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How do you find the best? Whether it’s an apartment, a tenant, a job, or an employee, I don’t believe the answer is classifieds. As I wrote a few days ago, classifieds tend to aggregate the worst of what a market has to offer, since the poor offers remain while the good ones are promptly snapped up and removed from the listing.

Two really cheap apartments

Taking this thought a step further, the very best of what a given market has to offer likely never hit the classifieds to begin with. A great example would be my friend’s old apartment. It was in an absurdly expensive part of Taipei, had two rooms a kitchen and a great rooftop patio, all for just 14,000NT/month (~450USD). Why was it so cheap? For one thing, his landlady wasn’t very interested in the hassle of finding tenants. The reason Martin knew about the place at all was that he was friends with Rob, the previous tenant.

Martin isn’t the only one, either. I have a great deal on my place too, and I found it through a friend of a friend. I had just gotten out of work and ran into him at 7-11. He told me he was moving out, and he just happened to live in the area I wanted to move to. As soon as I heard the price, I pounced on it. Like many other great bargains, it never even got advertised before it was off the market.

The important factor in both anecdotes is that it helps to have the right friends.

A really skilled programmer

My college friend, Tom Kerrigan, was at least a couple standard deviations above the average programmer. He started working on a chess AI when he was 14 and by the time I met him as a freshman at UC Boulder, he was already earning significant royalties from it. Simply put, he was smart and applied himself. So, did his resume spend much time sitting around on job wanted boards? Not that I know of. Intel took him on as an intern before I even met him, and Microsoft snapped him up before he was out of school.

Really talented people never seem to stay on the market that long, unless by choice.

How I found our last two hires

In my last piece, I wrote about my unsuccessful use of classifieds to try to find a top notch EFL teacher. I did find two suitable teachers, though. One is teaching my Up&Away based curriculum for 1st and 2nd graders, and Simon hired the other to teach our advanced classes. Both of these guys have pretty much the exact skill set it would take to do our most demanding classes– they have experience with language learning and teaching, they speak and read Chinese pretty well and they’re eager and take pride in their work.

The power of social networks

We didn’t find them. They found us. Both of them did look at classifieds during their job search, just as I myself did in my first couple of years in Taiwan, but what brought them in was this blog. As a result, they each had a decent idea of what kind of place my school was and what was involved before they ever emailed me.

In a sense, they were self-selected to have at least somewhat similar ideas about teaching and work just by the fact that they didn’t close their browsers as soon as they got here.

In a similar way, this site is the entire reason I ever partnered with Pagewood to begin with. If it hadn’t been for my writing here, Simon never would have known who I was or we had a good friend* in common.

Concluding thoughts

  • Having a lot of friends helps
  • Keep in contact with like-minded people
  • Really great bargains don’t require much advertising

*It turns out that this good friend is the same friend who had the great apartment


Work is going well. Not astoundingly well, but a solid improvement from a month and a half ago. My student numbers are up, my 3rd semester class has finished reading a 40 page Aladdin book, and I don’t really have any lazy students anymore.

The social life has been good, too. There are definitely some people who have left Taiwan that I miss, but things are good.

In terms of personal study, once again, things are good. I’ve had time to study a bit of Chinese, a bit of Japanese, some philosophy and some finance. I guess being a net-addict has its advantages.

What’s really on my mind though, is a choice. If I sell all my investments, I have an opportunity to start an incubator hedge fund. It would be expensive and it would be risky, but as the 62nd rule of Ferengi rule of acquisition states, “the riskier the road, the greater the profit.”

Since I’m a long-term value investor, running this sort of fund would take about the same amount of time I’m currently spending on researching investments (relatively little), but oh the risk! If my investing performance of the last 6 years is due to skill, then taking things to the next level is the thing to do. If I’ve just been lucky though, I could lose quite a bit by betting that luck will continue.

It’s time for some thinking.

What a painful day it was at work yesterday. On Thursday night, I got an email from Martin, saying that there was a bread-maker with my name on it at his place. Since he was leaving for Japan the next day, I headed over right away.

The apartment looked like some sort of disaster zone. I really can’t command adequate words to explain the place. Garbage was everywhere, and though the Tealit Vultures had cleaned out all of the big things, there must have been hundreds of books, pieces of clothing and other things that couldn’t be sold. After a single glance it was clear- Martin was screwed.

Not wanting to see his landlady (who rivals my old landlady) keep his entire deposit. I helped him out. We packed stuff into bags, we dragged what seemed like 40 kilos of clothes to the charity drop off and we hauled crap out of his apartment until daybreak. There were a few adventures of the evening that I don’t really feel should be on the internet, but suffice to say, it was very similar to the experience Matt and I had in the 24 hours up to the time I sold my old house in Colorado. Some things are the same everywhere.

Last night, Rika threw a dinner party over at my place. Since she and Martin already sold most of their things, including their refrigerator, to the Tealit vultures, she had to make the food over at my place. I’ve been really busy with work recently… but hey, they’re leaving and the party needed to be thrown. I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea initially, but in the end it turned out better than I possibly could have expected.
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On Saturday, Martin and Rika sold all their stuff to the “Tealit vultures”. Within one day of posting an ad on Tealit, Martin got over 80 emails from people interested in buying the stuff he couldn’t take with him to Canada. It sounds great, but he didn’t call them “vultures” for nothing. Everything was on sale at ridiculously low prices, but people still tried to haggle. Unsatisfied with buying a four thousand dollar item for six hundred, they’d ask for five; unsatisfied with getting a nice leather couch for $700台幣, one guy actually asked him if he could get the couch shipped to him. I’m not sure what Martin said to him, but I know what he should have said:

Ship you a leather couch that I’ve already discounted to less than 10% of its value? Spend three times what you’re offering to pay me so that I can ship it to you? Sure! Of course I’ll spend my time shipping my things to you at a loss, because I live for you. Would you like it gift-wrapped, too?

I met up with him and a couple of Rika’s friends for dinner and then went over to his place to see the aftermath. Everything was picked and pawed over. The floor was a mess from people walking with their shoes on indoors. The bed was gone, sold to someone who haggled even though it was only selling for three US dollars. Those Tealit guys were scavengers!

I guess I’ve always organized and remembered my experiences based upon who was around me at least as much as upon what I was doing. My first couple of years in Taiwan were difficult in several ways. That time ended when I started working at Modawei, though. More than anything else, I valued that experience for the people I met. At the time I considered pretty much every teacher at the school a friend, and Mike, Nathan and Martin were very good friends. After moving to Guishan, I lost touch with Mike. Nathan became an even better friend that year, but he eventually left Taiwan and became a philosophy teacher at a community college back in Michigan. And now I’ve recently learned that, Martin, my best friend in Taiwan, will be leaving very soon.
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Tonight I went to a Harbin restaurant that Martin found a few weeks ago. The cool thing about this restaurant is that the laoban actually is from Harbin. Unlike the other Chinese restaurants I’ve been to in Taiwan, this one is pretty authentic. There were great lamb kabobs, quite a few potato dishes (labelled with the mainland name “土豆“, of course), several spicier dishes, and a huge selection of dumplings. It was about $250/person for the meal and it was pretty good! The restaurant is at 光復南路29051.
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Last week, I was hanging out with two of my best friends in Taiwan- Martin and Nathan. Both of them are philosophy majors, strangely enough. Anyway, the conversation turned to will power, somehow, and Martin told me that my experience gaining weight over the last few years was eye-opening for him. He’d never even considered that it could be difficult for reasonably intelligent and motivated people to keep from gaining weight. Martin, of course, is a skinny bastard. continue reading…

Today was a day that only comes once every few years. I was so absent minded that I managed to make Martin seem like some sort of organization and efficiency guru. Considering the lady who runs the local zăo cān diàn by the MRT said, “啊, 馬丁! 那個很糊塗的那個老外.認識!” when I asked if she’d met him, it’s saying a lot.

Martin’s been low on fridge space and I had an extra one here, so he and Rika came up to my place to pick it up. Being the clever guy that I was, I neglected to check my long unused fridge. Instead, I cleaned up my apartment so as not to offend Rika’s Japanese sensibilities too badly. When they showed up, their cab driver was waiting downstairs and they were in a bit of a hurry. In an impressive and manly display of strength, I reached across the TV sitting in front of it, and lifted the fridge up and over it… dumping nasty water that had been shut inside for months all over myself. With little choice, I grabbed a towel to mop up the floor as quickly as possible, handed the fridge off to Martin, washed off my feet and lower legs, changed clothes really quickly, put on my sandals and backpack, grabbed my shoes and socks and ran out the door. I figured I could just let my feet dry in the cab on the way into Táibĕi.

After getting into the city, we had to carry the fridge across the street and up seven floors of stairs. Rika pointed out that I’d forgotten my shoes in the cab. Doh! Well, it was about time to buy some new shoes anyway, so we headed up to Shilin night-market. It’s so huge that it’s also open during the day, and it’s got the only store I know of that sells a decent selection of shoes in my size. I got a pretty good pair for only $1500台幣, not too bad. Next on our agenda was Costco. There, nothing too disastrous happened and we got some great food! It’s been a year since I went and I love that place! I got all kinds of stuff you can’t buy in the town where I live, like rugged whole-wheat bread, a block of pepper-jack cheese, etc…

We got back to Martin’s place, unpacked all the stuff and then I had to take off, since had plans to meet up with Daniel at the train station at 8:00. Martin kindly lent me an umbrella, and I was off! It was pretty tight, but I managed to get there by 8:01. Daniel wasn’t there yet, so I just hung out in front of the California Fitness center and waited… until I remembered that our plans were for 9:00, not 8:15. Sigh… it’s just been one of those days. There was a neat mall behind the gym, so I figured I ought to seize the chance to check it out.

Since there aren’t any malls in the town where I live, it was pretty nice to browse around. Daniel showed up around 8:45, so the wait wasn’t too bad. We decided on seafood and drinks and so we headed into the MRT and were off! But, I forgot the umbrella Martin lent me. Geez I’m glad it was a Sunday.

Last night I had the uncomfortable experience of reinforcing some negative stereotypes about lăowài. I’ve been hurt by these stereotypes in the past, and I hate to perpetuate them. Back when I’d only been living in Táibĕi for three months, I was kicked out of my apartment with very little notice because my landlady’s cousin was moving to the city to go to college and she didn’t want her to receive any unwholesome “lăowài” influences. Barely speaking any Chinese, and with little time to find a place to live, I was out on the street looking for “for rent” signs. That sucked.

Anyway, I went over to Mike’s place with Martin last night. Mike picked up some awesome calzones and salads from Alleycats. Then, we played ping-pong in the activity room in the basement of Mike’s apartment. We played “winner stays”, and for nearly four straight hours Mike and I took turns being abused by Martin who is inexplicably a freakishly good ponger. How such an absent minded guy could systematically destroy me in a game that’s so unforgiving of momentary lapses in attention is beyond me… but he did.

At about 2AM, we stopped and Martin and I resumed an earlier game of chess. All was fine, until some security guard came in and told us to get out of the activity room. Apparently, our four hours of ping-pong disturbed no one, but playing chess at that hour was inexcusable. The guard said that nobody was allowed to use the room after 10pm. Mike, being pissed about paying so much money in rent at such a nice apartment and being denied use of the facilities, decided to play the “English card”. That means just smiling and talking in English until the guy leaves. It didn’t work. The guy started getting more and more irritated, and Martin and I felt a bit guilty since we were five hours past the admittedly stupid closing time. We got up and took off, at which point the guard left. Unfortunately, Martin left his salad in the ping-pong room. Doh! We tried going back in a different entrance to get it, and set off an alarm. Doh! With the alarm ringing, our eyes darted back and forth between the already irate security guard coming back to the activity room and the half-eaten salad we had so graciously left for him to clean up. Running out of time and options, we made a run for it!

Sorry, Mike. That guy’s probably going to hate lăowài forever, now. And you still live there.