Singapore Recap

We had a wonderful time visiting our friends Evan and Vicky and meeting their now one-year old daughter.

In addition to catching up with old friends, one of the highlights of the trip was definitely the food.

While that can likely be said of a trip to any foreign country… and while it may seem a bit silly to say that given that we’ve been living in Taiwan for the past month now… there is actually something that is quite unique about Singaporean cuisine, especially from the perspective of an American.

In terms of Taiwanese food… we can actually eat pretty much anything we’ve been eating in Taiwan in America.  There are numerous “Taiwanese Cafes” known as 台湾小吃 (tái wān xiǎo chī) places in both the Bay Area as well as in San Diego, which we actually frequented on a somewhat regular basis.  The difference is that the version in Taiwan is (on average) better tasting and cheaper.

But in general, any food that you can get unique to here, you can find in Cali.

That’s definitely not true with Singaporean food.  We had a great (and calorically intensive) time enjoying all of the Singaporean local favorites, including kaya toast, bak kut teh, soft boiled eggs, and laksa.

Bak Kut Teh, a pork-rib and pepper-soup dish that’s famous in Singapore, and deeeeelish

Soft boiled eggs and a tall glass of Milo… Breakfast of Champions

Jennica loved her Kaya Toast

Lani’s such a huge fan of the laksa that she bought about 24 packs of uncooked laksa to take home with us!  We almost had to buy a second suitcase just to fit it all…

In between eating, we also checked out some sights.  We had been in Singapore two years ago with Jennica, so we thought it would be fun to re-take the same kind of photo we took with her when she was just nine-months old at the famous Merlion in the Marina Bay.

Jennica and the Merlion at 9 months

Jennica and the Merlion at 2 1/2 years

We also had a wonderful time taking our daughters out to a bike ride along the famous East Coast Park along the east coast of Singapore… with toddler bike seats and everything.

And one highlight that we missed two years ago which we knew for sure we wanted to hit this time around was the Night Safari at the Singaporean Zoo.

Really, really fun.

First of all… something to note about the Singaporean Zoo: it’s built using a paddock system, which is unlike anything you’d see in the states.  Basically, the animals get to roam around freely in these paddocks, and you get to walk around with them.  Obviously for the more dangerous animals (elephants, lions, tigers, etc.) there is a moat that will surround their habitats, but those moats are covered with grass and other vegetation, so it still feels like you’re roaming around freely with the lions and tigers as well, just like what I imagine it would be like in the savanna.

And the Night Safari is an added twist to it all, where you basically get to go (as the name suggests) at night.  It gives you a completely different view of the animals, as many are nocturnal, and even for those that are not you get to see completely different behaviors from them at night vs. the day.

The Night Safari doesn’t open until 7pm, but they have a pretty cool looking outdoor food court area which opens up at 6pm, and the entire thing is open until 11pm.  They also have a lot shows and side entertainment, too.  If we were to do it over again, we’d probably aim to arrive right around 6p to make the most out of the entire evening… but due to a scheduling snafu, we didn’t get there until around 9pm.

The zoo itself is set up very nicely.  They have a single-tram ride which takes you through the highlights of most of the zoo.  It’s 45-minutes round trip, with a single stop in middle of the route where you can hop on or hop off.  But in addition to that, there are about a half dozen “walks” or paths that they have built which take you to all the other areas of the zoo.  You could easily spend at least a few hours just going on all the walks (we unfortunately only ended up being able to do the two shortest ones).

The Dereliction of Dunkin Donuts

We had a ridiculously early flight leaving Singapore this morning to head back to Taiwan… early as in we had to be up by 4:30am.

Naturally, when you’re up that early, your body tends to revert to more primal instincts.  For me, it means that I was seriously craving a doughnut.

Fortunately, I remembered that the Singapore airport has a Dunkin Donuts there.  For those that don’t know, I have a particularly strange love-hate relationship with DD…

For the love-side of our relationship, it’s all about their Old Fashioned Glazed Donut.  In both the physical and in the spiritual world, I think it is second only to Manna from God, Himself.

Now, for the hate-side of our relationship, why-oh-why are there no DD’s in California?  Sure, Lani and I can get our fix whenever we visit friends in Texas or in Chicago.  But seriously, it is downright criminal that the most populous state in the union only has access to KK (which will always try desperately but fail miserably at trying to keep up with DD).  Furthermore, I find it most fascinating that while you cannot get a DD in California, you can get DD’s in most Asian countries… including Singapore!

Anyway, speaking of DD at Singapore, as we get through the security line (which, unlike our wonderfully efficient TSA took all of 18 seconds… more on that on another post), we start heading to the shrine of the golden rings… only to find it… not open.  What!?

It was then when I realized that it was not even 6am yet… so I figured, okay, I guess I can grant DD a little bit of grace since it’s so early on a Sunday morning.  But right across the walkway, I see this:

That’s right — this is a Sunglass Hut.  Open.  At 5:53am.  On a Sunday morning.

But not DD.

Oh… and the love-hate relationship continues…

Asian Electronics

I know that Asian countries tend to have the reputation of being all into electronics and being light-years ahead of the rest of the modern world when it comes to how it implements and uses electronics in daily life…

But when I came across this in a local Singaporean grocery store while shopping with Evan and Vicky, I thought it just took this to a whole new level.

That’s right… those are LCD displays… for price tags.

Apparently, they use LCD displays since it’s easier to update and deal with rather than using stickers like we do at Vons and Safeway.


Singing About Diversity in Singapore

This past weekend, we had the opportunity to visit Evan, Vicky and their soon-to-be 1-year old daughter in Singapore.

One of the things that I’m most impressed with about Singapore is how diverse it is — besides cities like Los Angeles, New York and London, I think it’s one of the world’s most diverse places when it comes to different people groups.

A lot of people who are not familiar with Singapore may not realize that Singapore doesn’t really have it’s own culture or ethnicity.  While there are people who call themselves “Singaporean”, this is much more of a label of national identity, and not one of cultural identity.

So basically, similar to the US, Singapore is a country of immigrants.  While a majority of Singaporeans typically come from China, India and Malaysia, there is also a very active (and growing) minority of White Europeans and even Americans living there as well.

A walk along Singapore’s famous Orchard Road (their equivalent to Fifth Avenue or Michigan Ave) looks very much like a walk down the road of any of US’s major, diverse cities like LA and New York (well, except for the über cheesy Christmas decorations :) …)

But in my opinion, one key difference between the US and Singapore is how supportive Singapore is with their diversity.  In the US, almost a half-century after the Civil Rights Movement, we are still struggling with how to understand and appreciate the unique asset that we have in the diversity of our people.

I had one enlightening conversation with Evan about immigration into Singapore, especially the immigration of skilled workers and how Singaporean laws go out of its way to encourage it.  While in the US, companies typically have to pay $15k – $20k to get a potential skilled worker/candidate all of the necessary paperwork to process an H1-B visa, in Singapore, it’s typically about $200.  Total.

And as a much more tangible example of how Singapore is with their diversity, just look at the signage everywhere.  Everything from instructions to street signs are constantly showing multiple languages.  I conclude with some food for thought — how many ways can a country say “Drinking Fountain”?

Learning About Taiwan: Basketball

I had the opportunity to play some hoops yesterday morning with Lani’s cousin Tong Fu.

Over the past decade or so, basketball has quickly become one of the favorite sports of the younger Taiwanese pop-culture generation.  Anytime you go near a gym or a sports apparel shop, you can see life-sized posters and advertisements featuring Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, or (and this was a bit more surprising) Derrick Rose.

You can see NBA games live every Sunday morning on channel 75 out here (which ends up being the Saturday afternoon NBA lineup in the states)… and they even replay them on Sunday night / prime time.

But add on top of that the recent fanfare surrounding American-born Taiwanese Jeremy Lin, any time you walk by a park or a school with basketball courts you’ll see scores of kids playing ball, wondering if they could be the next Taiwanese NBA star.

And speaking of Lin, he’s gotten to be quite a household name around here.  Lani was a wee-bit too excited to see him featured in a television commercial for Volvo out here… speaking in Mandarin and everything.

But I digress…

Anyway, I learned that there are quite a few differences between the way we play in the US vs. the way they play out here.

First of all… they don’t typically run 5-on-5 full court.  The preferred game is 3-on-3 half court.  Walking by the courts near our place, I regularly see groups of 10 or so guys… but because of their preference to play 3-on-3, they’ll only have  6 playing, with 4 guys waiting… even though the other half of the court is free and can be used for a full court game.

I asked Tong Fu why, and he basically said “eh, too much running.”

Second of all (and I guess partly due to the fact that they typically only run 3-on-3), “pick up” basketball is pretty rare.  Usually, when guys come together to play ball, they’re only playing with friends or guys that they already know.  And I guess it’s a lot easier to regularly get a group of 6 friends together than it is to get 10, which is why there is not as much culture or history for “pick up” ball here.

Anyway, since it was just Tong Fu and I, we did end up getting picked up — well actually, Tong Fu just went up and asked a group of 6 whether or not we can join.  Fortunately for us, the spirit of hospitality that is engrained in Taiwanese culture did extend onto the basketball court.  So while the group of guys did look a bit surprised to be asked, they were nice and let us in anyway — so we ended up running 4-on-4 (but still half court).

It was a ton of fun (I hadn’t actually played since moving away from the Bay Area back in March)… but a few other quirks that I noticed:

  • Even though it’s half-court, they play “losers ball” and not “make it, take it”
  • They always count by 2′s and run with 2′s and 3′s
  • When the ball goes out of bounds, they inbound from where it went out of bounds (similar to organized play)
  • Whenever there is a foul, they inbound from underneath the basket along the base line (also similar to organized play)

I wasn’t entirely sure if this was just the style that this particular group of guys played with or if it was more the cultural norm… but looking around at the other games going on on the schoolyard we were playing at, it did seem pretty consistent across the board.

Anyway — it was a lot of fun, and it looks like Tong Fu and I are going to try and make this a regular weekend thing.  Woot!

It’s Cold… in Kaohsiung

Similar to how when we had left San Diego, it has gotten cold in Kaohsiung.

Like, unseasonably cold.

For those that know me know that I rarely wear a jacket, let alone pants.  Well, this past week I had to wear both.

And for Jennica, well we had to bundle her up as if we were in Tahoe:

Anyway, after I received the following email from my mother, I finally realized why.

Hell has frozen over… again.

LOL.  Again.

Learning About Taiwan: AD, BC, Minguo, and Y1C

So I signed my first-ever legal contract outside of the US… a short-term lease for an office that I am now working in during the regular work-week (more on this on an upcoming post…)

But there was something really interesting about the contract I signed, and I thought that it would make a nice start to a series of posts that I’ll be putting up throughout the coming months, called “Learning About Taiwan”… a look at some of the logistical quirks and differences between Taiwan and the US.

Specifically in this case, the contract was dated 101-11-19.  Okay, so the 11-19 makes sense… November 19 (which is when I signed the lease).  But the 101?!

Well, it turns out that Taiwan (for most official documents, including business contracts) uses what is known as the Minguo Calendar, which sets the year “1″ to 1912, which is the year of the founding of the Republic of China (e.g. Taiwan).  So instead of AD (anno domini, or in the year of our Lord) and BC (before Christ)… they basically say “in the year of our Republic”.

Makes you wonder… what do they say about years prior to 1912?  Could they still use “BC”… as in… Before China?  Hardy har har…

Anyway, if you’re wondering about this whole business of 2012 vs. 101, 2013 vs. 102, etc. and think that it might be a bit confusing, well… it is.  What makes things worse is that while official business, contracts, etc. as well as many signs will use the Minguo Calendar, pop culture, media, etc. will use the regular (e.g. Gregorian) calendar that pretty much the rest of the world is accustomed to.  So people will use “2012″ and “101″ interchangeably.

But wait!  It get’s even more confusing!  Because sometimes, they shorthand the writing of dates to just the last 2 digits of the year (similar how we say ’12 instead of 2012).  So instead of the year 101, sometimes they’d just write ’01.  Which begs the question… if you see the year “01″, are they talking about the year 2012?  Or are they talking about the year 2001?

All this brings me to my favorite sentence in the wikipedia link I included above:

“The use of the ROC era system extends beyond official documents. When used to mark expiration dates on products for export, they can be misunderstood as having an expiration date 11 years earlier than intended.”

LOL… I should take and post a picture of me drinking a carton of milk with an expiration date of December 8 ’01…

Kirkland, (tai) WA (n)

I can’t believe it… after traveling halfway around the world, my first blog post about life on Formosa and Taiwanese Culture is going to be on… Costco!?


After arriving, our first order of business was to get stocked with some supplies for our new apartment.  Naturally, what comes to mind for us would be: Costco!

Lani’s extended relatives were more than nice enough to take us there (and by take us there, I mean, we ended up taking 3 cars to Costco as a large family outing):

Look carefully at the picture above… in the US, we’re all über careful about child safety.  We’ve got child seats, booster seats, buckles, latches, childproof tamper resistant electrical outlets — you name it.  With most grocery stores equipping their carts with buckles and even anti-bacterial sanitary wet wipes, safety and security is clearly of paramount importance to the folks at Safeway Joe’s Foods as well.

Not as much so in Taiwan.  Not only is Jennica’s cousin (Ashley) riding in the back of the cart unbuckled and unseated, she’s doing so while going up a moving escalator.  Woot!

Now… if you want to imagine what Costco is like in Taiwan, basically multiply the craziness of Ranch 99… with the chaos of Costco… on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  And then, maybe you’ll get a glimpse of what Taiwan’s Costco looks like — on a slow day.

Asians in general are notoriously frugal and will not pass up a good deal, or a free sample.  Can you imagine what the line was like for the free slice of apple they were giving away on one of the sample carts?  35-people long!!!!

Anyway, we fortunately got all of our required shopping done… but as we got to the all too familiar Costco Food Court next to the exit, Lani noticed something a little different amongst the Hot Dog and Soda deal and the Chicken Caesar Salad in a container that all people reuse as Tupperware:

Costco’s Mango Shaved Ice!

Finally, as we were departing, notice something a bit interesting with the Costco parking lot?  I really want to wonder, just how is one able to pack the 48-pack of toilet paper on a scooter and ride it with their family of 3?  So curious…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

We’ve made it to Taiwan!!!

What a looooooooong trip.  This is what our travel experience includes:

  • a 2-hour drive from San Diego to Los Angeles
  • a 3-hour wait in LAX
  • a 15-hour flight from LAX to TPE
  • a 2-minute line at Taiwan Immigration and Customs — wow… only 2 minutes, Mike?  How can that be?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  BTW, this is something that the US and DHS should learn from pretty much every country in East Asia… a 2 year old child, who has just been trapped in a 2×2 space for the past 15 hours, waiting in a long 2-hour line where you can only stand and can’t have anything to do is likely not the best idea; not for the child, nor for the parents, nor for pretty much anyone else who is also waiting in that line.  But the solution to this is so simple, that it can be said (or in this case, typed) with just 3 simple words: Family-Only Lines.
  • an overnight stay at the airport hotel
  • a 10-minute shuttle-bus ride to the High Speed Rail station
  • a 1 hour, 40 minute rid eon the High Speed Rail
  • and finally, a 10-minute car ride to our new home

Given normal circumstances, I would say that most people would agree that the above would already be quite a trip.  But… throw in there a 2 1/2 year old girl, a stroller, and count them: 8 pieces of luggage and no less than 8 additional pieces of carry-on bags… and the entire experience turns into, well… an experience.

In hindsight, I should’ve taken a picture of everything, as I’m sure it would’ve made a pretty cool blog photo.

So as a consolation, I guess another cute photo of Jennica will have to do:

Anyway, interestingly enough, at LAX, they now charge a whopping $5 per luggage cart at the departure drop-off area in the international terminal.  Such a rip off, isn’t it!?

Well, had some aspiring Taiwanese entrepreneur been renting out similar luggage carts at the HSR station, I would’ve easily paid $500… US.

Trust me… moving that many pieces by hand is something you don’t want to do… ever again… until, I guess, you have to do it again when you leave in 4 months.  Ugh… oh well.

The morning at the hotel, we had a chance to catch up with one of Lani’s cousin and her family (husband and two children).  After taking about 842 photos, I think I got one where all three were (kinda) looking at the camera and (kinda) smiling at the same time.

Thank goodness for the trash icon on the iPhone Camera app.  Now… if only I would use it… in the meantime, one of my TO DO list tasks in Taiwan is to get (yet another) hard drive to store all of our photos… j/k

I <3 Papaya Milk!!!

Random post… but I was looking thru some old travel photos and came across this one:

As I’ve been talking with people and saying our goodbyes, one of the questions that most often comes up is, “What are you most looking forward to?”

The de facto answer is always, “the food!!!!!”  For those that don’t know, Taiwan has some incredible food.  Little ma and pa shops, street vendors, heck, even the 7-11 has some great snacks there.

But by and large, most of the food items out there you can actually get in some form or another in the states, especially in SoCal.

However, there is one thing where you really can’t find anywhere (at least, not that I’ve been able to find):

Papaya Milk!!!!!

Which reminds me… I Love Papaya Milk!!!