Author Archives: edbrill

Tainan, Taiwan – Day 6

Today team Tainan had an action-packed day, courtesy of the Tainan Department of Tourism.

We started today at the National Museum of Taiwan History. Our English-speaking tour guide described the history of this island and its people, starting from indigenous aboriginals through the present day. This modern museum tackles all of Taiwan’s history in its permanent exhibition, along with temporary displays about baseball in Taiwan as well as the many markets around the country.

Taiwan Museum of History

From there we went on a boat tour of the “Green tunnel” mangroves in the Taijiang Ecological Culture Zone and visited the Dazhong Temple. Lunch followed in the Anping district, with piles of heavenly seafood and fresh greens appearing one after the next at a crowded neighborhood spot.
Prawns cooked at the table

In the afternoon, we started with a tour of the soon-to-be-opened Chimei Museum, then went across the road to the 10 Drum Art Percussion Park. The drum ensemble performed five rousing songs of precision percussion, bringing back old memories of my marching band days. But the band members were never as artistic as these high school students!

We wrapped up the day with a visit to the Tainan Garden Night Market. The market offered quite a variety of food and snacks, everything from steak on a stick to fried grasshoppers (I don’t think anyone went for that). We also were a little put off by the pungent stinky tofu. The busiest stall was the braised chicken feet, there were at least 20-30 people waiting at all times by that one. But we stuck to simpler dumplings, rice balls, and meat on a stick while enjoying mango ice and a little shopping.

Tainan Garden Night Market

Near Anping, Tainan



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Tainan – Day 5

Team Tainan finished up the business side of our first week successfully.

Our day started with a visit to Cheng Gong Elementary School. We participated in English language class and met students who were volunteer tour guides for the Chikkan Tower located next to the school. The guides had memorized their scripts and some even added an acting dimension to their oration. We gave them compliments and then tried to match their skill by being tour guides at the Chikkan Tower. The tower itself is an impressive temple housing the god of examination, Kuixing.

Day 5-Comminity Service--Tour Guide of Chih-Kan Tower_Rehearsal @ Cheng Kong Elementary School

From there we participated in several meetings with City agencies, and our wrap-up/debrief for the first week. While generally I have avoided the specifics of our meetings on the blog, our morning meeting was notable for some cultural points. We met with the traffic police, who welcomed us with a color guard salute and cheers. During the meeting itself, they gave each of us several gifts, including a wonderful police emblem teacup set. They also gave every participant a box of fruit and Anping Bean Jelly. This was extremely generous, and the mango from the fruit box is deservedly being celebrated all over Tainan right now. But we also learned a cultural lesson – since none of us finished any of this fruit or bean jelly, we could and should have taken it with us to continue consumption, e.g. at lunch. Our apologies to the Police Commander for missing this culture cue.

One part of the culture we definitely did not miss was the command “gan-bei” which came up frequently during our Friday dinner. It is like “cheers” and means it is time to drink the beer in front of you. Even the wizened old restaurant owner commanded us to “drink up” towards the end of a delicious, local meal that included everything from lettuce wraps (much better than PF Changs) to pig’s ear.

Our first week in Tainan has been a success – and today we start a little relaxation with some museum tours and entertainment.

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Tainan – Days 3 and 4

The last two days have been busy for team Tainan.

On Wednesday, we visited the National Freeway Traffic Control Center for Southern Taiwan. They showed us their command center where traffic conditions are monitored and controlled. They also described the array of tools they use to determine traffic conditions and requirements, including vehicle detectors, automatic vehicle identification, e-tags for tolling, closed-circuit TV, and automated sign displays for traffic times and routes. As Irv Lustig mentioned in the previous blog, we then drove out on the freeways and provincial roads to see the traffic conditions and tools first-hand.

Thursday was a great day where we learned about parking operations in Tainan. The Americans in the group had a hard time getting our heads around the on-street operation – parking spaces are not limited in time. The city simply charges for the amount of time spent on the street, and when a car moves away from the space, the meter stops. Meter maids issue parking slips to track cars and time, and they are bar-code scanned every hour that the car is on the street. The driver then simply takes the slip to a convenience store, where a kiosk scans the same bar code and indicates the amount charged. The bill can also be paid online.

We visited a new city public/private parking garage built underneath a major shopping street. Originally conceived as an indoor mall, the space is now a high-tech garage, with plans to install space-available indicators and even reservations by the end of the year. The reservation is a smartphone app that allows you to allocate a space in advance of arrival. The charge for the space starts from time of reservation, but it means you’ll have your space ready when you arrive and will be directed to it by low-energy bluetooth sensors throughout the garage which communicate with the smartphone app.

Day 4 concluded with a banquet along the Anping district river, complete with stinky tofu (plus many more-appetizing dishes), karaoke, and fireworks. A wonderful night with our hosts!

Day 4

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Understanding the Geography of Tainan

This blog entry is from Irv Lustig:

On Wednesday, we drove on various streets in the city and on the freeways.  This gave us a better sense of how people use the road systems.  There are 1.88 million people in Tainan with 1.45 scooters.  These scooters are the main form of transportation on city streets.  However, scooters are not allowed on freeways (that require tolls to be paid) and expressways.  The downtown area has a street system planned in 1910 and cannot easily handle the demands of city travelers using cars.

Our hosts described areas of congestion by showing us different locations on maps and it was hard to get a sense as to the distances of these locations from the city center.  By driving to some of these areas, we got a better sense of how people travel into and out of Tainan.  We had learned how tourists come from the North and travel into the Anping area (circled in pink), and we were able to experience the same route and the YongKang intersection (circled in brown) that created the most congestion for tourists visiting the city.  We had heard how many people commute in the morning from the south to the Tainan Science Park (near the red circle) and how there could be a 1 kilometer backup at the Rende intersection (circled in blue) to get on the freeway.  Fortunately, we didn’t experience that traffic jam, but we were able to see why it occurs.  By riding on these routes, it helped us to get a better sense of the region’s traffic challenges.

Tainan Map

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Tainan – Day 2

Today we attended several meetings and our first field briefings. Our understanding of the Tainan City objectives continues to grow. Everyone we have worked with has been very helpful, and they are willing to go to great lengths to offer detailed explanations.

We also had our first major cultural gap today. We learned that the Chinese language does not have the concept of verb tense. During one of our briefings, it was difficult to reconcile several of the statements made in the presentations. As the translators struggled with conveying the answers to our questions, we learned that the staff were talking about current activities, current plans, future plans, and future ideas — all of which sounded like they were activities that were currently being conducted. Once we discussed this with the translators, we learned to be more precise in our questions to understand which tense – present, pluperfect, future – was meant.

The highlight of our day was a two mile walking tour of Anping. We started at the Banyan Tree House, a building where banyan vines have taken over the physical shell of the structure. We also visited a small museum located in one of the former merchant houses. From there, the tour stopped at an electric motorbike charging station, located outside the post office. The city is trying to encourage electric scooters as they are more energy-efficient and create less carbon. The charging stations are free to use and dozens are located throughout the district. Anping also has a free bike “rental” program, T-Bike, to again decrease the use of scooters in the district. From there we wandered several small lanes visiting tourist sites including Anping Fort, the original military presence in Tainan City from the Dutch.

We ended the evening with a traditional Tainanese dinner, where the secret to the dan-szu noodles is that they *never clean the pot* where the sauce is cooked. Not sure we’d get away with that back in America.

Our awesome team photographer was hard at work on the flickr set again today, tons of great pics at that link (and one of the few times you’ll ever see me wearing a hat!).



 –Ed Brill (Twitter: @edbrill)

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Tainan – Day 1

Our first project day in Tainan is complete. And what a day it was!

We started our day meeting the city government, including Mayor Lai, Secretary-General Chen, Director-General Chang, and several other leaders. This was followed by a press conference, where Mayor Lai discussed his vision for the project, IBM Taiwan General Manager Jennifer Hwuang discussed IBM’s commitment, and I made some remarks on behalf of the project team.

Each of us received a wonderful gift from the city of Tainan. It was a local school messenger bag, with an inscription written on it in Chinese:
“Tainan, a good place to dream, to work hard, to fall in love, to get married, and to live happily ever after” – Written by Mr. Yeh Shih-Tao.
Inside the bag were several interesting items, I’ll blog more about those in the coming days.

This is the third Smarter Cities Challenge in Taiwan, the most in any single country other than the USA. Our work for the next three weeks is focused on improving transportation infrastructure in Tainan. The city leaders briefed us throughout the day on their vision for the future, areas of strength, and opportunities for improvement.  We then had a dinner banquet with the city leaders, twelve courses of excellent Asian cooking including everything from lamb to sticky rice to crab and scallop soup.

Some local news coverage of today’s press conference has already appeared, and there are many photos already online in our photo album. Here are some links:

China Times (Chinese language article)

The Smarter Cities Challenge team Tainan photo group on Flickr

The team with Mayor Lai and IBM CGM Hwuang:

–Ed Brill (Twitter: @edbrill)

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Day 0 – Tainan, Taiwan

Team Tainan is settled in and ready to go! We arrived in Tainan this afternoon, most of us taking the high speed rail from Taipei. The train’s top speed is 240 km/h or 150 mph. It was a pretty fast journey! Out the window, we saw cities with industry, agriculture, and a lot of dense, green forest. The island character changes frequently from minute to minute on the THSR.

Once we arrived at our hotel, we met as a team and were introduced to the IBMers from Taiwan who we will be working with this week. Several of the local team will participate as extended members of our project, along with Anny and Lisa our local leaders. We worked through our agenda and logistics for a couple of hours, then headed to dinner at Chun Shui Tang tea house. Dinner included a variety of tea snacks, including some familiar such as taro cake and braised cabbage, some less familiar including tofu braised in oolong tea and burdock fishcakes.

While we will have translation support with us at all times, we all recognize the importance of trying to connect in local language. In Taiwan, there are two to choose from – Chinese Mandarin, used formally, and Taiwanese Hokkien, spoken commonly as well. Mobile apps and phrase books will only get us so far. I hope we can say more than “ni hau” or “lee ho” by the time we finish our journey!

On Monday, we are honored to meet with the Mayor of Tainan City, Mayor Lai, to formally commence our project. Several journalists are expected to attend, so tomorrow’s blog will have some links and photos to document this important kickoff.



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