Gunfire and Bullets in Taiwan
During the recent military exercise in the Taiwan Strait, Americans thought that war was imminent.
When I asked for time off to return to Taiwan, my boss asked me seriously if it was safe to go back now. I replied in a touching tone, “If I don’t go back now, I may never be able to go back again.”
After arriving in Taiwan, he kept asking me every other day if everything was okay.
One day, I was drinking tea in a pavilion at a tea plantation in Longtan when my colleague messaged me on Slack, asking if he could attend an emergency meeting. As we were talking, several helicopters appeared in the sky. After a brief silence, someone in the meeting asked me why there were so many helicopters. I replied that I saw several Apache helicopters hovering overhead (there is a light aircraft base nearby).
Then I heard someone say, “Oh my God, everything OK there?”
It’s not easy to see military equipment in the United States. If you want to see an Apache helicopter, you may have to risk breaking into a military camp in the desert. At that moment, I really wished to hear firecrackers, so they would think I was attending the meeting in the middle of gunfire and bullets. And I was on vacation.
At night, we went to a roadside Taiwanese seafood stir-fry restaurant, which was packed with people. I saw nothing but peace and tranquility. Every table had empty beer bottles piled up. No one checked IDs, everyone brought their own beer and opened it themselves. Beer bottles kept popping open, and dishes kept coming out one after another. It was just an ordinary weekday night. How could this be the place that the world sees as a place of swords drawn and bows bent? The world is just too worried.
However, with the recent wave of layoffs, it’s good for outsiders to worry a little. In Silicon Valley, it’s a tradition not to lay off employees who come from places where gunfire and bullets are a daily occurrence.
This beautiful photo looks like it has been edited, but it hasn’t. The leaves look like watercolor paintings.
What Do Zongzi Look Like?
I have developed a bad habit in Taiwan of arriving half an hour early to meet friends and looking for something delicious nearby. If I can fit a few bites, I will, and if not, I’ll save it for next time. So no matter where I go, no matter if I’m hungry or not, I’m always snacking on something. In Taiwan, your mouth and brain can never be idle.
Planning these snacks requires knowledge, planning, and artistry. You can’t just eat whatever you see, and some things are absolutely off-limits. Eating a bowl of noodles or rice will ruin the whole trip. The reason for arriving early is to plan which snacks to eat first. There must be an order, for example, the tofu pudding and tapioca balls must be saved for last. The first trip is for exploration, and the second trip is for execution.
That day, we arranged to meet at an old coffee shop. I took a walk around first and decided on the radish fish ball soup. Just as I ordered, I saw meat zongzi posted on the wall. I thought if they weren’t too big, they might go well with the radish soup. I casually asked the owner, “Excuse me, what do zongzi look like?” Don’t ask me why I asked like that, maybe I was thinking in English at the time. Maybe I’m not normal. I don’t know.
As soon as I said that, I regretted it. I knew I had made a big mistake.
The owner didn’t answer, just looked at me incredulously. The small shop was quiet… except for the three customers who stopped eating and slowly turned their heads to look at me, their jaws slightly open. They couldn’t close them for a long time.
If I had spoken in an American accent, those three mouths probably wouldn’t have opened. They would have chosen to sympathize with me. The problem was that at the time, I had a hint of a Taiwanese accent… In Taiwan, I’ve always tried to maintain my long-lost Taiwanese flavor.
How did this end? It didn’t. The owner never answered me, as if I had never asked. I didn’t explain that I just wanted to know how big the zongzi was, afraid that I couldn’t finish it. That would be too complicated, and those three open mouths would never believe me again. It’s better to grit my teeth and get through it. As long as they don’t secretly take out their phones and start live streaming.
So I obediently drank a lonely bowl of radish fish ball soup. I didn’t ask about the zongzi.
Find the Boss Yourself!
Arriving at the old-fashioned coffee shop, I remembered coming here with a friend who was in the military several years ago. When we walked in, my friend, who had a strong Taiwanese accent, asked in Taiwanese, “Is your boss here?” The girl at the counter, busy making coffee, said he was upstairs.
My friend said, “Let’s go upstairs and tell your boss that a friend who served in the military is here to see him. Tell him to come down quickly.”
The coffee girl said, “Find the boss yourself!” She continued making her coffee without even looking up.
What a unique employee. She should be in the United States.
I went with my friend to Gongliao to eat fresh seafood. We ordered some seafood that you can never find in the United States at a charming restaurant by the sea. While eating and looking at the ocean, we chatted with the boss lady. We both envied her for having such a beautiful ocean view every day. She said that being in this remote place and looking at the sea every day can drive a person crazy. She told us that if we switched places with her for three days, we would understand.
What a unique boss lady. She should open a shop in the United States.
I slowly realized that Taiwanese people are becoming more unique. Service industry workers don’t have to blindly please you or be insincere with you. Professionalism is one thing, but deliberately catering to you is a bit unprofessional.
Street Dogs May Have Math Skills as Good as Humans
After a few days of hanging out with street vendors, I got to know them well.
Every time I went over, I asked the boss to wash and cut the guavas and wax apples for me. Sometimes, I would ask him to cut a bag of everything if I wanted to try everything. The sleepy street dog never looked up, but every time he heard my voice, he would turn his head to look at me in surprise.
If you asked a fruit vendor in the United States to cut a bag of fruit for you, he might call the police.
The boss would cut my fruit while shouting and serving other customers. He could talk to five people at the same time and check out three people. Two pounds of papaya plus three pounds of bananas cost five hundred dollars, and he immediately knew how much change to give me. He never made a mistake and was more reliable than a computer.
As for the street dog who watched coldly from the sidelines every day in the midst of real math problems without a cash register or calculator, he probably has math skills as good as or better than some of my colleagues that I know.
Taking out the Trash
Taking out the trash is always a unique experience.
Shouldn’t we replace that cheap, ear-piercing electronic music? It’s been around for 50 years, right? Would it be better to use real piano music for the girl’s prayer?
Anyway, I find it hard to believe that the garbage truck can be so punctual in such a crowded alleyway. They said they would arrive at 5:20, but I was afraid they might arrive 10 minutes early and I would miss them. Going down there was a big deal, as there were only grandmas and moms dressed in casual clothes. Those who arrived early might wear a pair of outdoor shoes, while those who were in a hurry might wear slippers. Everyone in the building had appeared at once. In an instant, you could see representatives of every household in the building.
Everyone was familiar with each other and started chatting, while I stood alone in an awkward corner eavesdropping. Everyone was carrying their own uniquely shaped garbage bags, chatting about daily life and recipes. I was ready in case someone asked me which floor and which apartment I lived in and why they had never seen me before… Fortunately, the garbage truck arrived on time and saved me from the awkwardness.
To my surprise, the candidate for the village chief was campaigning behind the garbage truck. The next scene that surprised me was the accuracy of every grandma and mom throwing their garbage. The truck moved forward at an average speed of 5 kilometers per hour, and the grandmas and moms threw six or seven bags with ease. They also carried a large bag of kitchen waste and walked along with the truck, pouring it into the compost bin without spilling a drop. Even in the rain, they could hold an umbrella with one hand and do everything else with the other. After the garbage truck left, the grandmas and moms stayed behind to chat and wait for the recycling truck.
This 10-minute gathering was held in such a casual setting.
In just a few minutes, you can see the most authentic and focused side of the community. If Taiwan had a bar culture, this would be it.
Taiwan’s Most Beautiful Workers: Garbage Truck Drivers
A friend of mine accidentally threw her car keys into the trash while taking out the garbage. She didn’t have time to retrieve them.
What happened next is unclear, but maybe she left her phone number for the garbage truck driver. However, the point is that a few hours later, two garbage truck drivers returned her car keys and even changed into clean clothes. She was moved not only by the return of her keys, but also by the fact that they changed their clothes. This represents a certain level of care, responsibility, and respect, rather than just doing their job. Of course, if she hadn’t gone to look for them, no one would have known, but it was just a car key that could be replaced, and she might not have cared that much. But the point is not how she viewed the incident, but how they viewed it. This is what we call beauty.
Many everyday incidents that happen in Taiwan are impossible in the United States.
From the Desert to the Temple
The two photos below have a difference of over 10,000 kilometers. The top one was taken on my business trip to a data center in the desert, while driving from the motel to work. That place is where people get killed and the cases are never solved. There is no one there, and there can’t be any human touch. It’s just you and nothing else in the world.
Two weeks later, I appeared in the photo below.
I ordered a bowl of rice noodle soup at the temple and while eating, I saw a woman carrying a large piece of newly bought pork on the roadside, asking the busy boss lady to cook it for her.
It was a strange request.
The boss lady said she was really busy and couldn’t help. It was a hot day, and the woman kept begging, saying she came from far away and the meat would go bad if she didn’t cook it. The boss lady kept apologizing and saying she was sorry, she didn’t have time to help… It was true, there were four tables of customers in the shop at the time, and she was cutting my braised food while apologizing to the woman.
Such a request and conversation could never happen in the United States. Even if it was proposed, the business owner would ask the person to leave with an incredible tone. They wouldn’t refuse or explain why they refused. Facing an incredible request, even refusing or explaining the refusal is unnecessary. They would just firmly ask the person to leave immediately.
The woman continued to plead, and the boss lady continued to apologize and explain.
Finally, my braised food arrived. I ordered four dishes for breakfast, and others looked at me strangely. I said four dishes, but actually there were seven dishes, six of which were combined. Like a band drummer, there was a circle of drums of all sizes in front.
Perhaps this way of eating is a bit abnormal in Taiwan. But I couldn’t eat normally.
The woman still pleaded, and the boss lady still apologized. I started to turn my head and watch TV. The election news and those dishes of braised food with heads and faces, skin and meat, diverted my attention. I no longer paid attention to the pork cooking incident.
When it was time to pay, I found that the boss lady was still cooking the pork, and the two were still chatting.
Seeing the crowded temple, I suddenly felt that the crowded and chaotic human touch was also beautiful, so I quickly took the photo below.
Taiwan’s Most Beautiful Thing: Public Restrooms
Walking in any corner of Taipei, not to mention inside the MRT stations or even on the popular hiking trails, you never have to worry about finding a restroom.
In the restrooms of Taipei’s MRT stations, you often encounter cleaning staff who are busy tidying up. Even when there’s no one cleaning, the entrance is always equipped with a large fan blowing, obviously drying the freshly mopped floors. The fan isn’t there to cool you down, but the whooshing sound tells you that the restroom is clean.
Despite the high traffic, the floors are always dry and spotless. It’s evident that the staff is always present and tirelessly upholding the most basic civility of Taipei residents. Sometimes, when you walk into a restroom and encounter a cleaning staff member, they will politely step aside to let you pass and continue their work on the other end. This small gesture of courtesy is surely noticed by every person who uses the restroom.
The civility of a country can be measured by how close you dare to stand next to the urinal.
Don’t underestimate the small civility that allows you to take a step forward with peace of mind. If it weren’t for the cleaning staff who immediately step aside when they see you coming in, none of this would be taken for granted.
And don’t underestimate the act of “going to the restroom.” If you’ve never thought about it, it’s because you’ve never faced the problem. Only when you return from abroad will you truly appreciate the ubiquitous and well-marked restrooms in Taipei, as well as the people who enable you to enjoy the basic civility of humanity.Taiwan-made in the Desert: The Behind-the-Scenes Giant of the Cloud World
Just two weeks ago, I was on a business trip to a data center in the desert and saw tens of thousands of servers. And these servers are all made in Taiwan. I knew that, but I don’t know if others do.
This is a bit complicated. The server’s motherboard and chip are, of course, designed and manufactured in Taiwan. But the factory that assembles the servers may be in mainland China. After the servers are assembled, they are shipped to the United States by container ship, and then peripherals and network switches are added in Silicon Valley to assemble them into cabinets. Finally, they are transported to various data centers by container trucks.
When entering the data center, everything has already been installed. Just push it to the designated position, connect to the network and power, and a cabinet with 72 servers can quickly operate. Data centers are based on cabinets, which is called rack and roll. Everyone operates with military efficiency and precision.
This company is quite famous, and ordinary Americans may think that this is an American company because they are also in Silicon Valley. Of course, I know that this is a Taiwanese company in essence. A large percentage of well-known cloud companies in Silicon Valley use their machines. You can say that they are the behind-the-scenes giants of the cloud. At the data center that time, I also noticed that all the cabinets had the company’s logo.
Then I went back to Taiwan for vacation.
Unexpectedly, this time in Taiwan, I saw the most real appearance in the most unexpected place. That was obviously the headquarters, with several dozen-story office buildings standing in a field. Suddenly, I felt very familiar. One of the reasons for the familiarity was that we had met two weeks ago in a desert thousands of miles away, and the other reason was that I unexpectedly encountered the behind-the-scenes giant of the cloud in the most inconspicuous countryside in Taiwan.
Immediately, I took a photo and sent it to my colleagues and boss, which caused a stir and curiosity. Perhaps ordinary Americans did not realize that all of this actually came from Taiwan, even though the machines may be labeled “Made in the USA.” They may not have thought that such an inconspicuous place is responsible for thousands of servers in data centers around the world.
Taiwan is truly connected to Silicon Valley and the world, and has always been a behind-the-scenes hero.