Sunday, April 9th, 2006
All The Nations Airports
As I sit in the departure lounge of Taipei’s Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport, I’ve done some tallying up. In the past seven months, I’ve set foot in thirteen countries, set my watch for ten time zones, carried around eleven different currencies and cleared security in nine international airports. That’s a whole lotta air miles (though, ironically, it’s all been with different airlines so I haven’t collected enough frequent flier points to get me anywhere at all). Those of you who’ve been inclined to do so have been able to follow along with my journeys as they went, and I thank you for bearing with me when I shifted gears abruptly from this site’s usual content. It’s kind of funny to think that prior to the start of all this, I didn’t travel at all. Aside from a jaunt out to the Pacific northwest in the Summer of 2004 and Las Vegas a few months before that, I hadn’t been anywhere of consequence in… five years? And probably eight more years before that. But hellz I’ve made up for that…
About half this last trip was spent in Taipei, Taiwan, a place my roots pass directly through, if not lead to. There were no tours, no agendas, just some light sightseeing and visiting family friends, lots of restauranting and whatnot. I visited the National Palace Museum, home of many ancient Chinese artifacts and a sizable collection of Buddhist statues and illuminations, the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial , a massive park in the heart of the city dedicated to the Nationalist Chinese leader who led those fleeing the Communists to establish the modern Republic of China, aka Taiwan. It’s an impressive monument that served as a gentle reminder of how little I know of Chinese history, modern or otherwise.
As for the rest of the time there, there was a lot of taxi rides in a city that seems to pay no heed whatsoever to traffic laws. Motorcyclists weave in and out of traffic willy-nilly, taxis, buses and cars following close behind. It’s pretty fearsome to the uninitiated – you couldn’t pay me to get behind the wheel of a car there. The cabbies have been pretty funny, though, mostly ready to go on at length about any and every topic while weaving their way to your destination. Except for the last guy – he had a full surround sound home theatre set up in his cab, and ran movies for his passengers. Considerate, though Final Destination isn’t really what I want to see en route to the airport. I also don’t think the words “emissions test” exist in Chinese, because the pollution on warmer days (of which there were a few) was pretty stifling. A nasty grey haze is pretty standard, making their decision to build the world’s tallest building there a rather questionable one. They could very well just be SAYING it’s as tall as it is because no one at street level will ever be able to see the top.
Taipei at night is a somewhat different proposition. It’s significantly cooler and more pleasant, the air clearer and the streets still bustle, but at a slightly more leisurely pace. And the lighting from all the fluorescent signs creates an electric night atmosphere, but thankfully doesn’t illuminate the grime. It helps that all the shops are open late, there’s lots of street vendors and night markets and generally a lot of energy that creates a pretty nice vibe.
And cliched but no less interesting is the constant and comical misuse of English in Taiwanese signs, commercials, clothing, etc. It puzzles me that a TV spot will run entirely in Chinese, and yet the corporate slogan at the end is in English. Who is that for? But what’s really disconcerting is when the broken, random English begins to make some sense… that right there is a sign that it’s time to go home. Also surprising was the ubiquity of the 7-11. The convenience stores are everywhere and seem to be a fundamental part of day-to-day life. People actually buy their meals there, though I don’t think they sold slurpees.
Another thing I noticed was the hordes of stray dogs wandering the streets. And not just your prototypical mangy mongrel types, though there were plenty of those. I saw big dogs, little dogs, malnourished dogs and well-kept dogs just wandering around, in traffic (see above note about crazy drivers – not a good combination) and just anywhere they pleased and seeming to have a good time of it. Very odd coming from a place where real stray dogs are almost never seen.
And now I’m very much looking forward to going home. Getting back to my life, whatever that was/is. I hardly remember. Also looking forward to speaking English to people (and being understood). It’s the little things, you know? Not so looking forward to eighteen hours of flying, but what can you do.
Oh, and speaking of travel and Final Destination, this was the ship that ferried me around the Baltic Sea last September. I might even go so far as to say that the section of the ship that was on fire was where my cabin was. Pretty scary, kids.
Anyway, that’s all from the eastern hemisphere. Bye.
PS – there’s been a big update on my Flickr page. Photos through the first day at Hualien are up – still about a week’s worth to go, but we’re getting there.