Day One: From Paradise to Pandemonium

This is the story of how I traveled to the future and what happened when I got there.

Part I:

On December 8th, the day of my flight, I slept in until late afternoon (3:00) but I somehow managed to finish packing before leaving at 5:00. My mom drove me to the airport, we said our goodbyes, and then I was off. Everything went smoother than I could have imagined. There were no miracles performed or anything, things just went smoothly.

Here’s a short list of things that were good:

  • My bag was only 48 lbs.
  • Security had a long line but went very quickly.
  • No charge for food and drinks on my flight to LA.
  • Free in-flight internet (Thanks Google!)
  • I navigated LAX with ease while on the phone with Taylor Carr.
  • Sat next to a Vietnamese girl who spoke English very well and suggested all sorts of things to do in Taiwan.
  • Despite a 40 minute delay before our take-off , we were only 2 minutes late of the original arrival time.
  • I passed through customs with no questions and my bag was already waiting for me when I walked up to the belt.
  • I successfully bought a ticket and took a bus from the airport to the high speed rail station.
  • Got on the right train with only seconds before it was to leave.
  • Got a taxi to the hostel with a driver who knew no English and me knowing no chinese. (Thanks again google!)
  • Met with the hostel owner who spoke English well and she gave me a hand-drawn map of the city with points of interest highlighted.

Even though the trip to get here was ridiculously long it felt like it was as efficient as possible. There were no instances where I was waiting on anything. This is what it felt like: You know how when you’re in between two mirrors your reflection is infinite in both and it almost looks like a tunnel? Imagine that instead of you in the reflection it was a bunch of automatic glass doors, like the ones you see when entering any target, best buy, etc. Now imagine walking through all those doors, each one magically opening as you near it. I was like Neo.

Part II:

Before I leave you all thinking that I was somehow able to control my own destiny, there was one downside during the trip. I was seated in the center seat of the center aisle, which was located directly above the landing gear and between the engines. There were no air vents above our seats and the plane was hot. I’d honestly never experienced a hot plane before, but after having experienced it, I don’t recommend it. If you think being cramped in one space for an extended period of time is bad. Imagine being cramped for a very extended period of time and having your back sweat through most of the flight. Add on to that being seated in the worst row in the worst aisle of this sad plane. Yes, our row was unfortunate enough to have black metal boxes under the seats in front of us. The area where you typically can push out your legs a bit, all gone. I don’t think I ever want to keep my knees bent at a 90 degree angle for 14 hours straight again. The final touch was the babies. I’m normally not too bothered by babies on airplanes. I understand that new mothers still need to travel places and their babies are a part of that. I accept all of the unavoidable crying and ear-piercing screams. I sympathize with the mothers whose attempts to calm their babies fail and whom have to deal with the embarrassment of glares and passive aggressive throat-clearing from the surrounding passengers. My brain somehow identifies the situation and allows me to zone them out. This flight however was the exception. There was a trifecta. Yes, three babies all within my danger zone. I was like a child with a front row seat at the Shamu show. I really had no idea how bad things could get.  As the engines roared so did the babies. Their formation was that of a triangle, there was a baby in the row to the right of me, there was a baby in the row to the left of me, and there was a baby sitting directly behind me. Picture yourself on a 14 hour flight, you’re becoming tired, your back is stiffening and sweating, all you want to do is sleep a little. Impossible! The baby behind you is out to ruin you. What do you do? Do you try and sleep upright or do you risk waking the beast when you recline your seat? This was my dilemma. It was a tough call but eventually I reclined. I later found some ear plugs I had stuffed down in my bag, which definitely helped me to rest some. I managed to get a little sleep, probably like 3 hours worth despite all of the infants.

I went on a lot longer about the plane ride than I expected to, so let me finish out the rest of the dreary details in list form as I did above.

  • Walked several blocks to get a pay as you go cell phone. No one spoke any English but I figured out I needed a passport with me.
  • Walked home, grabbed passport, went back. I was handed a cellphone to talk to the shop’s owner who told me I also needed an ARC or Taiwan ID. Walked home in defeat.
  • Took a long cab ride to the other side of the town to visit Sun language school. I saw the sign and walked in. I was met with the most bizarre looks ever. A bunch of women stared at me like I was a freak and whispered to one another. Eventually after asking them a few questions in English with no response, I heard, “They move!” So I walked a bunch of blocks to find an expensive cab ride home.

As negative as it may sound, my first day was not entirely filled with failure.

The owner of the hostel I’m staying at has been very helpful and kind. She’s given me some advice on other ways to get a phone and she’s e-mailed me a list of schools that are located in Taichung to consider visiting. A guy I’ve been talking to named Mike has given me a lot of advice and encouragement. He’s letting me sit in on a Chinese class at his school and I’m expecting to meet with him later this week to have a beer and talk. He owns his own language school and speaks Mandarin, so he’s a very knowledgeable guy and someone I respect a lot. I already owe him a ton for answering my seemingly infinite amount of questions. I met another Mike towards the end of day one in the lobby of the hostel. He also gave me some advice and some hope. He said it took him several months to find a job but he was eventually hired and now lives comfortably. Even later on day one, something else good happened. I met the only other person staying at the hostel. She’s from Malaysia and speaks Mandarin and English although it has been a struggle sometimes. I went to the Feng Shia Night Market with her  and looked at all the cheap clothing and tons of different food. One of these types of food is a Taiwanese staple called “Stinky Tofu” and it definitely lives up to its name. As I walked through the streets of the market I saw tons of people eating it! I was curious to try some myself but I couldn’t bring myself to wait in a long line for something that smells that awful. I ended up eating a piece of fried chicken that was a shape I’d never seen before. It seriously looked about the size of a piece of paper only a bit thicker and had all these little bones in it that Elaine (girl from malaysia) said you were supposed to chew up and eat. I really didn’t want to eat the little bones but I also didn’t want to spit them out. It’s considered rude to spit and I didn’t want to call any more attention than I was already receiving as a westerner so I swallowed, ugh… That was pretty much it for the night, except for the cab ride home, which was nice because the driver was playing Rachmaninov. I enjoyed riding in the cabs with Elaine ten fold more because of the animated conversations she had with the drivers. All the cab rides I’ve experienced so far have been dead silent, no music even.

That is it for day one, but I’ll keep updating as the days go by and more craziness goes down.

– Calvin

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Calvin, this is so interesting. You’re like a more personable Anthony Bourdain and a less disgusting Andrew Zimmern. Are there many public wifi hotspots you can connect to and use your iPhone with? You should definitely take some pictures/videos to accompany this this: it’s fascinating!

    Keep writing! I want to hear all the details, regardless of how mundane you think they might be!

    Reply

  2. Zack,
    Firstly, why are you awake so early on a saturday morning?
    To answer your question though, there is wifi at the hostel I’m staying at. I’m uncertain where I’ll be after this hostel though, so I may be out of internet for a little while. I plan to keep writing daily and if I am out of internet I should have a backlog of all my posts on my computer. So you may get a few days worth at once. I’m hoping that soon enough I’ll get a job and subsequently have my own place with an internet connection. Of course you’ll know about all that from reading this blog. At the moment though, I’m spending most of my time on my computer reading up on jobs, interviews, etc. so don’t expect a ton of exciting things. I did drink some crazy good tea today though and I think I’m going to leave right now to buy more. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. I did bring my video camera, so get ready for Taiwan in 1080p my friend.
    – Cal

    Reply

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