Thursday, March 13, 2008

Driving the Suzuki Swift Home

swift I drove the 2007 Swift last night back from southern Taiwan. Only 15 km on the odometer when I started out (Taiwan used car shops are notorious for mileage doctoring, but in this case I should be OK since it's new and wasn't used for test-drives).

I am reasonably pleased with how it handles on both the highway and on slower country roads. Though the Swift is tiny, the design is such that I have adequate head and leg room even at 6' 2" (186 cm). I like the hatchback. The sound system is what you'd expect for the stripped down version (you get what you pay for). I didn't have a choice on the color since there were only 5 of last year's model available island-wide. But I'm OK with black. I lose out on that "new car" smell since it's been sitting in a show room for a year. But overall I'm very satisfied with the purchase. Since I had the windows tinted yesterday I'm not supposed to open them for three days but I forgot at the first toll on the highway!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Mass Rapid Transit System Confuses People

Here's a funny read from the China Post, one of Taiwan's English newspapers about the new mass rapid transist system confusing people.

Monday, March 10, 2008

2007 Suzuki Swift

Thanks to the generous giving of friends and acquaintances back in the States the last couple of years and particularly in recent months, I was able to buy a car today. Since coming to Taiwan in 1997, it's my first vehicle. Actually, it's my first new car ever. I should be able to pick it up in a few days.

Originally I had planned to buy a good used car, but a very good deal through a strategic  acquaintance, as well as making use of work special monies over and above my designated vehicle account, enabled me to make the purchase. Lord willing, in recent weeks I have purchased adequate English-teaching materials, tables and chairs, equipment and other work-related resources to reduce the load on my work special fund for a couple of months. Furthermore, I still have enough left over to cover vehicle maintenance costs until the mission's help kicks in.

The Suzuki brand is well-known in Japan and elsewhere outside the United States for its small economy cars. The Swift is a tiny 1500 cc liftback, but a medium-tall guy like myself can sit comfortably in the front seat. I certainly won't be breaking any speed barriers, but the Swift has a reputation for good gas mileage, which was a consideration for me in today's market.

My contact is a Taiwanese Christian man who manages a Suzuki-owned body shop. He has helped numerous pastors and missionaries buy used and new vehicles through his extensive web of influence which run far beyond his own company and brand. A coworker of mine just bought a used vehicle from a different manufacturer through him late last year.  In this case, the gentleman I was connected with was a younger classmate who just took over the top job at a Suzuki dealership this past month, having previously worked with my contact elsewhere.

Though Suzuki didn't lose any money on the deal, I feel a little sorry for the saleswoman who sold me the car and will process it for me (well, not too sorry) . All the commission she would have normally made on a sale were forfeited in this case. It's an especially bad year for new auto sales in Taiwan (January was down 17% from a year ago), but that's how guanxi (relationship networks) work here in Taiwan. My contact assured her that he was very-well connected and would help her make money next time. Maybe I can send some business her way in the future as well.

I suppose I will continue to wonder how much better off I might have been with another Toyota. I've driven three in years past and was always satisfied. This time around I especially had my eyes on the Toyota Yaris, just introduced last year to the Taiwan market. However, many people feel the price is outrageous for what you get.

In summary, I think I made out OK today with the budget I had. Because the car I purchased is last year's model, and because I also bought my first year's insurance through Suzuki, there were several other sizeable discounts that kicked in. However, there were only 5 of last year's model available island-wide in the stripped-down version I bought. So I had no choice of color. It'll be black for me this time around, which will be a little hotter this summer in our semi-tropical climate here. Stay tuned for my next post, when hopefully I'll actually be driving it around...

Brief Taste of Freedom (Escape Attempt from Alcatraz)

I unbuckled the hook and removed the food tray from the bird cage which along with the other two was sitting on the back porch balcony. They've been sitting outside ever since I came down with pink eye a few weeks ago. I turned my back and walked about 5 feet away to refill the food tray. In the space of 10 seconds, my Indian Ringneck (not a Green Conure as I previously supposed) somehow opened the food tray door, squeezed itself through the opening, and walked up to the top of the cage, all without me hearing it (This isn't a complete surprise; before I started locking the door shut a month ago, I would sometimes observe the bird with its head peering out curiously through the door at the wide world outside, but I never imagined it could squeeze through the opening).

I quickly weighed my options. I could lunge at the bird but it would most likely immediately take off, being as it has never had any inclination to be friendly with people.  Instead, knowing the bird would be hungry for its favorite snack, I gently put the food tray on the top of the cage, and proceeded to gently move the cage indoors.  No luck. The bird took flight. In that split second I knew I could violently swat it down, but I didn't want to hurt it. So I watched it lift off with amazing speed flying up  behind the row of houses and off into the wild blue yonder. Oh well... there goes $1,400NT down the drain! Easy come, easy go.

I walked downstairs and proceeded down the street in the direction I had seen the bird fly. I did so with low expectations since only a few months before I had unsucessfully sought out an errant lovebird which flew away never to be seen or heard from again.

As I walked the 50 yards back to the house I saw my neighbor Mr. Chen standing curiously out front. He said he had just seen a very strange bird he had never seen in the wild before. I followed the direction he pointed and walked around the corner in the opposite direction. The bird had flown 3/4 of a several hundred foot-long circle, and was lying on the ground in front of a house under a car. Strategic mistake: instead of fleeing for the open fields directly across the street he flew right back into the clutches of civilization!

With a word of explanation to the person in the house who wondered what in the world a foreigner was doing so comically on their property (God's sense of humor in arranging a divine appointment?), I scooped up the bird. It made no attempt to fly away or bite me, and we returned home. I guess 10 minutes of freedom was enough for one day.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Easter Picture Story-telling

Much as I did last Christmas, I thought this Easter season I might cover the first floor storefront windows where I live with artwork depicting the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. I spent a good part of my weekend printing color prints and scripture references.

Although I doubt European art from 500 years ago is especially appealing or relevant to my working-class/farmer Taiwanese neighbors (see pizza post below!), I do want to learn how to use pictures and story-telling in order to share Christ here. So at least it's a start.

After having already printed out a couple dozen images and located scriptures in a modern Chinese translation, I figured I might as well spend a little extra time to put it all on my chinese blog to share with a few local acquaintances who might not know the Easter story.