Tuesday, August 15, 2006

To Hawaii and Taiwan

In my trip to Hong Kong I wasn't sure exactly when I might have internet access. As it turns out, on my first stop, Honolulu, I was staying at a friend's place (Dave Komatsu) who had internet, but updating a blog would take out too much time from hanging out with Dave and other friends, so I didn't do it.

Now I'm staying in a hotel room in Taipei, and staying up way too late given that I have to get up early for my flight tomorrow morning to Manila, but since there's no one to hang out with, I'm blogging.

Lots has happened, but I'll only give the highlights, in the form of travel advice (lots of travel advisories going around now, so I'll give my own):

1. When your mom says you have to be there four hours ahead of time, take her seriously but only so far. She took me from my house in Calabasas with 3 hours and 4o minutes to spare, and we hit traffic. We ended up at the airport with 2 hours to spare, and since the first leg was a domestic flight (LAX to Honolulu) I was there in plenty of time. There were no long lines for security checkpoints. Pretty much all the passengers had gotten the message not to bring shampoo in your carry-on luggage. But arriving this early saved me from another issue:

2. While it is true that just about anything you forget, you can buy when you get there, this is DEFINITELY NOT true about a few things. It is good to keep this very small list in your mind when hurriedly packing because your mother suggested you leave at 3pm to make an 8pm flight and you haven't started packing at 3pm yet. In my case, this was a passport. But my roommate James came through for me, driving an hour and twenty minutes in LA traffic and then back, just to bring me my passport. My mom was driving me to the airport and we were just about entering the airport when it just hit me: I forgot my passport. It's not "I wonder if I packed my passport" or "Hm... it's not in my backpack; it might be in my luggage". No, I distinctly remember NOT taking my passport out of the place I was keeping it.

3. Getting together with friends is interesting--even though I hadn't been good about keeping in touch with many of my friends from high school, when we get together, it's as if no time has elapsed. Sure, we're older, have different perspectives, and may look a bit differently, but the relationship continued as if unpaused.

4. The past few times I had gone to Hawaii, I was surprised at changes--stores that used to be one thing were bought out, new areas of town opened up, etc. It had been 10 years since I visited Hawaii, and this time I was surprised how little things have changed. I think I just extrapolated in my mind based on my previous few visits, and found I had overpredicted change. Sometimes things stay the same. Sure, there are new shopping complexes and there are some stores that I think of as mainland stores that have opened in Hawaii, but overall, most of the things I remembered were still there: the neighborhood around my house is the same (except for one house that burned down, and the house where I grew up in is now painted white), the streets to get to the freeway are the same, my high school has a few more things but otherwise looks the same, etc.

5. As a Japanese American in Hawaii, I was immediately known as Japanese. On the mainland, people don't quite know the difference between the various East Asian groups by look. And with my darker skin and heavy build, people don't classify me as Japanese very quickly. In fact, when they find out I was born in Hawaii, they identify me as Hawaiian first. In Hawaii, the term "Hawaiian" means Native Hawaiian, which I am not, so this is a bit jarring to me, but I know they simply mean "someone from Hawaii" so I let it slide. Now I'm in China, and even from boarding the China Air flight from Honolulu to Taipei, stopping in Tokyo, everyone in the tourist business immediately spots me as Japanese, and starts giving me instructions in Japanese. I sometimes reply to them in English to indicate I prefer that langauge, and sometimes I respond in Japanese if I'm able to if I don't think it's worth the bother. But this addresses an issue I was wondering about: would people in Hong Kong think of me as Japanese? And would this cause any problems for me? I'll see.

6. When buying a ticket from Philippine Air, only believe half the things you hear or read. The ticket I bought over the internet from Taipei to Manila listed a confirmation with a string of characters containing the string 26AUG, which is disconcerting since I actually wanted to have a flight on the 16th of August. I called Philippine Air and they told me my reservation was for the 16th. I also belatedly noticed that my email did NOT say I had an e-ticket. Rather I was supposed to pick up my ticket from some office in downtown Taipei. Which I don't know my way around. I went to the Philippine Air counter in the Taipei airport when I arrived asking about this, and they said they actually wanted people to come to the airport and not the address on the email I got. Well, I'll see tomorrow what happens.

7. Taipei Airport is hard to get around if you want to do anything out of the ordinary. In my case, go from Terminal 2 baggage claim/arrival to Terminal 1 departures to talk with the aforementioned Philippine Air ticket agent, then down to the buses to Taipei downtown. To go between the terminals, the signs point you to a corridor to an elevator to a walkway, past barricades that force you to uncouple your suitcases, into a monorail, past other barricades, to another elevator, to another corridor, until you're outside and you have to get back in to the terminal. To go down to the buses was easy, but since I was coming from departures, not arrivals, I didn't see the bus ticket counters and just waited for the bus, until I was told I needed to go buy a ticket from a counter.

8. Pay attention to the International Dateline when planning your trip. I forgot and thought I would have 2 nights in Taipei, and as it turns out, I have only 1. That means I have basically zero days and 1 night, if "day" means anything open 9am to 5pm. My flight was supposed to have arrived at 4:30pm but it arrived closer to 5:30pm because of various delays. And in any case it takes an hour to go from the airport to the city by bus.

9. When arriving in Taipei, find a location as close as you can to an MTR station. I chose the Cosmos Hotel (Tiancheng DaFanDian) because it was also close to the bus that takes you to the airport. This hotel is not the cheapest around, but I'm only staying 1 night (see above). For NT300 (about 10 US dollars) you can get internet access. It's a comfortable room but the bed is firm (which I actually like). The weirdest thing about it is that your card key is also what turns on the lights: you put your key in a slot and the lights turn on, until you take your key out.

10. Things to do in Taipei if you are there zero days and one night: Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall: The hall is closed, but people hang around and practice Tai Ch'i, ballroom dancing, martial arts, and so on. And you can see Sun Yat Sen surrounded by tablets with various sayings in Chinese. It's also a very impressive building (from the outside: the inside closes at 5pm). Next: Taipei 101. It's a huge shopping mall with brands so expensive I can't even afford to look at the items. Or so I assume--I shielded my eyes and wandered around the huge complex, until I found on the 5th floor you can take an elevator to the top of the world's tallest building. I guess it's a sign of the times or else a sign of Taiwan culture that the other tallest buildings in recent history, like the Empire State or the World Trade Center or the Sears Building, were mostly business offices, except for the tiny bit for tourists, but Taipei 101 has a huge shopping center at the entrance instead. The basement of Taipei 101 has some good food in a huge food court but many of these close between 9 and 10pm. After this, go to the ShiLin Night Market. They have food too that is cheaper but they don't have whole meals: you have to construct your own from various booths, and then you don't have a place to sit. But you can look at weird trinkets being sold or practical things like clothes. As for me, I still have places left in my journey so it makes no sense to buy anything at all here. I bet some Pepperdine students would love it, though.

There are my 10 travel tips.
I guess the 11th should be not to blog too late at night when you have a flight to catch in the morning. Yikes. Bye.


At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Now I'm in China, and even from boarding the China Air flight from Honolulu to Taipei, stopping in Tokyo, everyone in the tourist business immediately spots me as Japanese, and starts giving me instructions in Japanese."

Whether Taipei/Taiwan is "in China" or not is a very hotly contested issue. Making this statement in some parts/environments in Taiwan could get you in very serious trouble. Most Taiwanese think of themselves both as Taiwanese and as Chinese, at least culturally, but the majority do not want to "reunify" with the People's Republic of China on the PRC's terms. They value their democracy and human rights and do not wish to be slowly boiled, HK-style, into the fascist dictatorship that is mainland China.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Kevin Iga said...

True. There was a time when folks from both Taiwan and the PRC would say "Taiwan is part of China" (though meaning different things). Being "part of China" does not mean "should be unified with the PRC", necessarily. Now, of course, there is also a contingent who see themselves as truly separate from China, not just separate from the PRC. In some ways this is what most of the world had already decided a long time ago.

Of course, this was just sloppiness on my part. I wasn't making a political comment here intentionally--I should have just said "Now I'm in Taiwan".

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Kevin Iga said...

In my defense, it was something like 2 in the morning when I posted this. I think I can claim this as a typo.

While I'm at it I should have mentioned (if this is to be a travel tip format) that going to the top of Taipei 101 is NT350 (about 10 US dollars). It goes up in about 36-37 seconds, and descends in about 44-45 seconds. I say all of this now so I can throw out the ticket before I pack, and then Lonely Planet can include this info (their guidebook was printed before the observation deck was open to the public).

At 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Expect the hotel doorkeys to controll the lights (and all other power) in the rooms in Hong Kong too.

I think it saves a lot of $ on the airconditioning to have things turn off when no one is there.

Most of them seem to work with any kind of card though. So if you want to leave for a short period without the room overheating (or to leave your laptop to charge) just pop your VONS clubcard in there.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger Robert E. Williams said...

Kevin: Since you got a little help on the passport thing, it sounds like the trip is off to a very good start. I hope you have a great semester. I'll be checking the blog frequently.


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