TSA Watchlist

I don’t think we need any more proof or examples telling us how dangerous it is.

The TSA (or at least, Thailand’s version of TSA) has even banned it.

Am I talking about guns and explosives?  Nope.

I’m not even talking about illegal drugs and narcotics, or God forbid carrying more than 3 1/2 oz. of shampoo.

What am I talking about?

I am talking about a fruit, so dangerous, that it is banned on airplanes.

Yep, I’m talking about durian.

The Day in Taipei

Some friends of ours from the Bay Area (Jonathan, Kathy, Danvin and Frankie) were all in Taiwan this week, so we decided to meet up in Taipei for the day.

Interestingly enough, today was the first time we’ve been in Taipei since arriving here a month ago.  And actually, it might actually be the only time we’ll be in Taipei for the remainder of our stay here.

Since we knew we’d be running around a lot today (and since we wanted a day off), Lani’s mom was gracious enough to take Jennica for the day… so, in short, Lani and I partied.

Going Giddy at Taipei 101

More strangeness at the coral stone exhibit, at the top of Taipei 101

It was actually a pretty chill time… we spent most of the day walking around Taipei with Jonathan and Kathy, eating lots of food and checking out the sites (and since we’re technically tourists, sightseeing would obviously include a trip to Taipei 101).

At night, Danvin and Frankie were able to join us as well, and we headed to Shilin Night Market, indisputably Taiwan’s most famous night market.

Kathy and Jonathan enjoying probably one of Shilin’s best known dishes, the larger-than-your-face chicken steak

Okay… so the rest of this is slightly NSFW. =)

Now, I’m not sure if I was just being overly joyous with having a full date-day with Lani without Jennica, or if it was the motorcycle exhaust that I had been breathing in all day from walking the streets of Taipei, but I couldn’t help from acting completely immature (like, teenage boy-style immature) at the night market.

Most Taiwanese night markets have a dish called 大腸包小腸 (dà cháng bāo xiǎo cháng), which directly translated actually means “small sausage wrapped in big sausage.”

By itself, this shouldn’t be particularly hilarious or unusual.  I’ve actually known about it for years, and I’ve had it on occasion (it’s a pretty fatty/oily dish, but it’s not bad).  But for whatever reason, on this night, I couldn’t stop giggling at the name.

So suddenly, the rest of my evening was spent on a mission to try and buy a “small sausage wrapped in big sausage” and to take an inappropriate photo of some kind with it.

After about 15 minutes of searching, I had found my food stall.

Thankfully (and to Lani’s relief), I guess it ended up being not-so-inappropriate of a photo.

But should any of our friends think I was being inappropriate, let me just tell you that I was not the only one with a dirty mind.

Check out the stall that was right next door to the sausage guy:

(Half) Marathoning and Morning Markets

So I forgot to give the quick update, but I’m officially registered for the Half Marathon in the 2013 Kaohsiung International Marathon.  After doing a bit of research… I found out that this race is no joke.  They’ve got three events: a full marathon, a half marathon, and a 3.5k “Fun Run”.  Last year, they had over 17,000 runners (most of which were doing the Fun Run), and this year they’re expecting over 20,000.

As a reference point, this past year’s US Half Marathon had only 4,000 people.

The breakdown for the events are 2,000 marathoners, 5,000 running the half, and the rest (they’re expecting over 14,000) running the 3.5k.  They have registrants from all over the world (and by “all over the world”, I mean Kenya).

I actually almost didn’t get in… they had originally closed up registration pretty fast (sold out within 4 days).  But then they announced that they would open it up again for a few more spots… and so I made sure to be my computer when they said they would open it up again.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one trying to get in on the second-chance registration pool — the webserver crashed continually when registration opened up again (btw, HTTP 503 errors look pretty funny in Chinese).  After about 45 minutes of hitting Command-R in Firefox, I finally got registered.

Soooo… I guess that means I need to start training.

So I’ve been waking up early to do some of my longer runs… and this morning I passed by something that I had never seen before.

Taiwan (and most of East Asia in general) are well known for their night markets, which Lani posted about last month.

Well, this is the first time I saw… a morning market.  Scores of rows of fresh meat, vegetables, etc., and it was getting some pretty decent traffic, all at 6:40am on a Saturday morning!

I’m at about 6.5 miles, with about 8 weeks of training to go!

Mi Casa es Su Casa… um… literally

I can’t believe we’ve been here for a month already!  The time is really flying by.

I wanted to put up a few posts that would help  illustrate what we do on more of a day-to-day type of basis… and of course, one obvious post would be about our apartment here in Kaohsiung.

As I mentioned earlier, with the help of Lani’s relatives we were able to secure a great 2 BR, 2 BA apartment that is in a prime, central location.  It has a great view (13th floor) overlooking Bo Ai Road (one of the main roads in Kaohsiung), and it is right next to a 7-11 and it is just across the street from a mall, both of which can provide almost every amenity we would need.

We had booked this place way back over the summer, so when we arrived into Kaohsiung, we were naturally eager with anticipation to finally be able to see it in person.

When we entered our new home, it was everything we had hoped it would be.  It was cozy and nice (about 900 square feet).  Not extraordinarily big, but definitely enough room for the 3 of us for the next 4 months.  Furnishings were a bit sparse (the definition of a “furnished” apartment is slightly different in Taiwan than it is in the U.S.), but the view was spectacular:

A nighttime view from the larger apartment overlooking Bo Ai Road and Hanshin Department Store

Now, one interesting little twist to all of this is that just a few weeks before our trip, Lani’s mom had found a second unit in the same building… a smaller 2 BR, 1 BA unit which would be perfect for her.

So as we were looking at our place, Lani’s mom went straight to her place in the same building.  As we were walking through, about 5 minutes later Lani’s mom walks into our apartment and is nearly in tears.  “My place is too small!  I can’t live there for the next 4 months!”

Then, she takes a quick glance at our place, and says, “Do you want to trade?”

At first, we thought she was half-joking.  But it turns out, she was totally serious.


So now, we’re living in a much smaller (about 600 square feet) apartment with the three of us… while Lani’s mom is living by herself in a 900 square feet, 2 BR unit.

Our apartment… the living room, dining room and kitchen… in one room.

Despite the comical disparity of the two units, the apartment is actually not bad at all… sure, it’s definitely smaller, and the one bathroom for the three of us was a bit of a concern when we first moved in… but as you can see from the pictures it’s definitely a very nice place, and I’m excited to be able to call it our home for the wonderful months that we are here.

The Master Bedroom

Jennica’s Bedroom… with Lani napping in it…

Oh, except for one thing…

The unit is on the 4th floor, so we get a lot more of the street noise.  And since we’re right next to the 7-11, for some reason it’s like the total post-bar or post-KTV hang out spot for the local Kaohsiung hoodlums.  Basically, most nights at around 4 in the morning, we here a barrage of laughter and loud conversations right outside our apartment.

Ah… the joys of city living.

Learning About Taiwan: Sales

As would be the case if we were in any other part of the world, one thing that we do regularly is go shopping.  With all the malls and shopping centers and department stores here in Kaohsiung, it’s pretty easy to spend a whole afternoon looking for great deals.

This past weekend we wanted to do a bit of Christmas shopping so we decided to check out Eda, which is a new outlet mall, amusement park and hotel complex located about a 20 minute bus ride from the center of Kaohsiung.

An outlet mall, an amusement park and a hotel.  All in one place.  How awesome is that?

Jennica loving the Ferris wheel at Eda

Anyway, like in any materialistic society, Christmas sales are in abundance here as well (even though they don’t actually celebrate Christmas here… more on that in another post).

However, one thing that took me a while to figure out: how much is something *actually* on sale for?

So 200 points for someone who can answer this on the first try: what does the following mean?

What does the “6″ on this sale sign mean?

If you thought… oh, it means everything here is $6.  Nope.

How about: 6% off?  Negative.

Or: Take 6… and run as fast as you can away from the security guard that’s running after you!?  No.  Well, maybe… but no.

Give up yet?

It means… 40% off!

No… not 60% off as you might be able to guess… but 40% off.

Yeah.  That’s right.  A big “6″ on the sign means 40% off.

Basically, what the number is telling you is that prices are marked at so-many tenths of what it originally is.  Got that?

Hmm… okay, for those that need a little bit of further assistance with this, I’ve come up with a formula which you can feel free to commit to memory next time you decide to come shopping on the island of Formosa.

p = 10 * (10 – x)

Where p is the “% off”, and x is the number that you see on the sign.

Is that better?

If not, or if you are having trouble committing the above formula to memory… please wait a few months and I’ll put up my “Help Me Understand This Sale Price in Taiwan” app up on the App Store.

Faster than any Potsticker in America

One of the amazing things about Taiwan is their bullet train, more formally known as the High Speed Rail (HSR) or 高鐵 (gāo tié).

Where we live in Kaohsiung is actually the southern-most point of the HSR, and Taipei is the northern-most point.  The 214 mile trip takes just 90 minutes.  (For those that are following along, that’s about the equivalent distance between Sunnyvale and South Lake Tahoe!)

It’s incredibly convenient, as trains depart at least every half hour.  Cost is a bit on the more expensive side though… one-way adult tickets between Kaohsiung and Taipei will run you about $45 or $50 per person.

As a small tangent while staying on the topic of convenience… there are 7-11 stores everywhere here.  I think if you total the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s in what most people would consider Northern California (which is roughly the size of Taiwan), you would find that it would only total to about 2% of the total number of 7-11 stores that exist in Taiwan.

No joke.

In relatively short 2-1/2 block walk I take from the train station to my office, I pass by no less than five (that’s right… five) 7-11 stores.

In the Kaohsiung HSR station alone… there are 2!  There’s one regular 7-11 store… and then there’s a second store which is so cute, I’ve started nicknaming it “.7-11″ (as in, “point seven eleven”).

And in fact, in the Taipei HSR station… there’s an even cuter one which I call “.007-11″ (as in, “point double-o seven eleven”).

Okay… enough about 7-11′s and the train stations.

Back to the train itself…

Nothing beats the feeling of traveling at almost 300 km/h…

And if you’re like me and can’t do the math in your head… thankfully “there is an app for that” (Convert from Tap Tap Tap… which by the way is an invaluable app if you plan on traveling to any country that uses the metric system… which is pretty much the rest of the world).

181 MPH.  On a train.  Ugh, we really need a bullet train in California.

P.S. Oh, and for those that don’t know, the Chinese for potsticker is 锅贴 (guō tiē)… so Lani and I have always been wondering: if we jumped into a taxi cab and asked to be taken to the “potsticker station”, would the driver think it was funny?

Á Mà

We took a day trip up to Taichung today to visit my grandmother, affectionally known as 阿媽 (á mà).  It was a really good trip.

Unfortunately, my grandmother is suffering from dementia, and the last time I had visited her (2 years ago), I was caught completely unprepared with the first line that came out of her mouth when she greeted me at her door, “And… who are you?”

Anyway, the updates I received on her condition over the past 2 years weren’t too good… it was mostly that her condition was continuing to deteriorate.

So when we arrived, I was very pleasantly surprised to see how healthy she looked. She seemed vibrant and full of energy… and she was definitely excited to see me and her great granddaughter.

But despite her strong physical condition, her mental condition was indeed deteriorating.  Not only did she not remember me again… but I would actually have to re-introduce myself to her every 15-30 minutes.  Whenever she left the room and then came back again, she would ask things like, “What’s your name?  What’s your daughter’s name?”

Despite all of this, we still had a wonderful time going to lunch and hanging out in her house.

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.