Wine Prices

Mouton Cadet 2006Just bought a few bottles of wine. Given that the wine here is available in the local corner store, one might imagine that the price structure is different than provided by the government monopoly in Norway.

One of the wines I bought, was a Mouton Cadet 2006. In Taipei, this cost NT$760, which is almost exactly NOK 150. In Norway, this costs NOK 125. So it is actually cheaper. I looked at a few other bottles that I recognized from Norway:

Name Taiwan price Norwegian Price
Mouton Cadet 2006 NT$760=NOK 150 NOK 125.00
Torres Coronas NT$550=NOK 104.2 NOK 105.90
Gato Negro NT$420=NOK 79.50 NOK 86
Yellow Tail Syrah NT$399=NOK 75.6 NOK 99.90
Le Cardinal NT$379=NOK 71.80 NOK 99.90
Casillero de Diablo (discount) NT$265=NOK 50.20 NOK 99.90

So I guess this hints towards a conclusion that, as is general knowledge, the Norwegian wines have a more shallow price curve than most markets; with cheaper wines being more expensive, and the better wines actually being more reasonably priced than in other markets.

Another factor to consider, of course, is the availability of different kinds of wines. The Mouton Cadet was the most expensive wine on offer, and the shelves are dominated by cheap and “own brand” bottles that obviously cater to the drinker, not the collector. With discounted items, you can get a wine for half the price in Norway, but would you really even consider buying that wine in Norway?

There is also spirits and beers on offer, but again focused on mass market consumption rather than the connoisseur’s palate.

Ob-Chinese: Many words related to alcohol and drinking feature the character 酒/jiǔ, meaning (rice) wine, liquor, spirits, alcoholic beverage.

  • “Wine” is 酒漿/jiǔ jiāng
  • “beer” is 啤酒/píjiǔ
  • “bar” 酒吧/jiǔ bā (by sound loan)
  • “food to accompany wine” 酒菜/jiǔ cài (lit. alcohol-food)
  • “a friend when wining and dining, i.e. when times are good” 酒肉朋友/jiǔròu péngyou (lit. alcohol-meat-friend)
  • “tipsy feeling” 酒意/jiǔ yì (lit. alcohol-thought)
  • “capacity for alcohol/ability to hold drink” 酒力/jiǔ lì (lit. alcohol-strength)

As my Chinese Writing teacher would say (constantly):

“It’s easy! But, be careful…”

First essay

We just had our first essay homework. I’m fairly pleased with the result, even though the language content is infantile and the writing is on a low amateur level. I even had a wrong stroke, changing the meaning of a character.

We are progressing reasonably quickly, so my next essay will hopefully contain more words, and more mature grammatical structures. Next week I’m also starting calligraphy class, so the writing craftmanship will no doubt improve as well 🙂

First essay

Taipei week 3+ – Getting to work

March 1st. The time finally arrived for me to move into my newly rented apartment. Having lived in a hotel for almost two weeks, I had gotten used to the easy life, and the friendly faces greeting me in the reception. Also to the fact that my basic needs where provided for.

I arrived at the apartment at 5pm, getting my keys from the landlady. The first thing I noticed was that the cleaning left something to be desired; but that’s ok for me: one less thing to worry about when “checking out” in three months… Then the fact that the furnitured apartment was totally lacking in glasses, plates, chopsticks etc (as well as food and drink, of course). So a trip to the local “super” market becomes the next point on the agenda.

The last surprise of the evening is when I attempt to go to sleep. The bed (covered in a hideous sheet with actual pink flamingos), is like lying on a wooden board, but with steel springs popping up at random locations. This crosses the border from inconvenient to unusable, and the first night established the fact that my back would not last three months sleeping on this bed.

IKEA TaipeiFortunately, one of my colleagues at work tipped me about IKEA having a store in Taipei. They used to go there all the time when they needed something for the home. I can imagine IKEA being seen as somewhat exotic here, although to me it was just like going back home to Norway. To make a long story short, after several trips to IKEA, I managed to put the apartment in proper working order, with both an extra matress for the bed and some less hippiey sheets, as well as some subtle decorations to humanize the place. And, no, I did not eat the kjöttbullar for dinner, but I did buy some knäckebröd for breakfast…

Apartment bedApartment TVApartment kitchen topApartment bathroom

This week also marked a radical shift in the weather. While February had been unusually hot (Hong Kong measuring the highest mean temperature in recorded history with 20.3℃), March saw temperature drop to the low teens, and rain and wind completing the unpleasantness. This, combined with my apartment fixing project and school starting, put a damper on my tourist activities. I will get back with more of this later :).

(most of) Class at MTCThe apartment is just a 7 minutes walk from the office, and a further 15 minutes to the school. School started the 5th of March, with an orientation meeting the day before. Each class was 8-10 students. The first few days there were some leaving and joining classes, but our class settled down at nine people, hailing from Japan, France, Ireland, USA, Brazil, Belarus and Norway. Writing this post, I have just completed the first two full weeks of class.

We started by learning pronunciation. I (covertly) managed to convince the class that we should be focusing on learning Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) for this, as I find the romanization of Pinyin to just be confusing and inconsistent. Bopomofo has a strong position in Taiwan, but not much outside. It is mainly a teaching aid, while pinyin in fact is being used to publish normal texts in mainland China. Using bopomofo, we where able to learn the subtle differences between some of the sounds in the language, as well as gaining a rudimentary starting vocabulary without having to learn the actual Chinese characters for those words. Parallell to this first week, there was, conveniently, a pronunciation class in the big auditorium as well. Here the focus was more on repeating, in unison, what the teacher said. It worked well as additional practice, though, and also provided more hours each day to get into the proper “mind set”.

The next week started by attacking lesson 1 in the textbook. Introducing yourself, asking the other persons name and nationality, etc. Here we started using proper characters, and started learning to write. And again, parallell to this, there was an introduction to writing class in the big auditorium.

Class is going great, the people in my class are fun and eager to learn, and the teacher is enthusiastic and attentive to each individual’s needs. I have firmly established myself as a “good student” by doing my homework, acing all the tests so far, and being focused and helpful in class. My biggest challenge is proper pronunciation, as I don’t have continuous opportunity to speak chinese. I find, though, that sounds and tones are not very difficult for Norwegians, compared to some of the other nationalities gathered in my class.

Eslite reading areaI did spend a few afternoons walking around the city. One of my trips were to a big 24h bookstore called Eslite. The flagship store on 敦化南路/Dunhua South Road is big, and has gradually developed into a kind of mall; the focus is still on books, though. And being open around the clock provides a unique service to it’s patrons. All around the store, people were sitting down or standing up, reading books and taking a good time about it. Reading a book seemed not frowned upon, as is normal in my country, but rather encouraged, with even a special reading table set up for extended browsing. The amount of books on offer was impressive, although for me the Chinese language books are still somewhat outside my competence level. When I was there, the shop was full of people, but there was no real lines forming at the counter. I don’t really know how they stay in business, providing what looked to me more like a library than a bookstore focused on peddling books. But I guess filling the store with people is a good way to turn a profit on the percentage that actually buys some of the goods on offer.

After this post, I will turn my attention to specific events and topics, rather than trying to do a general diary of weeks. I imagine my time will be much focused on going to class, and studying the subject, and less time will be spent exploring the surroundings. For Spring Break though (April 2-3), I have signed up for a trip to Green Island, of the south east coast of Taiwan; I’m looking forward to that.

Rice in duck's bloodUntil next time, I leave you with a snapshot from the local food store, of a produce I have not yet tried (again thanks to the clear labeling), “Rice in Duck’s Blood”.

Dance Movies of the 80s

Saturday Night FeverSomething triggered me thinking the other day, about dance movies of the 80s. And to my shock, I found out that making this list made me realize that I actually enjoy the occational dance movie. I haven’t watched too many, though, so I may have left out some of your personal favourites.

The following is just a list of names and links to IMDB.com and youtube-clips. You will find all the information you need there. Beware, if you have not seen any of the movies, that both these sites may contain “spoilers”; but, hey, the 80s was a long time ago, so who hasn’t seen these movies by now… 🙂

Taipei week 2 – getting settled

Week 2 started out with me determined to use the lazy Sunday to go looking at a few apartments for rent. I had a slow breakfast, and decided to spend a few minutes on the couch in my hotel room reading, waiting for my first appointment. Then, suddenly, a movement behind my magazine caught my eye. A fairly big RAT just jumped out from behind the TV, looked around, and scuttled back to where it came from. It was white and gray, and it looked mostly harmless (it was too fast for me to take pictures, though…). So I got up, hurried out the door, and went down to the front desk.

“Excuse me, there is rat in my room.”, “what, don’t understand, sir”, “rat”, “huh?” (me picking up my iPhone Chinese dictionary) “老鼠/lǎoshǔ”, “oh, I tell manager; do you want to change room, sir?”, “Yes, please :)”

Executive BedExecutive Power ShowerSo, I changed rooms. To make a long story short, there was a big puddle/leak in the bathroom of my new room. Another complaint, and another room change lead to me being upgraded to the Master Executive Suite for the rest of the week.
Typical Hotel BreakfastSo I lived the happy life as an executive for a week. Bigger, softer bed; bigger, better tub; bigger, better minibar; even complementary condoms in the desk drawer (I wonder what kind of people normally inhabit these rooms…). The breakfast was the same, though. I played it safe, having a ham’n’egg sandwich, occationally tasting the chinese/japanese vegetables. No rat in there, as far as I could tell…

Taipei City HallSogo Department StoreI eventually got to walking around town. I had looked at apartments in different parts of town, because I did not want to ignore a potential great place even though it was a bit far away from work. The MRT is fairly efficient at getting people around, so I could live with a short commute every day. I took a few pictures as well walking around, of different buildings and sights. For more of these, see my flickr Taiwan 2009 set.

After having looked at a few apartments, I settled on one that looked nice, and was pretty close to the office. It was not in the best neighbourhood, and it was quite small. But I figured that it was good enough. And the decorations done to it, although mostly superficial, gave the impression of quality I needed to relax and stop thinking about rats :). I also liked the fact that having made the decision, I could just relax for the rest of the week, not having to spend every day hunting for a better place. More pictures and impression of the new apartment next week, when I’m moving in.

Tuesday I decided to go for a dinner outside the ordinary: Shark Fin Soup (魚翅湯/yú chì tāng). I asked the local “restaurant critic” about a good restaurant for such a dish. “It’s illegal… Besides, I though Western guy dont like the behavior that we kill shark…”, “We kill whales, you know…” Enough said :). So there would be soup…

Shark Fin SoupAbaloneLobsterThe meal started out with some nice little vegetables and tea, followed by a boiling hot shark fin soup. The actual shark fin is dried and stored, and watered out before used in making the soup. In itself, it is almost tasteless, but by the treatment it receives it attains a magnificient spongelike texture (in a good way) that is excellent for attracting and delivering the taste from the soup. So there are many different variations on the shark fin soup theme, with different base and additions. My version was sauted in soy sauce, and had a simple set of vegetables. Tasty, pure and filling at the same time. The meal was by no means finished with the soup, though, as it was followed by a big abalone dish (cut into pieces in the picture, I’m afraid…) The size of this seashell is impressive, and the big muscle had a beeflike quality, while still remaining uniquely different. It did not taste like what I’ve come to expect from seafood, at least. The next dish was cooked lobster. Happily, the Chinese seem to not know about “dill”, so the taste of this lobster was not tainted by that nausea-inducing herb. I had to resort to using a fork for this one, though, as the chopsticks did not give enough control to pry loose the food while still allowing it to stay in the vicinity of my plate once loosened…

Such a great evening had to be finished in style. But I ended up on KTV instead 🙂 KTV is like what is more commonly known as karaoke, but instead of being in a public place, listening to strangers, and having to perform to a crowded room, you are basically in a hotel in your own room. Upon entering the establishment, you book a room at the front desk, and are assigned a number with a bellhop showing you the way. You enter the room, and order drinks, teas and throat medicine… Although it feels a bit strange being in a padded room with a couch and big-screen TV, it at least removes some of the inhibitions of us neophyte pop singers.
My WayThere were “over 9000” Chinese-language songs, and a limited selection of English songs as well. I seized the opportunity to do many of the classic karaoke killer hits; “My Way”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Up Where We Belong”, “Sound of Silence”, “Tears In Heaven”; I even got to do “Never Gonna Give You Up”. I think I did fairly well, actually; I just need to work on my range for some of the higher notes…
Looking, and listening, to the Chinese songs, I made a startling discovery. Even with my limited reading ability (occasionally seeing a few characters I recognized), I was able to follow along pretty well, since each character is one syllable. And given the Chinese love for… well, love songs, the pace was pretty pedestrian. So I think KTV can actually be a good way to exercise structured speed-reading of Chinese. Given that YouTube is flush with KTV videos, I will be able to practice, so I’ve selected a song that I will try to learn; 屋頂/wūdǐng/roof.

Hopefully with 3 months studying I will have developed my reading skills, as well as my singing voice, to be able to pull this off :).

Massage GuyMy back has been killing me these last few days, threatening my training and even my being able to sit in the office chair. Not good. Back home, I have been going to a chiropractor on and off for many years, but here degrees in chiropractics are not recognized. So I opted for getting a deep body massage. Not wanting to end up in a sleezy back-alley place with a “happy ending”, I asked at the hotel. They confirmed that the local places were “不好/bù hǎo”, but recommended a place uptown, where the people even were fluent in English. For the reasonable charge of NT$1.000 (NOK 200,-) I got lavender tea, soft musicbox muzak, and 60 minutes total body massage. It started out hurting like hell, but eventually the muscles decramped, and the bones fell into place. I guess this will be part of my new relaxing regime, interleaved with visits to the hot springs :D.

PearA few tidbits from the office this week. Fruit day entailed something familiar this time; pear/梨/lí. The tast was a bit different, though. Not as juicy and mushy as the ordinary Norwegian pear, but much more crunchy and dry. Actually quite similary to last weeks jujube. I sense a theme, here…
Y! 14 YearsYahoo! Cupcake
Yahoo! also celebrated its 14th birthday, conveniently placed on the last Friday of the month when there apparently always is some kind of cake/dessert to be had. So also this time; an overly sweet and spongy Y! cupcake, fortunately coupled with some pastry more reminiscent of spring rolls.

No update on my cubicle walls yet, although I am slowly getting there. It has just not passed the threshold of utilitarian into ridiculous yet… But I want to take the opportunity to highlight the excellent chairs we are all equipped with.
Aeron Chair
The Aeron Chair is widely recognized as a comfortable and highly desirable chair, having been inducted in modern art museums. Often seen as a symbol of the dot-com era, there is no denying the inherent qualities in the shape and material of this chair. If there is one thing I would want to bring back to Norway, it might just be this one.

I continued my Taekwon-Do training this week. After the initial introduction was last week, this weeks training was more traditional. I talked to the teacher about possibly graduating to yellow belt, and he said he would be honored to have me receive the Taiwan ITF diploma to take back to Norway. One month until graduation, and as I am the only 9 gup, I will get personal feedback on my skills in the weeks to come. In fact, when practicing patterns this week, I got to show my Chon-Ji (a pattern…) to the entire class. They were obviously impressed by my prowess, but I also got some specific feedback from the black belt teacher. I fully remembered all the techniques, and the execution was mostly good, but I was lacking in flow. This has not been a focus of the training in Norway, but it became more apparent when doing the pattern alone. I will focus on this in the weeks ahead, and hopefully master it to the level required for the yellow belt.

Almond Fish snacks...So that pretty much sums up my week of getting settled. Looking forward to next week, with moving into my apartment, and starting school. I leave you with one item of food I did NOT try, even though the fish look happy: The Crunchy Almond Fish Snack. Fortunately clearly labeled in English…

Taipei week 1 – arriving

Heping/Roosevelt intersectionI arrived in Taipei the evening of February 17th, after almost 24h on planes and airports. I only slept 4-5h on the plane, to try to adjust my body to the new timezone (7h before). I also tried to eat almost nothing during the trip, and when I arrived in the evening, I had a big burger meal. This also helped to adapt to the new daily rythm.

The morning after I showed up at the Yahoo! offices. I had woken up quite early, feeling well rested. I had a nice breakfast, and crossed the street to the Yahoo! offices at my usual arrival time of 9am. A bit too early, it seemed, as there was nobody from the Search Team around 🙂 But I asked at the reception desk where I was supposed to sit, and found my place.My cube, first day After a short while the search team started arriving, and several people were quite helpful in getting the practicalities sorted out, with network connectivity and stuff like that. So I soon got settled. My cube looks a bit barren at the moment; all the other people have a multitude of little trinkets and personality items decorating every square inch of their walls and desks. But give me a few weeks, and I’ll try to catch up 🙂

I was lucky enough to arrive in the Yahoo! offices on the day of the yearly Search Team Spring Banquet. I was invited to this fabulous event, which consisted of a fantastic dinner at “A Cut Steak House”, and a Lucky Draw event afterwards. To see photos of this event, go to Hsu Ming-Yen’s Flickr Photo Set from the Spring Banquet. Lots of good food, delicious meat and happy people!

Thursday was registration day at the Mandaring Training Center, where I am enrolling as a student. I had gone to the area the day before, just to make sure I could find it. And thanks to the availability of online satellite images I knew pretty well what to expect from the area. Registration started at 08:30 and I was one of the first people in line. The registration started at a desk where you were assigned a student number.Mandarin Training Center registration desk The lines where divided in two from a total of 500 students, but this covered all levels and both the Regular and Intensive courses. After the initial handout of papers, it was standing in line for copying and validation of passports, and paying tuition. Then it was onto sitting in line for an oral interview and the written placement test. Given that I have never studied Chinese before, the actual interview took only 10 seconds, and I skipped the written test. But I still had to wait half-an-hour in line 🙂 No problem, though, as I got to talking with the guy before me. His name was Jim, from Chicago, but he had been a history teacher in Taiwan for 20 years, and in his retirement he had finally decided to get formal Chinese training. So the waiting in line was definitively not wasted for me, as we discussed a lot of interesting topics about Chinese and Taiwanese culture in general, and language in particular. I just hope that some of my fellow students in my beginner class will be half as interesting to talk to 🙂

Some random culinary events from the week. During “fruit day” at the Yahoo! office, I was served something I at first believed was some kind of apple.An apple? It was very crunchy and not as juicy and sweet as a typical green apple, in a good way. Turns out it only had a single big seed inside.A jujube It was in fact a date fruit called a jujube, or to be more specific: 蜜棗 (mìzǎo). In Norway, I think we are more familiar with the aged, dried variety, called “daddel”, which I have never liked. Just goes to show that you should not judge the dog by its (dried) skin.

Taiwan BeerI also got reacquainted with Taiwan Beer, which was a fond memory. The price in the hotel minibar was actually quite reasonable, at NT$30, or about NOK 6.

Fried RizeI can also report that the lavish lunches enjoyed while at the Vespa summit last year is not the normal kind of lunch in the Taipei office. Thank the Gods! I’ve joined a few of the guys going to a some of the local backstreet family restaurants for simple and tasty dishes, such as the “fried rice with mixed stuff” shown here. This particular lunch also included side orders of snails boiled with spinach, and pig’s intestines with ginger strips; wonderful small dishes, but I was too busy eating to take photos 😦

Apple Wireless Keyboard with aftermaket Dàyì layoutOf other notable events in the office, I bought a new Apple Wireless Keyboard with Chinese character layout. Unfortunately, Apple has chosen to not include the 大易 layout that is included on most Taiwanese keyboards. I have decided that this one is the best to learn for me, as it is based on decomposition of characters in stroke order, so most closely resembles the way characters are written. But it turned out to be less of a problem, when I got help from one of the guys in the search team to find a small shop specializing in laser engraving keyboards. So I got the Dàyì layout added to the keyboard. Now, some may say that it is sacrilegious to point a laser at any Apple product. And I would definitively not laser engrave the outside lid of my aluminum MacBook Pro. But in this case I found it acceptable, not in the least because I already own an American layout Apple Wireless keyboard, which is even cleaner looking 🙂

Wretch Girls 2009 CalendarMy main project for the first week, was to acquire a set of “The Girls of Wretch 2009” calendars. With the help of mr. Fix-It on the search team, I got a few calendars for free from the Wretch representative. I will send a few to the Trondheim office as promotional material, but will keep one for myself as the start of my cube decoration. Shown here is a picture of the front page of the Wretch calendar installed on my cube shelf.

I also started looking at apartments for rent during the coming 3 months. There is a wide variety of apartments on offer. Some are very cheap, but old; some are very nice, but small; some are very big, but pricy. I’ll spend the weekend looking at a few options, but I also have all of next week to find somewhere to stay. The sooner the better, though 🙂

Saturday I also managed to attend the start-up of beginners classes in Taekwon-Do in ITF Taipei. The resident Sa Bum Nim is Daniel Obon. There was about 12 people attending the session, at the Taipei Mixed Martial Arts center.Taipei Mixed Martial Arts Most of the people seemed to have previous experience in MMA, as their fighting style was somewhat accomplished, but much more “boxing” like, and “mixed”, than ITF TKD. The session was mainly to give the class an introduction to ITF TKD, and Daniel talked about the differences between ITF/WTF, and also presented the different diciplines of TKD, such as basic techniques, self-defense, forms, and sparring.Sparring at ITF TKD TaipeiI guess I will continue training there, just to keep up with the TKD, but let’s hope the sessions become more focused once we get going; I need to practice for my yellow belt graduation!

The Brasserie

The Brasserie, Schiphol AirportMy goto place at Schiphol airport is The Brasserie. Not necessarily because it is exceptionally good, but because it is a step up from the fast-food/bar/cantina food found elsewhere, and it is right on the path I usually take.

Today’s selection is Pasta Pesto with pine nuts and basil.Pasta PestoThe pasta was definitively not home made, but it was still ok, because it was not cooked to a pulp. Pine nuts and basil add much wanted texture to the dish. The sauce is rich and tasty, although a bit fatty and prone to separate in the bottom of the plate. Topping it all of, is a generous helping of Parmesan cheese, although it is powdered, not freshly grated.
All in all, a simple, filling, but ultimately unimpressive meal.

For dessert I went with the Dutch cheese on rye with apple syrup.Dutch Cheese It is very difficult to screw up the taste of cheese, when served pure as this. The order and progression of cheeses is acceptable. I don’t know a lot about cheese, but I know what I like :). The selection was a youngish cheddar-like cheese, followed by very good and mature edition of the same. The crown jewel was a nice, salty Parmesan-ish cheese, with huge crystals making the entire block both crunchy and savory at the same time. The last cheese was a white, almost tasteless goat cheese, served with red berries.

Having looked at the cheese selection in the delicatessen next door, I would guess the good cheese was a Reypenaer XO Reserve. I was missing some kind of blue and/or soft cheese, but overall a good selection, perfectly complemented by the juicy rye bread and apple syrup. The dessert was not fantastic, but a better experience than the pasta.

With a large beer the total bill was €32.60. Not cheap, even by Norwegian standards. But I figured that this would be my last meal for 24h, so it might as well be a double meal…