Thursday, December 29, 2005


Your New Taiwan Rover has arrived.

Much like the extraterrestrial Rovers on Mars and the Moon, the Taiwan Rover is able to take pictures of its new environment. The following pictures are just examples of what it can do.

After it first landed in the living room, the Taiwan Rover expanded its range to strange new territories, like a mall and a park. But will photographs of such locations reveal the true nature of the new land? Are there more secrets to be unlocked? Follow the Taiwan Rover and its controller, Strangelaowai, on a strange and wonderous journey throughout the world called Taiwan.

During its first few days in the living room, it encountered a rather camera-shy creature known as ann. There she is on the right.

Nobody knows why ann is so exquisitely camera-shy, but in any case, the Taiwan Rover was very lucky to snap that shot at just the right time.

The next sign of life this Rover has run into is the little guy.

Strangelaowai has this to say about the little guy.

"The little guy is quite funny. In class he'll run around, his English is great, and he's full of energy. His uncanny ability to emulate the pronunciation of his parents and teachers leads many people to believe that he is extremely smart, although it may be the case that he is merely very smart. Whatever the case may be, he's certainly amusing enough to warrant a picture."

Although it doesn't seem likely given strangelaowai's account, the little guy is also rather camera-shy, so the Taiwan Rover was lucky to come away with that shot.

The Taiwan Rover finally found a subject that doesn't squirm when being photographed: enormous slabs of raw salmon:

strangelaowai says: "Let's zoom in for a closer look."

[Taiwan Rover Blog Entry #1 interrupted due excessive salivation by controller.]

Monday, December 26, 2005


DeAn Mall 德安 1:43 PM Christmas Day


Pink Lotus in Taichung Park 台中公園 5:30 PM Christmas Day


1 Zhong Jie 一中街 6:21 PM Christmas Day


Taichung Park 台中公園 5:38 PM Christmas Day

Sunday, December 25, 2005


From a living room in Beitun, Taichung. Strangelaowai and Ann Smart wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Plastic Santa wishes you a Merry Christmas!


Behold! The living room!


I just came back from buying a a Red Nikon CoolPix S3 Digital Camera 6.0 MP from a department store called Nova. The two photos I've posted here of our living room (see above and below) are in response to those North Americans who wish to see my jetset Asian lifestyle. You can finally see for yourself that it's exciting indeed. Leather! Couches! Hardwood! Floors!

Really though, it just happens to be late on the 24th and I need to type out a Christmas letter, so you'll just have to be patient before I post more pics. Give me a couple days. That being said, I'm damn happy with this camera so far.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


The ghosts that come out at night

My gf keeps telling me that there are ghosts that come out at night. I'm starting to believe her. It's just a way of turning abstract (but real) dangers into something vaguely more tangible. Like a ghost.

She has admonished me to stay in at night, owing to the ghosts. Now I understand why ghosts are so dangerous. I think it's a pretty cute way to give a higher assessment of risk. The ghosts! Beware!

Okay, okay, I believe that her assessment of risk is more accurate than my own. It's just that when I pick up on the supernatural overtones that become evident when she discusses risk, it's hard for me to keep a straight face.


Scooter Accident

Item! Scooters are dangerous. A good friend of mine recently got into a fairly bad accident. Drunk on his birthday, full of birthday beer, bourbon and tequila in addition to bounty beer he collected as a result of successive successful rounds on quiz night (which was, as you may infer, on the same night as his birthday), he was riding his scooter back on Chunggang Road (perhaps the most dangerous road in Taichung) when the rear brake cable snapped. As you may be able to imagine, the rear brake cable is not the one you want snapping at inopportune moments.

The next day came, lying in his own bed as well as his own blood, he wasn't entirely sure what happened, except that half his chin was gone, tailbone and left knee hurting immensely. With the left part of his helmet and scooter scratched up, he was able to deduce that somehow, after falling off his scooter on the left side at a fairly good clip, he managed to get back on it and drive the rest of the way home. I guess the booze dulled the pain?

Jesus Murphy! Well anyways, after hearing about that story, I've decided that I feel lucky to be alive. This feeling in no way reflects any decisions I've made involving scooters and drinking. I think we're all gonna lay off the bottle for a while.

It is also worth mentioning that the scooter itself was purchased from The Dealer, The same Dealer that was trying to sell one off to me. It's true, alcohol consumption has to take the greatest share of the blame for such an accident, but on the other hand, when your brake cable snaps on Chunggang Road at night, the probability of having some sort of injurious accident is definitely approaching 1. I'm glad I don't have to drive that terrible Chunggang Road very often. I'm so glad I live in Beitun.

When you take a look at the transportation situation, you'll discover that Taichung is a cesspool. City busses are expensive (more expensive than Taipei even) and not very convenient, bicycles are not really safe thanks to the fact that other road users don't pay any attention to them, cars are obviously too expensive, taxis happen to be CARTELLISHLY expensive, and what does that leave you with?

It leaves you with your own two feet, or a scooter, and owing to the fact that the city is fairly spread out, you're more than likely going to need to have a scooter. This city was BUILT for scooters, and it was a bad choice. I can't wait for the summer, when the heat adds to the utter unbearability of the place. Winter is great. It's cold enough to need a sweater and jacket, if you're driving a scooter, that is.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Scooter Intrigue

Scooter Intrigue


Do you people even read this shit? I'm sitting here at my laptop at home. I just finished some salmon sashimi after several supposedly simple cash transactions became botched. The transactions have nothing to do with the salmon sashimi except that I bought the sashimi to relax and forget about the ridiculous situation that just blew up in my face.

The Characters

Teacher Strange Laowai: The protagonist of the story. A strapping young lad who has good intentions but is held back by his own naivety and impatience.

The Dealer: A shady scooter flipper (flipper: n. a person who buys old scooters and "flips" them to foolish foreigners at a profit) who claims to have a good reputation, but in actual fact is only concerned with making a buck. His shadiness is compounded by the fact he is totally inept at business.

The Dealer's Girfriend: Slightly less inept at business, her job is to manage the business while The Dealer is away from the Republic.

Manager Strawberry: The franchised owner of a language school, her intentions are good and simple, but lacks clarity of vision. Her strategic abilities are taxed by her quadruple roles as mother, manager, wife and daughter-in-law.

The Manager's Husband: A retired computer engineer who is the primary investor in the franchised language school. He doesn't contribute to the management of the school, but still feels the need to hang around the front desk to give his opinions at the most opportune moments.

The Scooter Papa: As quick as he is cunning, the Scooter Papa is the quintessential Taiwanese small businessman. His arrangement with the Scooter Dealer sets the stage for a comedy of errors.

The Setup

At a Table at The Bar.

The Dealer: Oh hey, man, glad you could make it. Wanna grab a beer?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Uh, okay, sure... (goes to bar and orders a draught Foster's, returns to table) So I heard you sell and rent scooters.

The Dealer: Yes, but scooter rentals are the main part of what we do. Some customers later decide that they wish to purchase the scooter they've been renting, and that's also cool. Basically, we work with your needs. So do you know what kind of scooter you want?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well, at least a 125 CC. I need it for commuting, but I also want to take it on mad mad mountain trips.

The Dealer: Oooh, I got a nice 125 right now, jet black, not a single scratch, only 17000 kms on it, but new engine. It hasn't been broken in, so ya can't drive it over 60, but hey, do you want to take it for a spin?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Okay, yeah sure, I'll try that one out.

The Dealer: That's often the way it goes with this business, and that's the benefit. See, if you like that one, you can keep renting it, and if you're interesting in trying out different scooters to see exactly which one suits you the best, I'm more than happy to have you change from scooter to scooter, depending on availability.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well gee, okay, that sounds fine, I guess...

The Dealer: Oh, but wait, I forgot, you can't have that one. That one is just about to be sold and I have to give it to a guy tomorrow. Here, I'll give you this other one. It's still a 125, a little older though...

Teacher Strange Laowai: (...)


Teacher Strange Laowai: Nice to meet you, the Dealer's Girlfriend.

The Dealer's Girlfriend: Nice to meet you too.

The Dealer (to Teacher Strange Laowai): So yeah, just take this one, and stop by the shop in a couple of days to change it. I have a really great one coming in; just check back in a few days.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Oh, all right. I guess that's fine.

The Dealer: And one more thing. The payment?

Teacher Strange Laowai: I have $4200 on me at the moment. Will that be okay?

The Dealer: Yeah, that's no problem.

Teacher Strange Laowai: So it's $3400 for the rental and $6000 for the deposit, right?

The Dealer: Exactly, and assuming you don't have any traffic tickets and you don't get into any accidents, the 6000 is totally refundable at any time you decide to stop renting. Just give me a couple of days to make sure you haven't racked up any fines.

Teacher Strange Laowai: That makes sense.

The Dealer: So yeah, just drop the rest off on Saturday.

Teacher Strange Laowai: No problem.

Teacher Strange Laowai drops off the remaining $5000 on Saturday and changes to an older, less powerful scooter. The older scooter has an inaudible horn and the shocks squeak at times.

At the language school.

Manager Strawberry: Waaa, Teacher Strange Laowai, you have new scooter!

Teacher Strange Laowai: Yeah yeah, well I'm renting.

Manager Strawberry: Oooh? How much?

Teacher Strange Laowai: $3400/month.

Manager Strawberry: Waaa, too expensive!

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well, Manager Strawberry, you know I can't drive my girlfriend's scooter for eternity, you know that right?

Manager Strawberry: Sure! But there are cheaper scooters. We can help you to buy! we have friend!

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well, that's great, but I like renting because then I get a chance to test out scooters before I buy.

Manager Strawberry: Oh, hmmmm. But maybe the scooter is... you know Taiwan second-hand scooter business is terrible! The businessman takes out new parts and puts in old parts, or takes out engine altogether! When you want to buy, we can help! Okay?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Umm, okay, thanks...

Teacher Strange Laowai continues his busy work as an English teacher. He doesn't want to bother the overworked Manager Strawberry with personal matters such as the acquisition of a scooter. Furthermore, while at the school, he simply doesn't have the time for that anyways.

One month later, at the Scooter Shop

The Dealer: Yeah, so how do you like that one?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Meh, it's okay. You got anything more powerful? You did say I can change to whatever I'm interested in, depending on availability.

The Dealer: Oh yeah, sure. Ummmmmm, lemme see, hey you want this offroad? It's only 100 CC, but it's not bad. Like, it's less likely to bottom out when motoring over the bumps. You don't need to just look at the CCs. The 100 CC offroads can give you quite a bang for your buck.

Teacher Strange Laowai: That's nice, but you said before that you had lots of 125s on hand...

The Dealer: Right, but that was before. Most of them are rented out now. Lemme see... Oh! I know! I got a beautiful silver one, barely used. The previous owner mostly kept it in a garage, so it's in really great condition. Come back in a few days. Give me a call.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Uh, yeah okay. Thanks...

As Teacher Strange Laowai is turning on the scooter...

The Scooter Papa: 你買這台就好啦! 摩托車都一樣啊! You can buy this one! All the scooters are about the same!

Teacher Strange Laowai: 我想跟The Dealer租摩托車就好啊, 為什麼呢? 是因為我的錢不夠, 買不起. I think renting from The Dealer is just fine because my money is insufficient for purchase. I lack the funds to buy.

The Scooter Papa: (scowls)

Teacher Laowai finally gets a hold of the silver one and drives it for a few days with the understanding that he can rent it for a month.

A few days later, a text message from The Dealer: Sorry, I need you to come in and change scooters as I've found a buyer. Tonight OK?

Teacher Strange Laowai (upon seeing the text message): Fuck, fuck, fuck! What do I pay him for?!?

(At the Scooter Shop)

Teacher Strange Laowai: So why can I do I have to part with a scooter I like?

The Dealer: Well you're not interested in buying right?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well not at the moment.

The Dealer: See that's the thing. The main business we do here is selling scooters. The rentals are more of a side business, so when there's a firm buyer, I am sort of obligated to place suitable scooters with firm buyers. It's just the nature of the business. So when you're interested in buying, well I'm always looking out for potential customers...

Teacher Strange Laowai (poignantly): I am not your potential customer...

The Dealer: YES! YES, of course! The rent keeps coming in on time and you don't crash up my scooters! Excellent customer I have with you. Hey, wanna beer?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Gah, well you're twisting my arm...

(The next Meeting between Teacher Strange Laowai and The Dealer, about two weeks later. During those two weeks. Teacher Strange Laowai had been riding a scooter he wasn't entirely happy with.)

The Dealer: So yeah, you're interested in buying?

Teacher Strange Laowai: I'll say it one more time, I don't have the damn money to buy.

The Dealer: Don't worry. I can work with your needs. We can take care of that.

Teacher Strange Laowai: I'd be really interested in that "rent-to-own" scheme you were telling me about.

The Dealer: Definitely. Once you know what scooter you want to buy, we can talk about financing.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Ya know, I woulda been perfectly happy with the silver one.

The Dealer: But you never said you were interested in buying that one.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Because you never told me about what kind of financing I can get on that one!

The Dealer: Well we'll find you another one you like.


The Dealer: Oh hey! There's a great cherry red one I'm planning on buying off the Scooter Papa! You interested? It's almost like that black one you were driving before.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well how much does it cost and what kind of financing can I get on it?

The Dealer: It's 26,000, but we can work with your budget. How much do you think you can pay and when?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Wait, how much is the black one?

The Dealer: Well it's only 25,000.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Guess what? If you have two scooters that are almost the same, I'm likely to take the cheaper one.

The Dealer: Okay, well so you like the black one then?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Sure. I'm happy to drive that one.

The Dealer: So how much do you think you can pay and when?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Just a sec. Calculates. I can give you $10000 by December the 10th.

The Dealer: Okay, well let's talk financing then.

A short time later, after financing discussion.

The Dealer: So it's settled then. I'll buy the black one and cherry red one off of the Scooter Papa, and you can buy the black one off me.

Teacher Strange Laowai: We haven't got a deal yet. I still want to try this black one out again and look around a bit.

The Dealer: Sure, sure...

Teacher Strange Laowai: And if I decide not to buy and stop renting, I do get my $6000 back, right?

The Dealer: Oh yeah, that's no problem. Oh, by the way, I'm leaving for Canada this Thursday. I'm gonna be there for two months. You can make the payment to my girlfriend. She'll be waiting.

Teacher Strange Laowai: (...)

The plot thickens like a $6000 Vicegrip

Later, back at the language school, after much discussion about upcoming Christmas plans at the school...

Teacher Strange Laowai: so yes, the kid's dyslexic. We need to do more research. I'm not trained to deal with this, but the internet is a great tool.

Manager Strawberry: Yes, well I talk to the parents too.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Right, okay, sounds good. So I have a quick question about the upcoming paycheque. It's normally on the 10th, but the 10th is on a Saturday, so it's going to be paid on the Friday like last month, right?

Manager Strawberry: Well... Monday, okay? You need a loan? No money? I can loan you. $5000?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well, see the thing is... see that scooter out there? I'm buying it tomorrow, and I need to put down $10000 tomorrow night.

Manager Strawberry: Waaa?!? I thought you just rent!

Teacher Strange Laowai: Yes, that's right, and now I'm buying.

Manager Strawberry: You buy how much?

Teacher Strange Laowai: $25,000.

Manager Strawberry: Waaa!!! Too expensive! Why you never tell us? We can help you! You definitely buy it?

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well I've kind of got a handshake deal with this guy (TSL gives out The Dealer's card) to buy that scooter and pay $10000 on it tomorrow. The Dealer has already purchased that black scooter from this guy (TSL gives out The Scooter Papa's card) and to make matters even more complicated, The Dealer's left the country and somebody's got my six grand deposit!

Manager Strawberry: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

The Manager's Husband: 你有這台的registration card嗎? 來給我看. Do you have this scooter's registration card? Please let me have a look at it. (Looks at the registration card) 哇! 這台是髒車啊! 你看, 這裡寫什麼? 民國八二年. 你覺得這台那麼舊嗎? Wah, this is a dirty scooter! Look here, what does it say? Republic of China year 82 (1991). You think this scooter is that old?

Teacher Strange Laowai: (...) Yeah, you're right, 不會那麼舊. Can't possibly be that old.

The Manager's Husband: 台灣中古幾車店都很爛! 如果Dealerengine的話, 那已定是髒車子. 你會被抓了. 法律說如果換engine的話,那就不合法的. The second-hand scooter shops in Taiwan are all shitty. If The Dealer has changed the engine in that scooter, it must indeed be the case that this is a dirty scooter. You will get caught! The law says that if the engine is changed, then the scooter can't possibly be legal. 我們家有一台我們不常用, 我可以借給你. We have another scooter at home that we don't often use. We can lend it to you.

Manager Strawberry: 對啊! Right! Don't buy that black one! We have friend can help you! You definitely need buy that black one???

Teacher Strange Laowai: Well I guess I don't HAVE to buy the black one from The Dealer, but I want my damn $6000 back. That's the biggest problem. How am I ever going to get that back?

The Manager's Husband: Maybe, you can just forget about the 6000 from The Dealer.

Teacher Strange Laowai: Oh, I can forget about the 6000 if you want to give me 6000. You want to give me 6000 dollars? Because that would really fix everything. If that's not going to happen, then I've got to find some way to get my damn 6000 dollars back! Wish me luck!


Stay tuned next week as our protagonist Teacher Strange Laowai finds a way to get his six thousand dollars back! Or will he just end up with 10,000 scooter-flipping assholes chasing his money? The Anticipation kills, don't it?


Thursday, December 01, 2005


Unaffordable Student Debt

The title link is to an online article about student debt in today's economy. The stats are American, but in Canada we're getting closer to the kind of situation described in the article (with the exception of health care, perhaps). It's certainly the general trend.

Particularly powerful is the rhetoric near the end of the article:

"Energetic young college grads could soon invest in start-ups, emerging markets and new technologies if we entered adulthood burdened only by our high expectations and ideals. Educational debt hobbles the very group of risk-takers and innovators that has historically rejuvenated the American economy when, like now, it starts to flag. Love us, hate us, tolerate us — young people are your future. Fail to invest in us at your own peril. Thirty years from now we won't be able to take care of our parents if we're still living in a converted closet in a group house.


Work with us now to affect change, and we promise we'll never have to trade you into the traveling circus for a week's worth of Ramen noodles or sell you on eBay to cover the rent."

This article reminds me of the fact that I'm a wage slave, and I even HAVE a good idea that I'd like to invest in (ESL Studio Cafe), but my financial situation prevents me from doing that. Hooray for unaffordable higher education!

I heard that job creation is at an all time high in Canada. I also heard that the largest chunk of those new jobs are in the part-time, temporary sector. In other words, "who wants the midnight shift at the local Chevron??? Opporunities exist for advancement." As my Newfie friend likes to say, "you could even become assistant manager!"

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