Getting the Answer Right the First Time

Besides being old there’s at least one other trait that I share with one of America’s current crop of presidential candidates… I often slip up when talking and say the wrong thing. Not so serious that Fox News will be jumping on my case and demanding a government investigation or media assassination,  but enough to hurt feelings and perhaps damage relationships. On January 8th, over dinner with some students, I got it right, though.

I’d been forewarned by a quite possibly apocryphal story of a  foreign professor who departed in the mid-90s. He had done some very good work for a decade, spoke Chinese well enough to deliver his classes in it and  read Chinese well enough to grade his graduate students’ papers. This man had a balanced life. Apart from his scholarly work, he appreciated music and was deeply interested in computer equipment, building his own systems from parts obtained at nearby shops.  But family situations militated against continued life overseas, so a departure date was scheduled. 

In the midst of a million things to be done, meals to be shared, and interviews to be given, someone asked him what he would most miss about Taiwan. The way the story is told, his first answer was, “the computer parts stores on XX street.”  

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We’re back in Taiwan in connection with the presidential election… not America’s election, but Taiwan’s. One evening I sat with former students over a meal, and was asked what I’ve most missed in the 17 months that I’ve been gone. I think I got the answer right, I said, “Taiwan People”. That was followed up with two other things, “Taiwan food” (always a good answer in this culture) and “speaking Taiwanese.” These are the things that hold neighbors together, people, food, and communication.

Sure, I miss things akin to the apocryphal story’s “computer parts stores”, but not that I’d mention them. Otherwise you could start to call me, “Joe.”

David Alexander, who now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan, is back home to vote for president on January 11th.  


Jumpy Rates

Preparing for our trip to Taiwan, we called our American bank and credit card companies to inform them we’d be away. (This avoided getting labeled as stolen cards while overseas, an  embarrassing thing to have happen.) When informing the bank, I was warned about additional fees that would apply each time we’d might use the debit card at an ATM to get cash locally. We decided to withdraw some cash while still in Michigan and guard it carefully until we could convert it at a bank in Taiwan, avoiding some of the additional fees. So, we did.

On our second day in Taiwan we went on a stroll that included a bank visit. We drew a number and waited to be called. On a screen behind the teller the current exchange rates for several currencies were posted: Hong Kong Dollars, Philippine Pesos, Vietnamese Dong, Euros, Chinese RMB and US Dollars. I did some mental math and figured out approximately what we would receive for our $600.  When I looked back, the rate had dropped. I mentioned that to Char, who was seated beside me, and as soon as I did, it changed again, this time, upward.  

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Across the 5 of 6 minutes that we waited for our number to be called, the rate continued to fluctuate. When I was called to the teller’s window and made my request for exchange, I was asked to fill out a form. I did so quickly because I didn’t want the rate to change too drastically while I was dotting an “i” or crossing a “t”. When the form was accepted, I said to the teller, “Now, don’t turn your head to check.” She knew what I meant.

The “payout” didn’t equal my expectations, not because the rate fluctuated, but because I didn’t know what fees were charged here. Nonetheless, it was less than our good solid MidWestern bank in the USA would’ve hit us for at the ATM.   We’re happy, and ready to spend lavishly.

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Guardian of Tooth

If there’s brand competition between toothpastes, then Colgate seem to have won the international prize in Taiwan, but local brands still hold a not-to-be-discounted portion of the overall market. One leading brand has had to change its English name at least twice in the last few decades. The Chinese name, “Black People Brand” has remained the same, but the English is now “Darlie”. The brand I mostly used, “White People Brand” carries the motto “Guardian of Tooth”. Though it has been over a year since I used up my final squeeze of Taiwan toothpaste (and Colgate has won my brand loyalty in Michigan), I was moved today to think of my guardian.

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Knowing in 2018 that we were about to leave Taiwan, I visited a local dentist to get my teeth up to date while covered by the dental insurance portion of Taiwan’s national health insurance program. Cleaning and checkup were free (as they are on American Medicare) and such fillings as needed were pretty cheap. What cost was the gold crown, but even so, it cost less than half of what it would have run in the USA, even WITH insurance there. 

I left Taiwan in July of 2018 with my teeth all in good care. Then I proceeded to do what I’d done before, which, apart from brushing, meant ignoring them until something went wrong.  About mid-November of 2019 something went wrong. I’d made a dish based on dry beans that I’d soaked and cooked. The instructions on the bag always say to sort them in case there are rocks. Like my teeth, I ignored these instructions. Then I felt what I assumed was a rock in my mouth. It wasn’t. A cuspid, filled decades ago, gave way. Without that “shell”, the filling came loose less than a week later.

We already had tickets in hand to visit Taiwan in January, and since there was no pain felt in that part of my mouth, I decided to wait.  Having returned to Taiwan on January 7th, I went to the dentist as a “walk in” patient on the 8th. My request was that, if all the work required could be finished before our scheduled departure on the 21st, then let’s proceed. But if that would be impossible, then I’d take care of the matter in Michigan.   He examined and said, “good news”. Though much of the tooth had broken away, it wasn’t cracked all the way down. Right there while I was in the chair, he spent about 20 minutes working on things and I left with a “resin cap” over the damage. The instructions are not to crack open chicken bones or other hard stuff like that, otherwise I was good to go.  The entire fee, which was published on his flat rate sheet (he even showed me) was 1,000 Taiwan dollars (less than US$35). 

Though I know that I shouldn’t ignore my teeth until problems arise, I’m ever so happy to have a guardian of my teeth here in Taiwan. I’ll get a few tubes of the toothpaste before I go, too. 

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Languages “Mapped”

This blog, which I found through a link, is marvelous on the subject of what languages are spoken where. It has a wonderful 4-color map.

The Languages of Taiwan

After the upcoming presidential and legislative election, it will be interesting to do an overlay map, to see if the voting corresponds to the languages.


I’m back home in Taiwan this week, and, like the folks on the McDonald’s posters a few years back, am “lovin’ it”






256px-Taiwan_outlineOn January 8th we made plans to have Friday lunch with friends in Pingtung, an hour’s train ride away. No problem, just go online, order up the tickets, and run around the corner to the convenience store (7-Eleven) to have them issued. Both in the reservation process online, and in the issuing process at the shop, it was our privilege to select the “THIS COUNTRY PERSON” 本國人  tab. After years of dealing with the weird looks when we presented our “Alien Registration Certificates” when identification was required, (weird looks because most people haven’t seen an Alien Registration Certificate, and wonder what this can be), it was just a click. When entering the number, there was no problem at all, it sailed right through. And as a bonus, we claimed the “old person rate” and got our tickets for half price. 

We expect voting to be similarly smooth when we go do that on Saturday. 

David Alexander, who now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan, is back home to vote for president on January 11th. 

Wars and Rumors of Wars

I’m old enough to remember many kinds of wars that have been waged. My elder brother and I both participated in a shooting war in Vietnam, other young Americans have been part of shooting wars waged over petroleum in the Arabian gulf. As I write on January 7th, the American president is ordering heinous things to be done to the people of Iran, and has even suggested that he has ordered certain culturally important locations to be pre-targeted in a way that, should the attacks actually be carried out, would be war crimes.

But these aren’t the kind of wars that I reflected on when arriving in Tainan, Taiwan this morning. After a 4 hour bus ride IN America, a 14 hour flight FROM America and a further 90 minutes on the high speed train in TAIWAN, we boarded a taxi for the city center. Within 500 meters of leaving the freeway we were confronted with a billboard proclaiming a war going on in town.  We were bemused.

When I was a child growing up in Los Angeles, there were occasional “gas wars”, which were market manipulation schemes by which gasoline producers and distributors with deep pockets were able to sell below cost until their “shallow pocketed” competitors were driven out of business.  The last one of these I recall was in 1972, when I had just left the US Army and found a retail services job in the San Fernando Valley. I fondly recalled those prices after the 1974 Yom-Kippur War and the escalation of petroleum product prices that followed it. 


Upon arriving in Tainan today we were confronted with evidence of price-cutting competition between plastic surgery group practices. These clinics provide the standard things one would expect: eye lifts, face lifts, liposuction, etc. Currently they have declared a “Breast War”. 

I recall that particular billboard from the years before we retired and moved away from Taiwan. It often carried rather lurid adverts for the breast enhancement services of the clinic which regularly rents it. Never before, though, had it declared war. 

As Alice said, “curioser and curioser!”

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

Time Shift (7th January 2020)

When we started our lives in Taiwan, which were lived in the south, people traveling internationally generally entered and left by way of airports up north, first in Taipei, and after 1979 in Taoyuan. It was not uncommon for persons who resided in the south or on the east coast to spend a night in Taipei on the way in or out. If our departure was scheduled for afternoon or evening, we would leave “the same day”. However, when we had morning flights, we learned that the night in the hotel was worth avoiding an overnight bus ride of 4 to 6 hours.  Upon arrival in the USA it was never more than a couple hours’ trip from airport to wherever we planned to spend our first night.

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But the times have changed. We arrived before dawn today morning after a non-stop flight from Chicago. We’d been in the air for slightly more than 14 hours, and each of us probably slept for 6 or more of those. After breakfast in the airport and a 15 minute shuttle train ride to the high speed train station, we took a 95-minute ride to Tainan. Contrast that to the process of getting TO the our departure airport in America. We got to our local intercity bus station well ahead of the scheduled departure time printed on our tickets, then waited for an additional 40 minutes for the vehicle to arrive. We rode it for 4 hours, then spent another half hour in a taxi. 

Now we’re dealing with jet lag, but it’s sunny and warm outside, and, besides, it’s Taiwan. These weeks will be wonderful.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.  

When It Becomes Real

The biggest event in our month-to-come, or perhaps in our year-to-come, is the trip we’ll make to Taiwan beginning in the wee hours of the morning of January 6th.  The flight takes off from Chicago, so we’ve got to get there. Yesterday we bought a set of tickets on the bus AND a set of tickets on the train. If the weather forecast for the 5th looks nasty, we’ll get up early and board the train, which will go no matter what the weather. But, if it looks good, we’ll cancel the train reservations, sleep later, go to church, even have an afternoon nap before boarding the bus after 4PM. (Sadly, the bus tickets we’ve bought are non-refundable).

Making those decisions and booking those tickets began to make things feel real.

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Today we put vacation holds on the mail and the newspaper. Then we called the credit card companies (like many people in Taiwan and the USA, we have too many separate accounts) to make sure we wouldn’t be cut off while overseas.



Alpha Stock Images – link to –

Those calls made it even more real.

We wrote a thank you note to an association of Taiwanese churches in North America that sent us a check at the end of the year.  A note like that is, of course, a typical thing to do, but in the note we mentioned that like many other Taiwanese people, we’ll be returning home to vote for the president’s re-election.  

It’s very, very real.  Now it’s time to begin packing.


David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

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