Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Moon Festival

Ele in Taipei!

The Moon Festival is one of the biggest annual festivals in Chinese culture. It is a centre-piece of the Lunar Calendar, but mainly seems to involve the entire island making barbecues. The whole place is full of smoke (I am convinced you could see it from Hong Kong) as people cook food in the streets, on the roofs, in the parks ... but it is a really nice festival where family comes together.

Full moon ... on the roof with my Chinese teacher, a couple of her students, Ele, Tanja and Michael

Barbecue on the balcony

Warp Factor 10

Rebels without a cause

Monday, September 27, 2004

Jackie Chan!

Life demonstrated perfect harmony on the final evening, with Jackie Chan's instant classic New Police Story at Kowloon's Golden Harvest cinema. Obviously, the plot mattered little but the main thing is that it was set in all the tourist sites we had seen over the past few days. The New Police Story web site is here.

And we found Jackie Chan's hand prints on the walk of the stars too...... so that is almost like touching him, I think. Look at the grin on my face, eh!


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Canton Express

We made sure that on Monday we experienced downtown mid-week. The travelling sums it up, the world's longest escalator (800m) takes us up the mountain - totally cool! Then a walk down and we take the trams back and forth since they were so cheap and fun. We also took in EXCELLENT Dim Sum at Maxims in the city hall. Totally Hong Kong. Totally delicious.

True 'Urban Jungle' in Hong Kong near the Botanic Gardens

The trams on HK island - Blackpool meets New York!

Ele and I

The best restaurant name in the world (after 'Abrakebabra' in Glasgow)

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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Hong Kong & Lamma Island

I had saved seeing Hong Kong Island on the first day so I could do it with Ele together. We also met up with Olivier and Jean-Marie - two of Eleanor's distributors from CSR. Although the three new arrivals were severely jet-lagged (I had no such problems, since Taiwan is in the same time zone as HK) I had some job pushing them into running over to the Peak Tram to take in the views of Hong Kong from above. However, your man succeeded and we took the ridiculously steep service up the side of the hill. I was a bit disappointed that it has turned a bit touristy and Madame Tousaudsy, lacking that creaking "will we hurtle down the hill side when the cable snaps?" excitement, and replaced with air-con. Still, it matters little as the views were incredible.

Views from the top of the Peak Tram

After that (and I am sad to report that the tram's cable still remained intact on the way down, avoiding the tram smashing through the back end of the station that I so badly craved) we jumped into a taxi (a concession to Jean-Marie's need to avoid more public transport) and headed for Aberdeen. I have no real idea why they named it after that town, as the views are different to what I think of granite-themed Aberdeen, and it has a rather famous, kitsch, expensive and unfortunately not-really-that-great restaurant called Jumbo, ominously. However, I seem to remember it starring in numerous Kung Fu movies I have seen, so again I don't care at all.

We decided to take a meandering journey back to Central and took a boat out to Lamma island - a peaceful world away from the main islands. The trip included a rather characterful Chinese man with too many teeth in his mouth guiding us across the choppy waters in his none too stable craft. Still, it was great fun and interesting to see another view. After, we took a speedy ferry back to Central, where Ele and I indulged in some rather fantastic ice cream over views of the city.

Our man Quik Silver.

The views from our... yacht.

Lamma Island

Peacefully awaiting the ferry home

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Saturday, September 25, 2004

Lantau Island

Ele was set to land in the morning of Saturday. However, big delays at Heathrow meant that she had to fly via Bangkok (thus one upping me in the number of Asian countries she has visited!) and instead landed in the evening, about 9 hours late. I took the opportunity to check out Lantau Island - a logical move, since Chep Lap Kok airport is on the same island.

I took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island and immediately leapt onto the first boat for Lantau. The Star Ferry is a wonderful relic of the age of the British Empire, while the ferries for the outlying islands are more Thunderbirds. The quality of public transport in HK is both deeply impressive and characterful, mixing state-of-the-art systems (aiport express, MTR, boats) with older modes (Star Ferry, Trams).

Views from the Star Ferry

The world's biggest outdoor, seated, bronze Budda is situated on the island (statistically ridiculous, but I didn't really care - it was still big) and caught some nice views accross the islands. The Cantoese are much more likely to go hiking than the Taiwanese and the mountains really are very beautiful.

Details of the Buddist temple

Incense burning

Statues beneath the Budda

Owing our sanity to international text messages between our mobiles, we finally met up and it was great! Although she was almost tearful from lack of sleep we headed straight out for a drink on the dock side and then sushi. Hello Sister! A sight for sore eyes.

Ele in Hong Kong!

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Rumble in Hong Kong

I finally take a holiday! After 4 months of no days off, at the end of a project, and looking forward to meeting my sister, it was ideal timing to take a long weekend in Hong Kong. Only one and a half hours away by plane, it was an incredible feeling leaving for the airport and reliving some memories of my arrival. I planned to arrive the evening before Ele to give me some extra time to look around.

I landed on Friday night and went straight to Chung King Mansions and checked into one of the multitude of guest houses in the crumbling fire risk which makes up the most vibrant, multi-cultural area I have seen in Asia - south Kowloon. Landing late on a Friday felt a mite edgy, with plenty of friendly neighbourhood drugs dealers and hustlers floating around. However, I managed to make it over to the dock side and one of the most impressive urban views I have ever seen - possibly out city-ing Manhattan from the Statten Island ferry.

The delightful Chung King Mansions

The astonishing views of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon

After an hour or two of street drinking (the new urban sport) with the locals I departed back for the hotel. However, I got distracted - as I often am prone to - by the bright lights and sounds of an Irish pub, so I descended the stairs back into something utterly reminscent of Glasgow on a Friday night... and was even more pleasantly surprised to find Greene King IPA beer and Walkers Cheese & Onion crisps - my local poison and fave snack! Waves of satisfaction / alcohol spread through my body and I wandered ( a liitle less steadily) to bed.

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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Model Shop Romance

When we get models made, since we do not have our own workshop (gripe no. 274), we outsource it to one of a number of model shops in the local area. When Aken, Sandie and I went along we met with the boss and chief modeller and went about explaining our concepts with diagrams and explanations and gesticulation. However, although Sandie was doing a perfectly good job of translating for me, as soon as the boss (Lau Ban) found out I was English and studied at Cambridge he insisted on getting his daughter to translate for me. This was not too bad, until he kept interrupting with random and rather derailing questions such as... "do you like Taiwan?" .... the model conversation would continue.... "do you like Taiwanese people?".... "er, yesss...." he pauses again..... "do you like Taiwanese girls?"

I freeze in terror, with his daughter puppy dog eyeing me, the boss probably expecting to break open the family scotch, Aken with his hand on my knee asking the same questions earnestly and Sandie in the corner almost tearing herself in two with laughter... and then there is me, stuck in the middle, unable to work out what to answer - answer "yes" and I probably need the next flight out of the country, or answer no and insult everyone (including the tough looking modellers) in the room. I opted for silence and squirming, only escaping to leave to go back to the office.

There was no escape.

We were offered a life in the boss's wife's car... and of course our friendly (and now rather creepy) daughter jumps in, eyeing me in the mirror. I am still waking up in cold sweats, expeciting her pathetic face at my window with glowing eyes.

And of course Sandie made sure my whole office knew all the details, which of course continued the torment!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Michael's Birthday

I had a great weekend that helped me recover from a stressful and frustrating week learning Pro Engineer software at work. I best not speak about that, as all I will do is get angry again! Anyway, Tanja - Michael's girlfriend - planned a big surprise birthday party for him in the wilds near Wulai (see earlier posting).

Although the game was given away slightly by Michael insisting on riding deep into the national park, Tanja did a great job of keeping the lid on a dozen people arriving on over laden scooters (beer, cakes and two people on each bike meant lots of sparks from the floor hitting the road on every small bump).

Anyway, here are some photos that Tanja took prior to our arrival, just showing the rather beautiful countryside that Taiwan boasts, and the reason why the Portuguese named the island 'Formosa' ... 'Beautiful.'

The sun peeps out from behind the clouds:

The Wulai river valey:

The waterfall near our illegal camp ground:

Party Time

Here are some pics of the party.... lots of scooters, not quite enough beer (midnight run to 7-11 required) but plenty of food... and awoken by 30 keen Taiwanese who set up their breakfast sets next to our tents. Okay, we admit - camping and fires were not allowed, and that was exactly what we did!

We are drunk - we take no responsibility for our creative ideas

Anke, Tanja and Michael - clearly entertained by one of my jokes

Michael & Louisa

Tanja's head provided light, heat and warmth for the whole gang

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Rain rain rain


Taipei certainly knows how to deliver water. Another typhoon is playing silly buggers off in the Pacific which of course means.. rain for us. Last night, after drinking with my Swiss buddy Lorenzo, I took a taxi home and the water in the road reached the top of the car's wheels. It was crazy - especially when inebriated. (see lorenzo below)

Last week was a good week at work. Got my groove on in several areas and generally felt happy with my work... however, these four days of success were brought back down to earth with a bang when I began learning Pro Engineer software - the toughest software known to man. Next week may be frustrating!

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Birds of a Feather

Just a strange photo of a bike carrying pigeons - surely on the way to slaughter!

The range of strange motorcycle - related vehicles you see over here is incredible. Everyday the ride to work yields another permutation on what is seen as possible to carry on a 150cc bike. I'll gather together the images over the next few weeks and show them off... they even extend to mini sized Harley Davidsons.

I have heard a story from one of my friends that he saw a scooter with a passenger on the back holding a medical drip in the air as they rode along - with the ambulance in the background syuck in traffic. It is common to see gas cylinders attached to motorbikes being transported to customers, families of 4 (plus dog), food vending stalls mounted on the back.... and so on. And of course the fork lift trucks on the motorway. Anyway - here is the first of the images:

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Work Buddies

Some photos taken a while back with an on-loan Motorola camera phone with 1.3 Megapixels. I should note that it has a 'Disco Mode' with multiple colour flashing LEDs. At first I dismissed this as a meaningless blinky function... but after a couple of hours (and beers) I fell deeply in love with this essential feature. Welcome to 2004.

Lorenzo Scazziga of Switzerland:

Michael Held of Germany:

Markus Wiezoch of Germany:

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Some Notes on Corporate Life

Good days in the office mean I find the frustrations and difficulties in the office an amazing learning experience. Bad days in the office mean I get totally wound up by being subjected to 'The Taiwanese Way.' I think it is important to remain philosphical and remain in the former camp.

This week has been very interesting. I developed some designs for a set of cell phones. This project was very conservative but it allowed me to develop a design that was more like a fashion item rather than an item that was designed for the user with a rigorous approach. This was more like graphics design, and in fact I really enjoyed it - my Art School tutors I think would spin on their chairs to hear this though!

Firstly, I have realiased that the efficiency of working out here is incredibly low. In Europe, people come in at 9:00 and work hard and intensively with the aim of leaving on time at 5:00. Meetings are as quick as possible and generally people get on with the work. Here is different. We start at 9:30, and it is not unusual for people to still be in the office at 11:00pm at night. I usually stay to 9:00pm myself. I can certainly say that I do not get any more work done in this time. Because everyone stays so late, almost as a duty, you also feel duty-bound to also stay. What this means is that instead of leaving when the work is done, you stay, maybe surf the web for 20 minutes, check your e-mail, do some low intensity work, and then it is suddenly 10:00 at night. The locals in fact usually have a sleep in the afternoon for half and hour, sometimes play a computer game or watch a DVD. This makes me mad, but I understand that if you live with your family (as most do) it is not such a bad idea to make your living room your desk. From now on, I am concentrating on working hard, fast and leaving early, and grabbing some of my lufe back in the evenings.

The second interesting thing this week was the review of my phones. We went to see one of the most senior guys in the company and everyone is absolutely petrified of him. Our managers (also directors) quake in their boots and if he comes to the office everyone runs to their desks like rabbits running back into their holes. Meeting him was therefore a small event for me. However, although he is certainly serious and business like and very concerned with details he did not seem so intimidating to me. I can only conclude that the relative respect in heirachy compared with the UK is the major reason for this strange behaviour. It is something I will keep an eye on, but until my Chinese improves there is not much I can do about it.

Speaking of which, Chinese is very enjoyable at the moment. The first sparks of the language igniting are occuring... but there is plenty of work still to go until I get rolling.

Right. Some more photo - based posts on their way. But I am also trying to put down more words as my Dad wanted some more descriptive comment and analysis.


I had an interesting couple of chats with 2 designers who are working out here. They have both been out here for a number of years and they were asking me how I was getting along, and more specifically what my first few days were like.

It seems like such a long, long time ago that I arrived. I only arrived in May, so I have been here for getting on for 4 months. That's longer than I have ever been away from home for (the longest before that was 3 months in USA, Mexico and Central America). It was really nice to go back to this blog and see my thoughts for those first few days - it was not something that you can remember easily, since the first few days are so intense. They could not, sadly, remember a thing about their initial emotions as they have now been here for so long and the things that are exotic and strange quickly become commonplace.

One nice thing was that we all seemed to notice very similar things on those first few days. The Beetlenut girls by the sides of the roads, the first song that we heard on the radio in English and the state of the driving! I am very glad to have those thoughts down - I can never tap into those feelings again! Especially as any subsequent trips to other Asian countries I think will have less impact for me now (although I suspect there are plenty of surprises up its sleaves!).

So, four ish months in and how is it going? Life is certainly not easy, but it is fun and interesting and everyday has special moments. Even small things.

The other day, I got to my scooter and found that I had a puncture. Now, in the UK this would be a really dull and boring chore to get it fixed. No sooner had I got it past the front gate on the way to the main road the security guards ran over and started chattering at me in super fast Chinese. They virtually grabbed the bike off me and one ran back with a pump. He starts pumping like hell, sweating for his life when a senior engineer comes over and tells me in absolutely perfect English that "I shouldn' kill myself by pushing it all the way there..." and he rolls up his sleaves and starts fondling the tire looking for the hole... all the time I am standing there bemused watching the security guards pumping air (this was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to them in weeks) when they all start pointing and shouting and tell me to get on and ride as fast as I can while I still have some air left and have a chance to make it to the scooter shop (if you throw a stone in Taipei in a random direction it will either hit a 7-11 or a scooter shop). I make it there and it costs me 80 Nt (about £1.20) to fix it. I had a sudden thought to buy some Coke for the now worn out guards so I run to 7-11 and scoot back to give it back. I virtually have to thrust it into their arms to make them take it, but the next day I get a very offical salute from them as I enter the gates - something that is usually reserved for the Directors. So, a dull job made fantastically fun.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Hello! & Picasa Software....

Attempting to use a new blogging program.... this is the team a few months ago at a barbie... look out this weekend for a bunch of photos of 'where i live' ... (now you can click the pic to make a bigger version)... I can see i will need more web space!