Catriona in Taiwan

Catriona has been in Taiwan this past week or so, living her best life. She has always considered Taiwan her home, so this is a homecoming for her, with lots of time spent with friends, shopping and eating.

She also met one of our dogs, who must be close to 20 years old, if that’s even possible.

Knowing my sensitivities to the high cost of living here, she sent us a note mentioning she paid the equivalent of $10CAN for a fancy meal at an all-you-can-eat hotpot restaurant. You can’t get a freezer-burned hamburger for that price in Charlottetown.

Taiwan telecoms make it easy to keep in touch. She got a local sim with unlimited data for $15 at the airport. As a result, she has been liberal with the pictures of fresh mango and other delicious fruits, helping Sheryl and I pine for when we can return.

Catriona returns next week, but I half expect her to call and say she is going to finish her degree there, such is her love for the place.

Where Are The Greens?

We certainly miss the assortment of green vegetables that we used to cook and eat in Taiwan. We’ve tried to find some here, but it just isn’t as good. Greens used to be a major part of our diet, I suspect our health has suffered in their absence.

In the endless debates on the Internet over what the best Taiwanese food is, nobody ever mentions greens, but they should

But luckily we have greens. You can have your bubble tea and twice-cooked pork and Ding Tai Fung. They can’t touch Taiwan’s best dish: a perfectly cooked plate of leafy greens stir-fried with garlic and served bright and crispy by boss auntie, who is already ignoring you to move on to the next customer.

Notes from Central Taiwan: Taiwan: green paradise

On this day

7 years ago today I reached what I thought was the pinnacle of my Chinese language ability as I fielded questions from students at a university in Fujian. Giving a lecture in Chinese is one thing, but the unpredictability of what comes out of students mouths another. I was encouraged to teach the design school undergrads by my then employer, perhaps in an effort to make the company seem more international, and thus slightly more attractive for new recruits. I was nervous as hell but prepared and generally thought it went well. But as was often the case in Taiwan and China, the dean at once thanked me, and thereafter chided me for speaking less than perfect Chinese. Thoughts and ideas are of less importance than your ability to convey them.

… makes you stronger

Catriona picking up something shiny from the sewer grill in an alley by our house in downtown Hsinchu. She turned out ok so I guess she fought off whatever toxins she might picked up from that and a multitude of other things she picked up from the roads of various Asian cities. The Taiwanese are experts at constructing drainage but often residents would circumvent city engineers efforts by covering drainage grills with rubber mats. The rubber mats stopped the deluge of large cockroaches which would stream out before earthquakes or during intense rain.

Island of bosses

Further, Taiwanese bosses foster a work culture defined by the ideal of suffering, shaping Taiwan culture in entirely negative ways. In Taiwan, work is suffering. Workers constantly have to display that they are suffering in order to show that they are working (much “work” thus becomes displays of suffering to fend off added work).

This social programming begins in school with students displaying how much their massive homework loads are making them suffer. Homework thus functions as a form of authoritarian control of time, leaving students little time for their own lives — that might lead to their participation in politics, god forbid — and as a tool for acculturating Taiwanese children to their adult lives of suffering at work under authoritarian bosses.

That is why Taiwanese frequently accuse white foreigners of being lazy, since many of us are from cultures in which it is considered a loss of control, especially for males, to make displays of how difficult work is, of how much we are suffering. We foreigners are not sending out the right cultural signals. You need to suffer more loudly, big noses!

It starts before elementary school.

Notes from central Taiwan: Taiwan: Island of bosses

Spring flowers

As I suffer through our first real week of winter, friends abroad are sharing images like the one above that I took during this month a number of years ago. No matter the time of year, or how gray the weather, there was always a splash of colour to be found.


The passage of time. I would love to go back in time and experience this period of our children’s life. Walking with Camren through the hills behind our house to take him to kindergarten, watching out for snakes and feeding stray dogs as we went. They both had the benefit of a marvellous pre-school education. Unlike most kindergartens in Taiwan, which are often seen as a means to get kids started early in rote learning, they climbed trees, made food, created crafts and played. Later in elementary school, they learned calligraphy, kendo, tea making and played Chinese instruments. This education didn’t come cheap, the tuition cost the equivalent of a years salary, but it was worth every penny, and gave them an experience unlike what we could have provided elsewhere.

More Masks

This photo is notable for the regrettable use of the filters that were popular during early iPhone photography. We lived in a house in Xiangshan at the time, the sick house as we called it. Large mold formations use to appear in parts of the kitchen, and Camren was always sick looking during the time we were there; he always had large circles under his eyes which cleared when we moved to the Science Park, where they constantly sprayed poison to kill off all signs of insect life. We enjoyed the neighbourhood for the most part, it was so close to walking trails, rice patties and country roads.

The mask might I was wearing might have been due to the Avian Influenza (2010) which was in Hong Kong at the time, or I may have been trying to protect my lungs from pollution while riding.

More masks

After searching my photos for and not finding any evidence of the strangeness that was living through the SARS outbreak, I’ve been looking for other photos of members of our family wearing masks. My #covidbrain finds this strangely interesting, either that or I am suffering from general tiredness brought on by neighbours who have taken the opportunity during this crisis to socialize more, and into the wee hours of the AM (I’d take the opportunity in response to start practicing fanfares again on my trumpet in the AM, but there are other more “turned in” people nearby).

This one was taken in January of last year when there was yet another viral outbreak making its’ way through the schools.

A Coffee Shop Guide to Hsinchu, Taiwan’s Fika Capital

I miss many things about our former home – the food, the density, and the language. But the café scene is really special and, with the exception of Receivers, an experience I have yet to find an equivalent of locally. Lauren Ku’s article in The News Lens misses my favourite haunts, but that is no doubt due to the fact that there are just so many great places to chose from.

Whenever I return to Hsinchu on the weekends, I feel as if I’m running away from Taipei’s hectic subway commute. Although Hsinchu is home to Taiwan’s youngest population, this city feels lazy and sluggish somehow. If you walk out of the historic train station and stroll along the city moat, you can often spot children playing around or people sitting under the trees to enjoy a soft breeze.
In Hsinchu, you don’t really need a scooter to get around. You can walk to most of the places aimlessly and just stop in a cafe when you’re tired. You can spend the entire afternoon listening to the high-schoolers’ gossips or observing the old couples who just mind their own business. Hsinchu has a surprisingly high density of coffee shops, with customers of all age groups. When I was a kid, my dad also brought me to a local coffee shop frequently, where we each read our own books.

A Coffee Shop Guide to Hsinchu, Taiwan’s Fika Capital

“perpetually dying of starvation”

For anyone who has not had the pleasure of meeting her, the utterly adorable Elsa. She’s sweet, affectionate, playful, and perpetually dying of starvation (her words, not mine!)

It makes me happy to see that all of Sheryl’s hard work has resulted in our old dog Elsa finding a home with someone who cares for her. It’s worked out better than we could have hoped.

A bathroom reno

The bathroom in our apartment in Hsinchu has seen better days.

On the Island, renovations such as this, well likely far less extensive than this, result in what people have been calling renovictions, whereby the landlord is using renovations as an excuse to evict tenants and charge higher rent. But in Hsinchu at least, workers seal off the work areas, people keep on occupying the space, but with the added stress of even more dust and dirt in their homes.

Netflix Series Street Food

Taiwan’s unique culinary traditions are once again making tasty waves in the international media, this time thanks to a new Netflix series called Street Food. The series (which made its debut on the streaming service in May) dedicates each episode to the culinary traditions of one particular spot on the globe. Though hardly surprising that Taiwan made the first season, the show’s creators make a bold choice by skipping the usual Taiwanese culinary tropes of night markets, dumplings and beef noodle soup, choosing instead to focus on the culinary traditions of lesser-known (outside of Taipei) city of Chiayi.


Over the course of the 33-minute episode, viewers are treated to far more than just mouth-watering shots of food preparation. They’re also taken inside the homes, personal struggles and family dramas of the people behind the dishes.
Taiwan Scene

I watched the Chiayi episode last night, and started the Bangkok episode, Bangkok is my second favourite city to find good food. It’s a great episode and series overall, which makes me miss the region we lived in for so long, but I don’t think I will sit with the kids and watch, as the calls to return to Taiwan will be unrelenting for days. They love 豆花.

Unlike so many food programs I have seen, this gives some great insight into Taiwan culture; the family relationships and work culture are pretty evident when you listen to Grace Chia Hui Lin tell the story of smart fish.

Highly recommended.


Discovered in one of the many small alleys near FE21.

There is much that I miss about living in Hsinchu – low taxes and a functioning health care system being on my mind most this season – but aimlessly walking the alleys only to discover some small hidden treasure is certainly near the top of my list. Weather permitting we would walk a lot in Hsinchu and I was always amazed at the sheer number of interesting places to eat.

Remembering San Mao

Taiwanese writer San Mao died 28 years ago this January. She was a role model for women of her time, casting off the social strictures of martial-law-era Taiwan, escaping abroad to travel, write, love and have the kind of exotic and tragic life that was the stuff of romance novels. I loved reading her short stories when I was learning Chinese and listened to an audio version of one of her short stories so often I had committed it to memory.

People’s Daily writes:

“She was born in Chongqing, moved to Taiwan, studied in Spain, and settled in the Sahara. All of her life she pursued freedom and touched the hearts of many with all of her words. Her love-story with Jose stirred people’s emotions. Her mother said that maybe her life was not perfect enough for her, but we now know that her life-long pursuit of her dreams has already become romantic legend. Today, in 1991, writer San Mao committed suicide.”

Remembering San Mao – the Bohemian Writer That Captured the Hearts of Millions of Chinese

The bathroom fan

From Seth’s Blog:

In our office, the kitchen exhaust fan blows the smoke from the cooktop–back into the kitchen.

It’s a closed loop, a palliative, a noisy device that doesn’t do much except make you feel like at least you’re trying.

Most of the exhaust fans in our lives are actually part of a closed system. The detritus, pain or actions we share don’t go very far away before they turn around and head back toward us.

The fan in the master bathroom in our apartment in Hsinchu was making an awful noise one day and eventually quit working. Upon installing a replacement we realized that the fan didn’t actually lead to anywhere – it simply circulated the humid air to the space above our false ceiling. I thought it was hilarious and synonymous with much of the problems I experienced in local culture – a face saving measure to cover for the inability to meet a requirements spec. Of course this resulted in more black mold and a rusty fan prone to failure.

Setting workplace norms early

Camren’s 5th grade classroom

In Taiwan elementary schools they prepare them early for what life will be at the workplace. He ate more nutritious lunches then, as lunch in PEI schools is sandwiches or fast food, and they don’t have the facilities to maintain a safe temperature of a hot lunch. But this habit, seen throughout many if not most Taiwan companies is toxic, as it increases the likelihood that you are still available for calls, and after you hurriedly eat, likely stay at your desk to keep on working after the obligatory nap.

The next chapter

In 10 days I’ll be leaving this island for another, thereby closing a chapter in my life, the life of my family, while opening another. I’ve lived here for just shy of 20 years, longer than any other place.

To say that I am reluctant to leave would be an understatement. For the past number of weeks I have been analyzing the decision from hundreds of different perspectives, have been filled with self-doubt, and anxious for the future. Taiwan in general, and Hsinchu in particular is a good place to live, but most of what I am feeling is just the normal resistance to change that many of us go through, especially after making such a significant investment in time as we have had here.

For my kids, Taiwan is the only home they have ever had. For them I think Prince Edward Island will be just about as different an experience as you could hope for. A bit like moving from Earth to Mars. Thats the point though, I want them to experience this contrast and learn to adapt in different environments. They have stood out for the entirety of their lives, with both good and bad effects, now they must endure the monotony of sameness. To stand out in the crowd will require more effort on their part.

Of course, Prince Edward Island is just a great place to spend your youth.

This isn’t my first time leaving, I left over 2 years ago to pursue work in China, which is why many people leave. Taiwanese included. China is the new America, without the freedom and open internet, and there are an enormous amount of opportunities there. It’s an exciting place where many things seem possible.

With my new home being in Charlottetown, I’ll be taking my excitement in smaller doses, maybe one to twice yearly to start. Well, if I remember my high school life correctly, I’m sure the kids will provide all the excitement I need.

In bloom


Woke up with less than a clear mind this morning and decided to take a short walk around 靜心湖 near our house. I’m glad I did as I was able to see the flowers in bloom inside the temple that is on one side of the lake.

A city that works

Bar in Central

When I was in Hong Kong for the day recently I was struck by the number of people who were in bars at midday drinking and how all the cafés were full. I’ve often found Taipei to be much the same, at least as far as cafés are concerned, where you will find people checking their investments on their laptops. I often think to myself when I visit these places, don’t people work?

It’s an interesting difference between cities. Hsinchu, like downtown Ottawa on the weekend, is largely quiet during working hours, which can stretch into the night. It’s a place where people work. In fact, outside of the young and other foreigners, most people I know have 3 “places”: work, home and wherever the whole family is going. There is little time during the week for any activity outside of work and home.

Much of Hsinchu has been designed this way, the districts are poorly connected, and public transportation poor. Driving between districts at rush hour or on the weekend feels like madness.

While I’m fairly accustomed now to the way life is structured here, and I’ve had my share of time working out of cafés this past year, I do look forward to experiencing a city with a more balanced work culture.


This used to be called 竹科 station but they changed the name recently and I can never remember it.

Since the SARS epidemic here in Taiwan, which served as a sneak peak into a dystopian future, I’ve been very careful about trying to prevent contact with virus’s while out and about in whatever city we are in. Not to the point of developing some kind of complex or OCD, but a gentle reminder to watch where we place our hands, keep them clean and away from our face. Common sense when living in crowded environments.

Unfortunately all these good intentions don’t help when faced with the other peoples lack concern with the health of others. On the train from the HSR Sunday an older woman felt it necessary to sneeze on me, and with boy body being run down from lack of sleep I’ve now caught a cold. My first in recent memory.

Our Hsinchu Food Tour

My one way ticket has been issued. With only 6 weeks left on this island, the clock is ticking and we are using all of this remaining time to visit those special local restaurants that we have been frequenting since we arrived here so many years ago.

When we travel we have always eschewed fancy restaurants, hotel food, or so-called expat eateries (expat is a term I abhor), as we have preferred to eat where the locals eat. Often these places are found off the beaten path and can require some effort to find. This same philosophy applies to where we call home, as you can walk around any neighborhood in Hsinchu or Taipei and find a new place to experience. Of course as a family with limited resources, there are good sound economic reasons to do this as well.

One of the great advantages of living in Taiwan is that despite being towards the end of the month, when the budget is tighter, you can still afford to go out to a restaurant and feed a family of 4. Taiwan’s “small eats” or junk food is far tastier than what you would find in Canada.

The other great advantage of living in Taiwan, is that this country has such a wide range of good food to eat. Within walking distance of our house the whole world is represented; Indian, Korean, Italian, Japanese, American (Cajun), Thai., and French food is all available. As well, as all the regions of China.

Here is some of the food we have started to sample:

酸辣湯 at 五花馬. A franchise in Taiwan. It wasn’t that great and I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from a package. I might source a more homemade, replete with pigs blood, source before we go.

Inexpensive 鮭魚丼

Latte and blueberry cheesecake in Zhudong. Even in somewhat small and remote towns you can wander down some alley and find good coffee and pastries.

鍋貼 and 貢丸湯 at 新明牛肉麵

An Indian family opened a non-decript restaurant nearby. We stopped in for what could be best described as Indian family cooking. Tastey.

蔥油餅 is a favorite of the kids.

炸醬麵 at some some little place in the downtown.


I forget what this is called, maybe 綜合肉丼

高麗水餃 at十一街 in Zhubei

蛤蜊冬瓜湯 at 十一街 in Zhubei

Heavy Load

You will often see seniors here helping to support themselves by collecting recyclables. I suspect many are without family support. A couple weeks ago I was out riding on the nearby hills and came across an old lady laying on the road. I approached her cautiously, as Taiwan unfortunately has a reputation for using accidents for financial gain, scams abound. This may be a contributing factor as to why you often see people reluctant to help accident victims. But no normal person is going to walk by an old lady in need. Luckily she spoke Chinese, some in the rural parts of Hsinchu might be more comfortable with Taiwanese, and I asked her if she was ok. She had been hauling a refrigerator on a cart down a steep hill and it fell over taking her with it. I asked if she was ok and she said she was just a bit sore. I offered to call a family member, but she said their was no one to call, she was alone. With the help of passerby’s we got her on her way, but it’s unfortunate to see someone in this kind of situation. Growing old is hard enough without having to resort to collecting others garbage to put food on the table.