Tax time in Taiwan

Every year in May, everyone living and working in Taiwan makes their way to the closest district tax office (no appointment needed and most work places give you half-a-day off  for this purpose).

I went before lunch time; walking the Daan MRT, changing trains at Zhongxiao Fuxing, and getting out at 4 stops later at Ximen. I exited at exit 6, walked 10 minutes (not sure which direction) and there was the tax administration building.

The tax office in Ximen

As you walk in, the signs are very clearly marked, so that foreigners know where to go, and in a large room, several friendly interns looked at the forms mailed out by the government months ago and helped me fill out a one-sided form. Then, they bundled everything up neatly and pointed me towards a bank of desks where I had to wait about 20 minutes until my number was called. The senior clerk then checked the work of the interns, making additional computations in red on the form, and asked me to produce my passport and work contract.  Oops, no one told me I would need those. So, back home again, got the items and back to the tax office. Another short wait and, voila! My taxes are done and  I’m getting a refund. Yeah! Simple and sane. Wow, what a concept.

Impressions of Nanjing

After a week in Nanjing,  I reflect on my short time here.

I have enjoyed the “newness” and “bigness” of Nanjing. Of course, China itself is massive, compared with Taiwan; there is so much more space. I love the lights – everywhere! Buildings are outlined in lights and every night is a clever light show on the jumbotron on the building across from my room at the Jinling. (If you visit Nanjing, stay here!)

Not everything is new here. One can still see the remains of the city wall, built hundreds of years ago to protect Jinling’s citizens from invasion. Two of my homebuilding buddies took me, one night, to the Buddhist Temple, Fuzi Miao (foo-dza-me-ow) for dinner (I tried stinky tofu and lived to tell about it) and some shopping. I got a wonderful  ink painting of a dragon; my hosts bargained the dealer down to 8USD! We walked along the river, and, oddly, ran into co-workers from Taipei!

Dragon Lights

The metro system in any new city can be a bit daunting but whoever planned Nanjing’s system took into account that foreigners would be using it.  I was able to figure out (on my own!) which line and stop to take to get to the Brocade museum. It was amazing to see gorgeous fabric panels being created the old fashioned way: by hand on giant (what else?) looms.

Brocade weaver at work

One interesting thing (among many) that I saw in the metro: the government metro employees salute the train as it arrives and leaves. The walls are covered in amazing art. And of course, the system runs like a well-oiled machine.

3D underground art

I am ready to head back to Taiwan but I have a feeling that I’ll be back in Nanjing soon…

First day in Nanjing

I know I need to grab breakfast before taking a cab to work (I’ll figure out how to get there more economically later on). The buffet at the Jinling Hotel is, like everything else in China seems to be, BIG. Every type of bread, butter jam (but no peanut butter). So many vegetables (raw and cooked), fruits (no surprises, darn it, I wanted to try something new.). I am shown to my seat and they cover up my purse when I get up to make my food selections. I am addressed in English and wonder what would happen if I answered in German. They ask what I’d like to drink and I speak in Chinese (I have one cup tea.) The tea is waiting for me when I get back with my salad, veggie juice (!), and fixin’s for a croissant veggie sandwich to take to work for lunch.

Then, I’m off. I get the address written in Chinese and show it to the cab driver. He deliberates for a while and then we join the throngs on the road. The super modern streets and highways are crowded. I have no clue where we’re going. I know the office is in something called the “Soho International Plaza”. The driver is obviously lost and I’m not able to help. I’m also not able to use my phone to call anyone… by sheer luck, I see our company logo on a sign and point excitedly to it.  To the driver’s credit, he didn’t charge me the full fare. That 25 min. ride cost me 30RMB. I check in with the receptionist (who, I later find out was the one who made most of my in-China travel arrangements) who makes some phone calls. I am met by the tech doc manager who shows me to my seat. NOTE: the building is very modern and new, like so much of Nanjing. It’s a 4-floor square, built around a courtyard. Flower, bushes, and trees abound – as does the dust and, sorry to say, SMOG. My throat is already burning, reminding me of growing up in soCal. How do folks here deal with this?

Our office in Nanjing

A few short minutes later, I’m plugged into the corporate network and answering emails and setting up appointments for the week. ( I am here to work, after all.)

My development group takes me out to lunch. Unlike Taipei, most people here have cars. Nice, new ones! They know I don’t eat meat and kindly find a place that serves literally at least 20 different types of mushrooms! See? More BIG options!

At the end of the day one of my China colleagues (another American) lends me his subway card, prints out a map (there are currently 2 lines in Nanjing, with at least one more, to the airport) planned. The metro station is clearly marked and he shows me how to use the card. All metro signs are in English and Chinese, making it easy to figure out when the next train will arrive. The subway tunnel is clean. The subway cars are clean. People openly stare at us foreigners.

check out the artwork on the walls

On the way out to an expat bar owned by an Aussie, I purchase what look like logan berries (5RMB) – and although I have been warned about street food, I find they are really quite delicious. At BlueSky I have a veggie burger, fries, and we play pool.

We climb into a cab; I go back to the hotel and then he’s onto apartment, across the street from the office. At the Jinling my room is immaculate and the bottled water I requested is waiting for me. Yeah! It’s been a long day but I am excited to try my luck at taking the subway on my own.

Arriving in Nanjing on a full moon

My work arranged for me to fly to Nanjing to spend a week working my product development group. Our travel agent is a gem; you tell her your preferences and things magically happen. I was booked on China Eastern Airlines, which I’ve never flow before (apparently it’s a lower-cost option to China Airlines, which I enjoy flying). My driver showed up on time; we made it to Taoyuan Airport in less than an hour. The check-in was uneventful; my one bag (filled with clothes for the week and goodies from Taiwan for my Chinese co-workers) weighed 18.4k – amazing, no? (Guess I’ve learned to pack!) I found out my flight was delayed – oh well. I wasn’t sure who to contact in Nanjing (The travel agent had arranged a driver on that end for me as well); I hoped they would check the flight status.

At TPE airport, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Getting through immigration was a breeze. Then,  at customs (security) they spent a lot of time looking at my purse (I worried that they would take away my tuna sandwich and guava slices, but they didn’t) and then they pawed, literally through my entire purse, paying special attention to my umbrella and my wallet. Not sure why…NOTE: I was the only obvious foreigner in line. on the way to the departure gate, I exchanged NTD for RMB. It’s strange trying to keep up with how much everything costs. I am always trying to convert the foreign currency into USD to figure out if something is a good price or not.

Once in the empty waiting area (where is everyone?), I ate my snack and played a game online. Finally, we got onboard. As usual everyone was very orderly getting on board, and we were off! We flew on a A321 which was comfortable but I have say I could not eat the food we were served. I’m not sure if no vegetarian meal was ordered or available but we were served beef noodles, a white roll in plastic, something that looked like a catsup packet but felt more like bean sprouts, some dessicated fava beans, and a half a canned peach. The crew had no clue what I was asking for when I said wo bu cher rou (I don’t eat meat.). In the food department, CI has it all over China Eastern! In flight, there were no magazines in English.

When I got off the plane at Nanjing’s Lukou airport, I waited in line for customs, and when I finally got to the front,  I was told I needed to fill out an Arrival Card (usually this is done in-flight, but not here). After that, it was smooth sailing. I got my bag, found my driver (he had water waiting for me), and headed to the Jinling hotel.

On the drive, I tried to get some sense of Nanjing but at night, even with a full moon, it was difficult. One thing was for certain: the air quality really is BAD (when you can see the smog at night, you know you’re in for some difficult times breathing).

Welcome to Nanjing!

Nanjing traffic is very orderly, the faster cars honking at the slower ones to get out of the way. Tall trees lined the median and side of the freeway. I could see really tall buildings, all along the freeway, outlined with bright lights (apartment buildings?). Once we got off the freeway, we could have been in downtown LA, except for the signs in Chinese. Everything is modern, clean, brightly lit and I noticed a few familiar signs: Howdy CVS, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and Cafe 85 (from Taipei).

The Jinling (named after the ancient term for Nanjing/Nanking) is a gorgeous building, the best hotel in town. I was graciously checked in and taken up to my room so that porter could show me how everything worked. The view at  night from my room is pretty amazing. I couldn’t hear the traffic but the lights are gorgeous!

I was able to figure out how to get online (many, many sites are blocked here in China). WordPress being one of them. I checked out the mini-bar – outrageous prices on Coke (3.00) and the  nuts were 6.00! Okay I broke down and had the nuts – they were packaged so cutely and after missing dinner, I was hungry.

Tomorrow I will attempt to make my way into the office (they say to take a taxi but i’m feeling brave….)

A hidden gem of a teahouse

A friend of mine just opened a teahouse, THÉ Beauté , (French for beautiful tea) and invited me to come check it out. He describes it as a “not traditional Taiwanese style,  more like a modern afternoon tea house”. Hmmmm, not sure what that means so I’ll just have to find out for myself…
If you think you know tea, you haven’t met Victor Yang! After a successful career in the high tech arena, he decided to make a change and has spent the past 5 years becoming a tea guru. Recently he opened a lovely shop, creating a tea experience where each little detail has been thoughtfully considered. His shop is sleek and elegant, every item custom-made: from the gorgeous menus, to the porcelain tea cups and hourglass timers for perfect tea temperature, to the tables and chairs covered in tea-colored velvet (what else?). What I love most about THÉ Beauté  is the education that comes with each cup of the world’s rarest tea. My favorite selection so far is called “Moonlight”. Picked only at night on a Sri Lankan mountain top, during a full moon in Spring, this brew smells as wonderful as it tastes! And there are only 5 venues in the world with access to these amazing leaves! If you’re hungry, try some of the locally-made tempting treats. (The fruit cubes are simply a little piece of sugared heaven!) A visit to THÉ Beauté promises not only a relaxing environment, but also tidbits of information about teas you may never have known existed. Enjoy!
The closest Metro station is brown line (文湖線) at Dazhi (大直) station, exit no.3. For detailed information (in Mandarin) see .

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…