9/18/2008

High Speed in Taiwan


These are the trial runs for the Taiwan High Speed, from a couple years back. One thing that I found interesting was the driver appeared to be Taiwanese (I can only see that back of his head and his hand in the clip). I take the High Speed Rail quite a bit, and I have never noticed a Taiwanese driver. I have noticed lots of "foreign" drivers. Naturally, I was curious about the figures. This is what I found online: "At the start of operations, nearly all train operators were foreign. Of the current 89 train operators, however, 54 are Taiwanese; the remaining 35 are mostly French..." http://thirstyghosts2.blogspot.com/2008/01/on-right-track.html

I wonder what the exact totals were at the start. "Nearly all" sounds a bit weird (fishy) to me. Anyway, if all, or even nearly all, the drivers were "foreign", why not show a "foreign" driver in this promotional clip?

9/06/2008

Landlady From Hell



"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made." - Groucho Marx. I think my landlady has this perfected to a tee.

I've been renting from her for two years. I pay NT$20,000 for a place that's a bit on the small side - two bedrooms and a Japanese waste-of-space room, but only one bathroom. The view's pretty good and we're in Wenshan (文山), near the mountains. Anyway, I don't really consider myself a problem tenant. I'm never late on paying the rent. I don't claim it for tax purposes on my tax returns. That means that my landlady doesn't need to report any of this income on her taxes. It's worth mentioning that we never agreed to this when we moved in. Why would I agree to something that illegal? We're just unable to get receipts out of her. And in all of my time here, I've asked her to fix two things, a leaky faucet and a leaky air conditioner, which was pouring down the wall and messing up her property. Other things, I've let go. This includes a gaping crack in the floor that runs down a fifth of the living room. The crack appeared after the December 2006 earthquake. Many of tiles were broken at the time, and now more are in the process of crumbling up. Since we have an infant crawling around the place, we've covered everything up with soft Formosan floor pads. But we're forever retrieving little jagged pieces of floor tile. My wife says "forget about it. The landlady'll never properly fix the floor or anything else until we're out and she's found someone idiotic enough to buy such a structurally unsound place."

All the fun started on our second complaint on the place - the aforementioned air conditioner. A couple of weeks ago, I called the landlady and told her it was leaking. She said she'd send someone over. After a half-an-hour's work, I was presented a bill for NT$1,500. The landlady was in our home too, watching with an embarrassed smile on her face. She uses moments like this to gain access, to make mental notes on how we're wrecking the place. So I told the repairman, "The landlady's right there. Give her the bill." Man, did the landlady ever put up a stink, but I told her "my wallet's not coming open for this one."

"But your contract has expired," she countered. Good point. Why hadn't I pushed her for a lower rate, especially considering Taiwan's high vacancy rates, which have got to be worse than two years ago when we took this place on after it had sat unrented for a year? End of story? Well, no. Last night, I was coming home with my daughter when I noticed a fellow with a shaved head, in combat fatigues, holding guard over our front door. "How's it going?" I asked him.

"Ugh!" was the reply.

Five minutes later, the phone was ringing in my apartment: "It's the landlady. Mr Cheng, can I come up?"

"Sure, I've got this month's rent ready," I answered. She picks it up personally because, I think, she wants to avoid any trail that could link her to this rental income. A couple minutes later, the landlady, her husband and the guy with the shaved head were in my apartment, presenting me with an unusual proposition. I could stay in the apartment on these conditions:

1. The rent would be bumped to NT$25,000 per month in six months. That's a 25 percent increase.
2. The rent would be bumped to NT$25,000 in three months if I didn't sign immediately. Why? Because they needed NT$5,000 a month extra (their words) to pay for repairing the apartment when things came up.
3. I could NOT go to the tax office and claim that I had paid rent to them (Taiwan has a fairly reasonable rental tax break to catch, I suppose, tax evaders). The landlady had actually written this condition into the text of the contract (see above pic)!
4. If I moved out early, I'd be penalized one months' rent. I've already been here for two years.

When I told them that I would need time to sleep on it, the guy with no hair went livid. It turns out he's their eldest son. "I could rent this apartment for NT$30,000!" he yelled. "It has an elevator!" Every time I tried to speak, he cut me off. What I wanted to say was:

"First, I need to talk to my wife. She would kill me if I signed anything without first consulting her. This is how it works in normal marriages. Also, your gestapo tactics won't work here, even if you can bounce off all four walls like the Incredible Hulk. Besides, I can't sign anything, period. My father-in-law has my ID and chop right now. He's picking up a package for me from the post office." For the next half an hour, I had him going at me, badgering me to sign right now or else.... Talk about a nice way to spend a Friday night. Finally, I opened the door and said "Thanks, but no thanks. Out."

"We'll be back tomorrow," he informed me. "That will be your last chance. How's about 4:30?"

"Why don't you come over on Monday?" I asked. "I have stuff to do tomorrow. It's Saturday, after all. Besides, I won't be able to get my ID back by Saturday afternoon. My father-in-law works Saturdays."

Today, I was kicking back at my friend Celia's when it occurred to me that the crazy bugger would be on his way to my home in an hour. So, I decided to call him: "You'll have to come over Monday, guy. I'm out right now." This really pissed him off. He started to shout so loud that my cell phone vibrated. I put it down on the table to give my ear a break. I guess I was tuning out, because all I heard was "Zzzz, shhhhh, You...." I don't know if Celia could make out what was coming through all of that or if she just found the anger upsetting, because she began to cry. After I had hung up, my phone rang several more times. I put it on "busy" at first. Then I shut it off. About an hour later, when I had turned it on again, my wife was on the other end of the line:

"That crazy nut just called me eight times! He says we have to move out by September 30 or accept the wrath of the law. He'll give us one last chance. He says he'll drop off a paper for us to sign, agreeing to eviction in three weeks, or there will be big trouble! I think he's trying to intimidate us. BTW, he says you have no manners because you hung up on him."

This should be interesting. I've always been curious to see just how the legal system works here first-hand.

9/05/2008

New Hampshire Cookout in Taiwan



I took the train down to Miaoli (苗栗) and ventured into Hakka country to visit MJ Klein and his wife, Hui-chen: http://www.thenhbushman.com/2008/09/01/saturday-in-miaoli/ plus friends last Saturday. We met up at Andres: http://dreintaiwan.blogspot.com/ uncle's cabin for a KTV cookout in the mountains. MJ broke out his Dutch oven (see above pic) and cooked some really delicious grub, a kind of thick beef stew that was one of the best meals I've had in a long time. According to MJ, the Dutch oven was used to feed New England lumberjacks in the 19th century. They obviously ate really well. The Dutch oven is a weird and wonderful cast iron contraption where heat is directed down on the ingredients over an extended period of time.

Andres' uncle was also cooking. He'd fished a pile of river shrimp, which he barbecued in a beer can. I've come to the conclusion that I don't eat as well as other people. Life in Taipei means an endless stream of fried or boiled slop for people on the go, with the occasional Subway sub to break up the monotony. MJ seems to have it figured out. You get other people to do work for you, and then just focus on what's important - eating, kicking back to discussions on the future punctuated with listening to or making music.