Some thoughts on Taiwan:
I like visiting this city. I like the people, the food, the atmosphere and the culture. And yes, I’ve said all that before. I don’t, however, know if I could live here. When I make the mental shift and start thinking about this place as a primary residence rather than a temporary place, little things start popping out in my mind. The city is packed; packed with people, with scooters, with buildings… on and on. All of this stuff crammed into once place is kind of depressing to me. Some of the little things would also depress me I think. The fact that people wear masks over their mouth to protect them from the air pollution. The thin layer of grit and dirt that seems to coat things. I know, most of the things I’m complaining about are just “big city” characteristics. Taipei isn’t really all that dirty, it’s just that my uppity whitebread “planned community” back in California pays a lot more attention to public works. I’m not used to broken sidewalks or exposed pipes, I’m used to having things nice and neat with the ugly guts considerately hidden away from public eyes. These aren’t big deals, mind you, just small little things that, overall, I think tend to bring me down over time. This could be due more to the fact that I’m a “country boy” at heart, and given a choice would live outside city walls every time.
One thing that I do like about Taiwan is the way these people embrace their technology. If something is cool and people will use it, they build or implement it and sell it in the open market. The whole invention-to-market seems much less restrictive than US. All the cellphones have every possible feature enabled, are completely unlocked to any one service provider, and you can buy SIM cards everywhere. It’s much more intuitive, and it just works. If there’s a demand for some computer gadget of questionable legality, for instance something that could be used to circumvent copyright law, producers don’t blink while rushing said gadget to market for the public to decide. From my perspective, this willingness to meet consumers’ needs acts to speed up the whole iterative process of technology advancement. Not being hindered by overly restrictive terms and conditions or attempts to cash in on current offerings by holding back new and useful items or services really lets the people judge what’s good and what they will ultimately decide to pay for. This way, things that people actually perceive they want or need are naturally promoted over technology or services that people just plain don’t give a crap about. Sure, maybe this model does give some more “working room” to those rogue users who plan to do illegal things with good and services, but I think the added usability and convenience it gives to your honest customer base is worth it.
I’ll give you an example, when I bought my new Nokia phone in the US, it’s locked to the Cingular network, and is feature-limited. No authorized Cingular stores sell any accessories for the phone, despite the fact it’s been out in the states for quite some time now. You can’t get cases, covers, headphones, etc. In Taiwan, the same Nokia phone can be bought at any of the millions of cellphone outlets, with no contract, completely unlocked, and with all the features originally built-in by Nokia turned on by default. Not only that, but there are any number of places, from streetside cart-vendors at the night market to more “official” feeling cellular retail outlets, where you can get all kinds of cool accessories for it. Your choices aren’t limited to Nokia or Cingular branded expensive accessories, there are a myriad of Taiwan-made accessories which in many cases are not only cheaper but more fashionable or practical. I wish the US would start to handle technology like this, because when you compare the producer-consumer models, Taiwan is rabid for new stuff. In the states, I think we are less excited about new technology because it’s often poorly supported, marketed, and overly restricted in the interest of the big corporate players. I think some Taiwan-style decentralization would be good for the US. I think people would eat up the idea of being able walk into any 7-11 and pick up a new SIM card for their mobile phone without signing a two year contract.
And that’s it for now. I got up at 4am to call into an important meeting in the states, and I wanted wrap up this entry before going back to bed. I was able to download some of the US TV shows I’m missing while in Taiweezy, so I can keep up with what’s going on with Ryan and Marissa (I know, I’m pathetic, but I still think it’s cool that I can have an HDTV rip of a US show hours after it’s broadcast). Also, I’m able to keep up with the latest in pirated MP3 goodness as well – so I’m not as entertainment-removed as I usually am (I made the right preparations since I knew this would be a longer trip). OK OK, I’m outta here. Back to sleep for a few hours before it’s into the office.