Saturday, May 7, 2016

Today In the AA [#7]: Welcome to Taiwan!

It's been, I suppose, 2 or 3 days now since I arrived in Taiwan. Upon arrival, I had absolutely no time to continue updating my previous blog post (see Previous Post); so I will go through and briefly summarize my first 24-48 hours in Taiwan here.

Air China Flight

I continued to do "real-time" blog updates until I boarded the Air China flight at 2AM in British Columbia (PDT). The Boeing 747 was absolutely massive as expected: multiple floors with several columns and countless rows of seats.
Now, there were, for the most part, Asian folks on the flight; however there were a few others like myself that were obviously Western. Just like in public transit in Manitoba, take pride in my ability to attract every socially awkward, quirky, mentally unstable, or in otherwise "odd" person to me. This time, it featured a middle age gentlemen from Alberta working as a welder. The conversation started when he walked up to me in a friendly manner and asked "Hey!! You speak English do you man?", and the rest of the conversation went somewhat like this:
ME: "Yeah, I do! What brings you to Air China?"

Apparently Average Gentleman: "Oh hey man yeah, I'm just heading off actually to see my wife in Thailand." \ -... ranting about stuff ...- \ "yeah, let me tell you I'm glad to be out of Canada now this place is **** don't you agree haha"

ME: "Erm, well, sure?"

Apparently Average Gentleman: "Oh yeah man" \....continues ranting...

I mean, I'm pretty OK with Canada, to be honest. I nodded in agreement with the gent in his ranting, but I couldn't see what he had against Canada. We've got it pretty great here.

Apparently Average Gentleman: "So man, what are you going to Taiwan for?"

ME: "Oh, I'm doing research there. "

Apparently Average Gentleman: "Ohh man research in what??"

ME: "Humanoid robotics/Artificial intelligence"

the man twitches ever so slightly and glares at me

Apparently Average Gentleman: "s-s-so you, y-you are doin that robot shiet, l-like when you, like you plan on, you... you know what you're doing right?"

I'm just standing here wondering what the heck I did to apparently upset the guy.

ME: "Uh, I'm doing research in AI. What of it?"

Noticeably Unnerved Gentleman: "Man, you know, like you are going to cause, you know like when you research that for too long man, robots are going to take over and kill us all you know that right?"
ME: "Uh, well I don't......

*he cuts me off

Noticeably Unnerved Gentleman: "No no you're going to get us all killed, and y-you are ok with that? Are you really OK with that?"

ME: "Uh, I have no intention of killing anyone..."

Noticeably Unnerved Gentleman: "Ah man but the government has you tied up they are using you man and y-you're ok with that? you're ok with being exploited b-b-by the system to like, kill us all man?"

At this point, I'm getting fed up quick. Nothing is more annoying to listen to for a researcher, than hearing about how their research is completely useless and detrimental to society.
YES, of course! Because why else would I enter research other than with the motive to harm people? Ah, what a brilliant idea let us all join together in unison to bring upon the end of humanity; but first, let me figure out how to get my robot kicking a soccer ball. Baby steps, baby steps.
The conversation continued...
Annoying Gentleman: *keeps ranting* "Man, so if you're not killing us all what are you like what what does what does research do for us?"
ME: "Well, for example, researchers work towards curing cancers, and such."
Annoying Gentleman: "Hah nah man, you know I got that **** figured out man it's the water supply I know this it's the government tapping it in with fluoride man we remove the fluoride and BAM it's fixed cancer is gone but no man they have us paying their damn bills to get cancer because they want our money and they are using you too do research to kill us."

Alrighty then...
Hold up. I know what I'm dealing with now... Not sure if this guy should be allowed on the plane. They have a limit to the amount of metal you can bring on with you, and he's wearing a lot of tinfoil.
I continued trying to defend myself verbally; but at this point it was more with the goal of shutting down the conversation. This nutcase even called over airport staff and exclaimed that I'm dangerous for the flight and going to kill us all. I politely told the airport security that this man does not seem ok, and I would like to sit away from him if possible. The man continued his rant at the airport staff; and I'm quite sure they realized quickly who the sane person was.

Anyway... I got on the flight, and sure as hell I wasn't going to spend the next 12 hours of my life next to an Alberta welder with his Ph.D. in I-think-therefore-im-right.

The rest of the Air China flight was long. 12 hours and 20 minutes long to be exact; but it was wonderful. We had 2 meals served to us on nice square trays, all sorted in mini boxes containing egg, potato, vegetables, and such. This was the first I was seeing of the culture change, and we had just left Canada. It's a nice change not being force fed a gnome-sized bag of pretzels and 100% shot of ginger ale.

Arriving in Taiwan

I got off the flight with immense jet lag. So much lag I felt I was going to d/c and spawn back in a hotel lobby back home, thankfully I didn't. I was actually here, and I could tell because I was already sweating. This wasn't sweat from being nervous, it was from the heat. I felt like I took a trip to the gland canyon during the rainy season. I was herded through with hoards of others throughout the airport security and of course, being myself with tragic inability to localize myself, I ended up alone searching for Jacky for roughly an hour. I located him with a sign reading "Kyle!" held up.
Thank goodness! If it weren't for that sign, I may have forgetting who my professor was!

Together, we hopped on the MRT (Metro-rapid-transit) which is a highspeed train from Taoyuan (in Taipei) to the city of Kaohsiung.
 The ride took 1.5 hours on the train.
I tried to keep it cool while boarding the train; but I'm always seemingly awkward socially as it is. The moment we arrived Jacky said "here's your ticket, here's $1000 NTD..." *$1000, woah, wait this must be Taiwanese not canadia...*
Jacky: Ok here is your ticket, we have to get to the train.
*I'm stumbling around trying to figure out how to scan a ticket, dropping my belongings everywhere.*

It was quite amusing. It's comical enough back at home, I often have friends escort me places due to my lack of directional sense, and it's usually difficult to fit into crowded areas since there are so many external stimuli to take in at once. Doing all this in a whole new country was no cake walk.

 Nice room!
Upon getting off the train we met with Prof. Kuo-Yang Tu, who greeted me most openly and made me feel very much welcome here. I was escorted to the Taisuco residence, in which I promptly received a room.

The place looks great! It gets extremely hot; but I can activate air condition with a remote. Prof. Tu and the front desk administrator worked for a solid hour explaining how to get around and attempting to set up an ethernet connection so I had the internet. Unfortunately, my laptop didn't want to work with their connection, but they sure went out of there way to help me out. I'm very grateful.

Arrival at The University

 University Library
 View of the University

Shortly after things were sorted out at my residence, I was escorted to the National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology where I met with some of the most interesting folks I've met out here so far.

A group of 6-7 individuals greeted me when I came in, all intensively focusing on various robotics projects. A large adult-sized humanoid robot oversees the room, making sure the humans remain in check. I was given an area.

These guys like things to be close to the ground. I do have a desk though, of course.
Later in the evening of my second day here, a couple of the students brought me to my residence and provided me with a modem, so I've got the internet in my dorm room! They were also more than happy to help with me locating water, food, and getting my way around campus.

One final thing regarding the lab environment: the work ethic. I'm often told back in Manitoba that I have a solid work ethic and good discipline, and so forth. I always believe there is room to improve, and upon entering this lab here I have seen just how much room there is... These students are intense, and it is incredible! My 5am wake up time has nothing on there seeming ability to disregard time altogether and work around the clock. There exist short periods of time in which they pass out in unison and acquire minutes of sleep. It is almost terrifying; but I respect their dedication immensely.
 Hallway leading to the lab. There are often geckos running across them, and other creatures.
It's kind of like those first person shooter games (specifically Call of Duty for those familiar), in which upon your player dying, you have a few short moments of crawling across the ground.
You get a few seconds chance to crawl about until either a teammate revives you, or you pass out.
That is essentially what it feels like in this lab, in terms of sleep. These guys are in an endless cycle of last-stand mode, and they all keep reviving each other, which is fascinating to watch.

When it is competition time, and when you are some of the best there is, you need to disregard comfort, and general sanity to go beyond what others could even fathom.

Despite there being a large language barrier between us, I feel that within 2 short days I've become very much acquainted with these students not through verbal communication; but through a shared burning passion to improve oneself, and succeed in what we all enjoy.

Culture Shock (main differences)

Now that story time is over (sorry if that was painfully lengthy), here  is a brief outline of some of the main differences I noticed between Canada and Taiwan. This is of course from the perspective of a Western student traveling for business/study, and not purely as a tourist using booked excursions. My experience is likely a lot more close to the true culture than that of a tour company and the likes.

Scooters, EVERYWHERE

 All them scooters!
As of October 2015, Taiwan has a population of 23.48 million over 36,193 square km. That's a density of about 649 people per square kilometer. In the country of Canada, which has a population of 35.16 million (in 2013), and a size of 9.985 MILLION square km, you have a population density of roughly 3.5 people per square kilometer.

Picture how many people there are around you in Canada that you can see. Now imagine for each of those people, there are 185 more people around them! Of course taking into account northern Canada being  barren wasteland, you'd have to push at least half of those 185 people up north; but still, this just gives a sense of how dense the population here is.
With a population like this ,there is no way to have large 4-wheeled vehicles on the road. As a result, the citizens use motorized scooters! They line the streets, and sidewalks, and everywhere. It was a pretty unique experience hopping on the back of one with my friends at the lab, and cruising down thug style to some local restaurants for a bite to eat. Really had a 1980's neo-Tokyo feel to it.
Err, that might have made no sense.
Here, watch this video:
That point from 0:50 to 1:18 summarizes exactly how I felt. Maybe it didn't look as intense; but hey, let me feel how I want.

 At "Full Love Kitchen" for breakfast.

Food availability/quality

Nothing more to say really about this. Taiwan is often worshiped for it's food, and I see why. Dieting out here is not even a concept, and that isn't because I'm overeating. It's hard to overeat, everything is so well portioned and healthy. The first day here I arrived and had some sort of stir fry, then bean soup and an omelet off some small location selling off the street. I'd like to say I'm all for trying new things; but it's really the fact that I have no choice. Most of the menus are purely in Chinese, so I just point at something and hope my stomach doesn't punish me later.

Item Prices

 Some nice scenery, and hey more scooters.
To my pleasant surprise, the prices here are incredibly affordable. With only $1000 NTD that Jacky lent me on arrival, I have had several meals, completely lived on less than half of it. It makes sense I suppose, considering most of our Canadian labels are Made in China, or Made in Taiwan. The import costs must be cheap out here which is why prices are lower, the part that surprises me is that the Canadian dollar has such high value here! Imagine walking into a restaurant in Canada, and a soup is$0.80, with a standard soda drink being $0.45, and the main course meal featuring 16oz steak being$8. That's how it feels here, that's how it is here, and I can't get over how awesome it is! Here I am this poor undergraduate unemployed student feeling like a corporate millionaire because I've got \$40 in my pocket.

Honour System and Public Order

Taiwan is very orderly and well kept. The one thing I've noticed majorly out here is the respect for other peoples belongings. Upon arriving at a restaurant my friends will often leave their helmet/other belongings out on their bike when they go in, stating they aren't worried about theft. I really respect that people have the decency out here to leave things be, and to follow some order. This is especially true with the bike system.

Here is how biking works at the University I'm staying with:
You find a bike on campus (yellow one like this):

You then ride the bike to where you need to go on campus:
 I took the bike to the lab area.
Once you arrive, you can park it nicely for either yourself or someone else who needs it.
You can even bring them inside!

I suppose the rational for this, is that since there are various buildings on campus all full of students going to different locations, various bikes around campus seem to be scattered about, providing a convenient transportation. Its kind of like the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny system in Canada; but this is with a bit more than a penny.

Anyway, I best get back to work, there are so many intricate details I've noticed out here and an endless number of things to talk about; but I must now get into competition mode as well. The settling in is complete, now it is time to prepare for the Taiwan Humanoid Open competition next Saturday (May 14th)!

1 comment:

1. Great update! Entertaining and informative. I love the transportation system there! Also the fact that people are so honorable with others property. We stand to learn from this...
It's hard to comprehend the crowding, but you put it in to good perspective.
I hope you get the robot up and running...or kicking I should say.
Glad you got away from the dufus on your flight. Good thing they didn't have to reroute and land as a result of people that get obnoxious on board. They should have a special eject switch just for that! lol
Have a great day and thanks for remembering me on Mother's Day... Two days in a row! Taiwan and Canada time!
Sending a hug your way! Have a blast and work your buns off! xx

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