 7th lunar month (August 24 this year), but the traditional fires continue burning here well into the month. Everywhere we go we see men in business attire burning fires outside their place of business.

Here are a few (rather poor quality) photos I snapped outside of my own office building in 中和市:

There’s always something interesting to see each day in 台北!

Importing Our Cat – What a Mess!

We decided to bring our cat, MIPS, with us to Taiwan (he originally came with us from Canada to the UK – he travels well). Taiwan and the UK are both “rabies free countries” so MIPS could be imported with minimal fuss and no quarantine. Still, we wanted to make sure all of the paperwork went smoothly (and the airlines’ cargo departments only deal with agents) so we decided to hire the pet relocation service, Air Pets. Boy, was that a mistake. I cannot tell you how useless this company is, even before all the screw-ups. Never use them. But enough whinging about those useless idiots, here are some highlights from my “adventure” of importing MIPS into Taiwan.

First of all, I had no idea how to get MIPS when he landed in Taiwan, despite my best attempts at getting this information from Air Pets. I was told only that EVA Air would call me when he arrived. Well, they didn’t, and it was only after several hours of MIPS sitting in a warehouse with nobody to collect him did Air Pets finally get off of their lazy asses and give me call. After dealing with EVA, I realized that MIPS was being held in a giant warehouse in the middle of nowhere and there was no time for me to make it to the warehouse before they closed at midnight; I would have to pick up MIPS the next day (Friday). Given that MIPS had already gone 24 hours without food, I was motivated to get there when they opened at 6AM sharp.

No taxi driver from Taipei had heard of the street 航勤北路. Fun. Getting here in a taxi was a serious test of my limited Chinese-speaking abilities.

The sun coming up at the airport industrial complex

The sun coming up at the airport industrial complex

Friday was a hell of a day, for both me and Sylvia. She stayed in Taipei dealing with our other fall-out from the relocation: a heavily jet-lagged baby.

I managed to get to EVA Air’s cargo office right when they opened (actually, before they opened as the taxi driver drove at 150km/h and made it to the airport in 25 minutes). I finished the paperwork with EVA and went down to Taiwan customs. It was then that I realized the next mistake by Air Pets: MIPS’ age on his UK government health certificate was listed as 9 months instead of 9 years. As he clearly wasn’t 9 months old (which his rabies vaccination record confirmed), the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine office (with their catchy acronym, BAPHIQ) refused to release him and I was left to go get updated paperwork. Thankfully I was allowed to see MIPS, give him some food, and top up his water. He smelled bad – really bad – and was plenty angry, but he was in good health. He was being kept in the corner of an imports warehouse with forklifts constantly driving by with shipments of food (fish, plants, and animal products) being imported into Taiwan. Needless to say, he was scared shitless.

Give me back my cat!

When the UK woke up I managed to get in through to Air Pets. To their credit, they finally started to move and within the next 2 hours new paperwork had been faxed to BAPHIQ by DEFRA (the UK equivalent of BAPHIQ). I flagged down a taxi and headed to the airport.

Once again, the taxi ride was an adventure. The taxi driver’s taxi license photo had him shown wearing a neck brace, he used the brake like a London bus driver, and was driving between the lanes in stop-and-go traffic. Traffic to the airport at rush-hour was really bad and after sitting in traffic for over 2 hours the taxi driver was running out of gas so we had to stop in Taoyuan city for a top up. It was a this point in time when he finally realized where he was going (i.e., not quite to the airport, but rather in the industrial complex nearby) and informed me that he was only licensed to go to the airport (I think that’s what he said anyhow – it was all in Chinese). He offered to bring me to the airport but I decided to let him drop me off in downtown Taoyuan and found another taxi driver to bring me the rest of the way – one who actually knew where he was going!

With the correct documentation faxed to BAPHIQ, I figured the rest of the evening would go smoothly but I underestimated the bureaucracy of Taiwan customs (I guess some things are the same world-wide). I filled out a dozen forms, paid 3 separate fees at separate times (warehouse fee, quarantine fee, security inspection fee), and was bounced between about a dozen employees between departments with differing levels of English comprehension. Thankfully one of the employees from Taiwan customs (a fellow cat-lover) helped me out the whole way, which made the process significantly easier.

I won’t bore you with the details, but there were a few times during the process when I thought they wouldn’t release MIPS:

  1. The shift had changed since the paperwork was faxed and nobody could find it. Thankfully it was also emailed to them and after about 30 minutes of searching they found the email.
  2. One clerk unfamiliar with the process of rectifying mistakes on paperwork said I needed to wait until the original copy of the updated paperwork had been couriered to them (i.e., the following week).
  3. MIPS needed to have his microchip read but he has two microchips (one North American, one European). The scanner was only picking up the North American one which didn’t match his UK paperwork.
  4. One clerk noticed my Canadian passport and claimed that because MIPS was from Canada he would need to go into quarantine for 21 days. It took two people to explain to her that I am Canadian but was coming from the UK, not Canada.
  5. One clerk couldn’t understand why some of my paperwork said MIPS was from “UK” but others (and her computer) said “GB”. If you’re curious, here is the difference.

Shortly after 9PM (after about an hour of paperwork) I was able to collect MIPS from his sad box in the warehouse.

MIPS' box in the EVA Air Cargo warehouse

MIPS' box in the EVA Air Cargo warehouse. Behind me was several tonnes of fresh fish recently imported from Japan, just to add to MIPS' torture.

After the whole ordeal was done, the helpful fellow cat-lover from Taiwan customs drove me to the airport so I could get a taxi back to Taipei. He told me about his own cat (a former stray) he calls “小虎” (“little tiger”), which he told me is by far the most popular name for pet cats in Taiwan (he once dropped off his cat at a local cat hotel when going on vacation and there were 20 other cats there named 小虎).

Now, 24 hours later, MIPS is in our apartment in Taipei – happy as can be – and the smell of cat piss is starting to fade from his fur. To him it’s like the whole thing never happened. I told you he travelled well!