Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 11 2011

US trip, conclusion

My sister drove me to the airport in Oklahoma City. We’d left the house before dawn, the bobbing oil wells at work pumping light into the sky as we hummed along the highway. The handful of tallish buildings that make up downtown were barely visible on the horizon.

At the airport, I found that United had once again canceled my seat reservations. Not a single flight’s seat assignment had survived, and I ended up forking out $119 just to get a seat that wasn’t a middle seat on the long flight from Chicago to Tokyo.

During the inevitable stage of TSA initiation maneuvers, the guard asked me if I had a shirt on underneath my sweatshirt. When I said yes, he told me to take off my sweatshirt; prudery is apparently a more important motivation than actual security. At the gate, near the store selling headrests decorated with the US flag, not only were members of the military allowed to board first, the airport staff told everyone in the waiting area to give them a round of applause. Everyone clapped, looking around to see if anyone wasn’t clapping; I kept looking at my phone. I’d stopped asking questions by the time they said I could only have two carry-ons and would I please stuff my camera bag inside another bag to comply and then take it out again on the other side of the door. I suppose that’s the point; wear people down with enough idiocy and they’ll fall in line just to save the trouble of arguing.

The bright, perky woman at the gate in Chicago recognized my W&L sweatshirt, and told me she was a “W&L mom”. I felt embarrassed by her chatter as other people were behind me waiting to be served. She told me that my seating assignments had vanished because United was changing its seating configuration from 2-5-2 to 3-3-3. “Be glad you’re on the 3-3-3…they’ve got seatback video screens!” she told me, apparently unaware that the rest of the world has had those in airplanes for years now.

We were on our way to Tokyo when I realized that I hadn’t gone through any sort of customs or immigration checkpoint. Is that normal? I have no idea. I watched movie after movie over the course of the flight alongĀ  the top of the world,movies like Captain America, Transformers 3, Lost Swordsman, Hangover 2, sprinkled with various TV programs like Monk and Family Guy episodes I’d seen before. I concluded that I was glad I hadn’t seen any of the films in the theater as it would have been a waste of time. But there on the airplane with nothing to do for half a day, they were a welcome distraction. Another distraction, though not a particularly welcome one, was the announcement, “Is there anyone on board…”

…who can fly a plane? I added mentally during the ensuing, unsettling pause. But the message went on, “…who is a doctor or medic or fireman?” That’s odd, I thought. Half an hour later they came back on, asking for diabetics with insulin, and I wondered if someone had had his or her medicine confiscated for security theater performance-related reasons and were now in trouble as a result. But we didn’t hear any more.

In Tokyo, we all went through more screening, scuffling the churchwalk line into the X-ray machine once again as Japan doesn’t seem to trust the original airport screening. It was a good thing I didn’t have a connecting flight any time soon; in fact, I wouldn’t have minded a day or two in Tokyo to decompress, but I didn’t have the time. Instead I lay down on a sofa near the gate for a couple of hours trying to figure out how to utilize the free wifi.

The flight back to Taipei left, and arrived, early. Having no checked baggage and utilizing the new facial recognition-powered automatic immigration gates at the airport, I literally didn’t have to break step until I stepped on the bus back to the city. Chenbl was waiting for me, and I was crossing the bridge at Bitan only an hour or so after we’d touched down. It was good to be back, a relief to be in familiar, comfortable surroundings once again.

So that’s my trip to the US; two weeks of bizarrity in the land o’ plenty. Hope you enjoyed the show. I’ll probably have a video of it up at some point.

 

posted by Poagao at 5:39 pm  
Oct 06 2011

US trip, part 11

I slept poorly last night due to not being used to the place, the ceiling fan noise, and the place, though it’s quiet enough; only the occasional freight train breaks the rhythm of the crickets. My parents aren’t used to the idea of wifi and the Internet on one’s phone, and see wifi as a kind of appliance that you only turn on to do something, like a toaster. And they have a magnificent toaster.

We drove downtown to have lunch at a grand Mexican restaurant located in an old furniture store, the central atrium open to the patterned ceiling above. Afterwards we drove around the area looking at houses, houses and more houses, including the one where my father was literally born, where he played with the other kids in an empty lot, the house in which I remember my grandparents living, etc.

Back at the house, I spent a couple of hours leafing through old yearbooks. My parents have pretty much thrown most of my stuff out, which they claim was with my permission, though I don’t recall that. I also went through several old photobooks, selecting a few here and there to scan onto my USB drive. Some are old and faded, and will need some color adjustments.

I went out with dad when he walked the dogs around the block; it’s a very quiet neighborhood, mostly older people, mostly white with some Indians and one Chinese family down the block. We ate dinner while watching Wheel! Of! Fortune! (hosted by ageless aliens) and then watched some British cop shows.

posted by Poagao at 11:59 am  
Dec 30 2009

A ballsy call

I got a call the other day. The woman on the line said that she was from the Xindian police department, and that my home number had been connected to a cellphone that was involved in a phone scam. They wanted me to go down to Taichung to “clear up the issue.”

“Uh, I have to go to work,” I said. Of course, I suspected that this was in itself a scam. I’d gotten scam calls before, but they were crude, obvious attempts (“We’ve got your friend and/or possible relative and are going hurt them if you don’t pay!” “Which friend and/or relative?” “Uh, your….[sound of papers shuffling] great-nephew…?” “What’s their NAME?” “JUST PAY US, DAMMIT!!”), but the pure, unadulterated balls it takes to pull off a phone scam by pretending to be the police investigating a phone scam intrigued me. They were very professional.

The woman said she understood my situation, and then “transferred” me to the Taichung Police Bureau, or so she said. There, another woman, supposedly the desk officer, told me that it was the last day before the case had to be closed, and it was vital that I come down to the station. I’d have thought that using men to impersonate police officers would have been a better tactic, but the women did a passable job. There was a great deal of business sounds in the background, probably other calls.

I repeated my answer that I had to go to work and couldn’t make it. The “desk officer” said that things could “get ugly down the road” if I didn’t come. It seems that the banks have caught on to the scammers’ games and thus making wire tranfers doesn’t work as well as it used to, so they need to actually get the victim to a suitable location to actually get the money out of an ATM for them. At this point, I thought I detected a hint of desperation there, but she remained fairly official sounding. “I’ll have my agent get in touch with you, ok?” I told her.

“Oh, no,” she said, and the pretense of officialdom slipped badly. “You can’t tell anyone, especially family or friends. It’s against the law. You’d be put in jail for two or three years if you told anyone anything about the case.”

Oh, well, I thought. It had been fun for a while, but, ah…no. “You were doing so well!” I told her. “I really liked the premise -very ballsy- and most of the execution, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to dock some points for that last bit. Anyway, thanks for playing!”

And I hung up. I figure they’ll call again, and I’m kind of curious as to what they’ll do if I only speak to them in English…guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

posted by Poagao at 1:13 pm  
Jun 12 2008

A night at the NSO

concert hallMy friend Chumble got some free National Symphonic Orchestra tickets, so I went over to CKS Hall last night to attend the first classical music performance I’ve been to in years. When I asked him what was on the program, Chumble said, “Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms,” which sounded nice. We met up with a couple of Chumble’s friends, a young Canadian man and his Taiwanese girlfriend, who nearly ran and hid when she was introduced to me. Meh, I’m used to it.

We got what we thought were reasonably good seats, but in addition to the chairs on stage was a large whiteboard. It turned out that this was going to be a classical music concert with lectures. Many people in the audience had brought notebooks. The short woman in glasses sitting next to me was all ready with a multicolored pen.

Ever since the debut of Taipei Philharmonic Radio in the mid-90’s, it seems that many people here have become interested in “understanding” classical music. There are programs dedicated to “explaining” all kinds of classical pieces, and game shows where you guess the piece and its composer. You can even buy expensive CD series to listen to in accompaniment to your favorite classical tunes, telling you just what it is you’re listening to. Other CD series are aimed at younger listeners.

The musicians walked out to take their seats and tune, and then conductor Yin-fang Zhang, a young woman, came on stage followed by a man in a white suit. This was professor Chu-wey Liu, and he began to explain the piece. The orchestra would play a bit, and just when I was getting into it, they’d stop, and the professor would talk a bit about phrasing, themes and motifs. I found it incredibly annoying. All of the emotion of the piece was lost. As if that weren’t enough, the woman next to was letting off silent farts every few minutes. Actually, I’m not sure it was her, but the wind was from that direction, and she just seemed guilty. Her pen clicked on and off as she took different-colored notes on the music, and she clapped between movements.

The full orchestra came on stage for the next piece, and I was relieved by the appearance of some very nice eye candy in the second violin section. During the intermission a concert hall employee came over to tell Chumble’s Canadian friend to stop moving his head during the show as it was apparently distracting the people behind him. I turned around to see who could be so easily distracted, but nobody met my gaze.

The final piece, Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, was picked apart once more, but I love Brahms and managed to enjoy the last part when the orchestra played through it in its entirety despite the waves of noxious odors coming from my left. The conductor didn’t seem to have a very firm hand on the orchestra, which was loose and often out of tune, especially the woodwinds, but the sound was quite nice and made me want to upgrade my stereo. It’s been forever since I played in a classical group; I played in high school with the local youth orchestra and once with the Florida Symphony Orchestra, and in college with the Central Taiwan Orchestra, both excellent groups, but I haven’t done anything like that since. I kind of miss it.

b/w leapThis morning on my way to work I saw some people spreading a net across the underpass on Zhongxiao West Road, underneath the pedestrian overpass. There was an ambulance and some policemen walking around, so I went up to have a look. I couldn’t see anyone in trouble and thought for a minute that a baby had inexplicably gotten caught underneath the overpass somehow, but it turned out that they were shooting scene for a made-for-TV movie. I asked one of the crew if it was difficult to apply for that particular intersection, but he said it had to be there, as the movie was based on true events, and someone had apparently done something of note while perched on the outside of the overpass. So it had to be that one, and they had to get the shot then, because they weren’t going to get a second chance. I took some pictures and left, wishing them luck.

posted by Poagao at 9:33 am  
May 14 2008

Bank Sinopac

I went to the bank today to see if I could adjust my interest rate on my housing loan, which has gotten a bit unruly lately. I had discussed my case with the woman at the bank, a Ms. Chen, many times on the phone, and she said I should come in to discuss the issue further and look at some different plans. This, however, necessitated a trip across town to the main Bank Sinopac office near the Far Eastern Hotel.

I walked over from the subway, found the place and was directed down to the basement level, where I found an empty reception desk, an empty help desk, and a generally dark, empty room. I peeked into the offices on either side and failed to arouse anyone’s interest. A single fellow in a tie chatted on the phone, leaning on the unmanned reception desk. “Wonderful service here,” I muttered. The guy on the phone glanced at me and continued chatting. I took out my phone and called Ms. Chen. “Are you here?” she asked.

“I’m downstairs,” I said.

“Ok, just go into the office on your right when you come in,” she said. I did so, and a woman approached me, while the other workers stared.

“I’m looking for Ms. Chen Xin-yue,” I said, and the woman burst out in giggles. She looked over at her co-workers and managed to point at Ms. Chen, who had stood up at the mention of her name. She looked at me, uncomprehending. “I’m here,” I said. “Me. I’m…uh, we had an appointment? I talked to you not five seconds ago?”

More giggles. “Oh!” Ms. Chen said, looking shocked and pointing me to a nearby desk, where I sat down and waited. As I did so, the entire section of office I’d just turned away from burst out into laughter.

Eventually the giggles died down and Ms. Chen came over. “Ok…” she said hesitantly, apparently unsure how to proceed. “Do you….do you have an ID card?”

You know I do, I thought. “Yes,” I said, and handed it over. She looked at it, then consulted her computer a while.

“You know, we could offer you a much better rate if you transferred all of your investments, funds and the like to us,” she said, saying “rate” in English. I declined, and she shrugged. After a while she asked me to sign a form. “Sign here to promise that you won’t pay off the loan within a year, and we’ll see if we can come up with a better rate.”

That’s it? I thought. “Could you at least give me a ballpark range?” I’d been led to believe on the phone that I could reduce my interest rate substantially and would be given several plans to choose from, but the figures she gave me were unimpressive at best, and would only last a year, after which the rate would go back up.

I mentioned the poor service I’d had at the bank previously, such as last month when the clerk asked me if I was positive I’d paid the payment the month before. I mentioned that many other banks have been calling me about switching my loan to them and giving quite attractive rates. Ms. Chen seemed at once skeptical and apologetic about these stories. “I’ll see what I can do, and we’ll get back to you with a solid figure,” she repeated, and then added. “Oh, and will you be staying in Taiwan long?”

I blinked, stared.

“Because you might leave, you see,” she went on. You must really, really not want my business, I thought.

“Get your supervisor over here,” I said.

“What?”

“You do have a supervisor? Or do I have the privilege of addressing the top dog here?”

The supervisor was called. I showed her my bank book. “It’s not much, I know,” I said. “Of course, it might grow in the future. I have steady work at a government position. But,” I paused and pointed at the book, “You will never see a penny of it, thanks to your bank’s abominable service and idiots like Bobo the Clown here.” I pointed at Ms. Chen. The giggling had stopped.

And then I went to lunch. Lunch, at least, was nice.

I went to Fubon, who were professional and happy to handle my mortgage, savings, and all my other financial business. They offered me a competitive interest rate, anyway, so I can only assume that the Sinopac people are simply, woefully inept at customer relations for some reason.

posted by Poagao at 7:05 am  
Jan 17 2008

The iPod Numb

ipodnumbFrom a 2005 report: “Despite reaping great profits from iPod sales, Apple is still hesitant to bring its iTunes Music Store to Taiwan, because local consumers are still downloading songs via peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing Web sites instead of using online music stores.”

I’m bringing this up because Apple has lately seen fit to include some very useful applications to the iPod Touch. The only problem is that, while the new apps are free for new purchases and free if you have an iPhone, they are charging a bit of money, US$20, to unlock these abilities for the iPod Touch. They might as well be charging a million dollars, because if you don’t happen to be in an iTunes-approved country, you won’t be able to get that or anything else from iTunes or Apple, even if the country you’re in actually makes the iPods you’re not allowed to upgrade.

But is it me, or is this logic backwards? Apple is “hesitant” to bring iTunes to Taiwan because local consumers are downloading music from P2P sources? Hello, McFly? If there’s no other viable alternative, of course people will download songs that way. Just like by keeping the iPhone out of Taiwan, you’re ensuring that people will have no choice except to Jailbreak phones bought abroad. I’m considering jailbreaking my iPod Touch, though I really, really don’t want to. I’d much rather keep it unjailbroken and use iTunes to update it with the latest apps. I don’t have that big a problem with paying 20 bucks for the extra features. But Apple won’t let me do any of that because I’m in the wrong country.

The only thing that is even more hilarious is the fact that only foreigners from iTunes-approved countries are able to use the new maps application on their iPod Touches. Most Chinese-speaking people won’t be allowed access to this application. The maps it displays, however, are in Chinese.

posted by Poagao at 4:03 am  
Jul 01 2007

In the bag

My friends are always asking what all I have in my backpack, usually after I produce some obscure thing called for in an unlikely situation that nobody would ever think about just having on their person “just in case” they ever need, say, a list of local temple gods (you’d be surprised). So, after being inspired from a picture series of Mostly Russians Scanning Their Faces Along with the Interesting Things in Their Pockets, I decided to take everything out of my backpack and pockets, array them on my bed and list what all I had in there. You know, just in case.

Things I have on me

posted by Poagao at 1:17 am  
May 15 2002

Liquid Brown Mixture

I went to the Adventist Hospital again this morning to check up on my itises. My back is feeling better and I am walking more or less normally again, albeit* slowly. On the cold/infection/virus front, it seems that I was overdue for my annual opium binge, so they gave me a couple of bottles of the concoction known by its scientific name “Liquid Brown Mixture” today along with my huge bag o’ pills. Consequently, I’ve been feeling rather mellow today. There was a rather large earthquake, and I didn’t even notice. I got out of the elevator at work to find people rushing around excitedly. “Where were you during the earthquake?” one of my co-workers asked. “What earthquake?” I asked, and immediately got a look of disbelief. I’m not surprised I didn’t notice, though. I’m even feeling amicably towards the Office Vampires today. The water’s going to be cut off at the office tomorrow, since the Xinyi District’s turn according to the rationing plan, though. I doubt I’ll be feeling very amicably towards that.

After an excruciating trip from the American midwest to our polluted, drought/quake-stricken island, My friend Mindcrime is now back in Taiwan, although he hasn’t made it up to Taipei yet. Perhaps he will venture up here to see Episode II when it opens this weekend. Dean called me up last night after an evening of drunken antics at Q Bar and proposed that we should get everyone together at Jake’s on Sunday and then rush the theater. I’ve got a bad feeling….nah, actually it sounds fun.

Speaking of movies, I recently watched On the Waterfront. Is it just me, or did they accidentally lose the voice tracks and replace Marlon Brando’s voice with that of Billy Crystal and Eve Marie Saint’s with that of Andie Macdowell? Also, I had no idea that Karl Malden was such a good actor. I really only remembered him from all of those American Express commercials. With this in mind, I also recently bought Patton on DVD. Best war movie ever, as far as I’m concerned. Much better than Saving Private Ryan.

*I once used the word “albeit” in a research report on German sports cars for my 7th-grade English class at Maitland Junior High school. Mrs. Gwinn, my teacher, refused to believe that I had come up with that word myself and accused me of having my parents write the report for me. My mother had a talk with the teacher and managed to convince her that I had written the report on my own.

I liked Rosalie Gwinn, though. She was a good teacher. It’s just that this kind of thing was always happening to me in that period of my life, since I had made up my mind at some point in junior high school to begin applying myself to get better grades, actually since I was informed that they actually meant something and could have something to do with my going to college or not. My reputation, however, was that of a rather poor student, and the sudden onset of entrances to honor societies, gifted programs and the life, confounded many an educator. Once my Civics teacher wouldn’t let me leave the classroom to attend the yearbook photography for the honor roll students. I had to show her my name on the list, which of course embarrassed her in front of the entire class. She got back at me with a none-too-subtle touche by giving me my only C that year, kicking me off the honor roll. And now I’m getting back at her by, uh….not mentioning her name here. I’m sure she’ll be devastated. Truth is, I’ve completely forgotten her name. So there!

Ah, the memories…*drinks some more Liquid Brown Mixture*.

posted by Poagao at 10:15 am