Posted by: DreaMr | December 3, 2011

Leaving… again

My vacation is over, and I’ll be starting my return trip tomorrow. Luckily I was wrong when I thought that it would be bit cold here this time of the year. It did get cold now during the past two days, but otherwise, it’s been mostly warm and sunshine. Enough so that I made a trip to Kenting on Wednesday. All in all though the past two weeks have actually felt bit long. I’ve been suffering a little bit of lack of things to do, because mostly I’ve been here by myself. Most people I know here in Taiwan live in Hsinchu at north part of Taiwan… but I didn’t really get a chance to go visit there. I feel a bit sorry about that.

I had grande idea of writing this blog at least little during this past two weeks that I stayed here in Taiwan, but look at how the time went. It does feel little strange thought to write here again. Almost everything that I thought up I have already written in some form or another. I guess did take a bit too presenting view in this blog… not really concentrating much on what I was actually doing day to day. So I didn’t write day to day stuff now either… but perhaps that would have made more sense.

I’ve been going around with bicycle mostly here in Kaohsiung. I think that I mentioned sometime that pedestrian walkways are virtually nonexistent here… or there are some but it’s generally very hard to go anywhere on foot because they are used for parking, business and other stuff that’s just in the way. Well… the bicycle lane is somewhere between the nonexistent walkway and the road. Picture the painted side line on the road and you’ll just about have it.

So the only choice when on bike is usually to mix in with the scooters, that have a sort-of their own lane in the road. Just have to remember that you are a slower moving object in the middle of very fast moving objects, that also tend to be lot heavier than you. Just to keep the adrenaline juicy. Yes I will wear a helmet and all the flashing lights I can get thank you. Had couple close calls during these two weeks already.

Well… maybe it’s not all that bad. You kind of get used to it. And there are actually many very good bicycle routes here in Kaohsiung if you just know where they are. Today I made a bit longish trip to the other side of the city, about 10 km. When going I went with the scooters, hoping my insurance was okay. But when I came back, I used the longer but really nice bicycle route that follows the river here. It might be good to get a map of the dedicated routes first though… on my way back I ended up in a dead end, and from there the usual trouble started again… even more so, since at one point I was going against the mass of traffic on the wrong side on a narrow road… desperately trying to find a place to cross. 

City commuting might not be much fun here, but I think Taiwan might be excellent for some real cycling in the countryside. I rented a cycle when I went to Kenting, and it seemed like a nice alternative where the traffic isn’t that bad and you can enjoy some views too. Maybe I will try to do that next time I’ll come this way.

Winter seems to be coming here too finally… and it’s actually getting little chilly. It’s not really cold, but the humidity makes it feel bit more. I think I managed to get some tan though. Too bad the day I chose for the Kenting trip was bit cloudy… or luckily, since that’s probably the reason why I didn’t burn myself. I can never moderate taking the sun. It was nice to go swim in the ocean again though.

Now I’m mostly packed already. I think. I wasn’t clairvoyant enough to realize that I might be bringing lot more stuff with me back than what I took here. Ryanair limitations for the checked in baggage make my life bit difficult. I think I’ve squeezed everything to the 15 + 10 kg that I can bring, but it’s a really close call. I finally went and bought the Mahjong set, but damn those things are heavy. I thought i chose the smaller one, but it still weighted over 4 kg. Any souvenirs I’ll buy from the airport have to fit in my pockets.

So now it’s another two days of travelling to go… I’ll leave tomorrow at 8:00, with my flight at 12:20 from Taoyuan, and I’ll arrive in Tampere at 20:10 on Sunday. Add to that the 6 hours of time difference, it comes pretty close to two full days… lot of time between the flights this time too. I guess I’ll just try to finish some more books.

Posted by: DreaMr | November 23, 2011

Back in Taiwan, and how I stole the wedding cake


Yeah, I’m back in Taiwan again, though for only two weeks this time. In the case you’re wondering about the title of the post, yeah, I did… kind of. I’ll get to that in a bit.

I postponed my yearly vacation (the first ever!) a bit, and escaped Finland just as it was getting too cold again. Just in time it seems, since I hear it started snowing just this last weekend. It’s not a very long trip though: only two and a half weeks and a half week of that gets munched up in travel time to and back. Getting here from Finland is not easy… at least if you’re on tight budged. I could say non-existent budget since my balance was actually below zero on the day I left =) I’m not that silly of course, I’m just sort of using the tax refund I will get next month in advance.

The trip here was probably the hardest I’ve taken so far. I flew from Tampere to Frankfurt Hahn with Ryanair, took the bus from there to the Frankfurt am Main airport where I slept for  the night. That part I’ve done already couple times before, so it’s not a big deal really. After that I took my flight with Air China, with a quick one hour stop in Beijing to Taipei Taoyuan airport. I was bit worried about the change time there, and it looked little bad for a while there while waiting to get through the passport check. There was about 50 people ahead of me and one guy doing the checks, with 10 minutes left to boarding time, security check and running to the right gate. And seems the officer was really looking into the papers.

Luckily they got another guy there that sped things up a bit. The boarding was just finishing when I got to the gate, so no problems there. It would have been fun to go around the Beijing airport a bit thought… the place is huge. The immigration check in Taiwan took some time because of the amount of people like usual, but now days it’s really easy for Europeans to come to Taiwan. There’s no need for visa and you can stay for 90 days, instead of the 30 days when I was here last time. I still had to take the High Speed Rail to Kaohsiung though… and I was starting to be a bit tired at that point, not having slept for more than 5 hours in the past two days. But I got here eventually, after about 36 hours and some. It’s not that bad as it sounds. I actually like travelling like this, not including the 9 hour flight… I don’t think anybody who’s at least half conscious during the flight can enjoy that.

Back to the title of this post. I didn’t actually steal the cake because it was given to me. In the first weekend, we went to my girlfriend’s cousin’s weddings. Weddings in plural, because in Taiwan it seems to be traditional to keep two wedding parties; one for the bride’s family and one for the groom’s. And they were on different days of course. Usually Taiwanese wedding parties are pretty short, about three hours thankfully, and held in restaurant or hotel with space for such events.

To sum up Taiwanese weddings: it’s about food and family like most things here. The main event is the wedding banquet, where family and friends come to eat and be merry. There are other customs and small ceremonies involved, but nothing really similar to the western church event. The main party is the dinner or lunch, where everybody sits in round tables of about 8 or more people, and each of the tables are served around 12 dishes of various soups, seafood and other Chinese cuisines. The newlyweds are of course in the main spotlight, and sadly they don’t really seem to have time to enjoy the food them selves, or talk to their friends because of all the formalities they have to go through. These include entrances and changing clothes (the bride usually has three different dresses), toasts, thanks, welcomings and goodbyes among other small party programs. It’s a pretty show.

About why I got the cake… I was careless enough to joke that there was no wedding cake since it’s not really been incorporated to the Taiwanese wedding customs. That was true to the first wedding (though they did have a sort of cardboard mock up for just decoration there too) but the second night there actually was a tiny cake on top of another fake. It was simply part of the program… the happy couple sliced into it while being photographed and presented by the hostess of the party. Nobody ate it even though it was real – it was just there for the show. My joking around got carried to the new couples ears though and they insisted that I can take the rest of the cake after the party was over. At that point, I assumed that they just wanted to give me the rest of it, since I thought they had had at least a little of it. But no… I got the whole cake with just the one cut in it. I should have learned by now that I have to be careful what I wish for out aloud.

Well, I’m here now, in Kaohsiung. I thought that it would have been little colder here by this time of the year, but luckily it’s still almost as good as summer here. Summer for a Finn, not the Taiwanese summer of course… but still, it can get up to 30 degrees during the day. I don’t really know what I’m going to do here for this time… since haven’t really thought up a plan. It doesn’t really feel like a vacation, since I’ve already lived here for some time before. I guess I’ll just relax a bit as much as I can, and try doing a small trip or two to somewhere else. If anybody reading this blog happens to be here in Taiwan right now, send me a message. It would be nice to see some old friends while here.

I don’t know if I’ll really write a lot here during this trip, since it’s so short, but maybe I’ll do couple posts for the old times sake. Unfortunately I don’t really have a good camera gear with me, so I won’t be taking much photos here this time, just some random snaps here and there maybe.

Posted by: DreaMr | March 7, 2011

Tying up some loose ends… or not?

Well… this happened. I got bit lazy about writing and this blog of mine started to gather virtual dust. But I hate the idea of leaving things unfinished, and it’s been bugging me a bit every now and then. Especially because there were couple drafts floating around here. So… this is an attempt to tidy things up a bit. At least some.

As you know, I’m not in Taiwan anymore. So I’m not exactly “fareasting” at the moment. But then again, what is there to stop me from writing about the topic anyways. I’m still trying to get my head around learning Chinese, though it has definitely slower now. I’d like to think it’s slow and steady progress, but I’m afraid it just isn’t quite the same learning it here than it is being “out there”.

That language is a really though nut to crack. If you are planning to study Chinese or already started at it, as a hint I would recommend trying to learn to speak first and read only afterwards with a lower priority. I think most Chinese textbooks try to force you to learn the characters too much… and that will seriously slow you down. How long do you think the native speakers spend learning? And they have the benefit of already knowing how to speak. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find learning material that puts emphasis on the speaking and pronouncing instead of the characters.

I came back here to Finland with Pei and she stayed here with me for three months. We spent the Christmas and New Year together with my family and made a couple short trips here and there. It is kind of funny… but I haven’t actually visited so many places here in Finland. I guess I should get to know little bit about my own country too at some point. Unfortunately though, I had to spend most of the time working, even though it was only temporary. And now I have another job, back here in Tampere where I moved in the beginning of January. Luckily managed to have a week or two of vacation in between, for our trip to the north.

Pei had to go back to Taiwan in middle of January, and has to stay there for three months before coming back. Finland and Europe have pretty strict visa rules for foreigners… I guess there are good reasons for that, but its still a little annoying. It did get a bit easier to come here recently though, since in January EU added Taiwan to it’s visa-free list, which meant that it’s no longer required for Taiwanese people to apply for the 90 day visa to enter Shengen Area countries prior to arriving. But the rule of having to stay away for 90 days after that was not lifted of course.

As for us Europeans though, it became really easy to travel to Taiwan now, since we got the same freedom when going there – without the restriction to stay away for 90 days. And that means it just became lot cheaper for us to live in Taiwan without a residence or work permit… just have to make a trip to Hong Kong or Japan or anywhere every three months. Lot better than needing to do it every month, or going through the hassle of applying for the three month visitor visa like I had to do… which is not really a cheap process. I don’t know when I’ll be going to Taiwan next time, or how long I will have a chance to stay, but it’s a welcome change anyway.

Would I say that it’s worth going there? Yes, definitely. Saying that last year was great is a serious understatement. To anybody reading this – anyone planning to spend a year or so abroad – I would say go for it if you have the chance. Maybe you won’t be throwing money every which direction after you come back, but it won’t be a year wasted no matter how it goes. If you are an engineer of sorts like me, give ITRI a try. It’s really a fabulous place to be in, even though it can feel a bit off the grid at times. Making trips from there to anywhere is really easy though: you can be in Taipei central in an hour if you want to. And almost any place in the island is just a few hours away anyways – few more if you need to go around the mountains. I’m sure there are plenty of other opportunities too if you just look around. Planning to go there to teach English might not be so easy though, if you’re not a native speaker (as I found out =). Of course there are other places to go to besides Taiwan. The main thing is just to go. Have you ever heard anybody regretting going somewhere for a prolonged time?

One of my friends is doing a long trip currently. This time he headed towards South America, and has already spent the good part of these past two months there in various countries. He keeps a blog about his and his friend’s travels at www.pelastaaivot.wordpress.com, although in Finnish. Am I envious? Hell yes =) But magic of travelling and having friends who also travel is that you can talk about those trips with them, and perhaps get new ideas for your own future trips.

It’s been an extraordinarily cold winter here. I guess that’s about the same everywhere around. But if it’s cold in central Europe, you can guess how lovely it is up here. I have a notion that when Hell actually happens to freeze over, it’s probably going to be bit colder here in Finland. The lowest degree I saw was –32.4 °C (that’s -26.32 °F for those of you metrically challenged. I confess being imperially challenged myself =), but there were lot of colder measurements done I hear. Basically that means that you don’t want to be out a second longer than you absolutely have to. That lasted for the better part of a month and a bit more but thankfully seems to have let up this last week. Now it seems we are speed-tracking towards spring and summer all of a sudden. It’s can’t be too soon though… seems I got used to the warmth of Taiwan. I’ve never really minded a bit of a heat.

So the circle has closed, in a way I guess. I’m not quite in the same place where I started from, but it feels not so far from it either. I have no firm plans for the future at the moment… like I’ve said, I’m not good with those. But I hope I will have the chance to go to Taiwan again soon. Until then, I will continue learning Chinese among some other things. What will become of this blog? I’m not really sure… I probably won’t stop writing things here, but I guess I won’t be updating here so often anymore (as you can see). Unless I come up with some new ideas. I like writing, so I’m considering starting a new blog. Possibly not of any specific topic as such… just for the sake of writing things. I’ll see if inspiration hits. But when ever I go travel happy again, I will be sure to share it again in this same form.

Posted by: DreaMr | November 26, 2010

About traffic in Taiwan

Wow… it’s already been over one month since I came back to Finland. Why does time go so fast when nothing interesting really happens? It might be because the days blend together so you’re actually remembering only one generic day when looking back. I gotta get something going again…

I promised to do some writing even after I returned, but it has been slow here. There are some things from Taiwan though that I wanted to still write about. One of them being the traffic in Taiwan. It’s lot easier to show it than to write about it, so here is a clip I recorded in Hshinchu:

http://share.ovi.com/media/dreamr.Taiwan2k10/dreamr.10041

Recently a newspaper here in Finland wrote that the biggest danger for exchange students and people travelling to foreign countries is usually traffic. I fully agree on that note.

Scooters are the main transportation here in Taiwan, as you can see from the video too. I know there are some countries like in Vietnam they are probably used even more, but I don’t think Taiwan is very far behind them. Scooters are the personal transportation of choice here, even for families of four. No kidding, it’s not a rare sight here. Transporting stuff like furniture is no problem either. And you can even pimp out your ride with lights, rims and the works if that’s your thing too. As far as I can tell there is not much regulation what kind of indicator lights your vehicle can and cannot have.

Cars are a tad less common, because it’s bit troublesome to find parking for them. Although you can do it almost anywhere if you just leave your warning blinkers on and just “pop out”. One other peculiar thing that you may notice also in the video is that most cars in Taiwan have dark tinted windows. People here love their privacy it seems.

I wasn’t brave enough to try my luck with a car, but I did drive a scooter often enough to get used to it. Or then I my sense of danger just got numb. Probably that. Actually that first notion about me not driving cars in Taiwan is bit contradictory. Usually when a car and a scooter run into each other, the scooter end is the one hurting the most…

Posted by: DreaMr | November 11, 2010

Aftermath

Well… not really an "aftermath"… that would suggest that something bad has happened and I don’t consider coming back to Finland a bad thing as such. I’m just spending time adjusting to life here and trying to get used to the idea that I am no longer in Taiwan. That’s just the first title name that came to mind and wanted to use it =)

It’s soon three weeks past since coming back to Finland. I got sort of lucky and managed to get a job almost before I had finished unpacking. Not anything special… an old summer job of mine, not engineering. It will help me with the debt I managed to accumulate during the last month. And it gives me some time to think what to do next.

I haven’t really got a clue yet. I have couple of options open: 1.) Try to get a job here in Finland for a longer time period. 2.) Return to Taiwan and get a new job there some time after Christmas. 3.) Something else. I’m not really sure yet what that "something else" means. Probably it means that I’m not entirely happy with the first two, and would like to find a third option.

It feels weird to be back… not only back in Finland, but back in my home town. I haven’t spent a lot of time here the past three years… only weekends or a week or two at a time. I feel a bit of a stranger here nowadays. It’s a nice change to relax some time, but at times it feels boring. Pei hasn’t complained a lot yet, but it would be good to make a weekend trip or two to somewhere else soon. I haven’t thought about it a lot, but I haven’t actually done much travelling in Finland after I was a kid.

It’s been getting steadily colder since we got here, and it has also snowed a couple times already. The temperature wont stay under zero though, so the snow is not permanent yet. Today it snowed a bit more, and seems it might stay like that a day or two. I like the snow… it’s beautifully white outside for a while and the nights seem brighter because of it. That helps a little to fight the "kaamos" tiredness and depression (or SAD as it is called in English… funny) that people usually experience at high latitudes during this time of the year, resulting from the lack of light.

I think I’m starting to feel the effect already too, at least the tiredness part. It’s common here that you go to work when it is still dark, and won’t get off until it is already getting dark again. The days are getting shorter every day… right now the daylight lasts only for seven hours and forty minutes or so. The opposite of the midnight sun is drawing near…

I’ve been trying to continue my Chinese studies after I got back, but I guess it is bit slower now. I’m also trying to start learning Spanish, for just the heck of it. It’s pretty easy to listen to language learning podcasts while working… although it might be a bit slow way to learn. Should try to open the books every now and then too… maybe I’ll consider starting a blog for learning. If I have time and energy.

I’ll add some pics soon if the snow doesn’t melt away again before I get to it. And I’ll try to go through my other pics from Taiwan and add them too – when I have time.

I’ve tried to stay in random contact with people I met during last year, but not surprisingly it’s proven to be not so easy… the time difference especially is troublesome, and being busy/lazy with other things doesn’t help much either. I haven’t been an active social media user before, but I’ve found how useful Facebook can be in keeping at least some contact. Just five years earlier things were lot more difficult… I fell out of contact with most of the people I met in my trip to Japan, but now I’ve found even some of them again. Hope to keep it that way too.

Three and a half weeks ago I was in Taiwan, enjoying sunshine on a beach. This morning I was up at five o’clock driving to work in a snow storm trying to avoid off-road too much. Damn I miss being in Taiwan at times.

Posted by: DreaMr | October 28, 2010

The Return

It’s a long trip from Taiwan to Finland. To get from Taiwan to Finland takes about one whole day… and then some to get to where my home is. Three flights from Kaohsiung, through Hong Kong and Frankfurt to Helsinki. Usually two flights would be enough, but this was the only available solution when I was changing my booking. I’m writing this on the way, finishing it up probably after having arrived home.

All my flights were late… the one from Hong Kong was late for more than an hour, apparently because China had closed the airspace temporarily or something, and we also had some technical problems when trying to finally take off. I don’t know what the technical problem was, but it seemed to involve randomly blinking the cabin lights and booting up the Linux based entertainment system. I would say that both are things you might not want to show the passengers, and I would think there would be ways of preventing it. But I guess it’s okay if you’re still on the runway instead of up in the air. Anyways, it makes me think if the delay in Hong Kong caused some sort of global domino effect on all connecting airports. Seems that lot of flights from Frankfurt were late too, due to sudden “air traffic jam”. When we did finally get going, the view from the plane was pretty spectacular. Unluckily my cameraphone was not upto par on this… but the night view of the city and moonlight shining from the few clouds were pretty cool.

I didn’t get quite lucky on my long flight from Hong Kong to Frankfurt… meaning that I didn’t get the three seat row all for myself: there was one person sitting in the aisle seat. I have once gotten the luxury of having the whole three seats for myself, and I can say that it makes the flight lot more enjoyable when you can go horizontal. I’ve noticed that you may have better chance for this when selecting a window seat in the rear part of the plane, but it’s a matter of luck. Probably also better to select weekday flights.

After the long flight I had few hours to kill at the airport before my final flight. I’m not really that into the food at McDonald’s, but the one at Frankfurt airport is probably my favorite place to enjoy a happy meal. I’m not talking about the restaurant itself so much, which is basically just one huge counter, but the large dining/viewing area that is next to it. Frankfurt am Main is one of the busiest airports in the world, and it shows… there is a plane or two landing or taking off almost every minute or less. It’s a curious thing to see, but it can give you some unnerving thoughts if you consider the system that keeps planes going up-to-the-second timetable without any of them horribly crashing to each other.

I also got the first sense of really leaving Asia at the airport. Seeing all the “foreigners” around and even hearing some Finnish for the first time in a very long time during the security check to my last flight. Of course I’ve talked with my friends and family a bit while in Taiwan, but it’s not the same as hearing and realizing that people around you are Finnish. I couldn’t help but to smile… We are often pretty obvious to spot if you know what to look for.

I spent the few hours I had in the airport walking around, writing this blog and looping my all time favorite returning-to-home-song Home Sweet Home / Bitter Sweet Symphony. It just suites the occasion perfectly… every time. One good thing about travelling alone is that you can separate yourself from everybody else and go on your own pace, in a way be alone among the masses of people. You can’t be in any hurry to do it, or have any plans for the time you have like buying souveniers or something. I enjoy moments like that… they are too few in number.

After arriving to Finland, there was still another fact that I had to learn to deal with. The average height of people in Finland tends to be bit more than the rest of the world, like other Scandinavian countries. Especially so when compared to Asia. Of course I knew this and I was expecting it. But after spending a year in Taiwan, I have gotten so used to being taller than most… so it’s a weird feeling being among “giants” again. Especially when some of them are women. Not giants in bad way, but it’s been a while when I’ve seen women taller than I am, although that is rare here too. Bit intimidating =) Another funny thing that I always seem to notice soon quite soon after returning from Asia has to do with average height too. It’s that the urinals in the men’s toilets are at right height.

One of my friends had come to meet us at the airport and we had lunch/dinner together there. Damn it was nice to talk Finnish face to face again… i’m blabbering about this over and over again, but it’s just the truth and probably the biggest change that I had to deal with personally. If English is your mother tongue, it’s not that easy to experience it in the modern world: there are always people around who you can talk with, unless you go completely nomad somewhere. Now I’m already used to it again, but worryingly I’ve noticed that sometimes I may accidentally say something in English when not thinking about it. I’ve gotten too used to it I guess… It was also nice to have proper pizza again.

The rise in prices was one more thing to deal with… simple drinks and meals here cost many times more than what they did in Taiwan. And the train tickets to get closer to my home town Vimpeli – almost a 400 kilometer trip – broke the bank. One ticket costed about 50 euros… I miss the student prices. And that only got me 100 km away from my home… my gave us a ride the rest of the way. After about 30 hours of travelling and one whole year, we were finally home. It was a nice feeling.

So now I am here, in Finland. It’s already a week after I returned and I seem to have slipped into the life here pretty well. But I miss Taiwan. I will still write this blog: there are few things from Taiwan I haven’t written about although I have been planning to. For my non-Finnish readers, I will also write a bit about life here and adjusting to it again… if you are interested =) Well. I will write about it anyways…

Nevertheless, It’s been an awesome year. I hope you have enjoyed it too.

Posted by: DreaMr | October 22, 2010

Kenting, one last time

For the last weekend in Taiwan, we decided to make one final trip to the south part of Taiwan, Kenting. Like I have previously (maybe) mentioned, Kenting is the main beach vacation spot in Taiwan. Bit difficult to get to, because no train lines go all the way to south tip of Taiwan as of yet. But it’s pretty easy to catch a connecting bus from e.g. the Xin Zuoying station in Kaohsiung, return ticket costed about 500 TWD a piece. I had previously considered doing the trip with our own scooter, but damn I’m glad that we opted out of that. My butt hurt enough from the driving we did with the rentals after we got there.

We made the trip with my girlfriend, my Kazakh friend and one of my co-workers. Almost everybody else I know have already left from Taiwan, so it was just the four of us. The weather seemed to be bit ominous at first, but turned out to be just right in the end. Not too hot, but not too cold either… though it would have been nice to get bit more sunshine I guess. A new typhoon in Philippines was affecting the weather in Taiwan a bit, but this turned out to be a good coincidence as I will explain later.

We stayed at the same catholic hostel as earlier when we made the trip with all of the interns in June. The fee is cheap and the location off the place is excellent when considering. Only difficulty is that there is no way to make the reservation in the Internet and making it by phone requires some skill in Chinese. No worries there for us though, and we got a room for ourselves.

Among other things, we wanted to go snorkeling so we headed to Houbihu soon after arriving to Kenting. I have done some snorkeling before in Japan, which was great fun and gives bit better return for money than some other water sports in my opinion. I sold this to the others as a great idea, but it turned out to be bit of a flop… or a major one actually. We went to a small shop that provided guided snorkeling trips to the beach and were already bit disappointed because instead of just glasses and fins, the shop provided us with a full wet suit, shoes and a life vest. We should have just found another place right there I guess… but we went anyways.

Problem of having a life vest is that there is no way to dive, which for my opinion is the actual fun part in snorkeling. This didn’t turn out to be the only problem. The guide drove us to the beach, where a horrid sight waited us. The whole small bay was completely crowded with people scubadiving or snorkeling, being led by guide in small circles around and around. It was bit ridiculous… it may be a good choice for people who don’t know how to swim and only want to see some fish, but it’s not much fun otherwise. We swam for a while with the group, but soon got tired of it. There were fish in the place and some pretty interesting coral caves, but it was just too crowded and limited for any real fun. Next time, have to make sure to only rent the equipment and go somewhere by ourselves.

We returned to the hostel, ate some nice dinner at a supposedly famous Thai restaurant (real good though) and spent the rest of the night going around the night market street and at the Small Bay beach nearby. It’s a really nice place flanked by two hills that block out most of the surrounding town lights, so you can actually see some stars there too. A wonderful place to float in the ocean and enjoy the night sky. There is also a small bar area at the beach and there were lot of people around enjoying the evening, but the beach is luckily large enough not to get crowded. Some people were sending out floating lanterns, which were really nice to watch too. I really want to try to do that in Finland during winter.

Next day, we made a trip to the Kenting National Park which we had skipped the last time we were in Kenting. It turned out to be pretty amazing place to walk around, but we had bit bad luck with the weather: it started to rain heavily just as we were out on the farthest part of the forest path. We only had one umbrella, so we all got bit wet… luckily the trees provided some cover and the rain let down after some while. We visited the viewing tower at the top, and walked around plenty enough. Although the weather wasn’t on our side, it didn’t really matter so much. The plantlife and paths were worth getting little wet.

Before returning, we still managed to make time for going to the Baisha beach. Originally we intended to stay only one hour, but after got to the ocean, we just couldn’t get away from the amazing waves. Seems the typhoon in Philippines caused extraordinarily big waves to reach Taiwan’s beaches, and we wanted to enjoy them to the fullest. It’s an indescribable feeling to stand in the shallow water, when almost a three meter wave comes crashing towards you and picks you up like a small twig… Perfect wave tackling fun. I felt like a kid again and didn’t want to leave. I don’t know when will the next time when I can experience something like that. Hopefully soon.

That however, pretty much marked an end for our trip. We spent so much time in the beach, that we had to get moving on our return to Tainan and Hsinchu. Unfortunately we had to say goodbyes in a bit awkward athmosphere… I’m sorry for that. It would have been nice to have dinner together for the last time and go back together. Things don’t always go the way you would want to though. The next post I will make will be about my return to Finland, where I actuall am already when finishing writing this posting. Although I am going back to Finland now, this blog will not end quite yet.

Posted by: DreaMr | October 12, 2010

Getting ready for return…

Right about now, when I’m starting to write this entry, I have 168 hours left here in Taiwan. Meaning exactly one week later from this moment I will be sitting in the airplane, waiting for all the nice flight attendants to point me to the nearest emergency exit.

I’m feeling many things… sadness for having to leave, expectation for seeing Finland again, worry about my financial situation, and slight boredom since for now nothing much is happening right now. Well… not exactly true. I need to get lot of things ready for leaving. I still have more stuff here than I can carry with me in the plane, so I will need to make few trips to the post office again.

I also need to clear out my taxes here in Taiwan. Because I’m a foreigner, I have been paying higher tax percentage (about 20%) than the Taiwanese do. But because I have also stayed more than 183 days in Taiwan during this tax year, it is enough for me to pay the same as the locals. And that figure is about 5% for the income level where I am in for this year, and there are other deductions too. What this means is, that I can get most of the taxes I have paid here back. So yea, it’s worth doing the paper work.

Unfortunately, just like in Finland, the process takes time… I won’t get the refund until few months afterwards. And that is bad news, because as of today, I am heavily on credit. I will be in a bit of a hurry to find some sort of a job when I get back. But I’ll worry about that next week.

This weekend, we will make one final trip to Kenting with the Kazakh and one of my co-workers. This is because I still look like something Captain Ahab might go after… albeit slightly malnourished at that. The trip to Xiao Liuqiu 小琉球 did not rid me of my engineering tan yet as it seems, although I did get promisingly red for a while there (and got to enjoy its consequences).

The planning seems to have fallen on me this time… which does not bode well I guess. I don’t like plans… if you have a plan, it means something can go wrong. We will see…

It is also time to think about buying souvenirs. Have I ever mentioned before that one other thing I suck at besides planning is buying gifts. I think Asian people have gotten it right though… here, people just buy food stuff and snacks, as is the style especially in Japan. You can’t go wrong with food. So yeah, you can pretty much guess what you will be getting if you are reading this and think you should be entitled for something =)

There is one person who I know how to keep happy though; that person being myself. Some times here I feel like a kid in a toy store when I see the various electronic gizmo’s. Like these little treasures: miniature radio controlled toy cars.

Oh yeah, wait… it was a toy store. And I am acting like a kid most of the time. I’ve been away from Finland so long that I don’t know if you could buy these there too. But just to be sure I’m packing some with me, since they are ridiculously cheap here. Anybody wanna have some Micro Machines fun? Just tell me and I’ll get few more to go =)

Posted by: DreaMr | October 8, 2010

Visiting (little) Okinawa

A bit of a play with words… but that is the name of the island we came back from yesterday. Sort of. The real name in Chinese is Xiao Liuqiu (小琉球) that translates into Little Ryukyu, in which the Ryukyu part usually means the island chain, whose largest island goes with the more familiar name of Okinawa. The place has also few other names, just to give us foreigners a headache. I guess us foreigners are to blame for that though.

I hadn’t been to any islands here in Taiwan, so this will have to do for now. It was a nice and small place not far away from Kaohsiung. The island is only about 4 km long, 2 wide, meaning it’s a nice spot for a weekend or a day trip but that’s about it. Somehow the population of the place is about 13 000 though… Taiwanese seem to like it tight.

We took our own scooter there, which may be a bit overkill in such a small island. But we had to drive there anyways. A bicycle would definitely be the perfect transportation there. Especially because the place has distances marked for cyclists embedded in the roads in plaques that come every fifty meters or so. Of course, those that enjoy bit longer biking trips start going in circles pretty quickly…

Although the place is an island, is doesn’t seem to have lot of beach for swimming. The sand is nice, but there are rocks everywhere, making swimming bit dangerous in the shallow water. But it’s probably very good for snorkeling, since the water is very clear around there. I floated about a bit in the Geban bay, but that was about it… managed to burn myself too, even though both of the days were bit cloudy. I never learn…

Posted by: DreaMr | October 4, 2010

Last week in ITRI

I only had four days of work left in my last week, but it was busy as ever. We didn’t keep idle in the evenings either, because of course there were bunch of "lasts" the had to be done. I also got bit hurried to find a last minute tickets to Hong Kong and back, since it turned out that my visa could not be extended without a working contract after all. Something that I may have wanted to check a bit earlier, but it worked out well enough this way too. I got reasonably cheap tickets, and I’m writing this while drinking coffee at the Hong Kong airport. After a marginally slept night here.

It would have been nice to visit the actual city, but I’m still on a budget… and this excursion was not really included in it. I think I will still be okay until I return to Finland, but it may well be that the Finnish government owned railway company will suck the last cents from my bank account, if I’m not already on credit a bit. It’s doubly worrying though, because I’ve heard that it isn’t really easy to get work currently in Finland. Couple times I’ve thought about just skipping the return ticket, and getting a new job here. It would seem to have been a more sure bet. But the choice has already been made, so no use second guessing it. And my family would probably disown me if I did that =)

This week has also been a recovery from our trip to Hualien, for some of us bit more than the others. So even though it’s been a week of lasts, we’ve taken it easy. At least mostly. We played some monopoly, went for a swim and sauna and so on. It’s a shame that I need to leave the sports center of ITRI behind… I was just learning how to swim properly, though I have no hopes of beating the Russian guy that has been coming to the pool with us sometimes. That man is a torpedo in water. Although I’ve been saying that the meals here always seems to be a bit small, I have to admit that the diet and the exercise have done some nice things to me. Hopefully I can keep it up in the future… but no swimming pools anymore unfortunately, have to find something as a replacement.

At Wednesday, we went to eat out for the last time as a bigger group. Even my co-workers joined us, and we rode their scooters to a close-by Chinese restaurant that served duck. It’s a bit of a shame that I haven’t spent more time with also my co-workers here… At the beginning, the problem was mainly the language barrier, but seems we have finally started to cross it somewhat. It would have been nice to continue to work at ITRI for couple more months I guess…

I said that we took the past week easy. Well, it’s not exactly true. The Japanese guys were leaving at Thursday, which meant that we just had to do something special in Wednesday. The last rooftop-karaoke party was pretty over the top… luckily not over the edge. Thursday was a tiring day, and I still had to pack my stuff. I had a last lunch with my co-workers in the nicer ITRI restaurant, and later gave a small handover training for them about my work.

In Thursday, I went to the Chinese lesson for the last time too. It was also the last advanced lesson – the class would start from the beginning after I left since there were lot of new students starting. We went through the class, after which the teacher gave us small prizes for our "excellence". I think me and the Kazakh were little less excellent this time, since we had trouble staying awake. My teacher gave me a small parting gift with a letter. I love the gift, and you can see in the end of this post what it is. The letter contained also a final lesson/homework for me: Chinese poems for me to translate. I think I have to level up before I manage that, but I’ll try my best =)

And of course I left packing to the Friday morning. I had a small problem of having gathered too much stuff in my apartment, and not having big enough bags to put all of it into. So I had to post couple packages ahead of me to Tainan. I also gave a lot of stuff for my remaining Kazakh friend in ITRI, and escaped before he could give any of it back =). Even so, I had a ton of stuff left to drag with us. I missed my big backpack so much… now I know a little how it feels to be a sherpa.

After unloading the stuff to Tainan, we continued our way to Kaohsiung with Pei. Yesterday I too my flight to Hong Kong, and in few hours, I’ll be returning again. Actually, by the time this post gets published I’ll already be back since I won’t upload it from here. There’s still about two weeks to go before my return flight to Finland. It feels strange.

And yes… about a month ago, I got a new name. A Chinese name specifically, given to me by the friends I have made here. I told the name also to my Chinese teacher, and she liked it very much too. My parting gift then was something special, and here it is:

What I got was a Chinese style name stamp or 印章 with my new Chinese name 昊 Hao 天 Tian 慕 Mu. I love both the name and the gift, made doubly precious like this. I think they are the perfect ending to a great year in my life. But I don’t really think of it as an ending. This story will continue as long as the friendships I have made here will. And I am hoping that will be a very long time.

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