Visiting Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan

Went to Hsinchu, Taiwan on September 6, 2010

It is sometimes surprising that life takes very unexpected turns. In the beginning of this summer I was spending time at my home considering a number of ideas for independent research projects. Then suddenly I received an invitation to visit Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I got very excited and accepted the offer immediately.

So now I have arrived to Taiwan. To me it looks a lot like California тАУ arriving to Taipei was similar to that in San Francisco with its multi-storied system of roads. Then a taxi driver picked me up and we went on a highway to Hsinchu, Taiwaneese equivalent of Silicon Valley. The road looked a lot like 101, California main highway because of the palm trees on the sides of the road and hills on the horizon.

Many people are saying that weather here is a bit hot, but to me it feels quite comfortable and familiar because it is similar to that in Stony Brook тАУ hot and humid. Also there is AC in the buildings so most of the time you donтАЩt feel heat at all.

ITRI was built in 1970s. It looks like they were trying to outperform the best campuses of Silicon Valley as the level of comfort here is above any expectation. For example, just across the guest house (hotel) there is a swimming pool 50 m in length, with steam sauna, electric sauna, and 20 jacuzzi baths! I think only Google could match that level of luxury. The guest house is also quite a fancy place тАУ there is a pond with gold fish in it! Looks very nice.

The people are very friendly and helpful. Even if the person does not speak English (s)he will always try to explain with gestures or will lead you to someone who speaks English. The penetration of English language here is quite minimal тАУ most of the signs in the shops are written in Chinese. This only encourages me to learn Chinese, I actually started learning it when I was preparing for the trip in Russia and I think it is a lot of fun to learn the characters because often they resemble the words they are intended to express. Guessing the meaning of a character is like recognizing objects in a painting.

Another funny things that I noticed soon upon arrival was how local people navigate the roads. They use scooters тАУ small motorcycles. Often, they line up and occupy the whole lane of a road. To me it looks like presidential escort as I was riding in a minivan surrounded by motorcyclists.

However, when we were approaching Hsinchu a tropical storm began. Lots of water was pouring on the roads. When the rain was over it turned out that puddles were still there. When a car drives through the puddle a fountain of water emerges and the water goes to other cars. But imagine what happens to those who drive scooters. The water pours on them like a shower! Oh dear! Just think of it тАУ you are driving your scooter and then quite unexpectedly you get a cold shower!

On Sunday I was exploring the neighborhood of ITRI. I found out that campus is surrounded by a concrete wall. There are security guards at the front gate. It is funny how the institute protects its employees and its research achievements. Within half-hour walking distance to the left and right there are a few stores where you can get food and basic supplies and even carpets and furniture. Then there are a few restaurants. I have eaten tasty dumplings in one of them. There are a number of houses along the road. They are quite small, typically 2-storey buildings. However, there are bigger houses right behind them, hiding from a noisy road. It looks funny that when you walk along the road you think you are in a village (small houses) but when you look on the side streets you think it is a big city (10-storey buildings).

The food here is really delicious. It is a lot different from our traditional notion of Chinese food (what is offered for example in the US and in Europe). A typical dish here consists of rice (white), vegetables, mushrooms, meat, and fried eggs. On the other hand, people eat here noodles in cups which you prepare for yourself by adding hot water. I have spotted a few vending machines with this food. I guess it is traditional habit to eat this fast food. It is funny to see this food near luxury buildings on ITRI campus. I am trying to imagine taking jacuzzi bath with a pack of noodles in a cup.

Today is the first day in the office. I had a number of meetings and got an ITRI badge. I found out that I can use it as a credit card in cafeteria. In the end of each month the bill will come. I guess I will have lots of fun here!