Arriving in Taipei

The difference in treatment received by “business class” compared to “economy class” (more appropriately would be named peasant class) on an airplane is far more drastic than I realized.  Probably because my whole life I boarded an airplane, peaked left, but walked right into the crowd of less important people.

Being in Business class was like being in a

  • 5-star, luxurious hotel, getting
  • pampered by an anxious-to-serve team of beautiful people
  • who ensure you feel as if you descended from royalty.

“Are you sure you don’t want another class of wine or new flavor of Haagen Daz ice-cream Mr. Mecca?”

Being in Economy Class is like bing in a

  • Run-down, hourly motel off the highway in the boonies
  • insulted by an irritated, slack-jawed, result of incest receptionist
  • who cares less about you than he does the blood stains on the carpet

“That’s not my problem” referring to the family of cockroaches (and everything other than the TV-game show or nudey magazine)

The China Airlines flight was nice, considering it was 15 hours.   Happy Chinese women with anime-cartoon perkiness served up free alcohol, Alaskan salmon, magazines and more on their silver-plated treys to your fully reclining chair-beds. The flight attendants were in fitted pink-on-pink dresses with  jet black hair pulled back perfectly. They wore dark eye makeup, and their lashes may have been fake.  Their Asian accents (syllables sounding abruptly and then drawn out, everything high pitched) synchronized  with their nodding heads and smiles. I’d imagine there was nothing I couldn’t ask for and receive without a flinch of hesitation and a “would you like more Mr. Mecca” CHAHM-PEY to first class- I hope to never go back #PipeDreaming

After sleep, movies, Golden Medal Taiwan Beer, “Dim Sum”, more sleep, 2 meals, and 900 minutes passing, the China Air flight landed in Osaka, Japan. Osaka was my first authentically Asian adventure.

We were to transfer, nice and easy, hang in the first class lounge for 40 minutes as we wait our next 3-hour leg to Taipei, Taiwan.  Not for Joey though.  I had no cash. Why did I not take cash out at the ATM in JFK airport?  Probably because I was too busy watching Tosh.O’s stand up for the 5th time. Or, maybe it was the 3 hours of rice crispies + milk, turkey sandwiches and club sodas I was grubbing on in the Oasis Lounge.  Basically, I’m stupid. I stared out JFK’s massive lounge window at the uneventful runway as my wallet remained empty in my final hours before venturing the other side of the world.

I was going to have trouble getting cash because my bank (allegedly) won’t work in Taiwan. Communist China claims to own Taiwan.  For political and economic reasons, the USA does not really put up an argument. (Neither does 98% of Europe) I bank with Chase and Chase labels Taiwan (because of China) as “High Risk”, which means “Your card will probably be rejected at all ATMs and your account might get canceled if you try to charge anything to it”…

“OK, I’d like to notify you that I am traveling there and please do NOT cancel my card because of a charge in the country of Taiwan.”

“No sir, we cannot do that”

“please”

“absolutely not”

“OK thanks”

With that, my options are to (1) withdrawn in Japan or (2) withdraw money from the black market in Taiwan.  As I realize I am to meet with a friend of mine in Taiwan, AD, I think I can get a lend from him. Then I recall the last time I borrow money from AD.   We were so poor, we were eating food left for bums on church steps (see “Wanderlust” by Annie Mecca for full story)  AD spotted me 40 Euro and it it took me about 14 months to return the money.   Therefore, if Japan fails me, I will turn to the Chinese black market. I feel that last sentence might be a common Asian mantra.

We were escorted from the plane to another lounge by a slim, fair skinned, Japanese woman, Yuko. ‘Hi Yuko, guess who just became adventure buddies?’

We have 30 minutes to:

  • pass through immigrations,
  • switch terminals,
  • find ATM,
  • pass through securities,
  • collect bags,
  • board the airplane.

GO!  In a hurry, we shuffle to the transit shuttle where Yuko explains there is a good chance (1) my card will not work in Japan either, (2) immigrations will not allow us to pass through because of a technicality that didn’t translate and (3) even with all going well, there probably is not enough time… I looked her in her almost black-irises and confirm we would proceed and need to be successful.

We took off out of the transit train, something between a jog and a run.  Yuko sped up and gained ground on me.  Her black heels against the tile clanked echoes.  We pleaded with customs, we ran, we cut the line for immigrations, we ran, we wheeled a baby stroller off an elevator and told the mother to “take the next one”, we ran, we went through back rooms, we ran, we failed at ATM #1, we failed at ATM #2, we ran, we flashed her badge and immediately hit ATM #3.  Here we succeeded and we rejoiced in a hug!  $400 cash.  We cut the line at security, ran, we went through more back rooms, ran, we pushed through crowds of people screeching some politely toned Japanese, ran, we arrive at the lounge,
collected my bags, and had a few more minutes to wipe away some of the
sweat.  As we said good-bye I gave her my contact information and told her that when she came to New York, we would get married.

After another 4-5 hours of transport, we arrived at the Regent in Taipei. Everyone was tired and went for rest. I mostly slept on the planes, I was not tired. I went out after consulting the cutest of the concierge. A few block backs, even at 2:30AM was streets bustling with people, cheap toys, street food, pandering locals and 7/11s. About two 7/11s every three blocks.

I arrived at a shrine down a back road, which was colorfully lit up and playing Asian music. If it were a trap to rob unsuspecting tourists by luring in with dancing lights on traditional Chinese architecture, it would have worked.  There was an inviting stillness, just far enough away from the street clamor to have serenity, and enough silence to mug. Incense was burning, which I’m confident means I pray. I pray. I prayed mostly selfish prayers until I realized my self centric focus and extended my wishes to family, friends, the needy, but of course still taking care of myself.   I left a few coins I received in change for the the street food.

The street food I ate was delicious! There was minimal communication, the fella who had been cooking on his portable cart seemed to have made a career of this trade. He wasn’t interested in trying to converse. I pointed to some spherical choice, he bowed his head with half of a smile. I glanced over the options some more, unable to identify anything.  The frail old man served me with a paper bag, “XieXie” (the only Chinese I know).  The food was reaaally good.  For all I know
I was eating dragon balls, but nom. About 20 minutes later my stomach
churned with angry confusion.

temple with flag

My shitty phonetic spelling of new Chinese words!

Hun-kow shin! Leuun shu ni- nice to meet you
Chahmpey- cheers
Hown chjow! – red wine
Bi chjow! White wine
Pee-chjoe! – beer

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Time for Taiwan

The Republic of China, better known as Taiwan, is in the West Pacific, between Japan and The Philippines, about an hour and a half from Hong Kong and three and a half from Bangkok.  It has a population is 23 million.

Separate from China, Taiwan is an island with a square mileage of about 36,000.  Figure that’s a little smaller than two New Jerseys, less than half the pizzerias though.   For those less NY Metro focused, it is about the size of The Netherlands.

taiwan-heart-of-asia

We’re attending the opening ceremony of the Lantern Festival which officially ends the Chinese New Year celebrations!!   CNY is one of the most important and largest holidays for the  culture, lasting 15 days and concluded most notably in Taiwan with said Lantern Festival.    We will be there capturing the excitement on film with a canon XA10 for video blogs.   Between camera, shotgun mic, and SD ultra performance memory cards, it’s about $500 in equipment for the week.

The Year of The Snake is now upon us.  Snakes, known in American cinema for being slimy, creeping and a monstrous, can actually be considered keen, cunning and intelligent. Biblically they’ve been deceptive and evil, yet wasn’t it because of the serpent that man realized he rather be outside the garden with woman than inside without?   Whether you look at a snake as crafty and calm in crises or dark and satanic, we’re celebrating, for new beginning is upon us and who doesn’t love a celebration?

Some quick knowledge to kick about the Chinese Calendar:

  • It’s based on lunar activity
  •  It cycles through rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
  • 2013 is more specifically the year of the Water Snake

Last time it was the year of the  Water Snake, Eisenhower was President, Stalin was being buried and Queen Elizabeth II had just been crowned.   Your final hint, Marilyn Monroe was the centerfold of the very first issue of Playboy.   It was 1953.  If you want to learn more, check out The Year of The Snake. Is the link credible?  I have no idea, but it’s very detailed and super horoscopic.

Taiwan as a sovereign nation maintains diplomatic relations with only 22 nations.  The USA is not one.  The only one in Europe is The Holy See (Vatican City).  Without a seat at the UN, it mostly has informal relations.

Flag of The Republic of China

Geographically, Taiwan is blessed with a range of climates from tropical to temperate with East Asia’s highest Mountain: Jade Mountain.  More than half the area is covered in forested foothills.  They’ve also volcanic mountains and coastal basins.

Taipei is the capital city in economy, politics and culture.  A great fella and friend of mine AD is living in the area.  AD and I explored and exploited the city of Roma, Italia for all it had back in the summers of 08 and 09.  By his wise British accented words this is what I expect:

Taipei: Food, people, culture, nightlife hiking across nature and value of money all awesome.  Shopping, dining and leisure.  Awesome travel choice, often overlooked when passing through Asia.  (We intend to change that)

Places to visit within: National Museum with ancient Chinese artifacts (Which Beijing wants back) Shung Ye Museum of Aborigines

Hot Springs in Beitou or Yangmingshan national park

Gondola by Taipei Zoo (which is also cool) that takes you up into an old tea-growing mountainous area. There are some nice hikes through tea fields that overlook the city. Also a good spot for a nice cold beer!

[Taipei has] awesome mega clubs as well as some cooler alternative hangouts. The music scene there is growing massively, …underground house and nu-disco nights in Taipei and Taichung. The DIY scene rivals any other major city in Asia apart from maybe Tokyo. 

At night check out Shilin Night Market, super famous for food and general market banter. After that you can get some decent grub and go clubbing.

About an hours drive (bus or taxi) from town is a place called Jiufen, a mountain village overlooking the sea which used to be the centre of gold mining in Taiwan. It’s a good day trip and you get to see parts of old traditional village houses.
taiwan prep

We’ll be traveling 30 hours tomorrow through Japan.

Neither of my banks will work, as Taiwan (recognized as China for most political / business relations) will NOT support use over there.  Chase Bank has not been conducive for international travel.   I was refused money for 27 days when I was in the Middle East in 2011.  Do you know what it is like to NOT HAVE ACCESS TO YOUR MONEY IN THE MIDDLE EAST FOR 27 DAYS ?!  Yet, I’m the moron who hasn’t dropped them.   I swear when/if I return from Chiwan, I will.

Air China has poor food reviews.

Ipod is loaded, camera is charged – It is Time for Taiwan.