Gender Confusion On Government Forms (#gender, #government, #security)

I went to my appointment to sign up for TSA Precheck yesterday. It’s not that I have tired of being groped, interrogated and cajoled by the goon squad when I “opt out” the few times I fly each year. It’s more that I enjoy paying $85 for a “service” which solves a problem that wouldn’t exist if the government wasn’t so intent on providing me with another “service”, first, TSA-controlled security.

To get approved for Precheck, you have to pass a background check. It seems like if the airlines were in control of their own security they’d already be doing this. I don’t know about you but if I ran an airline, for example, I wouldn’t want convicted felons or those who have spent time in a mental institutions (two questions on the self-administered portion of the process) being transported on my aircraft. That would seem to pose a safety hazard. But under the TSA and government security, they’re fair to fly, they just can’t speed through the security screening process at the airport. I guess they can’t hurt anyone without bringing guns, knives and bombs on board the planes?

Another field you have to fill out is, uh oh, “Gender”. I didn’t ask the clerk because I didn’t want to jeopardize my application processing by making light of a Really Serious Idea that’s currently popular, but I assume that the only options are “Male” and “Female.” The idea here is that whichever you choose should correspond to the background check records which will be referenced, which draw from government identity databases (Social Security/birth certificate, credit bureaus, etc.) Someone trying to steal someone’s identity would quickly be flagged if they put “Male” but were trying to get a Precheck number for someone registered as “Female.”

So what is a transgender person to do here? If they started out “Male” but at some point began to identify as “Female” and they insist this is their true identity, they’re going to fail their background check and not get issued a Precheck pass to avoid the TSA harassment procedure. Is that discrimination?

And if, to make sure things go smoothly, they admit they are still a “Male” despite identifying otherwise, is this oppression?

Thankfully, this isn’t a problem I had to deal with personally, but it did make me wonder! I wonder how long it’ll be before government forms reflect this “new reality”, and how much longer until the first terrorist takes advantage of this new loophole caused by gender confusion by assuming a fake identity in the ambiguity it creates?

The best US bank for travel in Asia? Citibank. (#travel, #Asia, #banking)

I opened a Citibank account when I moved to New York back in 2004. It seemed like a good option for ATM access in the city, but I came to regret my choice when I moved to Dallas and then back to California. Citi was not everywhere and was often difficult to come by– luckily I was never a big cash user, preferring to use my credit card for monthly cash management. Still, it was inconvenient and I often thought of switching to BofA or another major branch when I enviously spied these locations much closer to home and work whenever I went.

In fact, today I do most of my banking with Chase. Their bank branch expansion has been nothing short of explosive over the last few years and they’re now everywhere. In addition, they seem to have the most advanced ATMs which can read and deposit checks directly with OCR technology and an app that can also handle check deposits under $2000. I realize other banks (such as Capital One) offer similar technologies and I think maybe Citi and BofA have ATMs that are as capable now as well but my point is that Chase seems to offer the best overall package, domestically.

However, in the three Asian cities we’ve visited, Citibank has been hands down the best option.

Now, I keep a decent balance with Citi so I get their Citigold service. This means I am entitled to ATM fee reimbursement at non-Citi ATMs and I get their best forex exchange rate with no forex fees. When we traveled to South America three years ago, I pulled cash from local ATMs (I don’t remember spotting a Citi there, maybe in Santiago or BA but I don’t remember) and never had to go to a money exchange like Travelex. The rest of the time I just ran my debit card when it was an option and I got the same benefit– pay for the meal, ticket, whatever, at the best exchange rate with no fees.

In the three cities we’ve visited so far, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore, I’ve found a Citi ATM within two or three blocks of our AirBNB as well as around the city while walking. Even better, in Hong Kong and Singapore I found Citi ATMs in the baggage claim area of the terminals so I had cash for cabs, airport trams, etc. immediately upon arrival. I probably could’ve found one in Taipei as well but didn’t bother checking as we were being picked up by relatives and I planned to exchange money with them.

My Citi MasterCard debit card has been accepted anywhere the merchant offers credit card payment services, which has been just about everywhere but local food stands and some cabs.

I haven’t seen one other major US bank ATM or branch office here– no Chase, no BofA, no Wells Fargo. However, there are a TON of local/regional banks, it is actually amazing how unconsolidated the banks in Asia appear to be even with dominant local giants such as Standard Chartered and HSBC. This is something I read about in “Asian Godfathers” by Joe Studwell. Asia in general is kind of overbanked because every crony capitalist wants his own bank to play financial games with his holding companies.

As I don’t have any substantial BitCoin holdings I didn’t explore how using BitCoin might work out here but my suspicion right now is that it doesn’t make it any easier or cheaper.

For a “globalized” world such as the one we live in, with so many people traveling for work and pleasure, isn’t it amazing we don’t have one, market derived currency of choice?

Our Taipei AirBnB (#travel, #lodging, @AirBnB, #Taiwan)

This is less a review and more of a “walkthrough” to show you how we were living the last few days. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good shot of the building from the street nor what the lobby looked like (both are understated). Also, I didn’t do a good job of gathering economic data on the property from the owner, but I am pretty sure I can get her to cough that up if I emailed her later which I might do.

We stayed in a district called Da’an. See the link here and look for the park, you can find it quickly (Da’an District Specifically we were off the Da’an Park. Da’an means “great peace”. The parks in Taipei were often constructed by the Japanese, it was they who introduced park culture to Taiwan during their occupation, a culture they in turn received from Western nations they were trying to emulate after the “opening” of Japan. The park was formerly a farming community. It is considered an upscale, hip neighborhood and was one of two we were told of by tour guides, the other being XinYi.

It is a very large area. You can walk on foot about twenty minutes in any compass direction from where we stayed and still be in Da’an, with various degrees of fanciness from pretty understated, well to do middle class vibes to pretty glitzy and glamorous. Apparently this neighborhood has had this reputation since the occupation when it was the place many professors and other educated professionals of the Japanese regime chose to reside.

The park is referred to as Taipei’s Central Park, not because it is as big or has that kind of significance to the city, but because it is quite large relative to city blocks, other parks and it is fairly centrally located and historical.


This is the view out our window on the 8th floor (very lucky in Chinese culture!!)  looking westish.


The view of the park, it takes about 15 minutes to walk the length of the park and their is an MRT station at the opposite end from us.


The intersection of HePing and Xinsheng (the “heavens road” because there are worship sites for 7 different religions on this one block beside the park, including Islam and Mormonism). There is a pedestrian overpass but most people wait and cross at the light.


This is the Queen bed beside the window. Not terribly plush but also not uncomfortable, I slept well and found the duvet worked well with the A/C running despite the humid clime.


This area is right to the left of the bed and is separated from it by a small cubbyhole wall. The table has an electric burner pull out. I enjoyed using the reading light as I worked through some of the books I brought.


This A/C unit is right above the window. Remote controlled, worked well enough, we never kept the temperature below 23C which was comfortable.


Looking toward the front door from the bed area. Mini fridge kept our bottled water cold (tap water is safe to brush teeth and shower with but is not potable otherwise). Bathroom sliding door is up on the right where the light is emanating from. Far right of the picture is a series of closets.


Cubby wall, bed area, from beside the bathroom.


Bathroom shot. The look and finish of the place is likely IKEA, which actually felt quite stylish and upscale despite IKEA having a reputation of kind of imitation luxury. Maybe it was not IKEA, but I saw some IKEA products and had that anchored in my mind. The tub is definitely small from a Western size scale, I’d likely have to curl up my legs to sit in the tub. But the showerhead, which is detachable, had a holder high enough up on the wall that I could shower without stopping. Water pressure was VERY strong and basically was hard to calibrate between fire hose and off.


Bathroom water heater, it is one of those instant hot water heaters so you really didn’t have to wait for the water to heat up and it was always capable of being hotter than you ever needed it to be.


Toilet. The flusher is on top. I think the blue button is full flush and wider white button is half flush. At least that’s how I used it. Use your imagination here why you’d do one or the other. And these tissues are ubiquitous. Maybe they use a special type for the toilet but you’re basically wiping with Kleenex, and at restaurants instead of paper towel or napkins you get tissues there too.


Detail of the sink, and medicine cabinet mirror. There was a hair dryer, which I used to style my hair. It worked just as well as one in the US, and Taiwan uses the same adapter as the US so all our chargers worked in the walls.


This is interesting. This is on the wall of the bathroom. You have a circulation fan for when you’re in the can, and I never used breeze but I imagine it’s like a dehumidifier to not suffocate in the shower in the summer? Forgot to test it. Then you have a heat for staying warm and a dry so your towels don’t mildew. You can set the system on a timer so it will dry while you’re away and then turn off without running all day. We used that a lot because things don’t dry on their own otherwise. A really nice feature.

I don’t know how common these amenities are for most Taiwanese but I’d imagine many have the basics but not all of it. The relatives we stayed with when we first arrived did not appear to have A/C nor comfortable restrooms and bedding, but they were also older (although I understood their neighborhood was middle class). However, even assuming that this studio we rented was atypical, I think it demonstrates that a  comfortable, modern lifestyle is indeed possible in Taipei.