Monthly Archives: September 2014

Housing Surprises

My things have not arrived. They were supposed to have arrived Friday (two days ago), but the moving company is estimating Oct 15. There was a shipment delay whose cause I have not yet identified.

However, since I had planned for this possibility, it has been the least of my problems.

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My bed is a rollable camping pad. No sheets, but I brought four aikido uniforms. The tops of two are pillows. The rest of the camping pad is wrapped variously with another top, two bottoms, and an small towel. A large towel is a blanket. The uniforms are all clean, and I ran a rag across the floor, which is now clean enough to eat off of. I still have one more uniform for training, which will be able to wash with the washing machine I bought yesterday.

I have slept three nights on this so far, and it is comfortable. The first two nights were in a room with a window toward the four-lane Xinhai Road. Being about 100 meters away from the road, I had thought that it would be quiet enough. With the window closed, it was indeed quiet enough to fall asleep, but every so often throughout the night, very loud motorcycles would speed by, waking me up. I suspect these have been modified by having their mufflers removed.

There is another bedroom, with a window on a courtyard. I had tried to sleep in this one the second night, but when I turned the air conditioning on, it did not smell right, and when I lay down, my eyes became very itchy. This was in spite of making the floor clean enough to eat off of. I turned the air conditioner off, but worrying about what was in the air, I returned to the first room – the one with the window facing Xinhai Road. My eyes did not itch upon waking up.

The third night, I slept with the air conditioning off in the second room – the one with the window to the courtyard. With the air conditioning off, my eyes were fine. As I was falling asleep, I was woken up once by my neighbor’s retrieving and replacing the shower hose from its receptacle. Evidently, the wall is thin here. However, the road noise did not bother me, and I slept through the night.

I was woken this morning by the cooing of innumerable pigeons. It seems that my downstairs neighbors are farming pigeons on the balcony just under mine in the courtyard.

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my courtyard balcony

This explains the few downy feathers I found yesterday morning when I scrubbed the balcony. One other thing I noticed after I scrubbed was a strange biological smell – it was unpleasant enough that I closed the sliding door to the courtyard, which I had hitherto kept open during the day because it had a cooling effect on the entire house. I thought maybe the mildew in Taiwan is different, but now I know that it was the faint smell of bird shit. They probably do a good job of cleaning, or else it would have been instantly identifiable. The mystery of my itching eyes is also now solved – I attribute it to particulate bird shit and bird dander having made their way into the air conditioning unit. The problem with this is that even if I ask the landlord to clean the air conditioning unit, it would not solve the root cause, namely that my downstairs neighbors are farming pigeons. The problem is mitigated by the coming winter months, which will make the air conditioner unnecessary.

I had thought I might avoid surprises by choosing to rent in a neighborhood with easy assess to universities and the financial district. The trouble with new places is that old intuition and common sense don’t work anymore. My co-worker told me he was thinking of moving. He is considering paying six times market average to live in an upscale shopping district, which I had thought this was hideously wasteful, but now I wonder if paying that much allows one to avoid surprises.

Having finally gotten a good night’s rest, though, I am in good spirits.

Ode to Tokyo

Trains from Narita pass fertile fields of rice,
Buildings growing taller,
Inviting to explore,
Promising anything.
In a conversation silence is allowed to happen,
Being alone without being lonely is possible.
A place to dance with friends or strangers all night,
And train martial arts at dawn.
Where people live in a mansions!
(They call apartments mansions.)
At Starbucks they hand things over with both hands, like to royalty!
Where I have worked on 12-story scaffolds, which sway gently in the wind,
So helped to build
A backdrop for friendships and romances.
Where old friends are just down the street,
Or new friends are at the next dinner,
Where in the sea of people, kindred spirits are looking for you, too.
And when you find each other, maybe
Take a train to hike snowy forests in the winter,
And swim cool rivers in the summer,
To picnic under a rain of cherry blossoms,
Or bicycle in wooded paths with orange and yellow all around.
As friends moved away,
Made space for new friends,
Felt poorer in parting,
(As we enriched ourselves through exchange)
Became pieces of a whole,
So fell in love with Tokyo.

台北で部屋探し

なかなか条件に合うのはないのね。日本では十年前に部屋を探していた時に二件目の物件で決まったから、あんまり条件が厳しくないと思うけど、それは多分自分の感覚がたまたま日本の風土にあっていた。台北で部屋を見ていくと以下は条件であることが明らかになった。

  • すべての部屋に窓がある。見た四件目の物件は全く窓のない。ウエブの写真で分からなかった。
  • 煩わしい家具が入っていない(台北は一人暮らしの部屋を借りるとよく家具が付く。日本で床の上で暮らすことになれたので、あんまり机もソーファも使わない。料理も当日調理して当日食べ終えるので、近くにスーパーがあれば、冷蔵庫もいらない。)

ウエブではなかなか見つからないので、6月の出張に不動産屋に訪ねた。好みの場所を説明したら、話していた担当がいるのに、横から別の従業員が割り込んで、ちょうど新しい物件の情報が入りましたと説明した、その物件はどこにあるのかと聞いたら、全く私が求めた場所から離れた場所だった。

その不動産の担当と夜待ち合わせしてある物件を見せてもらったら、その物件は日本の部屋と同じ値段と大きさだった。台湾の物価にしては高いけど、高層マンションで見晴らしがよかったが、ワンルームでベッドが無駄に場所を占めていて、台所がなくて料理ができない。

「ここは料理できなさそうですが。」
「料理なんかするんですか。」
「たまに自分好みの味、あるいは素朴の味の物が食べたい。」

あの物件を見終わったら、不動産やは「あれで行けなかったら、他の物件もこういうワンルームで料理ができない部屋なので、見なくてもいいかもしれません。」
「うん、おそらくそうです。またおねがいします。」と言って、帰った。

ここで、条件が増えた。

  • 台所、せめてレンジが付いていて、料理ができる

見ていくとまた増える。

  • 閑静な地区に位置しているか窓の遮音性がいい。台北では住宅と商店がほとんど別れていないので、道の音は東京と比べても煩い。見た三件めの部屋は上記の条件を満たしていたが、松山空港の近くにあったので、飛行機の離着陸の音がよく聞こえていた。
  • 四階層以上の場合、エレベーターが付いている。五つ目の物件は上記の条件をすべて満たしていたが、六階層にあって、しかも階段がなかった。運動は怖がらないけど、階段が狭くて、自転車や出張の荷物をもっての上り下りはきつい。

 

面白いのは前述の条件は日本の一人暮らし向けの部屋に当たり前に付いている。悲しんで、台湾暦が九年のアメリカ人同僚に相談したら、「お前は日本になれすぎているよ。」自分の当たり前と環境の当たり前が一致しないのこんなに苦労するのだね。環境の文句言っても、同情する人もないね。

実は不動産に行って聞いても、台湾の不動産屋はよく売買に携わっているので、賃貸の物件数が少ない。ウエブで探すと物件数が一番多いと説明された。

探し続けた。いよいよ、七件目。今回は自分の個性と台湾の国民性が違うからこそ、いい物件を安く借りられる。

上の条件をすべて満たしていた。それに

  • 不動産に電話で問い合わせしたときに、「どこにあるか分かる?すごいはずれだよ!」台北では地下鉄の駅から5分以上はなれていれば不便と判断される。最寄り駅はのんびり歩いて15分。これは実は東京のマンションより歩行時間が少ない。しかも会社まで3キロくらいだから、歩いたり、走ったり通える距離。
  • 立地は若社会人が好んでいるところまで地下鉄を一回乗り換えないと行けないので、これもきっと若者に人気がない物件だけど、私に取っては師範大学と台湾大学の裏門に歩いていける。大学の合気道道場に通いやすい。

見に行ったら、古い物件で、ださくておしゃれじゃないけど、古いからこそ、静かな住宅街で、すべての部屋に窓が付いて、ベランダがついて、台所が付いて、エレベーターがなくてもビルが低層しかも…

  • 湿気対策にトイレは外への窓が付いている。
  • 物件の表にも裏にも窓が付いている。前と後ろを開けば、風が通る。
  • 安い。東京にすんでいた所より安いし、台所なしの構想ワンルームマンションより安い。
  • デカイ。専有面積約130平米。リビングで畳を敷いたら、雑魚寝でも稽古でもできる。寝室二つがある。ベランダ二つ。

今日の11時に大家さんと会って、契約をサインする。

 

First Night out in Taipei

First Friday night out after getting to Taiwan – I’m hanging out after a cocktail party at a restaurant with friends of a co-worker. This conversation is in Chinese, with a Taiwanese woman to my right.

“So are you a nerd?”
“A what?” I didn’t know the word in Chinese.
“A nerd.” she said it again, she repeated slowly, enunciating. “nerd. You don’t understand?
“Maybe I am. Why?”
“Because you’re wearing your office clothes.”

I was wearing a long-sleeved collared shirt and slacks.
“That’s because I came from work.”
“And you didn’t bother to go home and change?”

I looked at her. I had known her for about three minutes, and she was trying to insult me. I was less angry at her than I was missing Japan. It was only evening of my second day. It’s not that people in Japan never tried to insult me, but at least we would get to know each other first!

She was wearing overalls a t-shirt underneath, and the pant legs cut really short, maybe to show off her legs, which were thick. Instead of trying to insult her back, I turned my body to talk to the man to my left. He was Canadian, and had been in Taiwan for thirteen years. He worked in television, as a commentator on variety shows. He was moving back to Canada soon, though. He and his Taiwanese wife had a son who would be starting kindergarten soon.

I asked. “You don’t want to raise him in the Taiwanese school system?”

“No.”

I thought about my own experience in Japan. I knew several foreigners who’d lived in Japan, married Japanese wives, and decided to raise their children in the Japanese school system. One man even cautioned me. “If you like Japan and want to stay, make sure she wants to stay, too. Some of these honeys they’re looking to leave and see marriage as their way out. You like Japan, get settled in, and suddenly she wants to go overseas.” A lot of foreigners like Japan and stay.

But here was this guy who’d lived in Taiwan, for thirteen years, and who decided after that time that he didn’t want to raise his kid in the Taiwanese school system, so it was time to leave. I wish I’d asked him why. I thought to myself – because this country raises sad conformist people who insult you within the first five minutes of meeting?

Be careful of making generalizations. I got tired and decided to go home.

Silencing the Ego

After 1 1/2 weeks in the states, a taste of Japan in the ANA airport lounge before my flight to Taipei. I ordered noodles at the noodle bar, where there is a noren curtain concealing my and my server’s faces from each other.

Irasshaimase, said my server. Kitsune soba, I ordered.
Some activity behind the counter, and she presented my noodles.

It is not common for such a noren curtain to be in such a place, but that it is there does not feel restrictive at all.

In Japan, people do not seek for personal recognition, but seek to perform their role well with a respectful distance. It is not so much self-effacement as it is an emphasis on doing a quality job, and it is refreshing.

Once I tried to strike up a conversation with a barber while getting my hair cut. After a few pleasantries, he said that he would prefer not to talk. An unusual reaction, but entirely consistent – he would simply prefer to concentrate on doing a good job cutting my hair.