The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Tag Archives: Taiwan

Light, shade, and temperature


In February of last year, a good friend stayed at our apartment for a long weekend. On his second day, I took him to a Filipino restaurant in San Mateo for brunch. We arrived early, so the place, called Kuya’s, hadn’t opened yet.

As we waited outside the establishment, I noticed how my guest started to shiver from the late-morning cold. So I found a patch of sunlight, stood there, and asked him to join me. When he stepped into the light, relief from the cold was almost immediate. It was as much a surprise to him, as it was to me the first time I noticed the temperature differences between light and shade in my first winter in Taiwan. I snapped the following photo to commemorate the “aha” moment.

Under the blazing tropical sun, shade is associated with relief. Leaving the shade for relief was a foreign concept. It’s a lesson that you learn quickly, however, even in sub-tropical countries that don’t really have snow — like Taiwan.

I experienced an even sharper contrast between light and shade when I went to Kanata, Canada (a suburb of Ottawa) on a business trip a couple weeks short of Christmas. This is what greeted me on my first morning.

Overnight, a layer of frost had formed on the cars in the hotel parking lot. This wasn’t California-style, turn-on-the-wiper-and-you’re-done frost. You actually had to scrape this stuff off. Surprising as that phenomenon was (it was the first time I’d ever had to drive in that kind of weather), what even more surprising was how the curvature of the windshield was enough to keep the morning sun from melting all of the frost. Hence the powder-white patch on the right side of the car.

For most of my stay at the hotel, I parked where the photo above was taken. However on Thursday night, there was a hockey game at a nearby stadium and game parking spilled over to the hotel parking lot. So I ceded my usual spot and parked behind the hotel building. It seemed like a good idea at the time since there was virtually no competition on that side of the building.  I found out why the following morning.

The parking slots there were completely shielded from the sun. So I had a whole lot of scraping to do. I know my east coast and European friends who are more accustomed to full-blown winters will look at that picture and laugh. But hey . . . we don’t have that issue in the tropics . . . or California for that matter. It was as new to me, as the light-and-shade revelation my friend experienced in February.

The things I enjoy most about travelling are the little discoveries that tell you “you’re no longer at home”. A close second is taking visitors, who are new to my part of world, around to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of my living space. Through their comments and questions, things that had become routine and mundane become fresh all over again.

Thank you for that visit my friend, and for that re-discovery of the non-tropical relationship between light, shade, and temperature.

Jun 17, 2012

Chopsticks required


One humongous mistake I made before moving to Taipei, Taiwan was to neglect my chopsticks skills. I could pick up large pieces of meat, so it didn’t seem like such a big deal. “After all” I thought “all restaurants should have forks and spoons, right?” Dead wrong.

While pricier restaurants do provide forks and spoons, common-man restaurants where most folks eat, did not. Needless to say, my first week in Taipei became very interesting . . . food-wise. I soon learned two things: hunger is a great incentive to look for alternatives, and that I was, in fact, left handed.

So unless you plan to bring utensils with you everywhere you go (which is what a Filipino officemate did on one trip) . . . it would be a good idea to brush up on this skill before moving over.

Filed under Slices of life, Taiwan
Sep 18, 2010

Taipei taxi language laboratory


Taipei taxis weren’t just a means of getting around. They were also an interesting way to work on my Mandarin.

All the foreigners I knew that managed to get over the hump between between language classes and actual conversation all told me the same thing: “Just do it”. I had to find as many opportunities to speak Mandarin as I could, and just try to be understood.

Being surrounded by Taiwanese in the office, you’d think practice would be easy. But I really wasn’t getting much practice at work. My vocabulary was so limited, my Taiwanese co-workers simply found it easier just to use English. So I had to find other ways.

Enter . . . the Taipei taxi.

Taxis were as ubiquitous as chopsticks. There never seemed to be a shortage of them, regardless of the time of day. Although the bus and rail systems were pretty good at getting people to key points of interest, some destinations just required the flexibilty of these bright yellow cars. Rarely did a week go by without a cab ride.

Most folks liked to ride in the rear seat. Right or wrong, my intuition told me that riding in front somehow humanized me to the driver, hopefully making him less inclined to drive me around in circles. This configuration also facilitated my “lessons”.

At the bare minimum, the taxi presented a very simple language test whose results were immediately available and easy to understand: “if I didn’t get to where I want to go, I failed”.

The basic taxi vocabulary was easy enough: “Hello“, “I want to go ____“, “intersection“, “at the corner“, “turn left“, “turn right“, “make a u-turn“, and “stop here“. In my early taxi rides always I brought written instructions to my apartment so that I could always find my way home. I also asked my friends to write down destinations on slips of paper that I could show the driver. With the destination out of the way I focused, and gained confidence with, the limited vocabulary mentioned earlier.

After watching how my friends gave instructions to drivers on a number of shared rides, I started giving instructions myself. Mandarin is all about the tones. Use the wrong tone and you end up saying something you didn’t intend (more about that in a future post). Some destinations were easy enough to pronounce. Other streets sounded dangerously like others, and were therefore vulnerable to butchery by unpracticed foreign tongues. Sometimes I got to where I needed to go, other times . . . lets just say it was an interesting way to discover new and interesting places.

The vast majority of taxi drivers I met were courteous and mindful of the fact that I was trying to learn their language. Upon detecting the awkwardness in my delivery, they would invariably ask (in Mandarin of course) “Where are you from?”. Small talk and polite probes would follow, until my vocabulary ran out and I said “sorry, I don’t understand, I know very little Chinese”. The probes would then end with polite smiles.

One day, I didn’t have to end the conversation prematurely. By then I had been engaged in a language exchange arrangement with a couple of Taiwanese friends. They were helping me with my Mandarin, and I was helping them with their English. Because of the latter, English was always a readily available safety net. That was not the case with taxi drivers, and this one was no exception.

The usual small talk ensued, and I was even able to ask a few questions myself. It wasn’t until the ride ended that I realized: “I had just completed my first Mandarin-only conversation!!!!” It was a fantastic realization comparable to riding a bike, unassisted, for the first time.

The fondness with which I recall that moment, is only matched by the regret in not having written down the time and day it happened. That milestone is lost to me forever. Hopefully with blogs like this, I won’t let moments like that pass me by again.

Filed under Slices of life, Taiwan
Jun 15, 2010

Number One


The first visa was undoubtedly the most unexpected. The destination was Taiwan, a country to which I had never dreamed of going.

I grew up with a world map above my bed, so it wasn’t a geographic mystery. But beyond being a source of affordable, albeit not-so-durable goods, all that Taiwan was for me was a place to which one hoped typhoons during typhoon season went directly. A Taiwan-bound typhoon was one that would cause the Philippines no harm. Little did I know that I would eventually be where I hoped the deluge would end up.

It was the year 2000. Tough times for a banking industry that was still clawing its way out of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and a bad time to be working in the credit department of a medium-sized commercial bank. It was time to get out. “Out” came in the form of a technical writing job at a Taiwanese software company. I applied, passed the entrance exam, and thereafter joined the ranks of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).

Check out the immigration stamp in the photo below. I became a migrant worker on September 11, 2000. Ring a bell?

Filed under Visa collection
Jun 13, 2010