(Not) Only In Taiwan – Episode 5: Protect Your Valuables

Suggestion is an interesting and elusive power. Sometimes a suggestion may persist long after its freshness has expired.

DSC06294Aside from an unshakeable and abusive relationship with nicotine, I have few compulsive behaviors on an everyday scale. The main odd, compulsive behavior is most likely how I carry money, and to a certain extent, ID and other cards. First of all, I don’t carry a wallet. Wait, I own a wallet that contains my collection of necessary ID, credit and whatnot cards; but I haven’t kept one on my person in 20 years. The only time that wallet leaves my desk drawer is when I travel out of the country, and then it’s safely stowed in my backpack.

Anyway, the majority of cards are never carried unless they are needed in a situation. For instance, I don’t carry my National Health Insurance ID card unless I’m in need of medical care. ATM cards are carried when I need cash, and immediately returned to the wallet. I don’t carry credit cards unless I’m planning on making a large purchase of some sort, but 25% of daily transactions, regardless of size, are cash-in-hand, and the remaining 75% are conducted via the magic of online commerce. It’s pretty rare for me to bust out the Citibank in public.

DSC06296In Taipei, there are only two cards that are generally on my person at all times, unless I’m in the shower: my ARC (Alien Resident Certificate), and my Metro Easy Card. In Manila, I generally carry my California DL and one Visa bank card, but it’s not uncommon to also have Starbuck’s and Time Zone (popular video and arcade game entertainment center) cards.

In overview, cash and cards always go in my left front pocket, and even board shorts have front pockets. Coins, if I have any, which I usually don’t, because I detest handling coins and hate they way they smell on my hands, would be in the right pocket. Meanwhile, the cash is arranged in a particular manner. All bills must be main face-up and facing the same direction; arranged by denomination – highest to lowest, highest on top; in case of multiple notes of same amount, they are ordered by condition of the bill. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1

Once the bills have been organized, the pack is folded once around the cards (usually no more than three cards at once, almost forgot), with the largest bills now on the bottom of the stack and fold, closest to the cards. Think of it this way, the 20s are on the inside, and the singles are on the outside. The only thing missing is a money clip. But I’ll get to that. (See Figure 2)

Figure 2
Figure 2

To be honest, lately I’ve been changing up from left to right pocket, but that’s the least important part of the whole thing. Believe it or not, there is a certain amount of convenient ingenuity here. Many transactions like taxis and beers require small bills. With practice, you can peel off the necessary amount without your paw leaving your pocket. Also, by indulging this compulsion every day, at least twice per day, I’m aware of how much cash I have on me at any one time, which is generally never less than $100 USD; the average is usually around $250. (The amount shown in the picture is roughly $125.)

This knowledge is crucial because I’ve an exceedingly vague idea of how much money I have at any given time, particularly regarding amounts in transit, in both directions. Unfortunately, often times I will arrange the bills without counting at the end. Just having an eye-ball figure is good enough for me.

This is what my parents used to call “pocket money” (I’ve also heard it termed “walking-around money”), and my father, who also never carried a wallet, inspired my adoption of the concept; instead, he used a money clip. For many years, I carried the money clip he gave me, until I lost it during a particularly eventful trip to an exotic location. These things happen.

OIT_checkpresenterLife went on and I never replaced the money clip, but I did buy a new, smaller wallet to replace a clumsy, enormous, ten-year-old billfold portfolio. Fucking thing looked like one of those check presenters you get in a fancy restaurant. Who could carry that around? If I were CEO of a major corporation, I would hire some guy just to carry the check presenter for me. Jesus. Anyway, the money clip itself proved to be more of an inconvenience; an extra and unnecessary step in the process.

As I said, it was my old man who got me hooked on this money thing, and I pay close attention to how people handle their business in public. Risk of pickpocketing in Taiwan is infinitesimally small, so people aren’t worried about getting jacked; but you have to be vigilant in almost every other city, particularly Manila. Above all, no matter where you are, your back pockets are a bad place to put anything of value, especially a wallet. Never mind what sitting on a wallet supposedly does to your back.

Women almost always have some kind of wallet-slash-handbag contraption, i.e. purse; their wallet rate is sky-high, like 90%, but it’s not in their back pocket, ever, as far as I know. Every now and then, I’ll spy a woman pulling money from the front pocket of her pek-pek shorts, but it seems to me, it probably wasn’t her money in the first place. It’s just a guess.

OIT_suitOutside of a few butch lesbian chain wallets, I’ve never seen a woman with a billfold. Conversely, it seems like the majority of men have a wallet, although many of them are wearing suits, and the wallet is kept in the inside breast pocket of their sportcoat. Sportcoat is one of my all-time favorite words and I’d like to see it used as a verb. But all in all, on topic, I have seen a few roughnecks rocking my front pocket gig. My rough estimate is 51% of men carry a wallet in the traditional, vulnerable style. The other 48% are sportcoating.

Backpack users should keep in mind that the outer pockets, pouches, and compartments are even more vulnerable to a snatching than the back pocket of your $200 Diesel jeans. In other words: Put your passport and your wallet in the hardest to reach place in the pack. Make it so someone would have to cut off the entire pack to get at your wallet. This is really important in crowded areas like airports and shopping malls, where pickpockets prey.

https://blacksunshinemedia.comMeanwhile, a good two-thirds of transactions in Taiwan result in a printed receipt, which is generally foisted on you whether you want it or not. There’s also a receipt lottery, which you may or may not be interested participating in. Either way, you can’t just crumple up and chuck the receipt on the ground. Again, I suppose you could, but why would you? What, are we savages now? Those pesky receipts go in the back pocket of either side, depending upon which hand received the money.

Of course, there are situations where change is given – supermarket, convenience store – where it’s not feasible to organize the bills right there on the spot. Given the general level of courtesy in S.E. Asia, I suppose I could, but I’m not so narcissistic, inconsiderate or compulsive about it that I would. So, I’ll stuff the change in my pocket, gather my items, and deal with the fold later.


DSC01298February, 2009 – My first night in Hong Kong, I stayed in Central, went to a few bars, and it was nothing special. I did a slow convenience store beer crawl up and halfway back down the Mid-Levels Escalator and called it a night. The next morning, I booked a seat on the high-speed train to Guangzhou for mid-afternoon. After checking out of the hotel at 11:00 a.m., I had three hours to kill before heading to the train station, which was perfect for kicking around Kowloon. See the sights, get some exercise.

Disembarking the MTR at Tsim Sha Tsui, I made a modest loop of lower Kowloon. At some point, I wound up on the Avenue of Stars at Victoria Harbor, which is probably the number one tourist destination in H.K., I dunno. The most iconic figure on the Avenue, the one that every tourist stops to snap a photo with, is the statue of Bruce Lee. So I rolled down there and took a couple of shots of Asian families having their pictures taken with the bronze Master.

https://blacksunshinemedia.comIt was all very ho-hum and whatever. Mostly, I was tripping and marveling on the architecture and civil engineering, which is one of the few things I find interesting about H.K. How they managed to build the joint is more important than why. Thus, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was cooking on the Avenue; I was staring out across the channel at the Central and Mid-Level skylines. In hindsight, I should have been slightly more interested in the history of the region.

I reckon I didn’t see this Indian guy until he was right up on me, but I’m guessing that he had spotted me from somewhat of a distance. All of a sudden, he was just there in front of me, talking.

OIT_hong-kong-avenue-of-stars“Sir, you have an honest face. I can trust you. Do you need to exchange U.S. dollars for Hong Kong dollars? Listen, there is something I must tell you.”

“No, thanks, man. I’m good.” I stepped around him, kept walking, and he fell back at my side, and continued talking.

He gave me a name, Jindhi or something; he spit it out and spelled it so fast I forgot what the name was. He claimed to be a fortune-teller from Marrakesh or some other equally Indian place, and for a small sum, he would reveal the important bits of information he possessed. Despite my repeated refusals, he pestered me for at least a minute, matching my stride and occasionally trying to block my path, but I never stopped walking.

Then his story changed to one of being stranded in H.K. and needing money to get home, wherever that was. He repeatedly asked how much money I had in my front pocket. I asked how he knew I had money in my front pocket.

He said, “You’re not carrying a wallet in your back pocket.”

At this point, I realized that he was up on me and wasn’t going to back off anytime soon, so I said, “How much for you to leave me alone?”

“Sir, I am an honest man. For 100 Hong Kong dollars ($12 USD), I will reveal your fortune.”

“No, how about you get 50 and turn around and walk the other direction.”

As I was pulling the fold of money from my left pocket, the guy reached toward my wrist, and I reached across with my right to swat him away. “Hey! Fucker!” While returning the fold to my pocket, I peeled off a 50-note, which was on the outside—it was the smallest bill I had. Holding it up to him, I said, “Take it. And beat it.”

He took the money, thanked me, and then said, “Listen, sir, I must tell you something. You are a very honest and kind man. I must warn you. Never cut your hair or shave on a Saturday. Never. Not one hair, on Saturdays.”

“Good to know.”

“Not one hair.” He was surprisingly convinced. “Very bad luck for you.”

“I got it, Jindhi.”

OIT_Hong_Kong_Museum_of_ArtWe had just reached the entrance to Salisbury Garden when a large group of tourists materialized in our path, which I used to my advantage; quickly doubling back, almost knocking over some poor woman, but leaving Jindhi crowded in the pack. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the exact moment he realized I’d given him the slip, as I cut back around the Museum of Art, hung a left at the Space Museum, and zig-zagged my way up to Salisbury Road.

For at least the next three years, I didn’t shave or gave myself a haircut on a Saturday.

As you can see from my photo, I’m bald. Not completely bald, but let’s call it how everybody else calls it. Like many men who’ve inherited this curse, I keep my shit pretty tight, and I do it myself. Fifteen years ago, I plunked down $40 for a professional Wahl electric razor (clippers), and it was probably the most economical decision I’ve ever made. Listen, I blow money on stupid shit all the time, so I’ve got to take the little victories as they come.

OIT_WahlGenerally speaking, I’m on a weekly basis; if I’m exceptionally lazy, two weeks. Only on rare occasions will I do one (shave) and not the other (haircut). It’s a package deal. Whatever. I used to have an old school barber in S.F. Let’s assume that I averaged 40 haircuts per year. At a minimum of $20 a pop (including tip), $800 x 15 years = a savings of $12,000. Fortunately, I’m not terribly precious about my appearance, so there’s no way I’d ever see a regular stylist and pay upwards of $50 for a cut and a trim. Fuck that.

Even though it’s been a couple of years since I broke the No Saturday Embargo, and these days I don’t care what day it is. But every single time I see or use the clippers, I hear Jindhi saying “not one hair on Saturdays. Very bad luck.” Tonight happens to be a Saturday night, and there’s not much cookin’. It’s been almost two weeks since my last shave and trim, so I’m looking a little ragged. Ever since I can remember, and completely unrelated to Jindhi’s tale, Sundays generally feature and more or less revolve around the haircut routine, since the whole process can take up to an hour or more. It’s a commitment, seriously. Anyway, as I was moving some stuff around my room, I saw the clippers and thought, “Well, I’m not doing anything and it might be nice not to deal with it tomorrow…so…”

The question is: Did I cut one hair tonight, or not?