Day 3: Advantech, ZyXEL, Tsinghua University, and the Night Market

Merry Christmas! 大家圣诞快乐!

Mmm, blogging on the subway in Taipei (台北), 2 days behind. I’m on my way to visit my mom’s side of the family now, abandoning everyone else at the International House of Taipei, but we’ll all meet up at the airport in a few hours for our flight out.

Friday was our first day of company visits.  We awoke to soy milk and my favorite variety of scallion pancakes (葱抓饼), as we got into the car with my uncle for the first company on our tour, Advantech (台湾研华).  Advantech is a huge Taiwanese technology company that design business solutions for basically everything and about 1000 products (eeep!).  They’re also focusing on hard on the Internet of Things and a smarter planet initiative (they actually work with IBM), which may turn out to be The Next Big Thing.  They have a bit going on with traffic optimization and fleet management, which I’ll need to look into more.  At Advantech, Secretary General Mr. Tsai emphasized quite a bit that Taiwan is amazing at hardware, but extremely weak in software.  This is of course a very interesting point for me.  Rather than computer science, apparently electrical engineering is what you study in Taiwan if you want to be basically guaranteed a job (thought studying to be a doctor is probably the most popular).

On the way to the next company, we got stuck in a traffic jam for 20-30 minutes, where the cars just didn’t move at all.  We were conveniently stopped next to a bus with a lot of good-to-know Chinese characters (出口, 巴士, etc.), so we got out of the car and had a mini-Chinese lesson for Josh and Julian with the bus as our blackboard (not really).  I’m impressed at how much Chinese they now know, after about 3 days.  During our Chinese lesson, other people got out of their cars too and we were offered Binglang (槟榔), a pretty popular tobacco-like recreational substance here that turns your teeth funny colors.

We had lunch at 7-11, which is worlds apart from the ones in the US.  Taipei has a 7-11 basically in every streetcorner, so it’s sort of like Starbucks in the US, but with your standard delicious Taiwanese food and convenience store things.  I am told that 7-11s are only good in Taiwan and Japan. And for future reference, FamilyMart is also good, but HiLife is considered more low-end in terms of these convenience stores in Taiwan.  Food is not as ridiculously cheap as I remember from 7 years ago, but it’s still way cheaper than in the US… and I could be looking in the wrong places without my parents around.  Lunch was about 3USD for a bun and a big bowl of soup.  Snacks on the street are commonly priced at about 0.33USD, which is simply wonderful.

The second company of the day was MitraStar, which recently merged with ZyXEL.  They are a telecommunications design company based in Taiwan.  That means routers, switches, network security, etc. For consumers, they do power over ethernet, ethernet over power, digital media centers, etc.  Interestingly, two-thirds of the engineers work on software, and they seem to be better at software than other Taiwanese companies.  They were wonderful and got us an impromptu tour of their quality assurance (QA) and software testing facility and we got a peak of their factory, but it was the Friday before Christmas, so there weren’t enough people around to actually give us a full tour.  Testing the network configurations on the XBox is just part of the job of the facility.  And just to be clear, both company visits were conducted in English (phew).

After the visits, we went off with my cousin Peter who is a junior at Tsinghua University (清华大学 in Taiwan, not in Beijing), which is known as the 2nd top college in Taiwan.  We toured around a bit and went to his class on materials (semiconductors).  Apparently, despite the fact that Taiwanese students don’t know English that well, about 90% of college materials are written in English.  About 40% of EE classes are also taught in English.  The one we went to was taught in Chinese, but the powerpoint presentation was all in English.  All I can say is, I’m glad I know the language that my textbooks are written in.

We also went to a Night Market (台湾师大夜市), where we were joined by Jessica (a college Junior studying English Literature)!  Night markets are just streets lined with little shops and food stands that run from about 5pm to 3am.  Taiwan is famous for these, and they’re full of cheap delicious food, as well as endless shopping opportunities.  We walked and ate and ate and ate.  Broth o’ everything, bubble tea, chicken butts, sausages, butter buns, dumplings, stinky tofu.  Nom.

At the end of the day, we all felt like we had been in Taiwan for way more than a day.  I have a feeling our entire trip is going to be this jammed pack full of fun things.