Category Archives: Adaptation

Feeling the Traffic

A long-time Japanese expatriate friend of mine once told me, when I first moved to Taiwan “the traffic culture is not like in Japan. You have to stay aware of your surroundings, otherwise you might get hit. But, after you get used to it, it’s kind of fun.”

I understand now. I started commuting by bicycle a few months ago. I live a 20-minute bike ride away from the office, and I have made my bike commutes more frequent.

When I first got to Taiwan, it seemed to me very dangerous. I saw people almost getting hit, and almost got hit myself.

I can attribute to both parties almost involved not paying attention, and the latter to my lack of understanding of the driving culture in Taiwan. But now, when I bike to work, I am both paying attention and also have a grasp of driving culture.

Gradually getting used to the environment and what to pay attention to, I no longer had any issues.

When riding in a taxi with a visitor from the States, he said to me “it’s scary how the scooters weave in and out of traffic suddenly.” I knew then than I was adapting, because it no longer seemed to me that they were so sudden. I could anticipate what they were trying to to, and their movements no longer seemed sudden, but seemed to flow.

Now, I flow. I know that the motorcyclists can’t hear me on my bicycle, so I yell if they get too close. I know that cars do not expect me to be riding so fast, so I am cautious when cars are about to turn in. Before I change my line, I look to see if there is someone approaching from behind, and often this action is enough to signal my intent, and the traffic opens for me. I use hand signals to point where I want to go, and traffic opens for me. I can accelerate out of a light faster than the motorcycles for a couple dozen meters, so that by the time the motorcyclists try to pass me, we are already going 20kph.

I avoid stupid stuff like competing for the inside line against a car that is about to make a right turn, or trying to take a curbside line against a bus that is ahead of me about to make a stop, though I often see motorcyclists taking these risks. In dense traffic, I can move faster than cars. In gridlocked traffic, I can slip into spaced that the motorcycles can’t. In Japan, they would call this 車の間を縫って行く, which is “sewing a line through traffic”

The road is so crowded, but there is plenty of space to move, just like fabric is solid, but there is plenty of room for the needle to pass through.

And sometimes, if I haven’t ridden my bike to the office, I’ll rent one of the bright yellow-orange uBikes that are maintained by the city, and take a leisurely ride home. The traffic expects be to be slow, so they give me wide berth when passing. I used to hate the traffic, but I’ve discovered a certain set of rules that make sense.

Road rage is so rare – I’ve only seen a man get out of his car once, and it was to say something, and he got back in. Somehow, people are generally interacting with each other as people even on the road, and generally driving with awareness.

I saw a man cross the street today, and a car slowed to make a right turn where he was crossing. Pedestrians don’t necessarily have right of way in this case. If the two had continued, they would have collided. The pedestrian stepped back. The car stopped. The pedestrian bent a little to look into the car, made eye contact with the driver, nodded thanks, and crossed the street.

Today, I was going against the traffic on a one-way road. A cyclist unlocked his bike, and was about to turn into traffic. I slowed in case he didn’t see me. Before turning into traffic, through, he did look my way and see me. He yielded. “Thanks!” I said. “But careful – your kickstand is down.” He looked. “Oh, thanks!” he said.

But, accidents are frequent. I saw a burned-out taxi at the intersection of Tunhua and Keelung not two months ago, and a week ago I saw a motorcyclist sitting on the curbside at the exit of a parking lot in Sikkho Technology Park with an ambulance close by. There is an ambiguous traffic light arrangement there, and I have seen a couple near-misses there. Traffic lights are for reference. They might be ignored or misinterpreted. One still has to be careful.

In Japan, the intersection would have been designed better, or someone would have reported the danger to the city, and it may have been fixed. But there are limits to making things safe. It is possible to make things too safe, such that people lose awareness of their surroundings and become more prone to certain accidents. For example, the sidewalks in Taiwan are uneven, but people adapt to walking on them. The sidewalks in Japan are very even, but people adapt to them, too. The wife of a friend (who is in her mid-eighties) was walking recently where she could not see well, there was an unevenness of pavement that in Taiwan people wouldn’t even notice. She mis-stepped and sprained her ankle.

The author 内田樹 in 修業論 describes the necessity for cleanliness in the dojo as a means for increasing one’s awareness of thing. There being reduced of stimulus in the environment, one can attuned more to fine variations in the stimulus that is present during practice. One can increase ones sensitivity. But, in a way, sensitivity is also fragility. By reducing variation in the environment, the people living in that environment become more prone to injury when there is a change in the environment. Whereas Taiwan, because of high variability, trains people to take uneven pavement into stride, both figuratively and actually so.












Facial Tone

I must be succeeding at maintaining facial tone, as yesterday, stepping out of an elevator together, my colleague A told me “You must be having fun.”

“What?” I asked.

“You must be having fun, because everytime I see you, you’re smiling.”

“It’s something I work at.” I smiled.

Colleague K asked me “Do you have any accounts in Asia Pacific that are designing with our PCIe switches?”

I think. “Yes. In New Zealand, we have a customer working on a compute server.”

“New Zealand.” He pauses.

“Does this call for a business trip?” I asked.

For office humor, this is funny, and there are laughs around the conference table.

Customer meeting with an ODM today, who said. “The customer is asking for a Windows utility for what I think you would agree is very basic functionality. Don’t you think it’s a big problem if your company were unable to provide this basic functionality?” He let his words sink in. There is an awkward pause.

I smiled. “It ain’t like we don’t provide this functionality. We provide the source code! Only that it’s optimized for Linux, and the customer wants a Windows port.”

For customer humor, this is funny, and there are laughs around the conference table.





























With a co-worker, he was explaining theory. I wanted to know about application. I had been trying to ask a question, initiating with body language and verbal grunts. “Does that mean…” “um…” “hey…” “well…” with increased frustration, until I said to him firmly. “I have a question – do you want to hear it?” And he said “No.”

“You don’t want to hear my question.” I said, stating it more than asking it.
“No.” He shook his head.
And this was a bit of a relief. He had helped me understand the theory, which I had not done on my own, but he was not interested in understanding its application. I’ll take what I can get, I reasoned, and find the rest somewhere else.

I recalled Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huit Clos” in which the characters involved make each other miserable because of their personalities. Compromise is not possible because they cannot set their self-image aside. I recalled James Nalepka’s “Capsized,” where three crew a boat that capsizes in a storm, and they drift, surviving on fishing, gathering rain, and food stores until they hit land again. Their personalities bump against each other because there is no way off of the boat, but they are united by their common goal.

The latter is how I like to think of my company – united by a common goal.

The boat has been weathering a storm recently, but letting go of the urge to protect myself has enabled me to see more clearly.

Two weeks ago we were in a meeting. My boss called in. We hit a rough spot. My boss panicked, jumped in, and took control of the meeting. A few days later, my boss told me that I was being taken off the customer. I was upset, but agreed. We made plans to transfer the customer to my boss, and I offered to remain as backup help, internally working with our engineers to get answers. I viewed it as nothing personal – just a judgement of my ability to culturally handle this customer. The next day I was reinstated to the account. I now have a co-worker (not my boss) playing the role of cultural intermediary. He’s a top gun, switching in and out of dialect and talking the exact style with the exact phrasing that the customer wants to hear. We can say exactly the same thing in terms of content and get two very different reactions from the customer. They love him, which is fine. All I have to do is get him what he needs to answer questions.

I have been working overtime to get those answers from our engineers. They have been working overtime, too. Everyone is under pressure due to the product launch, but I handle it by being unattached to the outcome at this customer. Maybe we win, maybe we lose – I’ll give it my best shot.

That’s what Japanese warriors would tell themselves. They would train for life and death encounters, try to avoid conflict if at all possible, until for reasons beyond their control – shifts in balance of power of the land that led to war – they had to face off with an opponent who had also trained similarly. They would train to face this with equanimity. Maybe he’d lose, maybe he’d live, but he’d give it his best shot.

Giving it one’s best shot is all that matters. Accepting where you are. For example, not being ashamed of your current capabilities. I have a friend getting married in Japan to an accomplished martial artist. She practices, too, but has not yet attained a high level of training. To celebrate the occasion, their teachers will be present. With teachers and students all counted, there will be some seven black-belt Aikido practitioners, four of which are 4th-degree black belt or higher, and there will be a martial arts demonstration as part of the festivities. We were talking about this, and finding this really funny – “It will be less a reception than… ‘Sensei presents – team Aikido!'” My friend has asked me to be the “uke” – the “follow” – so to speak for her fiancé as he performs. Why not you? I asked. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough – and wants someone more skilled and better matched to her fiancé’s level. I told her that that was the wrong reason – that we are the sum of our training, and that for the amount she has trained, she has nothing to be ashamed of. I would do it to help her celebrate, but not because I have trained more. This leads me to another thought – why we do something does not have to be for the same reason that someone believes we should do it. The action is the same, but the narrative that we assign to it can be different. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

Accepting where you are includes being in the present moment. Fear or striving both bring us out of the present moment. Anything that takes us out of the now leads to poorer results. Dancing makes this very clear. If I am dancing, and trying to play it safe, it’s boring. If I am trying to impress, I’m forcing it, which leads to loss of harmony.

The ego is the source of the should-bes and might-have-beens that cloud our judgement and separate us from the reality at hand. Strength is not in the rocks that can stand against the river. It is the river itself – water that flows, finding the easiest way moment by moment, and in time, wearing down the rock. This is a prayer that we might be less like the rock, and more like the river. At moments of conflict, or more frequently, let us let go of the ego which projects us where we think we should be. Let us see ourselves and others where we are. Only then, relaxed and with power, can we give it our best shot.

Kreativverlust der Identität

Ich lese noch einmal wieder die Jason Bourne Spionageromane, von Robert Ludlum, in denen ein Mann sein Gedächtnis verloren hat, der trotzdem hat alle die Geschicklichkeite eines Geheimagents. Ein zentrales Thema ist die Natur seiner Identität. Es gibt eine Identität als Attentäter, die er geschaffen hat, und auch als Geheimagent, die er war, der Schöpfer der Identität des Attentäters. Die zwei Identitäten entstehen sich allmälich, während er seine Vergangenheit untersucht, und überleben versucht, angesichts derer die ihn tod wollen. Bei der Amnesia und seelische Belastung gibt es kaum eine Linie zwischen den ursprünglichen und erstellten Egos. Um zu überleben, mußte er die Identität, die er geschaffen hatte, übernehmen, und sonst noch neue Rolle spielen.

Ich weiß schon daß es Bereiche gibt, in deren ich kämpfe, weil meine Gewohnheiten und Reaktionen sind im Gegensatz zu der Kultur der Taiwan. Diese Bereiche umfassen Strategien, die ich in meinem vorherigen Leben in Japan und den Vereinigten Staaten gerlernt habe. Viele Strategien laufen aber nicht hier. In Taiwan unterscheiden sich die Arbeitsweise. Zum Beispiel denkt man nicht besser, weniger, sicherer, klassischer, sondern billiger, mehr, schneller, neuer. Was früher für mich um etwas zu erreichen genug war, ist hier nicht mehr genug. Was früher jedoch notwendig war, ist hier nicht mehr notwendig. Hier zählt man Aufmerksamkeit auf andere Dinge. Ich muß nicht nur einfach eine neue Arbeitsweise lernen, sondern eine ganz neue Reihe von emotionalen Reaktionen verinnerlichen, neue Instinkte entwickeln. Ich muß eine neue Indentität übernehmen.

Deshalb habe ich wohl von unterbewußte Wissen vorige Woche die Bourne Spionageromane wieder aufgenommen. Beim Kreativverlust und Lernen wird die Linie zwischen dem Selbst und dem erstellten Ego verwischen, sogar verschwinden. Es wird eine Zeit kommen, wenn der Selbst ist weg, aber der neue
Ego noch nicht klar. Darauf habe ich angst. Darüber hat Jason Bourne auch abgemüht.

Ich muß ein Chamäleon sein: er wird alles und ist immer noch selbst.