One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Epilogue | Acknowledgements
Chapter One: The Day That Lasted Forever
To celebrate the upcoming voyages, Saturday began with trip to Krispe Kreme and a box of donuts! (Ummmm....donuts....) It was then time for the 317th check of all our stuff. We were sure that we were forgetting something, although the checklist given to us by Heartsent was beginning to look a little ragged on the edges from all the times we looked at it. Our two bags were packed more tightly than equipment for the Apollo astronauts embarking on a moon mission, every little space had something tucked in it. We packed baby food, diapers, bottles, the nasal mucus extractor, and various assorted toys and rattles. I felt a little like a professional baby corporation, all the key ingredients for a baby were in place.
Equally, with the time on Saturday and everything packed way in advance, we struggled to fill the empty spaces of time so as to distract ourselves and make the clock tick faster. Note to self: that doesn't work; time still crawled at it's imperceptible pace....
Lynne (of course) sterilized the house in preparation for Paden's arrival. It was so clean you could build microchips in there. In fact, the local hospital asked if they could use Paden's room as an extra operating theater while we were gone. I filled my time by running the final errands we needed to do, filling the car with gas and a trip to Tower Records for a couple new CD's. Also, true to my promise, I shaved off my beard. I didn't want Paden having Grizzly Adams as his first contact with Dad.
At 7:00pm, our friends Jim & Beth and Ross & Sheilene came by with the traditional Traveling-to-Taiwan dinner banquet: Wendy's! We sat around the table and talked about the trip, what Lynne and I thought about "Shanghai Nights", and other small talk. Come on, clock, tick faster!! Finally, about 8:00, it was time to head to the airport. We loaded our bags in the car (we had hired a fork-lift to lift them into the trunk) and drove off to the San Francisco Airport.
Since this was an "Orange" week, according to the Department of Homeland Security (What about the other colors? Will there ever be a "Purple" week?), we thought we needed to be at the airport three hours early. Ha ha. We were, indeed, three hours early, and there was virtually no one in the airport. This means that it took us all of two minutes to clear the security gate, and then we had two hours and fifty-eight minutes to kill. Our gate was the absolute furthest from the main terminal area; Oakland Airport's gates were actually closer. We trekked the twenty-seven football fields of distance to our gate, passing all the other unused gates. They never use those gates! I think they are just there for show, they really aren't gates at all. In fact, they aren't even doors, just painted walls like Wile E. Coyote's fake train tunnel, waiting to smack some unsuspecting and gullible traveller in the face.
I thought this would be a good time to exchange some currency. According to the Airport Directory, there was a currency exchange window just near our gate in San Jose. Cool! When I got there, I discovered it was deserted and there was a sign, indicating that I should go to a different window back near the Security Checkpoint, this one was closed, thank you. So I walked back to the Security Checkpoint, and up to the other window. Sorry, this Exchange Windows is closed, thank you, please visit our Currency Exchange Windows in the Ticketing Area. Well, it's only a couple of miles, I have time..., except I had brought my passport but not my ticket. Without a ticket and a strip search, no one gets into the gated area. *sigh*... Back on the way to the gate to get my all-important ticket, I stopped to buy some new shoes along the way, my others had worn through the soles. Got my ticket, told Lynne I'd see her in a couple of hours, and headed out again. I went out into the ticketing area, and found the Currency Window. Cool! There's actually a person in it! Double Cool! However, she was cowering behind the sign that said "Closed at 10:00pm", and would not exchange currency at my cell phone's sattelite-accurate time of 10:01pm, not even if I was bleeding from my feet (I was). Back through Security, who was wondering about my twin that had gone through earlier with my passport and airline ticket. Fortunately, I got back to the gate before the plane left, and I wound up killing a lot of time.
We started to board the plane at about 11:45, and it was then I noticed a couple of things. The first was that the majority of the language that was being spoken was not English, but rather Chinese. This does not bother me at all; I am a world traveller and used to being in countries where English is not spoken. The second thing I noticed was that the gate attendants had started to issue boarding instructions in Chinese, which gave a distinct advantage to 98.7% of the passengers, and they quickly lined up to board before we knew what was going on As such we were at the tail end of the line. No matter, on our way home we would be first in line with a (possibly) crying baby in the lead.
February 10th, 2003
On the plane, we were lodged up at the front of a section, right in front of the bulkhead. Unless you are a giraffe or an NBA All-Star, it is impossible to watch the TV Monitor which is located at, hey, the front of the section! Not that I was going to really watch the movies or anything, but the attendants were wondering why I was clearly not interested in the video of flight safety and where I could find my oxygen mask. (Note: I think this clear lack of interest was reflected in my meals onboard, as you will read later). The seats were just fine, as long as I put my pelvis out of alignment from my spine and sat with my knees in a position usually reserved for Yoga Masters (and only after they're pronounced "dead"). We had "frugally" chosen the Economy class tickets since that check from Bill Gates had failed to arrive before the trip. Fourteen hours of this contortion would make Houdini beg for mercy. Just keep thinking of Paden.
Our friends had given us a going-away basket, which contained some of those sleep-blindfold thingies (the ones that you point to the people who are wearing them and chuckle) and some earplugs. These were really nice ones, however, and proved to be comfortable and effective. I immediately put them on and started to doze.
I was awoken by the attendants starting the meal service. If I learned anything in college, it was that you never pass up free food. Stupid college! It is clear that the Chinese view of Western food is quite different from the Western view. That makes sense, as we learned that the Western view of Chinese food is also quite different, as we later learned on this trip. That being said, let's jute note that "beef" is beef, but it's all in the delivery. I'm sure what I had was, in fact, derived from that standard barnyard mammal known affectionately as "cows", but it is at that point that the similarity ended. Oh, well, I was trying to lose some weight, anyways.
After the "meal", I returned my flight goggles back to their position, and tried to go back to sleep. But this was not to be the case. The airline we were flying on, EVA (the national airline of Taiwan), was nothing if not courteous. It seemed that every half-hour or so, the attendants were parading up and down the aisle with a tray of assorted juices and sodas. I suppose this was training for the cat-naps I would be taking from now on. Eventually they left me alone enough to catch five, maybe ten minutes of sleep....
...that is, until the "breakfast" meal service. This time, the offering was eggs, scrambled or poached. While it must be difficult to mess up scrambled eggs, and, in hindsight, scrambled would have been the safer choice, I love poached eggs. But, due to unforeseen circumstances with the pronunciation of the word "porriage" which came out sounding like "poached", I would up with an egg-and-rice gruel, not appetizing in the least.
At the end of the flight, the attendants lined up at the front of each section and bowed on cue. This was there way of thanking us for the priveledge of serving us gruel. As I stood up, corpuscles that had been trapped in my feet for fourteen hours slowly made their way back to my body.
We landed in Taipei an hour early, with our bodies craving sleep and our emotions having none of that. It was 5:00am on touchdown, and by the time we collected our bags, exchanged some currency (see above), took the taxi to the hotel, it was now about 7:00am. We were staying in the Hyatt in the heart of town. It was a very elegant hotel, with a very pleasant and courteous staff. Since we arrived earlier than we expected, we took another cat-nap for an hour and then went out to walk around the local area of Taipei. The first thing we noticed were the millions of motorcycles. There are easily ten motorcycles for each car, and they swarm around the automobiles in traffic like Remoras enveloping a fleet of feeding Sharks. And the sidewalks are not there for the pedestrians; rather they are simply unlined parking spaces for the motorcycle population. More on the sidewalks a bit later.
Speaking of traffic, it should be noted that the lane markings on the roads are not even "suggestions" of traffic protocols, but instead are indications to the driver where the road ends and the sidewalk-motorcycle-parking begins. If you are truly aware of this, you'll be better off. But, amazingly enough, the pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars all seem to acknowledge each other and gracefully avoid each other, even in busy intersections. Although there many moving objects around me, at no time did I feel in danger, which can not be said for standing on any street corner in Los Angeles!
The second thing we noticed is, of course, the Chinese writing. Tons of it. And not much of the English alphabet. However, it is true that there is bits and spatters of English all around: McDonald's, Burger King, 7-Eleven. Yes, 7-Eleven. We did not venture into one of these, but I am told that the food in a 7-Eleven is far less likely to give you food poisoning, and I doubt they have egg rolls that have been turning in their own grease for seventeen hours as their American hot dog counterparts have. But you see all around you the Chinese symbols, which to me were just millions of different versions of "Hangman". Actually, to me they seemed a lot like little quick & dirty drawings of buildings: a house here, a carport there, a small apartment complex. I am grateful that HeartSent had the idea to put out hotel address in Chinese in their book, or else we would have wound up in Korea. In fact, even after a week, I could not tell you the difference in the symbols for "bathroom" and "kitchen". Fortunately, that was never on the exam and was never called for.
But we continued with our hotel-issued map in hand, and started by visiting a park a couple blocks away. It was a quiet little park, and it seemed to have bits of different feelings all around. There was a little bridge similar to what I have seem in Japanese gardens, a brook and rock garden section, and other culturally-displayed areas. We then proceeded across the street to see the Taipei City Hall and continued walking down the street. Soon we were in more of a neighborhood district, and it was easy to get more of a feeling of life here.
At one point, we were actually in a small set of side streets, and you could tell this was a true neighborhood, complete with the local restaurants, grocery stores, and residents watching time go by. I fully expected to see Taiwan versions of the cast from "Cheers" in any one of the doorsteps.
One thing to note was that the buildings are very close together, even the high-rises. Each balcony had a multitude of things to look at, from the family laundry hanging up to dry, to a small garden. And all had bars and screens to protect unauthorized entry. You would not need to be Jackie Chan to jump from one building to another, so I can see how easy it would be to get into someone's apartment.
We were warned against taking a stroller with us to Taiwan as the roads and sidewalks were a bit uneven. This is an understatement. Apparently, each little shop or store front is in charge of maintaining their own section of the walkway. What you end up with is varying levels of sidewalk, with all different surfaces from tile to stone to bare concrete. And there can be as much as a foot and a half difference in height from one section to the next, with no proper steps. This, indeed, would (will) make the use of a stroller superfluous and difficult.
We did get to see a couple small but loud demonstrations of the celebration of New Year's with firecrackers. One such demonstration occurred at street level, while the other happened on a balcony five or six floors above us. It would have been neat to see the town on New Year's Day.
The final leg of our tour was the department store Mitsukoshi. This is a seven-story department store, with an additional two floors below, one being a food court. And, of course, like any food court in America, you can find McDonald's and a Subway. The remaining restaurants are variations of what seemed to be the same thing, offering dumplings and traditional foods. The store itself was very western, and just a bit pricey for our taste, not unlike a Macy's. Good stuff at a high price.
After the walking, we returned to the hotel to get a good night's sleep and an early start on tomorrow. The flight from Taipei to Taiwan was leaving at 8:30, so we knew we had to be ready to leave the hotel by 7:00. Tomorrow would be an exciting day!