Letter from Taipei

By John Conway | December 18, 2008 3:29 am


One of the great things about being a physicist, it turns out, is the travel. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world, including to some destinations that I might not otherwise have put on the must-see list. In fact I am at one right now, along with Robin and our five month old, Ian.

We’re in Taipei, Taiwan, at a joint UC Davis – Taiwan workshop somewhat grandly titled “From the LHC to the Universe”. The participants are just from UC Davis and Taiwan universities including National Taiwan University, Academia Sinica, and National Tsing Hua University. The workshop grew out of the fact that there are strong ties between the Davis faculty and that of NTU, especially in the area of particle theory. Our present dean, Winston Ko, a particle experimentalist, is from Taiwan, as is one of our recently retired but still very active particle theorists, Ling-Lie Chau. A number of the former postdocs and students of our theory group leader Jack Gunion are now at NTU, as is one of his close collaborators George Hou. And so the idea for this workshop was born, to further strengthen the ties between the particle phyiscs and cosmology groups at the two institutions, hopefully leading to more collaboration.

Perhaps the most striking thing I’ve found about Taiwan is the absolutely amazing friendliness, generosity, and hospitality of the people. Our NTU hosts have set the bar very high in terms of the organization of the meeting, our local accomodations, and events like the fantastic 10-course banquet we had last night atop Taipei 101, presently the tallest building in the world.

Wherever we travel, we love to eat, and the food here in Taiwan is superb. On Saturday we ate at the unpretentious but world-famous dumpling restaurant, Din Tai Fung. The service was amazing – for example, when I went to change little Ian’s diaper they set up a special changing station for me and stood there to assist me! For a battle-hardened parent of a five month old, this was incredible,
but it happened at the next restaurant at which we ate too!

Later in the day Saturday we ate on the street at the Shilin Night Market. It was a tough choice, and very inexpensive. We found a stall where you take a basket, and put into it lots of different food items on skewers, which they subsequently grill for you with a delicious garlicky sauce. Just grab a couple of what we call “walking around beers” and you are set.


Wherever we go, the sight of little Ian in the front pack inevitably brings smiles to people’s faces, who, with little hesitation, come straight over to coo at him and elicit smiles (and mostly he obliges). Clearly the sight of a western baby is a novelty here, and, of course, he’s pretty cute anyway.

Traveling with a five-month-old is a challenge: probably most of you reading this think we’re nuts to take him half way around the world…and you are probably right. But we’ve gotten along fairly well, hiring a baby sitter here who watches him in a back room of the physics department library. He’s gotten pretty fussy a lot of the time, partly due to jet lag, but he does that at home too!

Taiwan has a rich and turbulent history, right up to the present day. In fact, the day we arrived, the first non-Kuomintang president of the country, Chen Shui-bian (elected in 2000 and re-elected by a slim margin in 2004), was indicted for embezzling millions of dollars. A few days later, for the first time in decades, direct flights and shipments began between Taiwan and the mainland. The economic crisis is taking its toll on industry here, with people debating the relative merits of reducing pay or reducing hours (furloughs).

Our only regret is that we don’t have more time to see all there is to see on this beautiful island! We return home tomorrow, but hope to be back here some day.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Travel
  • http://nmurillo.codebeta.net/ nmurillo

    Yes I must agree Taipei is wonderful. I’ve been living in Taiwan for over two years now and studying in the Physics Dept in Tsing Hua University for year and a half, and it never ceases to amaze me. But you’ve just seen a tiny fraction of it all, and of Taipei, of what you mention, you’ve only seen the really “touristy” places. If you have the time and opportunity, you should go to the less tourist places around Taipei or even outside Taipei. It’s really worth it.
    cheers and hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in Taiwan

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Incidentally, I also traveled around a lot when I was a baby, though I was mostly in South Korea. I’m told that lots of random Koreans would give me candy all the time. And for some reason I really liked Kimchi. Not that I remember any of it.

  • EJ

    Does the conference have a website? I would love to browse the talks, if they’re available online.

  • EJ

    Sorry, you typed “workshop”, not “conference”, but the same questions applies 😉

  • BBS

    Have you gone to China Mainland?
    The people adre also friendly!

  • Randle

    Taiwan is a good place! Welcome to visit Taiwan again :)

  • Brian Mingus

    I was in Taipei a couple of years ago. Have a stroll down snake alley at night. Try a shot of snakes blood. mmmmm

  • LwPhD

    Oh, I’m currently at Sinica! Greetings and welcome (and goodbye) to/from Taipei! Did anyone manage to spend a spare afternoon to take you to Keelung to enjoy some seafood? Din Tai Feng is my favorite. I lived a 1o minute walk from the original one for 2 years. Great place. I really love living in Taipei.

  • http://www.jonstraveladventures.blogspot.com Jonathan

    It may not be easy but I think taking kids around the world is well worth the perspective it will give them. We may not understand it all but we take in a whole lot from the word go, and I’m certainly glad of the trips my folks took me on when I was very small.


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