Saturday, December 27, 2008

Family Happiness 天倫之樂

Back row: Morrison (left), James (right)

I think the most important thing about Christmas for our family this year was just being together and doing simple things like having brunch together. Christmas comes so quickly in Taiwan that a lot of people still don't realize that it has now already past. In the morning, I swam 1,500 meters at the pool in 67.5 F water. Hsiu-chin made the delicious lunch, and the boys cleared up afterwards. I was able to have a good rest.
Christmas brunch 聖誕節之早午餐

This morning (Sunday, Dec 28), I again went to swim at the outdoor pool. My swimming seems to be getting slower and slower, possibly because I feel I am in hibernation as far as swimming is concerned. I swam 2,100 meters in 68F water. This morning was a special day, and the other swimmers and their families prepared a delicious breakfast. It wasn't like corn flakes and bagels, but a large variety of different kinds of fine noodles, soups and various kinds of meat. There were also plenty of bananas, and they gave me a lot of them to eat, since they have often seen me eating them after my swims in the past.
Sumptuous breakfast at the swimming pool. 擺滿山珍海味的桌子

There are only a few days until the end of this year, and then I will need to set some goals and objectives for next year, which will no doubt be another busy year for me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our Christmas Dinner

There appear to be plenty of restaurants with delicious Japanese food within about 10 minutes by car from our house.

In Taiwan, many people hardly notice the coming of Christmas, and in recent years, including this year, it is not regarded as a public holiday, and so most people still go to work on Christmas day, just as if it were any other work day. Today (Christmas Eve), we as a family went out to dinner, at a Japanese restaurant that James and Morrison had chosen. Here are a few pictures so you can see what we ate.
Morrison and friend A-Kin are busy ordering even more delicious food.

These little black fish eggs were particularly tasty (魚子醬軍艦)

Hsiu-chin enjoyed eating the little Japanese "salad", which included rice, fish, seaweed and other sumptuous ingredients.
Salty cooked salmon on sticky rice (for real!) (鹽燒鮭魚)

Lastly, we made sure that the cat would not miss out on the delicious raw fish. Note that her claws are extended as she makes sure she maintains a firm hold on my hand!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review of 2008: Success or Not?

A nice shaded place for a rest on a warm day (near the southern end of Cheng Ching Lake, Kaohsiung)

Many people set goals for themselves at the start of a new year. Well, I did not have a blog then, and in any case I did not write down any goals, even though I may have kept a few goals to pursue somewhere in the back of my mind. In some ways, then, it is not very easy to determine whether I had a successful year or not. However, given that I did not articulate the goals clearly then, I can perhaps express the goals I think I might have set in terms of the results achieved. In this case, I may be able to record some achievements after all.
While at the beginning of the year, money had a very prominent role to play in terms of how I thought I should define success, there is clearly more to life than just money. At times in the past (usually when it appeared I had sufficient to cover immediate daily living expenses), I often regarded making money as a necessary evil (often due to having a boring, time-consuming job) in order to have what I needed to do something interesting in the little time that I had left. While with any work there is the inevitable frustration and boredom, I fortunately seldom have to think like that nowadays.
Hopefully, there will also be some spare time to understand famous historical Chinese writings such as this one which hangs on my study wall.

I have recently been reading a book entitled "7 Principles for Creating Your Future," by James Semradek and Michael Butler. It is "light" but thought-provoking reading. Since both authors are fairly successful management consultants with their own business, they view a successful life (and by implication successful steps along the way) as the ability to integrate a good family life with business and financial success, with sufficient time left over to enjoy family vacations, remain physically fit, be debt-free and able to "pursue one's dreams". They even provided a table in which we can grade things like the success of our business, relationship with spouse, kids, etc. While the authors appear to be able to give themselves an "A" or higher for everything, at least I can try to see if I am any better off now than I was at the end of last year (or is everything just "F"?!).
The Grand Hotel, Kaohsiung (overlooking Cheng Ching Lake from the other side)

While the family members are much more objective in terms of determining how I scored in that area, I realize that at least where I am at present, there is a certain trade-off involved. This time last year (December 22), we were close to finishing the fairly extensive repairs on our older Taipei apartment, had already started packing our things and our new house in which we are now was more or less ready for occupancy (various cupboards, a solar energy water heater, the kitchen equipment, etc. had been fitted). So I knew 2008 would be a year in which we would have to continue to spend a lot on our new house (furniture, curtains, lanai wrap-arounds, etc.), and we also were uncertain as to whether to sell the old apartment.
Anyway, we moved down south at the end of January just in time for the Chinese New Year with my in-laws who basically all live there, and then life mainly consisted of getting on with work to buy the things we needed. In March after not having swum for nearly 8 months, I checked out a nearby indoor pool and soon was swimming there every day. At the pool I gradually got to know some people, and apart from those people, I did not really get to know anyone else (except for a few at the local church we attended), mainly because I just work at home.
One can still eat fairly well on a limited budget by eating fruits that are in season.
It was probably the end of October when I first started to think we had bought everything we needed for the house, although shortly afterwards I realized that we were not quite there yet. However, reaching that realization and also discovering the outdoor 50m pool in scenic surroundings gave me a new lease of life as it were. In October I also started to focus more on changing my swimming stroke (with the help of Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen's instruction DVD), so that I could say I swam pretty solidly from the beginning of April to the end of November. During the last few weeks I have been a little hampered by the colder weather (which makes swimming outdoors a bit more of a challenge), and also the fact that for the last week or so I have been affected by a cold or flu or whatever, which had kept me off swimming for a week and on several occasions I just have not felt comfortable eating. I am glad, however, that I was able to get through over eight months of swimming without troubles like this.
So to sum up, the year has been quite a busy one as regards work, but I have managed to continue to swim fairly seriously and, as for family times, at least I have spent much of my time at home each day even though I have not have had a lot of time to actively engage with family members (like watching TV together, or just hanging out). There has been little activity in terms of family vacations, although the four of us did spend a couple of days traveling around the southern tip of the island in July.The benefits of walking - this spectacular view of Taipei was discovered on a relatively clear day.

I have been very fortunate to have had interesting and convenient work to do, which has enabled me to work from home, and I have not had to look for a job since moving from overseas to Taipei last year or from Taipei to Kaohsiung this year. So while there has been a lot of change in my life in terms of where we have been living and the people we see each day, my job is the one thing that has remained stable.
As the year draws to a close, it will soon be the time to list some realistic goals for next year. By realistic I mean that I need to recognize the constraints on my time and budget. Earlier this year, for instance, I found that every time I wanted to engage in some sporting activity with foreigners in Taiwan, there were always so many incidental expenses (in addition to having to travel half the island to get to some venue). With my Chinese friends here, costs are always kept to a minimum. They understand the value of money much better.
One thing I have learned over the past year is that it is relatively easy to life cheaply and comfortably here (e.g., by living in a nice house like ours, cooking one's own food, riding a bicycle or using public transport, etc.). However, once one wants to live on a higher level (e.g., like shop in department stores, drive a nice looking car, or fly overseas), costs suddenly increase exponentially. While trips involving flying have their place, they need to be planned and thought out very carefully, otherwise many of the smaller gains built up over a long period can be completely wiped out.
If overseas travel is beyond one's budget, one may be able to compromise by going somewhere local (this beach is two hours by car from our home)

Therefore, one of the types of trips I am interested in, which has become quite fashionable these days, is to travel by bicycle right from the time the aircraft lands in another country, and to travel from one place to the next, taking photos, keeping up with the world through the Internet on a laptop computer, and even (for people like me) continuing to work several hours a day in the private guest houses where I will stay as I travel. In that way, I can integrate vacations, pastimes (like learning about other cultures, e.g., Japan) and the reality of a job and, if family members, can come, too, then family life as well! Well, that remains a dream, but one I seek to pursue.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Favorite Blogging Friend of the Year

Bree Wee: My Favorite Blogging Friend of the Year after finishing Ironman Japan with a stellar performance

While I have very much enjoyed the friends with whom I have shared experiences and corresponded through the blog since I started it in March this year, I have not had the slightest hesitation in deciding who is my favorite blogging friend for this year. There is also no need for most of you to guess and so I will mention her name up front: the one and only Bree Wee!
It was through reading Bree's blog very early this year that I decided to start my own, and she was the first person and maybe the only person to read my blog entries in those early stages. It was because of her encouragement that I persevered with the blog, so much so, that the time spent in the blogging world has had quite an impact on my life.
Through Bree's blog I read about many wonderful friends of hers, many of whom I had known fairly well in the past. With our love for triathlon, etc., it seemed we had so much in common. I would follow Ironman race live broadcasts (often at night due to the time difference) in which Bree was almost always a major contender, and see her either finish really well or else, on a few occasions, struggle towards the end of the race and fail to win her slot for Kona for this year (fortunately she has already qualified for next year). I shared in her joys and struggles, as well as some of the hardships she faced. In all, it was a really good and enriching experience, and, in spite of being a continent away, I sometimes felt I could just have been living in Hawai'i itself.
It was through Bree's blog that I made most of the other friends I have either regularly or not so regularly maintained contact with. I was amazed after writing about some of my childhood experiences how one of her sisters gave me a very positive comment and went on down "Memory Lane" to share some of her own precious experiences. I corresponded with other members of Bree's family, and I am sure they an others in her family were reading the many comments I left on her posts.
A trip down "Memory Lane" (the focus of an earlier blog posting this year)

Still, many of the other people I gradually came to correspond with, most of whom I have never met, have become good friends and people I would certainly like to meet some time in the future. L. was an old friend from my Hawaii days and it was interesting how we could share and joke about our mutual love for swimming. P. was hilariously funny but a man with very good values, someone whose forebears probably lived near mine, but who eventually settled on the other side of the Atlantic. R. was always preparing for big races and posting breathtaking photos, but what struck me most was his friendliness and humility. S. replied to every comment I posted on her blog, had the most wonderful races you could imagine and in the end I am not surprised how many comments she received on each of her postings. M., a fellow countryman, found my blog by chance, and then I ended up learning a great deal about how Channel swimmers train and the difficulties they face.
Busyness prevented me and many others from really having enough time to smell the roses. Hopefully, there will be more time for this next year.

There were others who would occasionally correspond with me in Chinese and Japanese (hence the increased use of Chinese in my postings), which made my blog a little more international in flavor, something that I intend to pursue further in the coming year.
Probably because I was not meeting many bloggers in Taiwan and possibly because fewer people within my own generation maintain such blogs, I invariably would read the blogs of several of Bree's friends who were a lot younger and living in a completely different world to me. I frequently read of accidents that sometimes resulted in serious injuries, of debilitating illnesses, and of bouts of depression that they so openly shared. I know at times I was like a lurker and maybe should not have left comments on their blogs. However, I was concerned for them, and at times would have gone to quite significant lengths to help them. Just skipping swimming today because of a common cold brought home to me the fact that I have been so fortunate this year. This is probably the first time I have missed a swim this year as a precaution in case my cold gets worse.
The week before Christmas - nice to see the flowers in full bloom outside this MRT (underground) station.

I also came to realize that certain other people look at my blog besides those whose blogs I frequent or who attach comments to my posts. Some of these are people I work for in Taiwan, and on one occasion one such lady recognized me (from reading the blog) when we passed by each other in a Taipei hospital.
There are many other people I could single out who have made my blogging experience what it was this year. However, at the end of the day I realize that, had it not been for Bree's initial encouragement, I may never have got started on this thing. It is to her that I owe an eternal debt of gratitude.
In closing Hsiu-chin and I would like to wish you all a Happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Things I Have Recently Seen 我最近所看見的東西

I have been very busy recently, maybe like many of you, and while I have continued to follow several people's blogs, I am keeping my writing simple at the moment to save my brain and to save time. So here are a few pictures taken in the last few days, of the kinds of things I see quite often as I live here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Sunrise seen a few minutes by bike before I reach the swimming pool in the morning. A clear sky usually means that the air temperature is lower than usual, so it is a mixed blessing, and a reason why I always wear a lot of clothes both before and after my swim.
The outdoor pool (again for readers of this blog). Well, it means a lot to me. I have swum more laps in this pool than anyone else in the last six weeks. Today I swam 3,000 meters non-stop in a water temperature of 69F. That did not seem cold compared to 67F a few days ago. When swimming today, there were at most about 4 people in the pool at one time. At least one of the others was swimming or possibly racing with me. Great training!
Another college student is having fun. She traveled about 40 meters like this. Maybe life is too serious for us older folk.

A group of college students are instructed on the use of a paintball gun, before firing at each other with it. The table is significant to me. It is located just above and behind the swimming pool, not far from where I took the picture of the pool above. I often lie down and sleep on the table in the morning sunshine. On the weekdays there are hardly any people around, and swimming in cold water makes me feel cold and tired.
The time to seek the services of an English editor is before you make the sign, not after. If anyone knows what the middle word is supposed to be, please let me know.
Kitty (our cat) always comes out of the garage to welcome me each time I arrive home.
You are more than welcome to visit us at our Home Sweet Home. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Me and My Computers

This is just a quick post about the computers I have had over the years. I bought my first computer (a 286 desktop) about twenty years ago. It could not run Windows or Microsoft Word, but it could word process and I kept it about ten years, since I was able to type on it at home and then convert the files to Word using the office computer.
Then I bought a secondhand notebook and it lasted a year when I was a student in Hawaii. So it served its purpose, even though its useful life was relatively short.
In 2000, I bought a new computer for about US$1,800 dollars, an Asus, which ran Windows 98 and had a DVD drive on it. I still have it (pictured). Although I can no longer take it anywhere, I can still use it as a second computer for scanning paper or photos with the help of a scanner.
In 2006, while still in Hawaii, I bought a Compaq (shown immediately above) which was one year old for US$700. Although it broke down within weeks of buying it and had to be repaired (which made me wish I'd never bought it), it surprisingly worked quite well after that, at least until a few months ago. Then it became increasingly troublesome. Not only did the screen start to deteriorate, but it would often freeze, I would lose work, etc., it was hard to start, and so on. I had hoped it would last a little longer, but in the end I realized I had to go out and spend money and get something. So I ended up getting what you can see below. I hope at least I can get my work done more efficiently and that I can make my blog look nice (when I have a bit more time). Don't ask me what make this one is. I don't know. Maybe if you look closely, you will see.
P.S. No Chinese post today. I have been so busy and so behind with everything. Will do so later.