About Taiwan, FotoZon and lots of other stuff

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bloody Rice Cakes Rising

In mid 2006, after I lost my job of seven years as a programmer, we decided to sell our house and move to Taiwan for a few years. At the time, our friends thought we were crazy and kept telling us that we wouldn't be able to afford a new place when we returned back to Seattle. Before we actually listed our house, I found another job that let me work from home by telecommuting. It was great opportunity and they even agreed to let me work from Taiwan! We continued with our decision even though we didn't have to sell at that point. Of course now that house prices are deflating, our friends have all changed their tune and a few of them are even stuck with an over-priced house or two. Unfortunately its all been downhill from that point for us too due to the Incredible Shrinking Dollar. Besides the fact that we now face negative real interest rates for saving, the New Taiwan Dollar has really strengthened against the USD, finally crashing through 30 just last week. Since we are earning an income in the US, living in Taiwan is increasingly becoming less of a bargain. While the rent is cheap and doesn't appear to be going up, everything else is.

I'm worried that the US is in such debt and the economy is like a junkie that must be constantly bailed out by the Federal Reserve. So, I called my grandparents just yesterday and asked them about the Great Depression of the thirties. They were just in their teenage years when that was going on. My Grandma, who is 96 years old, said that it didn't really affect them that much since they lived on a farm and had all they needed. When they wanted to "buy" something from town, they would just bring in a pail of cream or some fresh eggs and trade for it. My Grandpa on the other hand, lived in a larger city and his father worked at General Mills so he had lots of stories about giving away flour and biscuit mix to the desperate.

While I hope such a massive economic calamity doesn't happen again, you just never know. What I'm mostly afraid of is the sneaky efforts of the government to devalue the currency and take from the savers to bail out the banks, the borrowers and the speculators. I'm checking out all the options to keep our small savings from the house sale intact until we need them again including Australian Currency Funds and international bonds. While money in the bank is guaranteed, what good is the guarantee when they give you back the dollars and they're worth half as much? Still it could be worse ... we could have our account in Zimbabwe.

How much longer can I still buy a Bloody
Rice Cake for under one US Dollar??

Monday, March 10, 2008

March On

Holy Smokes! Has it really been more than a month since I've written here? I am really falling down on my blogging duties.. Well, between two birthday's in the family, everyone caught the cold, busy at work and everything else, I guess this blog was the last thing in line. For the month of February during Chinese New Year's we took a trip up to LuShan Hot Springs Town off the Central Cross Island Highway. It was great fun to stay in the little town with our friends and eat drink and be merry. It was extremely cold and we could actually see a lot of snow on the top of the mountains. This was the first time I have ever seen snow in Taiwan.

In early March to celebrate my birthday (yes, I am getting older) we took a wonderful trip up to Deng-Pu hot springs which lies to the North of Sun-Moon lake on the way up to Jade Mountain National Park. We stayed in a great little cabin which has a natural open-air hot springs right outside the room. This is vital when you are married and have kids, because after the little ones are aspleep, you can sneak out and enjoy a nice soak under the stars together. It was a beautiful night in the mountains, with no moon and the stars were out in force all the way from orion to the big dipper.

The next day after soaking in the hot springs, we continued up the road to Jade Mountain National Park which I have never been too before. The weather was fabulous blue sky and not too cold. The road winds up the mountain valley for some real breath-taking scenery. My wife says all mountains look the same, but I just don't see it that way. I always like to see what's around the next bend and I just enjoy being there. I convinced her we should continue driving down the other side through Ali-Shan and we did just that. Of course she and the kids were sleeping the whole time so we just breezed on through and back down to the other side without many stops. The scenery coming down that other side was almost as spectacular as that going up, however because it was becoming late afternoon and we were coming back to civilization around Chia-Yi, it was a lot more hazy.

Of course, driving around is a great way to see Taiwan or any other place. Sometimes I wish I was still young and driving around on my 150cc, but the car has its advantages too. Bringing the kids is a lot of fun, but I swear they can have fun just about anywhere they are. They had a good time soaking in the hot springs too, but mostly they take pleasure in the little details. The leaf next the trail, or the snacks are a lot more interesting than looking at the scenery for them.
All for now, back to whatever I was doing before I remembered to write a blog entry. Which is probably working the day job, watching the kids, or figuring out how to lose more money in the stock market. Either way, I'll re-commit to coming back here and posting an article more often than once a month!

All the best, Joe.