Category Archives: Tainan, Taiwan

Tainan – Success

Today, team Tainan wrapped up our project with a presentation of findings and recommendations to Mayor Lai Ching-Te and his senior staff. We made seven recommendations on how to improve Tainan transportation through Technology, Communication, and Governance – TCG, also the acronym for Tainan City Government. Our final written report will be completed and translated in the coming weeks, but today was a very positive report-out and endorsement for our work.

I found today very emotional. Three weeks in Tainan flew by. Five strangers, leaders all but not transportation experts, were picked to lend our problem-solving skills to a city looking to be “smarter.” We had over 40 meetings and 12 site visits, conducted research through on-street interviews and social media, met with leaders from Cheng Kung University and industry, and ate our way through Tainan. This morning, in just 30 minutes, we were able to distill all that down to seven bullets.

There are so many people to thank, and I will never remember to name them all. Irv did a good job in his previous blog entry – to our local leaders Lisa and Anny, our travel manager Red Daddy, our professional translators Tina and Valeria, our sponsors in Tainan Mr. Chang and Ms. Hong, Mayor Lai and his leadership, IBM CGM Jennifer Hwang, our communications team, our colleagues who shadowed our project, the local IBM client leaders, … everyone was amazing. I am not sure what tomorrow will be like when I can’t head down to breakfast for some noodles and dragon fruit, don’t have a bus waiting for me, and am not saying “ho jia” (delicious) about some amazing new xiolongbao or danzai mien. So, Xie xie – thank you – to all of team Taiwan, and see you again soon.

More on Mayor Lai’s Facebook page: link

Team Tainan - IBM Smarter Cities Challenge

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Last evening in Tainan

Its our last evening in Tainan and I have mixed feelings as we all pack-up for traveling out tomorrow afternoon. My suitcase is full of gifts and souvenirs our team received from the City of Tainan. I had never imagined about such a warm welcome and hospitality during these three weeks.

The entire stay was  full of exciting events and activities. So many meetings and discussions, trips around the city, lunches and dinners at restaurants, biking, walking the streets and so on. The number of places to eat and variety of food in Tainan has been absolutely amazing, The two vegetarians in our team (that includes me) had absolutely no reason to complain about eating options. It was a wide variety of vegetarian dishes that we got to choose and eat in these three weeks. Am planning to try making some of them when back home!!

Our hosts, from IBM Taiwan, have been so wonderful to all of us. We had a small meeting today to say thanks and how they made a difference to our entire stay. We as a group could not have been so productive without the good care taken by Red Chen.  We fondly named him Red Daddy!!! Will miss Lisa Chen with whom I went out for a few post-dinner walks in NCKU university campus that was near our hotel. Special thanks Anny Tseng who has been so warm and caring and  Tina and Valeria who have such wonderful language skills and did a great job of doing all the translations.

Our SCC Team Tainan, with whom I got to work so closely in last three weeks, has been so high in energy and focus that we could complete most of our work well in time. Wonderful memories to take back of the shared experience of these three weeks.  Thank you  Ed Brill, Donna Painter, Irv Lustig and Hari Madduri.






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Hospitality and Gifts

I spent tonight packing my two suitcases and had many bags of gifts from the city to pack away, in addition to the gifts I purchased for my daughters and my girlfriend.  We received gifts from the Bureau of Transportation (twice), the Police Department, National Cheng Kung University, Hayashi Department Store, and the Mayor’s office.  Today, the Bureau of Transportation gave us personalized gifts, including a printed photo album of all the activities we did, a DVD that I have yet to review, a personalized mug, and a personalized baseball cap.  I have been overwhelmed with the hospitality of the city during our visit and pleasantly surprised by all of the gifts we have received.  I look forward to sharing them with my family when I return home and all of these gifts will help preserve some great memories from my visit.

In addition to the hospitality offered by the different city departments, the graciousness of our local IBM hosts, Lisa Chen and Anny Tseng, has made our visit very comfortable.  In addition, Red (Daddy) Chen, who works for the local vendor hired by IBM, has taken care of all of the logistics, including picking restaurants for us and ordering (too much) food when we went to different Chinese restaurants.  When I go back home, I’m not looking forward to doing my own food shopping, cooking meals, cleaning a table, and doing my own laundry. I do look forward to eating less food so I can lose some of the weight I have gained.  If only I could take back some of the fantastic mangoes with me.  I will miss that the most!

It is amazing how during a short 3 week period you bond with a group of fellow IBMers that you’ve never met before as you spend day and night working, eating, and drinking together.  In addition, I have made new friends from halfway around the world, and I know that if I am fortunate to ever make it back to Taiwan, I have people that I can visit in this very friendly country.

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Tainan – Typhoon Matmo

Team Tainan has been focused this week on completing our recommendations presentation and written report, but the last 24 hours have had an unanticipated twist. We had a “typhoon break” today, in local language, due to Typhoon Matmo passing through Taiwan.

A typhoon is the same weather phenomena as a hurricane or a cyclone, just called a typhoon in the western Pacific Ocean. This particular storm is a category 2, with sustained winds of 100 km/h and above.

The island of Taiwan has high mountains towards its eastern side, so the winds ahead of the eye were rather light. At several points yesterday, it was hard to believe we were in the typhoon’s “red zone.” During the night, though, the wind picked up and throughout the day today, successive bands of high wind, horizontal cloud and rain, and heavy showers passed through. From our workroom on the 22nd floor of the hotel, we watched relatively quiet streets and each wave of the storm.

Life went on somewhat as normal in Tainan, with many retail stores open and cars and some motorbikes on the streets. By late afternoon, the rain had stopped, just as was true almost every other wet day of the last week. The wind is still noisy up here, but at street level we walked back from dinner as we have many nights.

Being confined to the hotel today gave us a lot of extra time to work on our report and presentation. We are feeling pretty good about our work heading into a readout tomorrow and our final meeting with Mayor Lai on Friday morning.

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Thirsty in Tainan? Have a drink, maybe of your choice.

I’ve travelled all over the world – 65 countries at last count. Something that keeps me exploring is how different the world can be at times. Today, I’m writing about a trivial but fascinating difference – what the Taiwanese choose to drink and when and how they drink it.

Our team has learned that beverage consumption is different in Taiwan, in several valuable lessons.

1) Coca-Cola products and other soda – rare to non-existent. Yes it’s a bad habit, but I tend to have one Diet Coke/Coke Light/Coke Zero in the morning where many normal adults choose to consume coffee. Caffeine delivery is required, and this is my choice. Here in Taiwan, I have yet to find a restaurant that serves Coke Zero or Diet Coke. Even regular Coke is pretty rare. Pepsi is non-existent. There isn’t a local equivalent like Inca Cola in Peru either. It’s just not a drink of choice here.

The only real place to find Coke Zero is in a supermarket or at 7-11. Which leads to lesson 2:
2) 7-11 and its competitors are ubiquitous, every few blocks in the cities…but…even they don’t major on cola or similar. It’s mostly about tea. Lots and lots of tea. Some juice, some coffee and other beverages, but mostly tea.
Drinks sold at 7-11 in Tainan. See what’s missing in that picture? Soda pop. There might be carbonated apple juice from time to time. But mostly not.

3) What can you find besides tea? Juice. Lots of juice. Yesterday, Irv and Anjana and I had lunch in a place that served mostly tea, but also passionfruit juice. Interestingly, it was mixed to order – how much sugar you wanted and what size etc. Then, the plastic cup came out with the juice – and a sealed lid on top. Many stores have the heat-shrink plastic machines to seal their drinks.

One juice we’ve had a few times is smoked plum juice. When I first saw it in the store, it didn’t sound that good. But it was served at a dinner last week, and it was really nice and refreshing.


4) We’ve also struggled with wine. Beer tends to be readily available, but wine, especially white wine, is uncommon. Perhaps it is because of refrigeration costs, but it also seems likely to have to do with local tastes. Mixed drinks are *never* consumed at a meal, only in a bar… or, in some cases, at the night market.

5) It seems like beverages in general are often considered something to be consumed after a meal. We went through a whole lunch over the weekend without anything to drink ever being placed on the table. Somehow this worked.

6) Thankfully, our hosts got me a case of Coke Zero from the supermarket. Tainan has been survivable as a result. 🙂

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Tainan – Days 12 (continued) 13 and 14

Team Tainan has had a busy Friday-Sunday on our final weekend of the project.

On Friday afternoon, we presented findings and preliminary recommendations to the Tainan government. It was a positive and affirming experience for us, as even through translation, many of our positions were met with nods and other positive body language. We have work to do to refine our proposal in the week ahead, but we are on the right track.

Friday evening, we attended a dinner party with Tainan Mayor Lai and his senior staff. The dress code was “shiny” which lead to some fashion choices we may want to forget…however the reception, held at renovated gallery BBArt, was quite fun. A few of us went to explore on Hai-An Road after the party.


Saturday, we headed out with the tourism board and local guide Kevin to see some more of Tainan City. We started at the market on Hai-An Road, where for whatever reason, we were offered many treats for free. Lychee, Longan, roasted pork, taro cake, sticky rice, and more all headed our way “just to try.” Then we visited some of the nearby street food and tried yet more local specialities. Moving on, we visited a few temples, including two where parades were being held. The firecrackers announcing the parade were pretty loud! Our tour concluded at a traditional tea house, which was quite refreshing after the long walk in the hot sun.

Saturday evening and Sunday were “on our own” days but it didn’t really turn out that way. In a city of nearly 2 million people, how random is it that Ed, Irv and Anjana, and Hari all met each other in the alleys near Confucius Temple?!?! Donna wasn’t far away, either. Irv, Anjana and Ed had lunch in a very small local place where we dined on various Thai fried rice and passion fruit juice…total for three people: NT $250, or US$8.33! Each of us had shopping agendas, with Donna and Ed returning to the recently-restored Hayashi department store for gift-buying. It was much busier on Sunday than it had been during the week; the staff was very helpful even with the crush of people, and it was one place where we seemed to reliably be able to speak English.

This Monday morning, it’s back to work – our recommendation report and presentation must be completed before meeting Mayor Lai again on Friday.

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Tourist Friendly Tainan

This is the end of my second week in Tainan. Like last Sunday, I ventured out on my own today. I wanted to go to the Confucius temple area again.  Unlike the last time (when I took bus #88), I decided to walk. I had the map given by the bicycle shop owner last time. With that, I fairly easily figured out which way to walk from the Tainan Station.  It took a bit longer than I expected.  In any case I was there in about 25 minutes from our hotel and I ran into my colleagues who were out for a while and were looking for a place to eat.  Since I had a late breakfast, I decided to explore more on my own. I went to a small gift shop and thoroughly searched for something for my wife. I finally found a hand-crafted and artfully decorated flower vase for her. I bargained a little and bought the vase.  Interestingly, the shopkeeper only spoke broken English, but we managed to close the deal.  I now had to ask them to pack it well for my long journey to the US.  The shopkeeper and his helper girl were both very nice, understood what I was asking for, and packed my purchase in two layers of bubble wrap.

Next I roamed around a bit and then I was looking for a restaurant to eat lunch.  Earlier I had looked up an Indian Restaurant on Google at 54 Guanting street. I walked towards that based on the high-level map the restaurant had on their website (BTW, I didn’t have connectivity while I walked I just had the image on my phone from the time I had seen it at the hotel).   I remembered that I had to come back to the Tainan Hospital area and then make a right turn. As I was approaching the circle near the Tainan Hospital, I asked someone who looked like a student. He tried very hard to communicate in English but I couldn’t tell whether he knew where that street was.  He was very apologetic that he couldn’t communicate well. I said ‘no problem’ and moved on.  When I reached Guanting street I couldn’t find anything like an Indian restaurant there. There was a small fast food place with the only English words I could read saying ‘Curry Soup’. That couldn’t be it, I thought.  In any case I went in and I asked a girl if she knew the restaurant I was talking about. She, with difficulty, told me to go back a block and turn left and I would see it near a 7-Eleven.  I did that and that turned out to be a busy intersection but no sign of this Indian restaurant. I then looked for Guanting street again and tried to reach 54 Guatnting street.  The numbers weren’t in perfect order but I did see 65 on one side and 29 on the other side of the street. After 65 I saw something like 38. In between I saw a parking lot with a lot of scooters.  The  whole street looked quiet and didn’t look very commercial.  I theorized that the restaurant either moved or went out of business and the place was converted to a parking lot.  Ok, I didn’t find the restaurant I was looking for but the girl at the fast food shop again tried her best to help me.

It was getting close to 2pm and I decided to walk back to the hotel area. As I started doing that, I saw Jhongyi Road and I recalled seeing that near the Chihkan tower. I also saw a sign that said Chihkan tower in 320 meters. I walked in the opposite direction and based on my partial map I thought I could take a shorter route to the Tainan Train station and walked in that direction. After a long walk, and a few more ‘short cuts’, I still wasn’t hitting Jhongshan Road (that I took while going to the Confucius temple).  I now realized I was lost.

I was getting hungry and there isn’t any decent eating place near by. The afternoon heat was also peaking by then.  As I was walking I found a fruit shop.  The girl in the store didn’t know any English but she greeted me with a smile. I pointed to a banana. She picked up the whole bunch and started weighing it. I pointed to a specific banana and showed ‘one’. She signaled eating and asked ‘today’ or ‘tomorrow’. I said ‘now’. She didn’t understand. I then said ‘today’ because at least she seemed to know that word.  She then searched for  a ripe banana (just right) for me from some other bunches and got me one.  In a pure business sense she didn’t have to think about whether my banana was ready to eat, but her friendly attitude and caring impressed me.

I continued to walk for a few more minutes and concluded that I was definitely lost.   I decided to call it quits. I stopped by a 7-Eleven store, showed them my map and asked them where I was on the map. They looked at my map but couldn’t tell me our location.  I then asked them to please call a Taxi for me.  There were two girls and a guy in the store, all in their 20’s. The guy looked at my map, said something in Chinese, went to what looked like a kiosk and typed something and printed a receipt.  BTW, I had a map in Chinese (same picture as the English one) also and I gave it to him. He still couldn’t tell me where we were.  In any case, he logged into the kiosk and printed a receipt for me. I offered my cell phone and said ‘please call a taxi for me. I don’t speak Chinese’.  He wasn’t taking my phone.  As I said earlier, there were two other girls in the store and one of them could speak broken but understandable English. She said the other guy had already called a Taxi for me and I should wait there for 6 minutes. I waited for a few minutes. Actually, used the time to buy some milk and yogurt. My taxi arrived and I got back to the hotel. Again, very helpful 7-Eleven people.

I got back to the hotel and went to the food court in the next door mall. I now had to ask for vegetarian food. All these days our hosts Lisa, Red, Anny and others have always been with us and they have been carefully screening the restaurant menus for vegetarian foods.  Today I had to do it on my own without knowing the language. I went to one of the food stalls and asked her if she spoke English. She said she could manage.  Interestingly, she really didn’t know any English besides saying ‘yes’ ‘I know’, ‘ok’ etc. However, she is tech savvy.  On her mobile she brought up an app that could do the English to Chinese translation.  It wasn’t great at translating sentences but things like ‘Rice’, ‘Vegetable’ could be translated. She understood what I wanted.

On the whole, whoever I met on the street have been always been ready to help. I am impressed by the friendliness and the extra mile the Tainan citizens go to to help Tourists.

Thumbs up for friendly Tainan!

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