Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Noise cancalling headsets

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

I went with two sets of noise cancelling headsets:

1) Coby CY-191 headset – $30 or so at Frys.
2) Philips HN060 earbuds – $60 or so at Frys.

Given the long flights through Japan and all, it seemed like a good idea.

Throughout the flights, I used both the cheap foam things you can get for pennies at any hardware store and the noise cancelling headsets.

Bottom line: I used the Coby set. They filter the high frequencies and shut out the rumble. I took the Philips set back. They seemed to have no effect! Very odd. Perhaps they were broken out-of-box. Tried multiple batteries and all the usual tricks to get them to work. No luck.

The Coby set’s plastic over-the-head-band broke in the car within a week or two of returning. I had been using them while driving. Nice. Removes a lot of road rumble and hissing. Leaves audio and horns to be more easily heard. Old car.

Last Notes

Friday, December 16th, 2005

Odd note:

On the drive back up the island from Kenting, we stopped at a couple of the freeway rest areas. These areas were like those you’ll see on some east coast tollways: restaurants, etc. One, in which we had dinner, had a large building containing a 7/11 some stores and half-dozen to a dozen fast food places in mall food court form. C and L got their dinner from a vegitarian place. I walked around looking at what people were eating and asked a woman who was eating a pretty impressive extravaganza where to get what she had. It was grilled mutton with a large pot of soup containing a number of things, plus rice and some other things. Large meal. Long way from fast food.

The rest areas had interesting urinals. The first one we hit had 20 or 30 urinals in the mens’ room. Each had a little English lesson posted above it. The lesson had an example use and variants of an English word.

In the second area each urinal had a sort of fortune cookie thing posted above it. Mine was “Deeds no words”.

Pretty classy.

We woke up late in Kenting. Got going around noon. In a place where it starts getting dark at 5 and is pretty much fully dark at 5:30, that’s a short day.

So, we drove around, going to the most southerly spot in Taiwan. Landscape straight out of Google Earth. Watched a guy piloting a very large remote controlled glider along the cliffs. The plane made fun, dive bombing sounds close up. Wing span must have been 6 feet.

As usual, we blundered in to a good experience. We were crossing back to the west coast along a short road from the east coast. Map had a waterfall that seemed like a good place to walk up to. But, the road had no sign. So, I just picked a tiny road that led off in to the hill and bush-trees. Actually, the side road had a sign that seemed to indicate that something was up the road, but we didn’t decypher the characters. Up the road, we found a Taoist shrine, complete with 20 or 30 people in the parking lot who were surprised to see us. We got out of the car and it seemed like they were emulating triffids. Quite, with heads and bodies following us, as if by sound. Not sure whether we were intruding or not. No indication as such. Just that we were oddly out of place.

Anyway, it turned out that all the people were from Tainan (?) and were just leaving after worshipping.

Once they were gone, one of the two or three women still there worked her some-English magic and we had tea and got some background on the shrine. Newly built. Approxiamately 10 people live there. There’s even a dorm room for people from out of the area to sleep on futons. We were invited to stay there next time we came to the Kenting area.

Up in the temple we were taught how to throw wooden half-moon pieces of wood to get an answer to a question. “Say who you are, where you are from, and your question. Drop the half-moon pieces. If both half-moons are face up, do it again. If both half-moons are face down, increment the ‘no’ count. Otherwise, increment the ‘yes’ count. When a count reaches 3, you have an answer.”

Sort of an answer.

Then, you move over to another place where you draw straws, in essence. The staws are long pieces of wood, one of which you pick at random. Each stick has a number on it (in Chinese characters, many of the numbers of which I now recognize). Find a drawer by that number. Inside the drawer are pieces of paper that contain, so far as I could sense, horoscopish information. Maybe less ambiguous than horoscopes, but since they were translated for us, it’s hard to say. I have mine somewhere, perhaps, but can’t find it to take a picture of it.

So, all in all, our waterfall side-trip was pretty wonderful. Friendly, open, helpful. From my experience, completely representative of Taiwan and the Taiwanese.

Driving in Taiwan

Sunday, December 11th, 2005

It’s the common understanding that driving in Taiwan is not the thing to do. “Those people drive crazy” is the consensus.

What I found:

Driving customs and characteristics were unique, but not outlandish. Skills were more variable than in most places. But, the variety of roads was higher, so a larger skill range is to be expected. It would not be normal to find drivers at the top of their game on narrow, twisty mountain roads, narrow, cluttered city lanes, and narrow freeways whose flow rate is between 100 and 110 kph.

Streets: Scooters flow around the traffic like little liquid particles. That leads to one characteristic – you’re in a 360 degree world. You gotta keep track of cars and scooters coming from all sides.

Its expected that you drive a scooter on the sidewalk to get to where you want to go exactly. In fact, scooters are parked on the sidewalks.

Lanes along the right side of both city streets and roads are devoted to scooters. The scooter lane is about double the width of a bike lane. Exactly the right width for the tiny vans that are popular here. These scooter lanes lead to one odd thing: passing on the right is the norm. You swing on to the scooter lane and buzz around the car ahead. That people may be parked in the scooter lane and/or walking there is a complication.

Roads are over-marked with double white lines between lanes (when there are two lanes going one direction). The only time I’ve seen such double lines treated as a no-lane-change directive (and the only time I treated them as such) was in a long tunnel on freeway 3 in south central Taiwan.

In the mountains (and generally), drivers are much more aware of the extent and edges of their cars than in the states. No surprise, given how often you gotta squeeze through places. Example of squeezing: coming down from the moutains above Taroko Gorge we stopped for some construction. The guy ahead of us, in a small car, was pulled really close to the ditch. His right side wheels were almost hanging over the 1/2 foot deep ditch (concrete road edge so the ditch side is vertical – ditch is a little less than a foot wide – just wide enough to swallow a tire). Anyway, I noticed that, when the cars and trucks from the other way below started up past us, the guy in the small car flipped his side mirror back against his car. I took the hint and got Ciaran and Liz to spot the right side wheels so we were pretty close to the edge. We were stopped in a 1-lane part of the road.

When the first truck came, he took a half minute or so to get by the car ahead of us. Did a tiny bit of scraping against the guard rail on the other side. Our chunk of the road was a little wider, I hoped. Few more inches to allow for a slightly wider car and for our extra 3 inches on the right.

That truck got around us, thanks to the left side mirror being pushed back against the car.

The next truck – I don’t know how he made it by. Think is was because his widest part was above our widest part. I could almost hear the screeeee of metal sliding against metal.

So, that’s the way it is sometimes.

Freeway: Well, first thing, they are more accurately termed “freeway”. Toll booths charging 40NT at irregular intervals. Attendents even in the “ticket” lanes. Must be hard on the breathing. The little mouth masks that so many people use here couldn’t be that much help.

Freeways are of two types: 2 lane and 3 lane. 2 lane roads are fairly disciplined and smooth. Things get interesting when the the extra lane is added. There is a pretty clear separation between certain classes of drivers:

Group 1: Trucks and buses. Mostly stay in the right lane. Click along at 80 to 100, tops.

Group 2: Easy riders. They pick either of the other two lanes and stick there all the way down the road seemingly oblivious to anything else on the road. (I tested whether anyone knew about light-flicking for “please move over”. Nope.)

Group 3: Type A. They buzz along 20 to 30 kph above the flow rate, swinging between lanes to get around the others.

Group 4: Somewhere ‘tween groups 2 and 3. This group is the vast majority of drivers on US roads, but they did not set the tone here.

The freeway lanes are narrow by US interstate standards and forward vision is limited. So, operating the freeways isn’t easy. Density for us was not bad. Mid-day ‘tween cities stuff. I hung the pointer on 112 generally and didn’t have too much trouble. There were more klutzes than you might expect. But not enough to cause real trouble. I got the sense that the klutz rate was a function of people driving the freeway infrequently.

Signs were adaquate on all roads. Plenty of Pinyin. Maps were not completely accurate.

All in all, driving is not “to be avoided at all costs”. But, you gotta keep aware, be flexible, and not expect to stay tightly in one lane.

In Kenting, by way of Taroko Gorge and Sun Moon Lake

Friday, December 9th, 2005

And, in a hotel that has a computer connected, more or less, with the internet. HiNet’s DNS works here maybe 1 in 3.

Anyway, from Suao, we went down old Neakahnie Mountain. With lots of log trucks.


The road down the coast there was high above the ocean on the side of a mountain. It was also relatively narrow and pretty twisty. And, instead of log trucks there were gravel trucks. Lots of cement plants around. These trucks are well known. Everyone warned us about them. They behaved essentially like log trucks for the same reasons that log trucks act like log trucks. So there was no problem at all.

The weather that day was overcast and quite grey. It was still pretty nice.

We got to the entrance of Taroko Gorge late. And had the first of a streak of 4 bad meals. Bring your own food to Taroko Gorge. Otherwise, you’re in for hot-watered dehydrated food.

But we lucked out, as usual. It was dark and we drove up the gorge to the next stop – which had a Catholic Hostel. Cheap digs!

The gorge – and we’re talking narrow and deep – was dark and cold. No sweat. The blanket was warm.

Next morning we backtracked a few clicks to shoot some of the postcard area of the park. Then, up the hill. Long, long road that featured little traffic (weekday), mostly 1 and 1.5 lanes, mirrors for every 3rd or 4th corner, and lots of construction. This is a road that is carved out of very steep mountains. We drove for quite a while, for instance, and found ourselves back above where we spent the night. At the top of a 1.9 kilometer hiking trail dropping 450 meters to where we spent the night, that is. The trail was closed.

Kept driving and spent the whole day going through the clouds and back down to a town called Lushan. Lushan is a town of 50 hotel/hot-spring spas. 100% tourist. Driving in to town there were several people on the road flagging down entering motorists and touting their hotels. One snagged us. English spoken and a nice picture of the spa. So, we got in really hot water. After that – time to eat. Same guy steered us to a restaurant that definitely broke the bad-food streak. Tasty. And, we got the hotel to give us a budget traveller price. So it was a good town. Not even “in the book!” (No inet connection or compter parts or working international ATM. All middle aged Taiwanese visitors.)

Today, Sun Moon Lake – a lake behind a dam. Lots of resort type stuff, again. Also, some shrines and such. Pictures, videos and audio are snagged of it all.

What to do next? We’ve seen mountains. So, hi-ball it to the south end of the island. Freeway (with toll booths) to Kenting – the town associated with the national park that covers the southern tip of the island.

We’ve no idea what this will be like. It started raining the moment we entered the town – which was alive with street fair-ish activity. Saw a “Hotel” sign that looked promising. Stopped. Saw 3 more inside a 100 feet. Got the first one. They have a computer sorta connected to the internet that I’m typing this on now. Some pictures will be uploaded. But the connection is 20 kbytes and the 256 card is maxed out. I got a gig card in Puli today. Usual method of finding things. We stopped at a 7-Eleven (or Happy Family or whatever). Asked the girl behind the counter by showing her a camera and flash memory card. She was having a heck of a time understanding, but a women who had come in to get a package said that she would show us where we could get a memory card. She led us in to town in her car and got me set up to get card from a camera store. Gig card, so inet uploads aren’t needed.

Anyway, it’s late and others want the computer.


Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Well, things clicked along today. Change from yesterday when I could not get an ATM to spit money, and when I spent a trip to nowhere trying to rent a car and got a short scooter ride instead.

Today, the ATM worked. The car was ready. I drove out of the place with less than a quarter tank of gas while thinking about the gas station just to the right. Didn’t see it immediately, but did see that I was in the scooter-only lane. Switched to the left to get out of the lane. Looked to the right. Saw the station going by.

So, between gas-getting and the wonders of freeway entrances it took almost a couple hours to get out of Taipai. Fun time, though, including mis-following directions from the world’s most perky service station person. “Perky” is the only word for the girl who pumped the gas there.

The road down the northeast coast was not fast, and not as harrowing as many have made it out to be. Sure, there were the occasional gravel/dirt/cement trucks. But, they were really the exact analog to logging trucks on the Oregon coast in behavior and situation. Passing is done on the right in what looks like a wide bike lane, but which is really a lane more or less devoted to scooters.

Lots of waves splashing against the rocky shore.

Grey day. Tinted glass in the car so it was dark the whole afternoon. Word is the weather might warm up in a couple days. That’ll be nice. Misty night tonight in Suao, when we walked around to grab some “hot pot” for dinner. (“We”, by the way, is Ciaran and Liz and myself. They are the planetranger URL referenced in an earlier post/comment.)

We drove around Suao a bit (it’s not a large town) before going by the train station. Train stations tend to have the kind of low-budget hotels we were looking for. After some study of the Chinese characters for “cheap” “hotel” (well, “travel” “small/Japanese-character/store/something”) we were given we spotted a sign with the magic characters. Score! Gotta be a car park at the station. Found a spot. Magic characters 30 feet away. Looked at rooms. Found 4 other hotels and looked ’em all over. Ended up at the first after barginning ’em down some (mid-week, non-tourist season, empty hotels).

Went to dinner. Hot pot. Lots of things, as usual, of unknown origin and makeup.

Drove some more around town, viewing the harbor’s fishing boats and the bridge that seems to be the premier attraction of the town. It’s new and rather nice looking. Saw the first Christian church I’ve seen. Or, at least, a lighted cross. This area is dotted with very impressive Bhuddist shrines. We walked through a big, new one on the road down. It had a very impressive LED sign on the top front. Big building of extavagent ornateness.

Perhaps a URL to overlook the shrine we stopped to see – watch the line breaks. And, the bright dotted areas are likely to be graveyards. Not sure, but that’s the feel I get:,121.816363&spn=0.002814,0.008949&t=h&hl=en

URL to see the Suao harbor – watch the line breaks:,121.871681&spn=0.022542,0.071591&t=h&hl=en

Internet cafe two doors down from the hotel. This is written with pint of the usual Papaya Milk I get a lot of here finished by the side of the monitor. It’s a loud, loud place. And the computer is fast. And the wallpaper is “Linage II”. And, every computer in the place, but one, is busy with first person shooters. I see 5 machines’ screens and 4 different games.

Time for bed. The sun goes down so early here that it would be good to hit the road real early. Tomorrow is the infamous 1000 foot high above the ocean road to Taroka Gorge and Huelieng.

Cold Air

Monday, December 5th, 2005

The tempurature has changed. It’s in the 50’s – at least 10 degrees, maybe 15 down. Ouch.

And, it’s not caused by the earthquakes. Rather, the Taipai 101 building causes the earthquakes – or so it’s said.

Two earthquakes so far. Little guys, pleasantly shaking the building on the 2nd or 9th floors of which I’m on. The latest was not felt by two people who were on the street. So that gives an idea of the power.

Apparently, there are earthquakes every couple weeks. Apparently, there were no earthquakes before Taipai 101 was built. Think of Taipai 101 as a spear in to a fault zone. … Anyway, that’s the story.

So, goofing off now. Had a heck of a time arranging a rental car. Involved riding a scooter around for a few blocks. It’ll be a budget buster. Daily price of approximately 2 or 3 times my full daily budget so far. Oh well. Presumably, I’ll be off tomorrow for a few days in a vehicle.

Might have to skip town. The ATM card didn’t work in several ATMs today. Didn’t try a credit card. Almost sure that will need to happen, as I suspect that there’s a snafu at the bank. Account’s OK, btw. I’m typing now on a more secure system (booted from Ubunto CD) and checked WAMU. All is well on that front.

Well, off to watching DVD of Reno 911. Hard to avoid.

Random Notes

Sunday, December 4th, 2005

Riding down from Kwan Yin Shan we drove by some side-of-road, tiny buildings with “sexy” dressed woman. Hmmm. Turns out, they sell Betal nuts. Weird combination. Kind of over-the-top drive-thru coffee stands. But, as best as I could understand (from the father/daughter who I was riding with) is that “if they did not dress sexy, they would not sell any Betal nuts”. One of the people here (I want to guess that it was someone from Singapore ((where they speak Singlish – a super-efficient, shorthand combination of Chinese, English, and Malay)) ) said that he made the mistake of swallowing the juice from a Betal nut. Bit like swallowing chewing tobacco. Not to be advised.

Stinky Tofu – a local thing. My insensitive nose smelled nothing. Tasted fine.

Food here is rather bland to a non-suburban American. Might be that I’ve eaten Taiwaneesish food, though (as opposed to Chinese, Japanese, etc). Native Taiwan food is said to be relatively spiceless. But even some curry chicken I had in the distinctly upscale food court in the Taipai 101 shopping center (ceramic dishes in a shopping center food court!) was not very heavily curried. As is well know, though, you can’t starve in Taiwan.

You’ve heard of a “flock” of birds? A “herd” of cows? Well, how about a “Taiwan” of motor scooters?


Sunday, December 4th, 2005

Best book I’ve seen on starting Chinese is “Survival Chinese” by Don Snow. There is another, red covered book by the same name that’s very average. The good one is oriented toward people learning on their own. Two things make it stand out:

1) Lots of advice on things like hiring a tutor, what to start with, how to practice.

2) The only description of the specifics of how to speak some of the eleventeen Chinese front-of-mouth fricatives I’ve seen in any book. (e.g. “x- Like “sh” in “she”, but with the tongue a just little further forward.”

“Survival Chinese” was not in Caves Books (ex-pat English teachers’ favorite store on Zhongshan Rd a walkable 2+ stations north of the main station on the east side of the street ‘tween Subway and KFC) or Page One Books (a Barnes and Noble sized store in the top floor of Taipai 101’s 5 floor upscale shopping center).

So, I got “Just Enough Chinese” from Passport Books. What distringuishes it from the others is that below the characters and PinYin it has truely phonetic descriptions of the words and phrases.

Taiwan books: People are rather surprised when I say I’m here on vacation/holidays. Business is expected to be the reason. That the country is not a tourist destination is a little odd, really, given the moutains and weather. But there it is. Anyway, Lonely Planet has an effective monopoly on travel books. There is an Insight Planet book (described by someone in the hotel/hostel as “a picture book”). And National Geographic has a book the is, explicitely, a picture book. Btw, the Lonely Planet PRC China book has received some very bad reviews within my hearing. The PRC is a big place, so that may be a reflection of only part of the book.

MRT: The Taipai subway. If you’re here for a bit, get an EasyPass. 500NT to buy in, 100 is a deposit. You can top it up. It’s a proximity card. Works on city buses, too. Minimizes hassles. The MRT is a modern subway (above ground outside the city center). Quiet, fast, smooth, efficient. Rush hour, even, is easy to operate in. Buses are like buses most anywhere: loud and not particularly fast. But, like in most non-car cities, Taipai’s buses seem to go most everywhere at frequent intervals.

Found the Mountain Top and Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

From Danshui – Bali, Kwan Yin Shan was easier (but not easy) to get to. I wandered around for a while and felt *so* tired before finally finding a way to the mountain through a graveyard. Hard to miss the graveyard. Seems like the whole northern side of the mountain(s) was covered by graveyards.

Anyway, energy finally started coming back about a third of the way up. Something to think about. When you don’t know how to get to where you want to go, you feel tired. When you think you’re on the way, hey, lots of energy.

So, more stairs. And more stairs. And … when the stairs are arranged in switchbacks, you know it’s steep.

Got to the top to find a crowd. Expected a parking lot. Nope. They’d all come up the other side. So, after looking around and shooting some long shots, I start running down the stairs on the other side.

Somewhere on the way down, I met a guy and his daughter who were also going down. We all struck up a multilingual laughothon and picture taking extravaganza. His English was 4 years of school and almost zero conversation. Interesting effect. He could spell faster than I, but was really working to remember the words. Anyway, they ended up taking me to the famous Shi Lin night market where we had what I’m guessing by the little tentacles was octopus. And, the 13-year had peanut butter ice cream, too. A good time was had by all.

If I’ve not said it, it should be noted that Taiwan is a very friendly country. Rather American in openness.

Ah, one thing too. Several local people have said that I have “courage” for going to Taiwan alone, etc. Interesting, that reaction.


Friday, December 2nd, 2005

Well, the wrong bus took me back too quickly, so … how to kill a short evening?

Hey, go to Costco!

Three muffin packs later … (H, chocolate, included 🙂 )

Two floor store. Long escalators ‘tween em that the carts magnetically adhere to.

Some sections, you can shield your peripheral vision and be in Issaquah. Lots of identical products.

Scooters for sale. Couple thou or so, maybe. I forget.

Same food court. Polish and soda is 50NT (33HT==1USD).

Food samples.

Very crowded. Very, very crowded.

Someone behind me a moment ago said, “That must come from having children. A big night out is going to Costco.” But, hey, it *was* kinda fun.

Different subject: English teachers are not in short supply in this hostel/hotel. So, there is info on the local schooling. Talk wanders toward the kids commiting suicide the pressure is so intense. Truth is probably less pure. In Keelung I was talking with a guy who teaches English writing, etc. in corp environments. He talked about how the kids were really pressured in school and out. “The kids go to school from 8 in the morning to x in the afternoon. Then they go to extra schools like this one we are standing in front of (Hess). But, really, the kids are a lot more relaxed in extra schools than the parents might like to think.” Seeing the kids through the window, they looked like they were being kids. Not a surprise.

But again, encouragement and expectations lead to things. The kid in the bus the other day pulled out his English homework after he saw me. You could practically see the gears going ’round in his head when he did that. It was like seeing me reminded him that he had this homework to do.

‘Nuther story fragment: The little girl today was six. She could read the page of Chinese I use to practice with. Not Dick and Jane. Her mother said she was a “real bad student”. That, while the girl was running through the numbers in both Chinese and English.