Sunday, September 9, 2007

Taiwan Times Vol. 2 -- Living & Working

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My cubicle at work.

Now that the crisis period has passed, and I can take some time to give you guys an update.

Luckily, everything worked out! I got the Taiwan visitor visa in Bangkok, and I got the newspaper editor job in Taipei.

This is the first 'normal' job I've ever had, so it was kind of strange. When I taught English in Shanghai, I worked from 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Waking up at noon was routine. Now I had the same 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule everyone else does. Instead of standing up and talking to students all day, I'm isolated in a cubicle with a computer. At an English school, there's a high turnover of students and teachers, so there's always new people to meet. Wow, I sound like I miss teaching English! Most English teachers would kill to get out of that racket and do something more professional.

With spoken English, you can mess around and there's a lot of room for error. As an editor, I deal with written English and when you make a mistake, everyone who reads the paper will see it. With teaching, you leave your work at school. With the newspaper, I'm constantly working overtime and sometimes on weekends to make the deadlines. Everyone reads over your work and comments on it before it gets printed. In a lot of ways, working at a newspaper is much more stressful than I imagined.

Then there's the actual editing itself. I have to revise and polish English-language articles written by Taiwanese reporters. I sometimes get handed articles that are abominations of English. Some of my friends think my job is just moving around commas and correcting spelling. It's a lot more complicated than that. I spend countless hours questioning writers and making sure my edited drafts match the stories they were trying to tell. There's a lot of communication needed, you can't just rearrange words on the computer and avoid talking to people. Cultural differences, historical background, and other factors make it more complicated than I realized when I first took the job.

One of my favorite things about working at a newspaper is that I get paid to learn about Taiwan. Now that I've been doing this job for almost a year, I feel like an expert on the place compared to fresh-off-the-plane English teachers. For example, an interesting fact about Taiwan's economy is that over 90% of the businesses here are small and medium-sized enterprises. So Taiwanese people will do almost anything that makes money. As a result, Taiwan excels at the most random industries, like bicycles, umbrellas, wedding planning and laptop computers.

Taiwanese are very outward-looking, so almost all my co-workers have worked or studied abroad. They're all fluent in English. Being around Asians all the time who speak English, I sometimes get lulled into thinking I'm back in Hawaii. I got a shock, however, the first time I attended a staff meeting. It was all conducted in Mandarin Chinese! I was completely lost and had no idea what anyone was saying. In Shanghai, my meetings were always with other English teachers, so English was spoken.

One thing I got confused by was how the boss called out to each writer by number; I understood enough Chinese to get that much. I asked a reporter why the boss did that. The others heard and burst out laughing. "The boss isn't calling us numbers, just the pages we write for!"

Managing these kinds of cross-cultural issues will be great material if I need to write an admission essay for grad school or talk about my experiences abroad in a job interview.

Now that I had a job, it was time to get an apartment. I'd lived at a hostel for five months, and I should have moved out a long time ago. I kept putting it off for various reasons: I'll wait until I get a job, I'll do it after my probation period at work ends, I'll save money for a deposit first. One of the big ones was having the opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world on a regular basis.

Eventually, it was the noise that drove me out. While I love World Scholar House, it's not really good for people who have to get up in the morning and need their sleep. Although I had my own room, I could still hear the noise from the common area. I have some great friends there, and I still go by to visit every week to round up people to go clubbing.

It's easier to get an apartment in China and Taiwan than Japan and South Korea. Landlords are more willing to rent to foreigners and they don't require ridiculously huge deposits. In Japan and Korea, your employer needs to be the guarantor and 6-month deposits are not unheard of.

I'd learned in Shanghai not to judge apartments by their buildings. The outside may look ripe for demolition, but often the apartments themselves are reasonably nice. That said, I saw a lot of hellholes during my apartment search. I had to watch my costs, too. Since Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, it's the most expensive city. At first, I wanted to get the lowest rent I could, in the NT$5,000 range (US$150) for shared housing. I quickly discarded that goal after I saw a few places. Since I was making a decent salary, I decided to go it alone without roommates and get my own studio.

This is a trivial point, but it was really important for me to find an apartment that had a dryer. In China, I'd gone for a year without a dryer. I was overjoyed when I first discovered that my hostel in Taipei had a dryer. If I moved out, I wasn't going to give up that luxury.

It took a lot of time before I found a nice studio in the middle of a university district. The rent is NT$12,000 (US$360). Besides deciding whether to have roommates, the other big decision is location. Get a smaller place in a central area or get a bigger place further away? When I was in college, an alumni told my class, "Live as close to work as you can. It's easier to work overtime when you have to and you get home that much sooner when you want to relax."

Commuting is the most stressful time of day for a lot of people, so I wanted to avoid that. My apartment is close to the MRT (Taipei's subway) and my office is only 3 stops away. I get to work in 15 minutes. My apartment is also convenient for getting to restaurants and nightclubs where young people hang out. I can't believe I was considering living further away to save a few bucks on rent. Cutting down my travel time is paying off in so many ways. When friends want to meet up, I can be there straight away.

When the landlord handed me the keys, I felt like I had finally become an adult. Now I had a real job and my own apartment at last.


Mazur said...

Hey dude.

Jaems said...

Hey Marcus, cool post. keep up the writing! you have a really cool style! (i didn't know you had moved out of the hostel! nor that 90% of businesses are small and medium sized in Taiwan tho its kind of obvious the amount of shops there are around)


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