Saturday, July 30, 2011

"There" is now "Here"

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, other than the fact that flying Coach after knowing what you're missing out on in First Class is a heartbreaker.  haha  The flight was not bad, other than the fact that for some reason the EVA Airways plane had no air jets, so it was pretty hot on the plane.  If only you could open the windows and let in some of that -40 degree C air, it would cool the whole plane off so well!

Also, it was rather annoying that they played some loud, flashy commercials as we taxied before take-off.  Considering EVA Airways is based out of Taipei, I can only guess that this is a Taiwanese influence and not Japanese, especially after the quiet, polite, subdued nature of my experience in Japan.  I should counter this by adding that when boarding the plane, they were playing classical music at a very pleasant volume.  I found this to be very soothing, contradictory to how I feel about most other aspects of air travel.

Island in the distance, off the coast of Korea?

On the flight to Taipei, they gave us the choice between salmon fried rice and Taiwanese fried rice.  I chose the salmon fried rice and immediately regretted my decision as I felt as though I should have tried the local flavor that I was about to become immersed in.  The salmon fried rice was not bad though, and they served it with a couple pieces of fresh fruit, a small salad with some pork(?), and a sort of rice pudding dessert.  Considering all the food and drink I had just consumed on the flight to Tokyo, I really did not need to eat any of this, but I did anyway, more out of curiosity than hunger.  After the meal, they came around with coffee or tea.  I had some delicious jasmine tea that was perfect on my stomach.  Very soothing.

My first view of Taiwan!


Smog, river, and city

Wind power!

Industrialism- What many think all of Taiwan looks like

Finally on the ground in Taipei!  Only 3 more hours to get to Yilan...

Landing in Taipei, since I had the window seat, I remained seated until people began getting off the plane, but instead of people letting me get out, I had to wait until the aisle was clear to de-plane.  I found this a bit odd, but attributed it to my lack of knowledge of the culture and customs.  I did not see any other Westerners on the plane.

Once in the airport, I felt much more out of place than in Tokyo.  I got stared at quite a bit more, and I did not get the same enchanting feeling as the one I had in Tokyo.  I have to admit, my first impression of the Taipei airport was one of unease and slight confusion.  I began feeling very out of place.  This was not helped by the fact that the moving walkways were so crammed full of people that I opted to walk alongside them instead since it was completely open and it felt good to move my legs after such a long time in the sky.  I was definitely feeling like a fish out of water walking along, with many people staring my way.  Of course, much of this could have been the paranoia in my head.

Before reaching customs, we had to pass through a "fever screen" where they had signs asking you to remove your hat.  I'm assuming they had some sort of thermal imaging system to check your body temperature?  It was a bit odd, but made sense.  Dan said he believes it is a residual effect of the SARS epidemic from the not too distant past.

I forgot to mention that as we descended into Taipei they once again played some loud commercials, though this time most were tourism commercials for Taiwan, which I found more entertaining as there were beautiful pictures of my new home on the screen.  They then played some government propaganda mandating that all people coming from abroad get screened for illness upon their arrival, and if they felt ill within two weeks of returning that they see a doctor and inform them that they had been traveling abroad prior to falling ill.  It was a curious touch indeed.

Passing through immigration was a breeze, and then I was on to the baggage claim.  My two pieces of luggage were the first two onto the conveyer belt.  Score!  But, my bike was nowhere to be found...  So I strapped up my backpack, found a cart for my other luggage, and managed to spot a sign that said "baggage information."  As I approached the desk, I saw my Izabella, all boxed up and waiting patiently for me.  I loaded her onto my cart, and I was off.  One final customs pass, as they suspiciously eyed my boxed beauty (my bike) but nobody said anything and I was officially in Taipei!

Walking out to the greeting area, I immediately spotted Dan as he towered at least half a foot above the next tallest person (Asians tend to be kind of short and Dan is taller than me).  Yet, in true Dan fashion, he felt the need to wave until I acknowledged that I had seen him.

After some brief small talk, I changed out of my now sweat-drenched business casual clothes into some much more comfortable and weather-appropriate shorts, t-shirt, and sandals.  I could already tell it was hot and humid outside.

Gale purchased tickets for the our first bus to get us to Yilan as I sat with Dan, trying to make sense of it all.  At this point, I had been traveling for close to 20 hours, so I was in quite a daze.

Our bus finally came and we loaded up the luggage and boarded.  It took at least an hour and a half of wandering (I'm sure the bus driver knew exactly where he was going, but I was completely lost) around Taipei before we came to the transfer station in Ban Qiao.

Gale purchased our tickets for the next bus to Yilan and we has a small snack before boarding the bus.  This bus was much nicer inside, and as we wandered the endless network of streets that is Taipei, I managed to catch my first glimpse of Taipei 101.  It is strange how it seems to be isolated from any other sky scrapers in the city.

It could not have been more than 30 minutes on this second bus before my eyelids became too heavy to handle and I fell fast asleep.  When I woke up, we were in the town just north of Yilan.  Still exhausted, I dozed on and off until our arrival.

Once in Yilan, we were somewhat rudely denied a cab ride by a taxi driver with a van, so we walked with the luggage to Dan and Gale's place.  We were all a little hungry, so they took me to the night market to grab a bite to eat.  I ate a somewhat sweet, spicy, garlic-y, and all around tasty "Taiwanese style hot dog".  It was a sweet garlic pork sausage that was stuffed inside a rice sausage, topped with Taiwanese pickles and hot sauce.  Greasy, savory, and tasty.  I was satisfied.

Gale and Dan picked up some other munchies, including fried chicken and some sort of fried octopus balls, both of which were pretty delicious.  I never expected so much fried, greasy food!  I thought I would be leaving that all behind in the US...

It was not long after we arrived back at Dan and Gale's apartment that I fell asleep, feeling as though I could sleep for weeks.

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