Saturday, August 19, 2006

Listening to the jade, and religious freedom

I went to the National Palace Museum today. It was well worth the visit, even though I'm still feeling a bit queasy from the bout of TD mentioned earlier. It's probably foolish for me to give a play-by-play of what I saw there, but just imagine: 8000 years of the best of Chinese art, stored in the Forbidden City in Beijing until opened to the public after the 1911 revolution, then stored away for safekeeping during WWII and the Japanese invasion, then shipped to Taiwan as the Maoists were defeating the Nationalists, then opened to the public. The People's Republic of China says the Republic of China (Taiwan) stole it and wants it all back. Taiwan says no way. They must have much more than they are showing--they have galleries that are closed off because they're not finished, and they're doing more construction to add even more gallery space.

I feel I must say a few words about one particular piece, though: a cabbage (Bok choi) made of jade. It was quite life-like, including a tiny grasshopper on its leaves. If you know bok choi, then you know that like celery, the base is white and the top is green. What is amazing is that this piece was carved from a single piece of jade, with white and green parts corresponding exactly to where the color changes in the cabbage. Even the grasshopper is green.

In much of Western art, we make the medium as generic as possible: an empty canvas, a tabula rasa, a blank slate. The production of this is not the art. It can be mass-produced, ready for the consumer, the artist, to put art on it.

The jade cabbage is a case where the medium was definitely NOT generic. Somehow the sculptor had to be in touch with the stone: perhaps he had to look for just the right piece of jade for this project, or perhaps he looked at a piece of jade and asked what potential it had inside it. What it wanted to be.

Some art students learn by making imitations of other artists. Take the same starting materials (as in a laboratory experiment) and do the same thing, to get the same result. Such a procedure could not work with the jade cabbage.

I should mention, however, that most of the artwork in the museum was not like this. With the exception of a jade carp that similarly used the brown and white natural colors of the jade, all the other pieces appeared to treat the medium as background. And perhaps that's because the opportunity to make such an artwork is so rare: it requires just the right piece of jade with an artist who can carry it out, and who can recognize the cabbage in the lump of jade.

The story goes that when this was presented to the Emperor of China at the time, an official said the grasshopper reminded him of the poem where a farmer had riches in his field and did not know of it. The official meant that the Emperor had many talented people in his kingdom, but did not hire them for his most important posts. They don't say what happened to this particular official.

As I exited, there were people handing out flyers, in Chinese, English, and Japanese. They were adherents of Falun Gong, which the People's Republic of China (Communist China) calls a dangerous cult, but most other people call a religious/spiritual group under persecution by the PRC. It's strange: the PRC had persecuted many religious groups in the past, including Christianity, but much of this persecution (at least of Christians) seems to be waning. And yet persecution of Falun Gong has increased since its beginnings in the 1990s. One might be cynical and say that the PRC's improved treatment of Christians comes with the interest in doing business with the United States, while Falun Gong has no major nation backing it up. I guess that makes Falun Gong a better indicator of the PRC's views of religious freedom--we can see how the PRC acts when it doesn't worry about how it will be perceived.

It also got me thinking: how fragile are the legal freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Strictly speaking, the PRC has freedom of religion. But if the religion is seditious, if it is counter-revolutionary, and now, if it is a dangerous cult, then that's another story. In other words, we give you freedom of religion, but we get to say what a religion is.

In the West we use the term "cult". It's not clear what defines the term, except "a religion we don't like". If you're a Christian, it means a group that appears to be Christian but we want you to stay away from (for some reason, perhaps a good one). If you're a secular-minded fellow, the word "cult" means a group that lets religious belief intrude on how one lives one's life, instead of compartmentalizing it "like we do". If you're for individualism, it's any group that attempts to tell you how to behave. If you're against concentration of power, then it's any group that concentrates power in one or a few top leaders.

Was it Jonestown that started this usage? I don't know. Jonestown happened when America was sure that religious freedom was a good thing--that what one believed was one's own business. Then in 1978, after shooting at a congressional delegation to their base in Jonestown, Guyana, Jim Jones's followers committed mass suicide by drinking poisoned kool aid, killing about 1000 in all. All of a sudden, it became clear that not all religions are okay, after all.

And now when you want to malign a religious group, it's easy: just call it a cult. Most religions have beliefs and practices which, to those who have no exposure to them, seem weird. So just bring some of those beliefs and practices to the fore, and any group becomes a "cult".

Some of you know my view of our Evangelical use of the word "cult". If not, ask me about it later.

But the point is that we should be very careful about the term. The Romans had quite a bit of religious freedom: it was more pluralistic than the US today, by far. But they persecuted Christians because they were weird. They were cannibals, eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their religious leader. They didn't participate in civic sacrifices. They wouldn't play along with the societal system of kissing up to those on the top and disregarding those at the bottom. In today's terms, they were a cult. And that was unforgivable.

Now it's true that some cults do a lot of damage. Secularists would point to the brainwashing, the financial and social losses, the breakup of families and friendships. Christians would point to people thinking they're getting saved when they are not. Obviously the nature and extent of the damage in each case depends on your point of view, and there will probably never be consensus on this. But Jonestown proved that there is such a thing as a "bad" religion.

What, though, is a state supposed to do about this? If we hope to have any sort of freedom of religion, the state cannot act against the group merely because of their beliefs. If anything, it must act on punishable actions: assault, child abuse, fraud, etc. But even this satisfies no one: some would say it's too easy to pass laws making some ritual act (say, animal sacrifice, polygamy, or even serving food to the homeless) illegal for the purpose of delegitimizing a religion, and others would say that by the time the cult actually breaks laws, they would have already caused too much damage (Jim Jones might not have been arrestable until he started shooting at people).

This is a tough nut. And this is without getting into freedom of speech (unless you incite to riot or slander?), freedom of the press (except libel and copyright violations?), freedom of assembly (except where it says "no loitering"?), and so on.

I like my freedoms. I wish they weren't so fragile.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wrapping up some loose ends

I must issue an update on an issue I raised last time. I did, in fact, get Traveller's Diarrhea. It was that night, and it was a fairly mild case. Though I had it the rest of the next day, I made it on a two-and-a-half hour flight back to Taipei just fine. I'm able to eat normally and though my gut feels like there's still something weird going on, I'm probably through the whole thing with very little consequence.

I took a taxi to the airport that cost only PhP 350, which is more along the lines of what the travel guide said to expect. One thing I didn't prepare for was a PhP 550 departure fee that everyone must pay in cash when leaving Manila. I actually did see this on the travel itinerary, but I didn't fully realize I had to pay it separately from the cost of the ticket. Now PhP 550 is like US $10, which is fine, but I was so careful about spending my Philippine Pisos pretty exactly by the end, that I didn't have the amount on me. I went to an ATM, and if you've been following my blog, you know that the Manila Airport ATMs don't take my card. I had to exchange US $20 at an airport exchange place. This is fine, but it throws a wrench in the works in my keeping a certain amount of US dollars on me for my return flight in early January. Well, the Hawaii airport ATMs probably take my card, so I'm not too worried, but as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men...

One thing about Manila Airport: They sure have a lot of security checks. To get into the terminal building you need to show your airline ticket or some evidence you're travelling today. Then you get checked again, and you put your luggage through an X-ray machine while you go through a metal detector. Then you check into your flight in the lobby, when they look at your passport and give you a boarding pass. From there to the gate I think there were three more checks, not including customs, immigration, and the regular put-your-carryon-in-the-X-ray routine. They took my boarding pass to get into the gate, of course checking my passport again. I think somewhere along the line, I got frisked. If quantity is a sign of quality, then Manila Airport must be very safe.

I flew to Taipei on EVA Air, which I'd only vaguely heard of before. Based on the map of their flights in their in-flight magazine, it must be based in Taiwan--almost all of their flights involve Taiwan somehow. I'm not sure if EVA is an acronym (pronounced "ee vee ay") or a word (pronounced "eh-vah" or "ee-vah"). It's possible it's related to the Evergreen bus company I saw a lot of in Taipei.

EVA Air was one of the most comfortable flights I've experienced, and that's without realizing that to recline your seat, you don't push the round metallic button, but lift a small brown lever (I discovered this when we were landing and people had to lift it to put their seatbacks in their upright position). The seats were wide, and the bottom of the seat pushes out like a Lazy-boy. The food was also excellent: a full meal, for once, on an airline. They even had metal utensils!

I may have said this before, but I'm going to hang out with a friend in Taipei. That is, if we can make contact. I have no idea when his flight comes in. Just in case he arrived shortly after me, I stayed around the arrival area. They have comfortable seats, and video screens so that people who are looking for someone coming in can watch everyone who comes out of customs. You can even get wireless internet access, or so I assume; I couldn't figure it out. I did supply my credit card number but instead of giving me a username and password, it kicked me back to the main menu. It didn't help that most of the instructions were in Chinese.

I checked into the Cosmos Hotel again (nothing beats familiarity) and they only had the somewhat more expensive rooms this time. I decided to take it (I can afford it and it beats wandering around Taipei looking for another hotel). It was nicer and bigger, and it's on a corner so I get views in both directions. Now, I'm on the 7th floor in a major metropolitan area, so this means, of course, that I get a view of office buildings. But it is a view.

My priorities on a hotel room are roughly as follows (not counting price), from most to least important:
1. It's a room where I can leave my stuff, sleep, and relax
2. I can take a shower and use the restroom facilities
3. It's got internet access
4. It's comfortable and clean
Not at all a priority: nice views, TV (am I going to spend my vacation watching TV?), fancy lampshades, fake flower arrangements, artistic sintered glass division between the bathroom and the bedroom, a nice couch, etc.

Yet, if I want internet access, it's assumed I want all the rest. Not that I'm complaining. but it does seem a waste. In Manila my room didn't even have internet access and the decor was still well above what I would care to pay for.

Well, it's off to the National Palace Museum, where you can find all the really cool stuff that was taken from Beijing when the Maoists pushed the Nationalists out.

edit: While we're tying up loose ends, I CAN put my VONS club card (instead of my hotel room card key) into the slot to turn on the lights. Thanks, whoever posted that comment.

edit on Aug. 20, 2006: I tried my Malibu Yogurt card, and it works. My business card, and it works. I think anything of the proper shape and opaque will work.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

To learn before seeing

If you're following this blog closely, don't worry--I don't plan on updating as frequently as I have as a general rule. But I have to check my email frequently for logistical reasons (meeting up with my friend in Taipei, hoping to hear from my friend in Manila, arranging for how I will be meeting people in Hong Kong) and the internet cafe I'm using in Manila has a PhP 30 minimum which means I'd might as well use the time. That and it's air conditioned in the internet cafe. That and I have more time now since I'm not hanging out with friends. My computer is now my friend, for now.

I went sightseeing today in Manila, going around the old walled city called Intramuros. The Philippines were converted to Christianity by Augustinian monks, which like their namesake has always emphasized the grace given us by Jesus's sacrifice, just as the most famous Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, who to his shock and amazement, began the Protestant Reformation.

A lady outside a cathedral there insisted I take her literature attached to a plastic rosary, and asked for a donation for "prayers". Fairly Catholic. But the literature was pretty Evangelical. Recognize you're a sinner, know that Jesus died for you on the Cross, repent, ask for forgiveness, all that. Of course the literature had stuff related to Mary, but it was all in the context of asking her help in praying to Jesus. Of course, all of this is Catholic. Just the emphasis is Augustinian.

I've discovered something about myself. It's hard to be enthusiastic about sightseeing when I don't know much about the background. I didn't really prepare very much for my trip to the Philippines. For instance, it was only this morning that I read in my guidebook that I should never take a taxi from the departures area in the airport because they'll try to scam you. Ah, well. But the reason i wasn't sufficiently prepared was I was planning on seeing Manila with a friend who was local, so I figured I didn't need to read up myself.

So today, I saw where Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed. No, I didn't know who he was before today. If I had known before I arrived that he was basically a George Washingon figure for the Philippines I probably would have seen the whole area in a new light. But I wasn't prepared. Now it was moving to read some of his sayings and see exhibits about his life and death, but I suspect the effect would have been more if I had known more beforehand, for instance, reading some of the novels he wrote or learning about the Philippine struggle for independence from Spain (and then from the US and then from Japan).

Rizal was an intellectual who stood up for his country against Spanish rule in the 1890s, and before he was executed wrote a poem that got smuggled out in an oil lamp, "Mi Ultimo Adios" that is now treasured by many in the Philippines:
or in translation
He seems to be quite an admirable man, loyal to his Filipino roots while fully conversant with European learning; fully committed to his Christian faith but not afraid to question what he had been taught about it; embracing his Filipino worldview and yet Modernist in his love of reason. Why hadn't I heard of him before? Surely there are many more such people all around the world, and yet in our globalized culture we are still so parochial we only meet in our educational system the writers who have affected our locale.

When students come to Hong Kong this Fall, I hope they will be more prepared for what they will see. They've read a book on Hong Kong last Spring, but I hope they will do more. I'm most concerned about our educational field trip, actually, because that's going to be to Vietnam. And I'm guessing most of the students don't know squat about Vietnam. I assume that because that's roughly true of me as well. How will we prepare for Vietnam? I'm not sure.

I'm also going to see if there's interest in a student trip to Xi'an. There I do know a bit, but I now recognize that a crucial part of getting students to come will be to learn even more and share some of these ideas with the students well ahead of time. Maybe even inspire them to find out more on their own (if possible).

On another topic, I'm surprised I haven't faced traveler's diarrhea yet. I'm generally pretty careful, but I noticed a few times when I've slipped. Last night I went to an all-you-can-eat buffet (they called it "eat all you can" which makes it sound even more of a gluttonous challenge) and the trouble is, I don't know what any of the dishes are supposed to taste like, so I don't have a good way of telling how good it was. It mostly tasted very good, except for one dish which my mouth reacted to badly. Maybe the trouble was it looked like chopped up chicken so when it tasted slippery and damp I was surprised. Then the fact that the tables were a bit sticky and there was a fly that kept on trying to land on my plate, and the fact that the floor, tiled with half-inch by half-inch linoleum squares set at an angle, was missing a few tiles in quite a large number of places, so that mopping the floor would be a herculean task, all then converged to make me... well, get something else from the buffet instead.

This morning I couldn't find a good breakfast place offhand, so I stopped at a convenience store, and got a couple of canned juices, a candy bar, and a small package of what looked like chocolate-covered thin wafer rolled into a tube. When I opened it I was surprised of a few things in this order: the packaging had arabic translations, it came from Turkey, the tube wafers were very fragile and crumbly and in fact a bit damp, they tasted okay except that the dampness made for a slightly mushy texture, then there were small bugs crawling around in the wafers I hadn't yet eaten.

I realized that if I threw it away I would have to deal with bugs in my room tonight, so I threw away the tubes in the toilet, and spat out what I could. In retrospect, this product was probably safe. Most bugs are not carrying dangerous diseases, and in fact the fact that the bugs were enjoying this pastry product was perhaps a sign that I might survive it too. But if I had to do it over again, I would still spit it out. Actually if I really had the power to do things over I wouldn't have bought the thing in the first place. Bugs don't live very long--they must have been packaged as eggs and they must have hatched recently (I only saw two or so, so there can't have been many generations living in the package).

For lunch I ate at what looked like a very nicely furnished restaurant, but I did notice a fly buzzing by. Which would have been fine if not for the fact that due to the previous experiences, I was on my guard. It was a buffet again, and though it was more expensive, the rich (even opulent) appearance set my mind at ease.

The museum attached to the St. Augustine Cathedral was enormous and had some very nice displays. It also lets you into the Cathedral itself which has Trompe l'Oeil painting everywhere (meaning it is intended to make you believe it is 3-dimensional, with columns and statues, even though it is just painted on a flat surface).

There is a memorial nearby to those innocents who have died in war, and in particular those Filipino civilians who died in WWII. The monument is very moving, and there were fresh flowers placed on the statue of the victims. Before and after pictures of the bombing of Manila were also poignant. Many people say that this is just an unavoidable part of the cost of war. I agree. But why is it that no one counts this cost when people are bandying about calling for the need to go to war?

It's very hot and muggy. I went to my hotel room before the end of the day, mostly because I was looking forward to the air conditioning. When I got out, I saw that it had rained pretty heavily while I was inside. This is the best way to experience a monsoon rain. The air was now clearer and not as muggy. I should mention the pollution which is pretty bad. I haven't had trouble breathing, exactly, but when the guidebook talks about Manila sunsets, I haven't seen one yet because of the haze.

Tomorrow, I head back to Taipei.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I'm not really enjoying myself in Manila.

Why not? I think it has to do with noticing how my taxi driver from the airport was trying to rip me off, or how one guy (Luis, he says his name is) was trying to sell me fake Rolex watches and wouldn't take no for an answer. These things are not so bad, really. It's just that it has generated a feeling of mistrust with me. For the first time since my first travel experiences alone, I feel the need to wear a money belt, to worry about what I leave out in the hotel room for the hotel staff to find, to constantly be aware of my wallet and passport. I hadn't felt this way in poor areas of Mexico or in Honduras. I think it has to do with the fact that the experiences I mentioned were situations where the other person was trying to see what they could get out of me. I feel that I'm in a game, and my opponents are watching, ready for me to slip up so that they can steal my stuff. Now paranoia can be a useful thing when travelling to a new city, but it can be tiring.

As it turns out, I haven't heard from my friend in Manila, so he's probably not here. And a friend in Taiwan will be there, so I just booked another ticket back to Taipei and from Taipei to Hong Kong. I got a reasonable price for the deal, so I don't mind giving up on the flight from Manila to Hong Kong. And the irony is that I bought this ticket in Manila, which changes my view of the place favorably.

I'll check out a few sights in Manila today, then leave for Taipei tomorrow.

In Manila

I'm in Manila now. I was supposed to hook up with a friend in Manila, but it's not clear he's in town now. Ron, if you're out there, email me.

It took me some time to find an ATM machine that I could use. I'm so used to just popping in my ATM card as soon as I arrive at a new country that it didn't occur to me that my ATM card might be on a different network. It turns out that neither of the ATMs at the airport are compatible with my card. Since I had some US dollars, I bought a small orange juice at an airport cafeteria-like restaurant, paying with a 20-US dollar bill and getting the change in Philippine Pesos.

Going by the guidebook, and estimating using their maps, I figured it should be 100 PhP to get a taxi to my hotel. He quoted me 530 PhP. I was weak and said OK--it's still much less than I would pay for a similar ride in the US. Along the way he mentioned that the price is actually 900 PhP, producing an official-looking laminated card that showed that all hotels are 900 PhP. When I suggested he didn't have to drop me off at the hotel per se, he relented, though not without asking for a tip in exchange.

It didn't seem like he really worked for anybody, or at least anybody who would know what he was charging. He didn't run his meter (partly why I asked for an estimate up front).

He was sufficiently unfamiliar with the area that he kept asking for the map in my guidebook I used to show him where the hotel was, and yet knew enough of the area to try to push on me an alternate hotel which wasn't described in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

My first choice had no vacancies. The taxi driver was still there when I got out and I avoided getting back into his taxi, and walked around the block to another hotel in my guidebook.

Along the way someone tried to sell me "Rolex" watches. He followed me quite far, though that might be because his base of operations was right next to the hotel I was headed to. I saw him later and he tried selling me Rolexes again, then US Silver Dollars, which he called "GI silver dollars". When I explained I didn't need anything, he suggested maybe he could get me a woman. Though by this time I was right next to my hotel, I didn't go in. I didn't want him to know where I was staying.

Traffic in both Manila and Taipei goes wherever it wants to go. Even more so in Manila. One might think that this would be stressful for pedestrians. It wasn't. In Taipei, someone was crossing the street with the green light but without the walk signal. Cars were turning with a protected arrow, but he walked right into the stream of cars and they went around him. I walked right behind him, using him as a barrier against the cars, and sure enough, no one hit us. In Manila, I found I could just walk into a stream of cars (they're not moving very fast: it's gridlock, though the term "grid" should be taken very loosely) and weave my way through the traffic, and everyone moves into the new lanes created by this maneuver.

In a way, traffic is like a dance. Traffic in the US and some European countries (like Germany) is like a waltz--it's orderly and it works because everyone knows what they can expect from everyone else. Traffic in Manila is like a rave--it's disorderly but improvisational. It works because everyone is ready for anything and knows how to respond to the others' moves with grace.

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.