Taiwan Revisited

June 22, 2011

Taiwan blew away my expectations. I loved it because of the friendliness and courtesy of the people, the smells and bustle of the markets, and the beauty of its misty, verdant mountains. The time leading up to the trip blew by and the time in Taiwan even more so. A twenty-two hour flight could not deter me from going back again, and I very well might.

While my attention is currently directed towards my school and job, I find myself thinking about the trip as well as all the other international adventures I have had. I look back on those hot days of dragging luggage and wearing business suits in 85+ degree weather with humidity you could slice through and I really couldn’t have been happier. I’m not much for showing emotion but sometimes on the trip, when no one was looking of course, a smile would appear on my face. Taiwan had a way of eliciting emotion out of me like that and for a stoic Irishman that’s saying something.

To anyone reading this who is considering going on a study abroad trip I would say this, you are going to regret it if you don’t. I had friends who didn’t go on this trip who regretted it. I had friends who didn’t go on our senior class trip to Europe who regretted it. Travelling in a foreign country with your classmates and friends can never be a bad thing. At times you may grow tired of each other, at times you may be tired to the point of collapse, and at times you may feel you can’t eat another bite of foreign food without throwing up but those moments quickly fade and the experience as a whole will be remembered as one of the best times of you life.

I appreciate all the hard work and sacrifice Professor Peng took in making this trip possible. Without him this trip would have never happened. Thank you very much.

Best Seafood Dinner

May 11, 2011

The monger keeps the eyes in so they'll see you through the week...har!

After the Jade tour, Memphis took us out to a local seafood restaurant. Because Kaohsiung is seated right on the Taiwan Strait it has very fresh seafood and the quality of ingredients showed in the meal. This meal was the best meal I have had on the trip. I love seafood and I’ve always wanted to visit the East Coast in the U.S. to get a taste of really fresh seafood but I had to travel to Taiwan to get the experience. Those Maryland crab cakes will have to wait their turn.

Jade Yachts

May 11, 2011

Walking through the blue collar city of Kaohsiung, one would not think that some of the world’s nicest yachts are created right within its harbours. Jade Yachts was established in 2004 with the idea that it could design and build high quality yachts more efficiently and cheaper than its competitors. The founder’s son, Memphis Han gave us a short history of the company and a story about his hunting goats on an island. The goat story was more or less a parable for how to be successful in business. Find the goat, plan the approach and catch, and then seize the goat and don’t let go. And we shouldn’t kill the goat right away. We have to think long term so we allow it to breed before we kill it. Very macabre outlook but it makes sense to me.

Jade Yachts has several ship yards and we were able to tour one of them. Ginormous is the only word I can think to describe the facility. A two hundred foot yacht was being built within one building. Oddly, no one was wearing hard hats and a craftsman had better take his shoes off before finishing work on the interior of one of these vessels.

The tour gave me a better knowledge of what is all involved with project management. A yacht normally takes two years for the entire construction project to be completed. A lot of parts have to be ordered, manufactured, and assembled and all of these actions need to take place at specific times. All of the hard work is shown in the price tag; A Jade Yacht could easily sell for $40 million.

Taiwanese Whiskey

May 9, 2011

Until a few years ago, Taiwan was without a legitimate whiskey distillery. Civilized culture my eye.

Then the King Car group decided to venture into a liquor business. King Car is a conglomerate responsible for producing pesticides, pet food, pharmaceutical drugs, coffee, water, and sports drinks, as well as providing transportation logistics. It’s scary think how much power one company can have. As for the actually distillery, the site was very clean and professional looking. It even had a luxurious conference center, replete with western architecture and a cavernous, marbled entryway.

Ka Va Lan’s (the brand of Whiskey King Car makes) main target market is a wealthier, more sophisticated crowd and it showed both in the atmosphere of the distillery and the price per bottle (starting at around $50). And thanks to a beverage management class in college I was able to hold a decent conversation with the manager about various whiskeys and the distillation process.

A Pensive Train Ride

May 9, 2011

I’m typing this while on the Taiwanese high-speed rail train and we are passing a Taipei suburb and the sun is just beginning to set over the China Sean. A warm, pinkish gold is painted on the worn buildings and baseball fields as the street vendors are starting to open up their carts and trailers. There is a slight mist coming in from the densely wooded hills and it is starting to cover the passing cities like fog rolling over an English moor. In this section of Taiwan, newer, pastel buildings are juxtaposed with derelict slums and storm-grey colored shacks.  To me, there is beauty to be found even in the dilapidation of Taiwan. There is a history to these cities that I’d like to learn about.

As I look out my seat 7A window, I am listening to Johann Johannsson’s Fordlandia and if you have not heard it is definitely worth a listen. There is also a backstory to the song (and the whole album) that makes it even more appropriate. I think it’s a very fitting soundtrack for viewing the old manufacturing plants and cities that sprung up around them. The music conveys the solemn death of a dream and the possible renaissance that can occur if we want it to. I’ve listened to it so many times and every time the music never fails to elicit the hope we can have in this life.

My dad made a reference to the movie Ghandi the other day and he told me (with an Indian accent) that I need to go and find the “Real Taiwan” just like Ghandi sought to find his “Real India.” I believe I may have found part of that Taiwan. As I listen to this music and watch the sun set over the cities and mountains I smile a little and know that I could live here for a year or two and really enjoy myself and gain a lot from the experience. We will see where the Lord leads…

University Visits

May 9, 2011

We have visited several colleges and universities on this trip, all of them with different strengths, appeal, architecture, and histories. We first visited a university in Danshui. There we attended an International Finance class where we broke into groups and discussed various questions dealing with “Interest Rate Parity” and international lending. One member of each group was supposed to give the groups’ answer and for some reason my group picked me. Do you know anything about interest rate parity? Me neither but I gave it my best shot. The class seemed to like it because I got applause afterwards. Bonus. Afterwards we went out into “Old Street” and toured the shops. That story was told in a previous post.

We visited Taiwan Normal University. The school of business is just getting its feet on the ground. We sat in on an “ingredients marketing” class and there the teacher encouraged our class to get involved and answer the case questions. Obviously, we had not read the case but that didn’t stop us from fabricating an answer. The trick is to use enough business jargon so people think you obviously know what you’re talking about so they will not question you. For example, pepper your conversation with terms such as “synergy,” “P&L,” “revenue stream,” “My broker…” “My Uncle…” or “transnational hedging.” You sound smart already! Also, I just came up with that last term but you would have never known!

 We were greeted with songs, food, and even leis at Asian University. And they hadn’t even heard us sing yet. We did not participate in a class at this university but we did revert to our childhood as we painted a traditional Taiwanese play-toy: the top! College is wonderful in Taiwan.

Lastly, we visited Professor Peng’s Alma Mater, Tunghai University. Dr. Peng said it was the most beautiful campus in the world. I will admit that it was a very nice looking campus. An American ex-pat gave us a history of Taiwan and an economics teacher presented a case on Taiwanese GDP and growth rates. Afterwards we went to the dairy store that was owned and operated by the campus. I think they raised the cows that produced the milk but don’t quote me on that. This is the university where I bought my first calligraphy pen and paper so I could start writing Mandarin.


Taiwanese Parade

May 7, 2011

Bright colors, an energetic emcee, brilliant costumes, animated dancers, and lively music all came together today as we watched a traditional Taiwanese “Parade” at the Taiwan Center for Traditional Arts. The setting for the dance was the ocean and from what I could gather the dance signified the the opposing forces within the sea. Afterwards we were treated to a college performance of Cirque De Soleil. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed for that performance. I can tell you however that I was white knuckled for most of the act. One slip and those performers could have easily broken their necks. Once again, the women were gorgeous.

Giant Cycling

May 7, 2011

Those who have a bicycle please raise your hands. Those who own a Giant bicycle please raise your hands. Have you heard of it? No? Well that’s because it only has two stores in America: one in Boston and one in Denver. They do sell some bikes through cycling shops but the name “Giant” is still not a household name in the States. However, it is a global brand with several Tour De France wins to its credit.

We toured its manufacturing facility and, with the help of the knowledge gleaned from an Operations Management course, I was able to understand which processes were used to build Giant bikes. Kanban cards and Kaizen, information I wished to never have to use were the elements that made this factory run efficiently. Unfortunately, this facility was more secretive than the Wonka Chocolate Factory, which means I have no pictures from this portion of the tour. And like Wonka, Giant uses diminutive, orange men to perform the everyday tasks. They’re perfect because they have the nimble fingers of a child but the legal age of an adult. But like I said, I have no pictures so you’ll need to take my word on this one.

When I asked Zack (our tour guide) what separates Giant from its competitors he replied “Giant doesn’t just sell a bike; Giant sells a lifestyle.” Giant promotes healthy living through bike riding as well as nutritional guidance. Giant also promotes biking excursions around Taiwan. Giant will set up tours and will provide tour guides, food, lodging, and vans for luggage and supplies. All a cyclist needs to worry about is peddling.

Giant sells a good product but it doesn’t leave it at that. It seems like Giant stays involved with its customers.  I like this for several reasons. The single most important reason why I like this is because when a company just sells a product, I don’t think consumers are as loyal. When another company builds a similar product and sells it at a cheaper price the consumer will most likely switch to the other product. Apple, Coca-Cola, BMW, Gucci, all of these brands sell an image as well as a product. When a company sells a lifestyle, a way of thinking, consumers become much more loyal because the brand becomes an extension of their personality.

Paper!

May 7, 2011

We’ve all used paper. We’ve used it so much that we take it for granted. We write, draw, scribble, and doodle on it and when we are done with it we toss it away like a used Kleenex. It’s not wrong that you throw it away (“recycle”) but have you ever given any thought to how precious a commodity it once was? Probably not. I’m most likely alone on this one.

Let me explain. In second century B.C… Nope, too much to explain. Let me sum up. The process in very involved and it requires patience (like most things in Asia), quality wood, vibrant dyes, and a superior source of water.

Colors and Textures

Time has stood still at the Pu-Li Traditional paper plant where paper is still produced the way it was centuries ago but with the slightest of help from more modern technology.

Follow along as I blend pictures of the real process with pictures of our class’ scaled down process.

First we need wood pulp. I’m not quite sure how people get wood pulp but there you have it.

 The wood pulp is then immersed in a water bath and a screen is quickly dipped in and when it comes out there is a thin layer of wood pulp attached to it.

The screens are placed on a press and compressed until most, if not all, of the water is removed.

This was to press the water out of our paper

What we have now is a thick stack of moist towelettes.

The paper is placed on a hot surface where the creases and bubbles are coerced out and we are left with a smooth piece of paper that is ready to be cut into paper.

No matter where you go, women have a knack for ironing

Calligraphy is a high art here in Taiwan as I believe it is in most Asian countries. They believe that the way a person writes is an indication of what type of personality lies within the writer. In order to get truly good calligraphy, the ink must be applied on quality paper and that is exactly what the people at Pu-Li are trying to produce.

Quick tidbit. I’m writing this entry on our bus and we are now travelling through the longest tunnel in Taiwan: Snow Mountain Tunnel. It is 8 miles long

Best Photos

May 6, 2011

Since I’m really tired tonight and can barely put together a cognitive thought, I’m just going to post what I think are some of the better pictures from the trip. Enjoy! Tomorrow I will attempt to post about our University visits and the Giant Bicycle factory.