The day after tomorrow, I leave Oberwil to join Herbert in Asia. We'll work for eleven weeks in Taiwan, two weeks in Hong Kong and then finish our trip with a week of vacation in Bangkok, Thailand. It may be strange to start the diary of my 'Swiss Site' as I'm leaving Switzerland, but I have to start somewhere. Besides, I'll be back in Switzerland on the 21st of June.
I hope that I'll have some time in Taiwan to continue working on all of the Swiss pages I'd like to put up. I'll also do my best to add pages with photos and descriptions of Asia to the 'Trips to Other Countries' sections.
If you're interested in updates, these journal entries will be the place to check. When I add something, I'll mention it here first.
Like today, I have a new photo page that can be found by clicking on the following button.
As I try to get everything done that needs to be done before I leave, the stress is building. I have the feeling that I'll have no problem sleeping on the flight to Asia after running around the way I've been doing this past week. And, I promised my friend Mädi that I would come to the Sternen tonight (her restaurant) and make caramel corn. I want to keep this commitment, especially since I posted the 'popcorn story' today, which means that I need to keep this first journal entry a short one.
Monday, March 17, 2003
After an uneventful, but long trip, I arrived in Taiwan yesterday afternoon. We are staying in Chungli, which is about an hour southwest of Taipei. Of course that hour depends on traffic and there is a lot of traffic here in Taiwan. There are people in the states that say they don't like driving in some US cities. After 24 hours in Taiwan, I can say that driving in a place like Boston seems as safe as a child riding a tricycle down their neighborhood sidewalk.
In Taiwan, I don't like to be in a car or near the street. Everywhere you look, there are people on motor scooters darting in and out of lanes and although there are traffic lights, it seems as if you're not required to pay much attention to them. We were in the car today with James, the manager of the local office for Posalux. We were on our way to visit a customer and we needed to make a left turn at a light. The light to go straight was green and James approached the turning lane at the intersection. There wasn't any type of arrow that could give us priority, just a green light and lots of oncoming traffic. James is a peaceful, quiet guy who always seems to approach life with the same caution and respect most Asians use when they softly hand you their business card with both hands and a slight bowing of their upper body. I fully expected him to wait for a break in the traffic. He didn't. There wasn't even a hesitation. He just slowly rolled into a left turn. I gasped out loud, thinking he hadn't realized that those cars - and that large industrial truck- were still moving towards us. He kept turning even though my hand darted to the dashboard to brace what would surely be a collision. To my astonishment, the cars stopped and allowed us to complete our turn. Before I could comment, James simply explained that if you didn't do this, you'd wait forever on the other side. I think I'll try closing my eyes the next time.
Working today was not as tough as I thought it would be. It seems as if I do still remember the drilling machines from Posalux and the process after all this time. And, having to dress in business clothes and get up at a 'normal' hour after not working for over two years was also not as traumatic as I had expected that it would be.
The only real problem I had was jet lag. After sleeping well last night, I thought my body had managed to adjust without effort. I was wrong. After arriving to meet the customer this afternoon, we sat around a table and drank tea while he and James spoke together in Mandarin (the Chinese dialect from Beijing that is the standard for China, China's provinces and Taiwan.). Herbert and I politely sat in silence, drank our tea and smiled whenever he looked at us. I was amazed at the way he continued to make tea, small pot after small pot, while he talked. It was as if he was doing it subconsciously. But even though this interested me, I felt my eyes closing and my head wanting to fall forward. It reminded me of watching my nephew Elliot fall asleep in his car seat. He always looked as if he was fighting an uncontrollable force that rolled his eyes back into his head as it pushed his eyelids and his head down. I managed to stay awake and was thrilled when the customer suggested that we all go down to the drill room and take a look at the machines.
Herbert and I are back at the hotel now, but I still can't let myself go to sleep. If I do, there's a chance I won't sleep tonight. We have a large suite with three separate rooms, so I'm doing my best to stay in the living room right now, away from the large bed with the big pillows.
We'll be here, in these three rooms, for almost three months. The hotel is nice and the rooms are large. We even have our own pet fish in the living room. I've heard that the Chinese believe that having a fish in your room means that you will have a lot of money. I've also heard that it's there for us to talk to at the end of our day. Apparently, if we tell the fish all of the problems we had during the day, they will be gone before we wake up in the morning. Nice theory. Maybe everyone in America should have a fish that can take their problems away for them.
Our fish is a purple Japanese fighting fish. To see a photo of our new little friend and a few photos taken at the hotel, check out the new photo page.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
The fish is dead. He died sometime yesterday evening.
After returning from dinner last night, I had sat down on the sofa in the living room to write a few emails and noticed a dark grey thing on the carpet next to the coffee table. I figured it was a dried up leaf from a plant and ignored it. Herbert was sitting over at the desk and asked me what was next to me - on the carpet. I looked closer and then quickly checked the fish bowl. There was no fish in the bowl and as I looked around, I realized that there also weren't any plants that a large leaf could have come from. The maid had filled the water in the bowl all the way to the top and the fish must have been confused. He must have really jumped because he ended up dying about two feet away from the bowl.
Herbert and I wondered what the fish's death meant. I was sad, but hadn't yet thought about the Chinese superstitions we had heard. Did it mean that we wouldn't have a lot of money or was the fish tired of hearing about all of our problems? We figured we hadn't complained much, and decided to watch our spending.
Herbert told me not to mention the poor fish's death here on the web site.
"Your web site should be a happy place," he said. "You shouldn't talk about sad things."
I told him that I wanted this site to be a place that represents my current life and a place where I could explain about the culture of the country that I'm currently living in. This would include the learning, the joys, the adjustments and the problems that I might have to go through. Having to deal with a dead fish is not something I've ever had to deal with in all my years of traveling in the rest of the world. I figure that warranted at least a mention.
We stopped at the front desk, explained the death, asked for a replacement and asked that they not fill the water so much in the future.
I have a horrible cold that started right before I left Switzerland. It's not the SARS virus that is stumping disease control experts in Asia because I don't have the fever that seems to accompany it. But, it still makes me feel miserable, especially when combined with severe jet lag. And this morning, Herbert started to have tired eyes and a stuffed up feeling in his nose. I guess my hello kiss passed my cold on to him. We went out this afternoon and bought cold/flu medicine and vitamin C.
I also wanted cough drops and tried to ask the girl behind the counter. I coughed so she could understand what I needed. She walked over to the shelf and showed us cold medicine. I held up the box of cold medicine that was already in my hand. I tried asking for 'cough candy'. She didn't understand. I made the motions of putting something on my tongue and sucking. She showed me the cold medicine again. Then I remembered a small box of hard candy I had in my backpack from Switzerland. I opened the box and showed her a piece. Then I coughed again. She smiled, walked over to a different place on the shelf and pointed to a can of Ricola, the Swiss herbal cough drop. Viola!
When we got home from our shopping expedition, we had a new fish in the fish bowl. He's turquoise and even more beautiful than our last friend. I think we'll spare him all our daily problems.
Herbert wants me to talk about the good things here. Maybe what I'm choosing to share is being influenced by how poorly I feel physically? He just asked if I've talked about the nice people. Have I talked about the good food and how we can go out to eat even though we have no common language and can't read the menu? No. I haven't talked about these things. But he's right. Everyone here is noticeably friendly. They always smile and quickly run to help us any time we look even slightly lost. And considering that most of them don't speak English and don't want to put themselves into an embarrassing situation if they don't absolutely have to do so, this is really sweet.
Tonight we wanted to try a Japanese shabu-shabu restaurant we had seen near the hotel. We walked into the crowded lobby and waited to put our names on the list. The girl asked us, "Speak Chinese?" Even though Herbert knows a little Chinese, we simply told her that we did not. She didn't turn us away, but asked me if I could write our name on the waiting list. We told her we'd come back when we had a friend that could read the menu to us. She smiled and said in a very friendly sing-songy voice, "Okay, thank you very much!"
We moved on to a shabu-shabu restaurant with a buffet style counter where we could better guess what we would be eating. Again, the staff was unbothered by our inability to communicate. All we needed to do was look at them and they ran to our table to try and find out what we needed. When Herbert asked the man sitting at the table next to us, in English, if the large steaming tea pot at the end of the counter was water we could use to fill the boiling pot on our table, the man answered by smiling, getting up from his dinner, grabbing the teapot of boiling water and filling the pot on our table. And he was just another diner like us. The food was unbelievably good. And we ate beef, chicken, shrimp, vegetables, noodles and tofu that we cooked in the two different broths at our table until we were stuffed, and all for less than $10 a piece.
Tomorrow, there's a chance we'll work on our Chinese. The maid left a piece of paper on the coffee table today, next to the fish. It said...
SPEAKING CHINESE? SO EASY!
Dear Valued Guests:
Would you like to learn some Chinese during this trip?
Would you like to make your friends surprised by speaking Chinese?
There is a great chance at this coming HAPPY HOUR. March 19,
at 27th floor VIP Lounge, starting by 18:30.
Please feel free to join with us.
Our fun game will make a short cut to speak Chinese in your remarkable stay.
I think the last sentence says it all and how could we pass that up? We'll go and I'll write more tomorrow after we've made our short cut to speaking Chinese.
But, one last thing before I finish for today. Even though Herbert and I will be in Taiwan for three months, you can contact us by email, by calling our Swiss cell phones, by calling the hotel or by writing us at the hotel with our names on the envelope. The front desk will speak English if you call and the address and phone number is on the photo page for the hotel. If you need our Swiss cell phone numbers, send me an email and I'll send them to you privately.
Friday, March 21, 2003
We never went to the Happy Hour Chinese lesson. James and his wife Carol invited us to go do dinner with them on Wednesday. When we mentioned the Chinese class, they reminded us that we could also learn from them. They think the hotel has a happy hour every Wednesday and we can try it some other time.
We skipped the happy hour and had a wonderful dinner with them at a high class Japanese all-you-can-eat buffet. The buffet had a sashimi/sushi line, a tempura line, a line where you picked your fish and they grilled it or steamed it to your specifications, a salad line, a dim sum line (not necessarily Japanese), a shabu-shabu line, a hot food line with a little bit of western food like spaghetti and a dessert line with fruit, cookies, cakes, jelled desserts and eight flavors of Hagen-Daz ice cream.
After we ate until we were stuffed, we slowly sampled different flavors of ice cream while drawing Japanese characters on our place mats. One of our lessons was from Carol...
Many of the Chinese characters are built on top of each other as concepts.
This is the character for 'person'
Adding a line in the middle makes the word 'big',
which reminds me of a child stretching their
arms out to show how big they are.
If we add a second line at the very top, it becomes 'sky',
which to me means the top of everything that is big.
And finally, we can add a small line above all of this...
And what is above the sky? God. But this is not the
character for God. It's the character for husband.
That was the lesson, not only in the Kanji characters of Chinese, but in the Chinese way of thinking. I don't think too many American women would appreciate thinking of their husbands as God. But, I can honestly say that after hearing the way that Carol explained it, I'll never forget it. And maybe that's the point. Besides, with Carol and James, I can honestly say that it's easy to see who is the boss, and the Chinese character for husband doesn't always mean 'boss'.
It's late and I have so much to write. There's culture here that I want to explain, there are stories, and there is a war going on between my country, the USA, and Iraq. It's a 'situation' that's kept me from writing the last couple of days. But my thoughts on this and everything else will have to wait until tomorrow. I'm not used to working and trying to have a life of web sites and writing at the same time. Tomorrow is Saturday and tomorrow I will have time.
Saturday, March 22, 2003
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear
M A R Y J O
Happy Birthday to you!
I was wrong. I don't have all the free Saturday time that I thought I would have. We're going somewhere with James and Carol. Where? I don't know. But, I'm sure we'll have a great time and I have to be ready in 30 minutes.
I just wanted to take the time to wish Mary Jo a happy birthday from her favorite grasshopper. (And from Herbert.)
Monday, March 24, 2003
Boy, are we out of it over here. James and Carol invited us to join them this evening for a movie. They picked 'Chicago'. I was excited to see it because I knew that the Academy Awards were coming soon and I had heard that 'Chicago' should win for best picture. Neither Herbert nor I are big fans of musicals, but we loved the movie. We were impressed with the acting, the costumes and the cutting together of the 'regular' scenes with the musical numbers.
We came home (to the hotel) after the movie and turned on the TV to see what had happened in Iraq while we were gone. The TV was tuned to one of the movie channels and some kind of awards show was on. We quickly realized that it was the Academy Awards but we weren't sure if it was this years or last years show. It's Monday evening for us and Herbert said he was pretty sure the show is usually on a Sunday. We don't have any kind of TV guide, so we went to our main source of info - the internet. Sure enough, they had been on last night and were being broadcast here this evening.
I used to be so up on movie news and now I wasn't even aware of when the Awards were on. I also didn't recognize the names of the movies they were mentioning. What had happened?
I think it's mostly from living in Switzerland. We don't get all of the movies and the ones that we do get come to the theater so much later in the year that, by the time we can go see them, they're already out on video in the states. And here in Taiwan? We have even less current information available to us.
And speaking of current information... there is the war. I haven't wanted to write about it here because I have my opinions and I don't want this to be a place for that kind of topic. My intention is that it will be more of a site about what it's like to live in Switzerland and to travel to other places.
To not feel a drive to talk about the war seems normal here. It's just not as much a part of our day as it would be if we were in the US or back in Switzerland. No one talks about it and if they are talking about it, we can't understand the language. It's almost as if CNN is making it all up. When we are in the hotel, we always have the TV turned to CNN and listen while we work and although we miss having the many different perspectives that were available to us in Switzerland, we are happy to have some news in English.
Last Friday evening, we ate dinner at a little, inexpensive Teppanyaki restaurant where everyone sits at one long counter. An English speaking couple sat next to us and I asked them where they were from. They were from Georgia. They had been here for one week and were heading back to the US the next morning. Their names were Juliet and John and we talked together about business, tourist sites, the hotel we all were staying at and about the weather in Taiwan. As they were getting ready to leave, I asked if I could ask one more question. I asked them if they had heard any comments because they were American and how they felt in general to be here while the war is going on. They felt the same way I did. They hadn't had any negative or positive experiences and felt like this place was very far removed from the war.
Juliet told me about how she had gone into a Buddhist temple in Taipei and had spent time with the monks. They explained the temple and their life to her and then pulled out a photo of some of them in front of the White House in Washington, D. C. One of the younger monks told Juliet that he had heard about a bush in the White House. He asked her if she could tell him what kind of bush this was that people talk about. She simply said that he wasn't a plant, but a man and was the President of the US. Maybe the young monk was very uniformed, but it's refreshing to think of someone that can live a life without knowledge of war.
And with that, I'll move on to topics other than war.
Yesterday I added a photo page from our trip to the mountains and a fish dinner with Carol and James. You can find that photo page here...
I also updated the 'Our Recipes' page and posted a recipe for a potato and cheese pie that I got from my friends Laurence and Andreas. I'm putting that recipe first because my mom requested it. And since she faithfully reads what I put on this site, she deserves to have her wishes met. I'd also like to thank Herbert for translating it into German so that I could post it in both Languages. The recipe page is here now...
The last thing is that we have a new cell phone with a Taiwan phone number. Email me if you want it.
This past week was a busy week for us.
We needed to finish the main presentation that is presented to customers and that kept us active on the computers all day. In the evenings, I just didn't have the energy to sit back at the computer to write in this journal. But, today is Saturday and there's not as much 'work' work to do.
I'm not complaining that there's work to do. First of all, I haven't worked, at least not professionally, in over two years. It's fun to get back into this type of work. Second of all, it's good to see that the PCB industry has life and companies are still ordering equipment. So many shops have closed up in the US and yet here it's very busy. For Herbert's company, what's important is that it's busy somewhere.
On Wednesday afternoon, James took Herbert and I for lunch in a little road-side restaurant and then helped us buy some fruit to keep in our room. The hotel staff always keeps our fruit bowl stocked, but we wanted to try some of the fruits we had seen in the markets. Here's a photo of some of the fruits James helped us buy...
The fruits (clockwise from the upper left):
star fruit, mango, a fruit I don't know,
mangosteen and the furry little red rambutan.
We have a great breakfast buffet in our hotel that's included in the room price. But sometimes we get tired of dressing and making ourselves presentable to go downstairs. Sometimes we want a simple, light meal to start our day. We decided that these fruits would be the answer and a healthier option to French toast, omelets and hash browns.
The next morning, Herbert prepared a very nice fruit plate for us...
(clockwise from top center):
mango, rambutan, the unknown fruit,
star fruit, and mangosteen.
We didn't like the star fruit and gave what we had left to James, but the rest of the fruits were great.
Today, we went to the market alone. We needed to find some supplies for a presentation that we'll give on Monday and we needed to eat. We took photos along the way, and you can find those here:
All photo pages now have a few of the basic messages in both English and German. (Herbert had time to do the translations this week.) As time goes on, there will be more. If you don't read German, don't worry about it when you see it. It's just a translation of what you can already read in English.
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