(TAIPEI) -- How we come to depend on our mobile phones and learn to love our dependence or captivity. But traveling abroad forces some re-thinking. Of course, everyone here has at least one, usually a Blackberry or other “smart phone.” But for travelers?
Of course we brought our dumb phones along. Even made ‘em usable here by jumping through a few customer service hoops and about an hour of begging. Experimented. “To call America,” says the instruction message, “dial 0051 and then the area code and number. Easy enough. We are sitting next to each other. One of us dials the other. 0051 to call America. Then the area code and number. And sure enough, the signal bounces from one phone, to a cell tower down the road, to a satellite, then down to a cell tower in Nassau County on New York’s Long Island, back up to a satellite, back down to the Taipei tower and into the second phone, which is maybe two feet away from the first one. That’s over 14,000 miles of travel. But it works.
The carrier charges two dollars a minute for roaming. They have a funny way of doing arithmetic. Here’s what’s called the Verizon Equation: 60 + 1 = 120. That’s right, one minute plus one second equals two minutes. There’s a second version: 60 – 45 = 60. So a 15 second call is one minute.
We “rented” a local phone, so the local relatives and friends can get hold of Angela easily and we’re not paying Verizon skumpty eight million dollars to hear someone say “Nee how mah,” which is “hello.”
Not only easy, but cheap. The “NT,” the New Taiwan Dollar is worth about 3.2 cents, USD. So when you see a pair of shoes on sale for the low, low, bargain-low price of $1800, that jolts you. Even if you’ve been here long enough to get used to the figures.
Forty five minutes of clothes drying costs 30 dollars in the Laundromat. You can get a really good meal for under 300 bucks. Notice, there are no “cents.” Everything is rounded, kind of like Verizon minutes. Taiwan beer (excellent, by the way, eat your hearts out Augie Busch and Davie Yuengling) is 41 dollars for 500 ml can. (That’s 16 ounces.)
Okay, many of us are familiar with the Yen and with the former Italian currency, the Lira. But it’s still tough to buy a cup of coffee for $100. To remind, that’s about three bucks. On the other hand, a $100 pack of Marlboros is a bargain and a half in a country with a government that knows smoking is a death sentence, and figures it can’t be bothered with acting as the “Health Police.”
--Here, you can buy almost any car made -- any Asian brand, most European brands and one from America: Ford. Have yet to see a GM or Chrysler vehicle. And they don't need Consumer Reports here to figure out why.
I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®