Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back at it.

OK, I made it home, and had a great time. No problems on the return trip -- we had to fill out health forms on our way to Tokyo, but no one ever collected them!  I did get bumped up to first class on the Taipei-Tokyo leg of the trip (which is always nice), but not on the long leg Tokyo-Detroit. 
I got lots of reading done on the plane, and have hit the ground running. After a massive attack of jet lag yesterday afternoon, I took a short nap, and then forced myself to stay up until 10pm. Slept soundly, and think I am back on Detroit time. 
I shared the pineapple cookies that Sophy gave me with the office staff and the grad students in my lab today, and they went over very well. Heather can't and Michael won't eat them, and I don't need them all. They do look cool, though -- each one wrapped in its own little cardboard fold-up box. 
I also shared the "treasures" I brought home, including a USB flashdrive that looks like a penguin for Heather, and a computer keyboard that is flexible and can roll up like paper for Michael. Michael also got a Taipei City t-shirt (with Taipei 101 on it), and Heather got the seaweek potato chips she likes, so I think I did ok.
So that's about it for this trip. I have to send some information out to the students, and then grade their final papers, but for the most part, this trip is about done. I'll close this section of the blog, and pick it up again when it comes time for Singapore in July.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Winding down

Today was our last day of class, and I think that it went really well. The students did their group presentations today. I had told them that they should shoot for 15-20 minutes, and all of them ended up going 35-45 (an hour with question and answer time), and the extra time was not padding -- it was good material, thoughtfully presented. I was really pleased with what they came up with.
For lunch, we went to a Beijing-style restaurant, and I had several good things, including bitter mellon, glass noodle soup, dumplings, and a barbeque beef roll that was described as "Chinese Mexican enchilada" by the students. It was all excellent, including the dish whose name I never could get right, but which when I tasted it I immediately said "This is grits!". It was a little more liquid than grits, and yellow, but I felt vindicated when I was told to add some sugar to it to give it some taste -- all those years of adding sugar to my grits in Arkansas, and who knew that that was the way Chinese people were eating it all along!
When class was over, the students gave me a lovely card they all had signed, and they wrote many very thoughtful messages -- I will definitely add this to my "shelf of treasures" at work. Afterwards, about half the class went out for a "beer session", and we went to a Belgian bar, where almost everything they had was a Belgian Trappist Ale or a lambic. It was all served in the proper glasses, and I was pretty impressed to see this little Belgian enclave in the middle of the lanes of Taipei.
Tonight I stopped by the Wellcome Mart to pick up some seaweed potato chips for Heather (the one thing she asked me to bring home for her), and now it is time to pack. Tomorrow will be a long day -- my car comes at 6:45am for a 9:45am flight to Tokyo. I have a 70 minute layover in Tokyo, and I am pretty concerned about it -- on the way through to Taipei, the health inspection on the plane took 90 minutes, and if anything like that happens again, there's no way I'll make my connection.
Assuming I do make it, the flight leaves Tokyo at 3:30pm on Monday and arrives in Detroit at 1:30pm on Monday -- I'm always amazed to have arrived earlier than I left!
I've enjoyed the time here, and the new things I got to do (and eat!) this time. The cooking class, the walk on Elephant Mountain, the paper museum... lots of fun things. But I miss my family and my home, and it is time to go. I'll be traveling again soon -- I go back to Singapore in July -- and I'll be back here in Taipei in a year. But for the moment I'll look forward to sleeping in my own bed (though I have to admit, I'll miss the sumo wrestling on tv).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Good eats

I have been eating well in the last day, I'll tell you that for nothing. Last night for dinner, I made it out to my favorite little hawker stall, and had the fried dough with a fried egg on top that I've talked about on previous Taipei blogs (alright, I actually had two of them). They are so tasty, and they cost only about 90 cents. I also snagged a little bit of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, which rounded out the meal nicely.

For lunch today, the students took me out to Madame Jill's, the Vietnamese restaurant next to the hotel, and I had crackled pork skin and rice noodles, which was different than I expected, but was really tasty. The students were surprised that I knew how to make a chopstick rest out of the paper wrapper the chopsticks come in, so apparently I am not totally clueless.

Allen, one of the students, took me out to C3, an area of Taipei that is all about electronics (cameras, computers, etc.). I found a few little accessory things, but nothing big that I had to have. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a little chain restaurant called Meet Fresh, where we had a traditionally prepared Chinese sweet, which was ice with black sugar and sweet potatos and some sort of rice-based gelatin. It was unlike anything I have had before, and was surprisingly good.

I decided to walk back to the hotel from C3 (thankfully, it was a single straight shot walk of about 25 minutes, so I didn't have to navigate at all). On the way back, I passed the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Catholic Church, and the Taipei Mosque (Heather will recognize that walk -- it is the same path back as from Din Tai Fung). I stopped in at Mos Burger to have the Teriyaki beef on a rice patty, and I always find that good, too. So I feel as if I have been well fed for the past day -- but it has mostly been pretty healthy, so who could ask for more?

Tomorrow is the last day of class, and I have really come to enjoy this group of students. Some of them talk more than others, of course, but they are knowledgeable and engaged, and ask smart questions. They've been tremendously nice to me (taking me to C3, trying to find how to get places I wanted to go, calling contacts of theirs to help me find gifts I was looking for, etc.), and I am very grateful for their kindnesses.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A little shopping, but no baseball

Yesterday, the skies looked really threatening. (This is a view from my hotel room.) Having been here before during a typhoon, I wasn't quite expecting that level of rain, but I was expecting some pretty nasty weather. Ten minutes later, I looked again, and the skies were blue and clear. It was almost spooky how quickly it cleared up.

Fridays are off-days for me while I am in Taipei, and so I was able to spend some time today with Sophy Cheng, a former student of mine from Detroit who is now a faculty member in Taichung. She came up to see me, and we had an excellent lunch at a Cantonese restaurant. Sophy ordered SEVERAL things on the dim sum menu, and we certainly had our fill of excellent food, including shrimp dumplings, beef meatballs with herbs, and a special dish usually served around the time of the Dragon Boat races (which start next Friday), and finishing with a mango custard.

After lunch, Sophy was kind enough to go with me to a small version of the Jade Market that I have been to in the past. The huge Jade Market is open only on the weekends, while I am in class, and so it is hard for me to get there (though I have pulled it off before). This one is much smaller, but it was sufficient for my needs for today.

Sophy was also kind enough to give me a gift of cookies that are particularly local to Taichung. I haven't tried them yet, but suspect they'll be tasty.

I had planned to go to the Brother Elephants vs. the 7-11 Lions Chinese Professional Baseball League game tonight, but it turns out that the game is not in the stadium I thought it was in. The CPBL recently reduced from six to four teams (as a result of a game-fixing scandal), and when they did that, the reduced from seven stadiums country-wide (including two in the Taipei area) down to four. The game I went to a few years ago was in a stadium closer to here, which is more easily reachable by subway. I could have made it out to the game, but decided I would stay in and get a little reading done -- I have a couple of manuscripts to review, so I'll do those this evening.

(OK, the tv show "Bewitched" just came on, and it is dubbed into Japanese. Why?)

Tomorrow is class all day, and then one of the students from class offered to take me to C3, an area that is all about consumer electronics. I'm not sure what I need there, but I am sure that I will discover something that someone can't live without.

Sunday is another all-day class, followed by the students' typical routine of going out to grab a beer together. Then comes Monday morning, and a long flight home. I'm enjoying it here, but can't wait to get back.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pizza this afternoon, chicken claw tonight

Class tonight went well -- covered a lot of material, and laid out the structure for the rest of the class. Professor Jacoby and I headed out to the Night Market again for dinner, and went to a stall that had a sort of buffet. You got a plastic colander, and filled it up with vegetables and meats and tofu of various sorts, which were then put into a boiling broth to cook. Since I didn't recognize a good bit of what was there to choose from, but I did recognize chicken claws, I figured I'd try it out. So mine had some noodles, some snap peas, tofu, fish, and chicken claw, which tastes quite a bit like (wait for it) chicken, though with not much meat on the bone. It also poked me in the face a few times while I tried to eat it.

Tomorrow is more exploration!

Today: AmCham and pizza

It is Thursday afternoon here (very early Thursday morning at home), and it's been a good day already. I started off the day by making a presentation to some folks at the American Chamber of Commerce of Taiwan. It was a breakfast meeting, and got publicized rather late (I was only asked to do the talk a little over a week ago), so the attendance was not huge, but it seemed to go well. I mostly talked about some of the cross-cultural issues in business ethics research that I've worked on with Christian Resick from Drexel, and Mary Keating and Gillian Martin from Trinity College Dublin. I am always a little unsure about what will be useful to people in a talk like this, but the people who were there today were primarily not HR people, and they were genuinely interested in the topic. We had lots of good discussion, and I was glad for the chance to do the talk.
I was back at the hotel by 10:30am or so, and for lunch I decided to go wandering in a different direction than usual. In Taipei, there are streets, and off of streets are lanes, and off of lanes are alleys, so I headed back in the alleys around the hotel. About 10 minutes walk away, I found a little pizza parlor -- Mary Jane's. It was not an Italian joint at all -- it was very airy and brightly colored, and was run by young Taiwanese people. The menu was typical pizza (more California Pizza Kitchen type dishes, I'd say), including a 4-cheese pizza for which the description read "This pizza is seriously cheesy. How cheesy? Think David Hasselhoff singing Air Supply backed up by Menudo -- seriously cheesy."

Tonight is class again, from 7-10pm. We're covering cross-cultural issues in leadership, and starting to address some specific issues the students have raised. Tomorrow I will spend part of the day with a Taiwanese former student from Wayne State who is now a professor in Taichung. She's going to show me around a few spots I haven't been to here, and I am looking forward to it.

Oh, and here's a picture that shows a scooter, piled not quite as high as the one I saw and mentioned the other day. This one is from Tuesday night, at the Shida Night Market.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just sitting here watching sumo wrestling

Hi everyone. Sorry I am a bit behind in the posting -- I'll try to catch up now.

Right now it is Tuesday afternoon (early Tuesday morning back home). I teach tonight at 7:0pm, so I've got some time before I need to go over my notes one last time before class.

This morning I went to the Suho Paper Museum. It is a small museum about traditional means of making paper, and you get to make a sheet of paper while you are there. Not surprisingly, this is a popular spot for the kindergarten/1st grade age range for a field trip -- they get to learn a little history, and get to make something to take home. I was interested in going there in hopes of finding something that Heather would be able to use for her scrapbooking work -- I had actually planned to just go to the attached shop, but the museum looked pretty interesting, so I did it, as well (and made a piece of paper to take home, too! There it is, along with my certificate as a papermaker). One of my students had made some inquiries for me to find out whether it was possible to get acid-free papers there, and had given me a contact name. So I met with the person (whose English name is Marcus), and he gave me some sample sheets of acid free paper (maybe 18" by 18"). Unfortunately, they don't really sell it in batches of less than 500 sheets, and it wasn't really quite what I was after. I did get some smaller sheets of (non-acid-free) paper that Heather might be able to use in some way, and after she sees photos of them, I'll see if I need to go back and get more. I also bought two larger sheets of hand-made paper that would look great just hung on a wall as is. I learned a bit about traditional Taiwanese paper making (which uses different trees than is typical elsewhere), and about a process where they used to "shave" the pith of a tree to get strips of paper, though those trees are almost unknown today, due to over cutting.

For lunch, I was invited to join the two people who run the local company that coordinates classes here for Baruch. Robert and Jenny Torng run LeadChief, and they have been so kind and thoughtful to me in the several times I have been here. We were joined by a finance professor and a marketing professor, both of whom are teaching courses at the same time as my class is going on. The finance professor is I believe Israeli, currently living in Winnipeg, moving to New York, and the marketing professor is Korean-American. It was interesting discussing the English-language requirements for the Baruch programs in Taipei in a car full of folks of which I was the only native English speaker, with everyone else being quite multi-lingual.

Yesterday was a really excellent, but very tiring day. I had my cooking class in the morning, and it turned out to be great. Jodie, who runs the class, used to do cook at a local restaurant and made her own sauces and such that she sold, but she decided that she prefers to do small cooking classes, where she can introduce people to Chinese culture through food. Here's the link: http://kitchen.j321.com/.

It was really fun, because I was the only student (or as Jodie says, "guest") for the day, which is actually the way she prefers to do classes. We started off talking a little bit, letting her get a sense for how much I knew about cooking or about Chinese food in general, and what sorts of things I was interested in. I had previously emailed (when confirming my class) that I was especially interested in foods that didn't require wheat flour, and everything we did was designed for rice flour, which will be great. Our first thing was simply to make soy bean milk, and typical hot beverage to start the day in Asia (moreso than cofee for many Asian folks). We then just spent time going through different ingredients, smelling and tasting the ingredients one by one, and then seeing how they tasted when mixed together, and learning which ones were more local Taiwanese, which were Szechuan, which were Shanghainese, and so on. Things like different vinegars, different oils, different peppers, different qualities of soy sauces -- she was already very good at pointing out when you can use basic (i.e., cheaper) ingredients, and when you really needed to invest in the good stuff.

We then moved on to bigger things -- a very simple but extremely good sour and spicy soup (which becomes Szechuan hot and sour soup with just a couple of ingredient additions). As with everything to come, Jodie talked about how flexible this dish was -- add in this, or that, serve it this way or that way, and so on. That was a key point in the class -- almost everything was such that it could be made in a variety of ways, and used on or with a variety of ingredients. It wasn't really a class to learn recipes, so much as a class to learn flavors and how they mix, and how they could be used in different ways.

We then made different types of sesame pastes (again, to be used on a ton of things -- fruit, meat, fish), and had a spicy Szechuan sunflower-pepper oil spicy pineapple dish -- just a spiced and herbed oil on pineapple, that was so simple, so good, and filled with all the flavors you would think of Asian cooking. We also made a sweet and sour dressing on spicy pickled cucumber, and about five other sauces. We finished up with a simple fried rice, and with conversation about why my fried rice (and stir fry) doesn't usually work out quite right. I really learned a lot, and enjoyed getting to know Jodie.

As you can see from the photo above, Jodie's Kitchen looks out over a beautfiul view. That's Elephant Mountain, and Taipei 101 is in the distance to the left. You are really close to the city, but in a gorgeous green mountain jungle area. When it was time to leave, Jodie and her boyfriend suggested that I take the foot path -- the day was beautiful and cool, and I had no obligations that afternoon. The foot path turns out to be UP Elephant Mountain to the very top, and then across, and then down. It was an amazing walk, through simply stunning terrain. The path was often very narrow, with no barrier between path and side of mountain. Along the way, tucked in to the trees and nooks on the mountain, were several shrines, mostly Buddhist, some Hindu, and one Christian that I saw (John, Jodie's Kitchen is just a little ways past the Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary!). The whole time, you could always see Taipei 101 to the left, so you were never going to get totally lost. I was unhappy to have again forgotten my own advice to bring my camera, but I had not planned to be heading through the jungle that afternoon! By the time I reached the top of the mountain, I was pretty sure that my legs would cease to function at any moment. (You can pretty much see the area I walked in the photo.) At the very top was a small flag pole, with a couple of small Taiwanese flags flying, almost defiantly. Butterflies of types I had never seen before chased each other, and there was a small shrine there, as well. It was really stunningly beautiful. The cloud cover was low, so on the one hand you felt so high up on the mountain, but on the other hand, you could see 101 seeming to go up forever, because the clouds obscured the upper floors. I walked on down the mountain, and past a large, rustic Buddhist temple. Not a very fancy or old one, but one that seemed to be well-used. Eventually I came to a residential area, and soon enough, a taxi! It had only turned out to be about a two and half hour venture, but it was well worth it. No photos, but excellent memories.

So now I am in my room, with Sumo wrestling on tv. For some reason, I always enjoy watching the sumo when I am here. I don't understand a word anyone is saying, but the combination of ancient ritual and the sudden burst of action is really interesting. I'm going to turn it off, though, and finish up for tonight's class. I also have to finish my presentation to the American Chamber of Commerce for Thursday morning, and have several other work things to do, so I think I won't be lacking for tasks. But it was definitely worth taking the time for the one-on-one cooking class, and the walk through the mountain jungle.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

An interesting group to work with

Today was the first day of class. I am teaching Leadership in the Executive Program here, and this is the first time I have taught that class for this program. The students this time are a really nice bunch, and they are also pretty dedicated. We always give them time to work on a group project, and the students had finished up their group work and there were still several minutes left in the scheduled class session. Most classes would probably have just knocked off early, but these folks asked if we could talk more about one of the readings, which was pretty cool.

For lunch, we went to the Wisteria Tea House, which is the place where many of the early discussions about Western democracy in Taiwan took place. I've eaten there before, but not back on the tatami mats on the floor. The students were great conversationalists, and the meal was a sort of pork meat ball soup, among other things.

Tomorrow is another day of class, and I think that tonight I will finally sleep soundly. Then Monday is my cooking class!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Always take your camera with you

I made it in to Taipei last night, and for the most part the travel was uneventful. I flew from Detroit to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Taipei. Both flights were pretty crowded, but not packed. The strangest part of the process was when we landed in Tokyo, and had about a 90 minute wait while the Health Inspectors checked to make sure that no one was carrying the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. Everyone had to fill out forms saying whether they had been to Mexico recently, or had been around people who were sneezing and coughing. Apparently, some folks didn't realize that you had to do a form for infants as well, so we ended up waiting while they had to match up the number of forms with the number of people. The health inspectors were not quite dressed in HazMat clothes, but cl0se -- they were all wearing medical gowns, gloves, eye protection, and serious masks (not the little surgical ones like we often see, but ones that were much more Darth Vader-esque), and most of them wore hair covers, as well. I was supposed to have about two hours in Tokyo as a layover, but ended up with about 25 minutes instead.

Taipei was much easier, and I got to the hotel actually a little earlier than expected. I checked in with Heather to let her know I had arrived, and then got some sleep (but it is always weird sleep after a flight like this -- not quite deep sleep).

This morning I got up, had an online chat with Michael before he went to bed (Yahoo Messenger lets us use audio and video, which is nice), and then went out into a beautiful Taipei morning. It is about 85 here today, and I walked up to a local bookstore because I had forgotten my Taipei guidebook, and I got another one. While I was on my way to the bookstore, I saw a man on a modified scooter (scooters are the preferred mode of transport for many people here). It was a three-wheeler, loaded high with at least 8 feet high and five feet wide of empty cardboard boxes and other such things. I wished I had had my camera with me, so that I could have posted the picture!

After the bookstore, I grabbed some munchies from the old familiar Wellcome Mart up the road, and set to work, finalizing my class. The conclusion of last semester and several other projects kept me from getting everything completely finalized for this class, but it is a leadership class, and so I am in pretty good shape for it. I think that I will go now and grab some lunch, and then finish off my class prep.

This should be a good trip. I have a lot of work to do on various projects, but I have scheduled in some fun things here, as well. I've been here often enough to have done a lot of the typical things one does in Taipei, but I've scheduled a Chinese Cooking Class for Monday, a baseball game for Friday evening, and a visit with a former student from Wayne State for Friday morning. I will also be speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce of Taiwan on Thursday, so that should be interesting. All in all, a trip with lots of work time, but some good activities built in as well.

So I'm here, safe and sound, and ready for some lunch!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting ready for some more posts

I (Marcus) am getting ready to head back to Taipei, leaving on Wednesday, so I decided to log back in and make sure I remembered how to use the blog! Apparently I did, and so I am now relying on Heather to help me get everything ready for the trip. I'll post things here while I am gone, including (I hope) some things about a Brother Elephants baseball game, and maybe even a cooking class. I'll check in when I arrive at the ever-comfy Howard International House, late Thursday night Taiwan time, early Thursday afternoon Detroit time.