Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Knife Is The Bomb

I just realized it's been two years and I haven't written about my awesome Kinmen knife. I'm not the first to write about this, but as the owner of one of these remarkable products, I can attest to the quality. Talk about a unique souvenir from Taiwan, and the ultimate in upcycling!

We were given one of these knives (basically the same as the knife pictured above) from Maestro Wu's knifery (is that even a word?) as a wedding gift, and I have nothing but great things to say about it. It's heavy - if you use it to cook a dish that requires a lot of chopping prep work, the first time you do it'll tire out your wrist - but onions, garlic, scallions, ginger, vegetables (even the harder ones) melt beneath its blade.

Earlier this week I made a pasta with sundried tomato sauce. I started out by finely chopping scallions and garlic. Then I added the sundried tomato paste, regular tomato paste, cherry tomatoes chopped in half (as their own stand-alone vegetable rather than a sauce component), chopped red and yellow bell peppers and mushrooms. Using my Kinmen knife, all of this prep work was easy, like spreading warm cream cheese or grating soft cheddar. It just melts through meat and vegetables of all textures. The week before that I had some coworkers over; I made stuffed peppers and tomatoes and a trio of Mediterranean dips. Cutting and goring all those peppers and tomatoes was a breeze, as was chopping up all the vegetables that went in them with brown rice, with my handy bomb knife!

Kinmen knives are made from the found shells of bombs hurled at Kinmen island when hostilities between China and the ROC (better referred to as Taiwan) - and as such, have the strength and durability of the steel that goes into bomb-making. They're really remarkable.

My one piece of advice is to get it sharpened before you use it - we used ours straightaway and it felt blunter than it ought to. One day I found a knife-sharpener in one of those little random storefronts that line the streets of urban Taiwan and brought him my Kinmen knife. He sharpened it right up (took him awhile, too - even he was struggling with the heft of that metal) and now, well, I've almost sliced through two fingernails along with my vegetables, it's so sharp. That was almost a year ago, and it's still as sharp as the day I brought it in.

They're not cheap, but if you get one, a Kinmen knife will not only last you through your days in Taiwan, but it'll be something you can use, well, for the rest of your life. Or at least for as long as artillery shells remain strong, which I would assume is a pretty damn long time. Just don't get your fingers too close to it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gems of Brick

As ugly as many expats find Taipei, I really don't find it such (although there are plenty of horrifically ugly buildings, I'll grant you that). 

I haven't had much time or energy to post these past few weeks, but I have managed to amass several photos over the past few months highlighting some of the best of Taipei's old architecture - which is thankfully starting to be restored rather than culled. 

I do believe it's worth it to occasionally post a few of these photos, as my tiny, eensy-weensy contribution to an online archive of Taipei's considerable architectural gems - and to remind people that these gems even exist.

So, I'm not going to bother with captions - just enjoy. Most of these photos were taken somewhere in the vicinity of Yanping N. Road, Anxi St., Liangzhou Rd., Dihua Street, Minquan W. Road or some intersection thereof.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Go Read Me

I did a little writing for Expat Arrivals recently - go check it out. Tell me what you think. Think I'm wrong about something? Tell me so!

Meeting People and Making Friends in Taipei

Working in Taipei

Pros and Cons of Moving to Taipei

Cost of Living in Taipei

I also contributed to Safety in Taiwan - although I didn't write all of it, and I do feel that Taiwan is safer than this page makes it out to be.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The State of Women: Two Links

Just a couple of articles worth reading:

Chinese officials free mother who was imprisoned for lobbying for harsher sentences for the men who raped her daughter

Company fined for gender discrimination in Taiwan

As a friend noted, it is progress that they were investigated and fined at all: a lot of gender discrimination goes on openly and unapologetically. I feel the fee was on the low side, but it is a warning to other small, local companies that this sort of sexism at work is not legal and won't be tolerated under the law.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

In Which I Rant About Chocolate

From Wikipedia - yay, Creative Commons!

The state of chocolate in Taiwan - nay, most of Asia - is a sad thing indeed.

I'm not really talking about the crappy local chocolate - I don't bother with most chocolate cakes (there are a few exceptions), those waxy-brown gold foil chocolate ingots or the cheaper candy bars.

I'm not talking about the fairly good - although in my opinion still not quite up to European standard, but still good - local artisanal chocolate by companies like Awfully Chocolate and Black as Chocolate (I happen to think Black as Chocolate is slightly better, but that's just me).

Which, by the way, there are still plenty of good sweets to be found in Taipei. I always suggest a visit to Red on Tree, the purveyor of the amazing desserts available at Caffe Libero.

I'm not even talking about the locally made chocolate that's meant to be good but isn't really - think "chocolate cafes" like Chocozing (which I believe as closed) where what you get really isn't as good as what you were hoping for (their "rich dark hot chocolate" is about as rich and dark as I would expect from a standard hot chocolate. I do not drink crap from a packet).

I'm talking mostly about imported, "should be good" chocolate that's just terrible, because whoever imports it doesn't know what the **** they're doing.

Picture the scene: you go to Dean&Deluca in the basement of Breeze Center on Fuxing N. Road. You're surrounded by interesting chocolates from great places - European chocolate, good chocolate from Africa and South America, chocolates with different fillings and flavors. You spend not a small amount of money to buy a small selection (2-3 small items could easily run you NT$400). You get home. You greedily open your chocolate, mouth watering...

...and it's covered in frosty white stuff. It's still "good to eat", as in it won't kill you, but the flavor's not quite right and the texture is all kinds of funked up.

Or you buy a box or selection of Lindt truffles at City Super, only to get home and realize that some of them have melted slightly and then reconstituted themselves, so while they taste generally fine, they're a bit grainier and waxier than you're used to from a generally good company with a wide distribution and otherwise adequate QA like Lindt.

Or you pick up an interesting treat for Christmas - say one of those pieced-out chocolate bars with nugget-like pieces filled with whiskey or liqueur. They're too sweet as it is (they definitely add sugar to the alcohol - a whiskey chocolate bar shouldn't be that sweet), but the one you got has been on the shelf far too long and tastes...fine...but only fine. Not sublime.

Or you buy a bag of basic chocolate chips for cookies, muffins, truffles or cupcakes. Those too are covered in white film. Fortunately, baking fixes this problem and you can still use them without worry, but it shouldn't be that way: I understand that the occasional bag or bar will get the white film, but in Taiwan it's like every single chocolate item you buy has it, at least if it's imported.

Seriously, who is in charge of this? I'd like to punch their lights out. What kind of subpar storage or shipping facilities do they use? Or is it stores, who don't know how to properly display and sell chocolate? What is it? Why the travesty? Why the heartache?

Why not just do it right?

For the prices stores charge for good chocolate, you'd think they could afford quality shipping and storage for imported items.

Why do I have to say a little prayer every time I open a bag or bar or unwrap a truffle, hoping that this time, it won't be screwed up?

Oh well. If you'll excuse me, I'll be at Black as Chocolate or Red on Tree at Caffe Libero.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

i Will effect you're world with inspiriation

Chase You're Dreams

This is not really related to Taiwan - except for the fact that my Taiwanese Facebook friends seem to have taken to the habit of posting "inspirational quote photos" on Facebook far more than my friends back home.

You know, the "art" of taking inspirational quotes often ones that make no sense, have bad grammar or are utterly banal or could be twisted terribly by the right type of twisted mind (e.g., mine) - superimposed on cute, silly, unrelated or faux-inspirational/religious backgrounds, and then dumping them into the world as though people actually want to see them.

In retaliation - because I really just can't take it anymore - I created a bunch of my own to try and capture the bad grammar, horrific spelling, unintentional hilarity and utter banality of these quotes...and dumped them into the world.


Seen on a woman's t-shirt in Taipei: this quote, but attributed to Dolce&Gabbana. Not joking.

Think of what you could of done...

Yes, that's what passionate people do. They loose themselves.

If you are casual about your dreams...it's best not to think too much about this one.

...and, the piece de resistance...

...which might offend anyone who is very religious (and seriously, humorlessly so) or who doesn't appreciate smutty humor...

...so look away if that's you...

Let Jesus Come Inside You

But use protection...because according to the loudest and most irritating Christians (who don't represent every Christian, I realize), J-dawg is not too big on abortions.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Red Tape Diaries

This is Part I of a two-part post - the second section will come after I have my APRC in hand. At that point, I'll presumably have more to share.

Anyway, I've learned a lot as I've gone through the process of getting my APRC, or permanent residency in Taiwan (still not done - fingers crossed). The best compendium of info is here, on Taiwanease, although questions asked in that thread don't get many replies, if any (I believe that will change and things will pick up).

That said, that thread is huge, and there's more to say about the process than can be conveniently put in it - or should be. Personal experience doesn't equate to fact.

So, here's my personal experience.

1.) A lot of information is contradictory - 

One person I met with an APRC insisted that you needed to pay NT$12,000, elsewhere it says that it's NT $10,000. Another said you needed NT$300,000 in savings even if you met the minimum income requirement. Another said that you needed to have met the income requirements for the entire 5 years' you've been here, not just the past year. In one thread, it says that the translation and notarization of your home country background check must be done in the country of origin. Elsewhere it's pretty clear that it can be done in Taiwan once the document is TECRO-authorized. I've also heard that you need to do this all in person in your home country, whereas elsewhere I've heard that you do not.

So far what I've learned is that the fee is NT$10,000 but subject to change, you don't need to show savings if you meet the minimum income requirement of double the national minimum wage (so you need to be earning about NT$430,000/year, and this needs to be reflected on your tax statement so make sure your employer isn't under-reporting you), that you only need to have earned this or be able to prove you've earned it for the past tax year, that you can do the translation and notarization of your home-country background check in Taiwan, and that it is quite easy to have an intermediary do things for you in your home country, it just involves a bit more paperwork (generally filling out more the bottom of the forms).

2.) It's a good idea to check your status before you begin - 

The Immigration office tells you this, but I was so sure that I was fine that I almost didn't do it. When I finally did, I learned that they had lost - lost! - the record of my ARC for my entire 2nd year in Taiwan. Fortunately I had a copy of the ARC in question and that was enough to reinstate my record so I could apply for an APRC.

Which leads me to..

3.) If you hope to get an APRC or it's even a possibility when you first move to Taiwan, SAVE EVERYTHING!

That copy of one year's ARC really saved my ass. Without it, I'd be out of luck.

4.) Don't listen to the "expected timeline" for your home-country background check.

I can't speak for other countries, but the 3-5 weeks promised by the FBI? Bollocks! It took 6 weeks plus a few days in the mail, to an American address! Start way early with this - and...

5.) Do your home country background check first.

It's the longest part of the process and other documents get dangerously close to expiring if you wait too long. When you or your intermediary receives the clearance in the mail, start the rest of the process.

6.) The Taipei NIA office has a post office downstairs, conveniently close to where they do fingerprints.

So, you can mail out your background check application to your home country right after you get the fingerprinting done. So convenient.

7.) Prepare more than one fingerprint card -

The woman knows what she's doing but mistakes happen and coming back is a pain.

8.) If you get your health check for the APRC, it can't be used to renew an ARC, but if you do an ARC check and APRC check at the same time, you save money.

Most of the procedures are the same, so they only charge you for the extra blood and the extra processing. The fees for the check, X-ray, etc. are combined so you only pay slightly more than the cost of one check. -

9.) Many people say you can get a police background check in Taiwan (CCRD) from your "local" police office. This is probably wrong.

Maybe not, but my local office - Da'an, so not exactly the boonies! - had no idea what I was talking about when I went. I finally figured out that I needed to go to the large office in Ximen (MRT Ximen Exit 5, walk straight ahead one minute). You'd be well advised to just do this rather than wasting time at the local police office. Bring your ARC and passport. It's cheap and quick and takes just a few days to process.

10.) The Taiwan CCRD is a lot easier to get than your home country background check.

6 weeks and $18 plus fingerprints from the FBI vs. two days and NT100, no fingerprints, from Taiwan. Awesome! You don't have to rush as much on this.

11.) Everyone says "get the home country background check translated and notarized" but it's hard to find information on where exactly you can do that.

So I will tell you: there's a notary that advertises on Taiwanease here (Neihu), and another one near 228/Ximen: Chongqing S. Road Section 1 #121 7th floor #1 (台北市重慶南路1段121號7樓之1) - call (02)2388-8688 to make an appointment.

When I find a translation service I will update here. I still don't know where to get that done.

12.) Notarization is surprisingly expensive - 

NT$750, so make sure your documents are in order the first time. I was surprised because for a time I was a notary in Virginia, but I performed notarization duties for free for my old company (who sponsored me in getting the designation so I could notarize things for associates).

13.) If you have an intermediary pick up your home country background check and take it to TECRO, TECRO will want a lot of stuff, including a notarized authorization letter from you.

For US only: send your intermediary your signed application and have them fill in the bottom part, a US dollar bank check, money order or cashier's check payable to TECRO for US$15 plus US$38 if you want it sent directly back to you (if you have your intermediary pick it up and mail it to you, you don't need to include the US$38). You can get a US dollar bank check at First Bank on Heping E. Road, a short walk west from Heping/Fuxing intersection. Hua Nan bank should also do it. Fubon has weird rules and it takes a few days, but the First Bank gave it to me immediately.

Also send your intermediary a copy of your ID (I included ARC and passport to be safe), a letter with the address you'd like the authenticated document sent to, and a notarized authorization letter from you, allowing your intermediary to do this. If you have no idea what to say, pick and choose elements from the templates here.

You can get the letter notarized at the locations above. Make sure to have your intermediary's name in the letter as it appears on their ID (they'll need to bring a copy of their ID, as well).

14.) If your ARC is close to expiration, having an APRC application in process does not entitle you to extend your ARC, you need to do that through regular means.

I learned this the hard way - I thought that if I applied for my APRC before my ARC expired, that it would be OK because, with an application in process, they'd extend the ARC. No dice. So, get both health checks done at once and then extend your ARC as usual if you are in this position.

Or, do the APRC process when your ARC isn't close to expiring and save yourself a lot of stress. Learn from my mistakes.

15.) If you really don't want to extend your ARC (like, you hate your job and don't want to sign another contract but need to in order to renew), you can await an APRC on a visitor's visa.

Once the APRC application has been submitted, you don't need to continue to have an ARC - they will no longer care if you've had one "unbroken" for 5 years if they already have the APRC application. You can leave and come back on a visitor's visa as you await your APRC.

16.) I thought it would take just a few short weeks after applying.

Wrong. I haven't submitted the documents yet but I will soon, however, the NIA told me that once you've submitted, it takes up to a month for them to determine whether to grant you an APRC or not. If they say a month, plan for more (see above with my bad FBI experience).

17.) Keep copies of everything. Everything!

You never know when they'll come in handy. Never submit an original if you don't have a copy, and try to get two originals of everything.

18.) That thread on Taiwanease is just right when it comes to the order in which you should prepare your documents:

1.) Call Immigration to make sure you are eligible and have no outstanding issues (this really saved my butt)
2.) Get your old work permits and tax returns in order
3.) Apply for home country background check (inc. fingerprints)
4.) Prepare and documents for your intermediary if you have one
5.) Authorize background check at TECRO
6.) Translate and notarize background check
7.) While #3 and #4 are in process, get your health check and Taiwan CCRD (background check)
8.) Get your employment certificate from work (valid for only 1 month)
9.) Make copies of everything, incl. ARC and every page of your passport
10.) Call Immigration (NIA) and let them take it from there

Anyway, that's about it. The whole process has been quite illuminating, and not nearly as bureaucratic as I'd feared (really the most bureaucratic part of it is all the crap surrounding my FBI background check. The Taiwan side is surprisingly easy).