We make holes in teeth!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Day 14: Packed and Planed

This is going to be a "dual day" entry. The first part is the day in Taiwan and the second is the flight back. By the time this is posted I'll be back on the ground on the other side of the world. This is a long final entry I suspect. If you just care what the final weigh-in is, see the last paragraph. As a reminder I started at 186. The fact I'm admitting what the post-trip number is should be foreshadowing.

I wake up at 7:15 after a lousy night of sleep. I've about had enough rock and air beds to last me for a while. None of us slept well as it seemed we were all up sporadically through the night. I'm itchy to go home, having had a lousy night of sleep. The idea of a nice bed sounds insanely good right now since I'm pretty beat. Before we went to bed last night Nat admitted she was also partially ready to go. Usually it's me and my inability to speak the language that makes the trip hard. But obviously doing it all with child is much more difficult than with husband. Of course part of her likes being there as well so she's not going to change her flight or anything.

The flight leaves at 7:10 pm tonight, local time, and gets to Newark at 9:30 pm local time, same date. So all that time we lost going there comes back to me today. I only lose 2 hours and 20 minutes of "real" time, which of course isn't real at all since time is a construction in our own mind, in a way. While not pondering the nature of time, I took an early shower to start the day before anyone woke up. Nat and Julia slept away. Nat had an even crappier sleep than I did and tried to catch a few more winks. Calvin woke up shortly after I showered.

I went out to try my hand at finding breakfast for us and I was saddened to learn that nothing was open this morning. I think I mentioned that today is the presidential election in Taiwan, so the offices are closed and thus the food stalls are closed. No workers means no eaters. That relegated me to the bakery, which is an assortment no better than we can get back home. I was able to order coffee from the 7-11 again, which is old hat now. Big deal, Norm orders coffee in Taiwan. The same kid was behind the counter. I'm going to miss that fuzzy headed kid. I would call him a dead-ender but I think he's young, doubtfully there as a lifer.

Julia wakes up and I take her out of bed, then Nat gets out of bed 10 minutes later. She, Calvin, and I talk about the next trip, his potential next trip, us living there, him living in the US, and all the various ramifications of all of those situations. None of it was Earth shattering but it was good conversation. Calvin likes speaking English, and likes talking to Nat and I because we're not caught up in the culture quirks and he has to deal with when he talks to his parents or even his wife to some extent.

After that I start my packing madness. To me that means organizing everything we all have and just taking what they don't need. It minimizes the room for error. I'm a pretty low-key guy but with packing I turn totally type A and make sure no detail is left out. When the in-laws arrive they have our forgotten items from Lotung and I'm left to finish my business and that's that. By 11:00 I'm pretty much done packing. Grace constructed a box for the canned fish and children's clothes that would likely survive being dropped from 34,000 feet. Yes, I have a box of canned fish and children's clothes and nothing else.

Shortly after Nat's parents leave with Grace to go vote. They all vote Green Party. They bring back a small lunch which is really outstanding. It's a pastry that is wrapped around meat and then fried - think along the same "construction" lines as a Jamaican beef patty, but different insides and slightly different shell. It tastes even better than it sounds. By the time we're done gnawing on that the day is half over before I know it. My total luggage pile is one huge suitcase packed to the gills, a homemade box of fish and clothes, an orange carry-on, a portable DVD player, and a jacket. 5 things to make sure I remember. 1-2-3-4-5. Like I said, type A.

Before she naps I try and get some quality time with Julia but she just wants to play like normal, of course. When I'm not packing I just observe her and play here and there. When I told her I was leaving yesterday she seemed concerned but today doesn't seem to understand, which is better from my perspective. I'd prefer she didn't really get upset about me leaving. I can worry for both of us and she can have fun playing.

I'm nervous about going, for several reasons, but a lot of it is because I don't love flying. I may need to throw a few back at the airport to make the takeoff that much more bearable. I am getting more used to it now though because I've been through it a few times. I'll be happy when I can be merely indifferent about flying. I guess this is a big step that I'm doing such a big trip solo. Well, I mean without anyone I actually know.

Calvin and I go and lunch #2 which is a pick-it-yourself Szechuan stand down in the basement. This is my last meal on the ground in Taiwan and it's a good one. Surprised we hadn't tried it out yet. Tasty stuff.

Nat's dad says we should leave early because the election traffic is mad. That bums me out beyond belief because it means I might not get to see Julia before I go. Not the end of the world but I want to wake up with her and maybe read her a story or something before I have to set sail. If I just look at her that kinda blows. As it gets closer to 3:00 that becomes my biggest concern. For Calvin and company the traffic is a bigger concern because they need to figure out what time we need to leave.

Eventually it appears that the traffic is not that bad and we're going to leave at 3:45 to be on the safe side. Julia wakes up at 3:10 so that gives me a sold half hour to play with her. Eventually Nat decides they're both going to come to the airport with me, and Grace and Lydia as well. So it's a group trip. We hit the road at 3:55. It takes us all of 40 minutes to get there which translates to no traffic at all. There was plenty on the road back to Taipei but nothing in our direction. Julia demands TV so I ask her to say Baby Einstein, which she does. It's probably the cutest thing she says. That, and "outside".

When I get to the ticket counter they ask me if I want to downgrade to coach and get $230 back. I let Calvin handle it and he tells them upgrade is ok, downgrade is not ok. They give up and give me a seat, one of the advantages of checking in early is that you don't have to be the guy they bump because they oversold the plane. As a bonus, not only do I get an aisle seat I get the front row which has more leg room. Super bonus!

They take off at 5:10 because how long can you entertain kids at the airport? The answer is, not long. Julia actually gives me a hug which suggests she may actually have some inkling of what's going on because she rarely hugs me. She kisses almost on demand, and of course I demand. But hugs are hard to come by. I get a hug and kiss from both Julia and Nat, and I'm on my way. I'm sad to depart but it's not too bad. It strikes me now that I didn't watch them go and wave, which would be the sentimental thing to do. I guess I was still nervous about the whole plane thing and wasn't thinking of it.

The immigration line is long but it moves at a fair clip. I give them Calvin's phone number when they ask where I stayed for the trip. Luckily I had it in my blackberry so it was easy to get. That gave the guy something to write down and move me along. At 5:25 I'm in the airport and past immigration, which means there's just 1:15 between now and the flight.

As I walk around I see a bunch of people huddled around the TV, watching the election returns. The green party guy is getting spanked big time which isn't good for Nat's parents. I imagine I got out just in time in terms of dealing with them. They seem to think it's 1947 and if the other party wins then China will come in and start slaughtering the residents unceremoniously. That may sound like a joke but that's the kind of thing they occasionally talk about. Hey I'll grant them that they were alive in another time period but they get a bit extreme at times.

At 5:40 I find the beer, more Taiwan Beer. I still have some NT (new Taiwanese dollars) so I pay local currency, 80 NT a pop which is about $2.67 a beer. Pretty damn good for an airport. After $8 of beer I decide that's enough and walk around a bit. I suppose I'm still on vacation until I go to work on Monday. But it seemed like having a 4th was a bit much. 3 was plenty, and it allowed me to relax a bit while waiting for the boarding call.

It struck me while sitting there that it really would be invaluable to be on my own more often if I wanted to learn the language better. I actually did a pretty fair job considering I literally haven't spoken Mandarin in probably 2 years. A lot of it came back to me fast. If I had kept it up I bet I would be damn near literate (not fluent) by now.

It also struck me, as I was sitting there enjoying the peace of my fellow travelers in the airport, that it's really hard to indulge yourself in the experience when you have a 2 year old in tow. Most of the time you're torn between the experience of the trip and the tunnel vision of worry/attention that you give your kid - and the kid always wins. As if it's not apparent at this point, I'm a hands on dad in that I don't let her cry it out, or ignore her when she's an "inconvenience". To dip a little into the parenting philosophy realm, I believe that if you're going to have kids you have to understand that you put them here, they didn't ask to be dropped onto the planet. To that end I give her the attention she needs because anything else would be to treat her like a burden, which isn't what she is. Translation, it's hard to "be here now" in terms of the situation because the here and now is making my daughter happy. Sitting in the airport I had a chance to be where I was, with the aid of 3 beers, and it was refreshing, free, and raw in a certain way.

I also find it funny that in the airport all the white people ignore each other. I guess this is man's need to feel special, or independent. Actually I get the same thing in Taiwan overall. When I see a white guy I want to say, "Hey, a white guy," to acknowledge them. But every time, without fail, they ignore me as if I'm not there. I guess they want to feel special and when they see they're not the only whitey they feel threatened. You know if 2 black guys ran into each other in Lotung it would be like long lost brothers finding each other after 20 years. White people look the other way.

Over the loudspeaker I hear a plane boarding for Sarabaya. I look at the spelling, it's indeed spelled that way. Where the fuck is Sarabaya?

I get in line to go to the boarding are at 6:25 and see the biggest "natural" Chinese guy I've ever seen. By "natural" I mean non-mutant and non-sumo guy. I know sumo is Japanese but my point is that this guy looked Texan Kick Ass big and he turned out to be Asian. I'm talking 6-5 and 300+ pounds, not just tall, not just fat, but tall and fat. In 5 minutes me and the big fat Chinese guy were through and waiting in the boarding area. Not having a 4th beer was a good idea as 3 was clearly enough. Here, I observe the goings on. Having a kid but not having to watch her through this gave me a great perspective on it all, on how other people feel as they wait for the plane to board. As I watched the parents it looked all too familiar. Preoccupied people just trying to keep the kids happy. I stood against the wall and watched.

I got to my seat at 7:05 and my riding partner was a middle aged Asian woman who spoke perfect English. Kinda like my wife but 10 years older, 30 pounds heavier, and not nearly as attractive. Not that it matters but I figured I'd mention it so when my wife reads this she knows I think she's beautiful. I knew this woman spoke English well because I plopped my carry-on in the overhead and it was on her purse. I asked her if she had any valuables in it and she said "nope". You don't say "nope" unless you're fluent in English. This later turned out to be the case when we traded some pithy pleasantries ("bless you" and the like).

At 7:30 we're rolling. 10 minutes later the engines are full bore and we're blasting off the runway. This is Nat's favorite part and I have to admit that it is actually kinda cool. At 8:00 the TVs work and I'm drinking another beer and starting my first game of Zuma. At 8:50 I get dinner, a beef concoction which may very well be the best airline meal ever, and another beer. At 9:10 the pilot says the turbulence is bad. To me, this is nothing compared to the shit we hit coming back from Florida. I guess these big planes just suck it up better. At 9:30 I get a red wine and a tea, which is Lipton. What the fuck? I'm tempted to go on one of my Jesus rants about this. We leave one of the largest tea producing countries in the world and you serve us Lipton? Dogshit.

I'm going to AM time now. I dialed my watch back. I just caught up with all my writing for the day. Since I woke up I've had 2 coffees, 1 hot tea, 2 cold (addiction) teas, 5 beers, 1 red wine, and 1 game of Zuma which still isn't over. We've traveled 1455 miles and still have 6822 to go. That tells me we are 17.5% of the way done with an 8277 mile journey. That's a lot of miles to fly. It's now 10:10 am and I'm going back to my game of Zuma.

At 11:00 I lose my first life when the woman next to me gets up to go to the bathroom. 2 minutes later I lose my second when she comes back. This is a long flight. At 12:30 I lose my first, and possibly last, game. I got to level 9-4 out of 9-7 but started to totally lose it in the end. The combination of beer, staring at a video game for 4 hours, and 3 hours of turbulence started to take it's toll on me in a big way. I may need to check out for a bit. My mind is numb. We've gone 2754 miles.

At 1:00 the little girl in the front row on the other side of the plane wakes up crying. Her dad picks her up and walks with her. It makes me a bit sad because I want to hold Julia right now. I'm getting tired and the world always seems much more stressful when you're tired. Didn't really have much luck trying to take a nap. I'm hungry, though I doubt they're going to serve any food. May be time to break out the emergency dark chocolate bar soon. The turbulence has subsided.

I watch one of the on-demand shows, something about Taiwan and the Taipei 101 building. Neat stuff. During the show they mention that there are 10 million scooters in Taiwan, one for every 2.3 people on the island. Nat and I were way low in our estimate. That's a crazy number but it goes to show just how scooter crazy the place is. This gets me to 2:15, we've gone 3854 miles, and our ETA is 10:13. If I get home by 11:30 I'm probably content.

When I filled out the custom forms I didn't know if I should classify the canned fish as meat/wildlife. I left it blank and decided to ask at customs. No need to raise red flags and make it harder than it needs to be. In lieu of sleep I play Big 2. I'm really looking forward to not having BO any more. The deodorant I brought with me is more or less useless. As I edit this on Easter morning, the BO is gone, finally.

At 4:40 my mind is numb. Admitting it sucks does nothing to alleviate the long and arduous ride. You need to get to the point of closeness, which we're coming closer to now but not close enough. We're still 5:22 from ETA. I find Wilco's Blue Sky Blue on the music channel and listen to that CD, and doze lightly on and off through it. This helps a bit. At 6:00 I'm back to Big 2.

At 7:45 I try Zuma again and the game bugs out, and my brain is thankful. At 8:00 they announce they're serving another meal. The meal is done in 45 minutes and I play Big 2 again. We've gone 7498 miles and we touch down in 1:26. I zone again, drift off, then when I wake up to type I'm yelled at for the 3rd time for having the Blackberry, even though it's antenna is turned off. The English of all of the stewardesses is really, really bad.

Eventually we land, which is a rough landing. The wings were bobbing back and forth almost up to the point of touch down. Surprisingly, the touch down was pretty smooth but then he reversed the engines so hard that it seemed like he came in way too fast. The whole landing was a bit tense for me. Nobody else seemed to mind it, so it may have just been my lack of beer to help me deal. But this guy was a bit all over for me.

The Saturday night line to get through immigration is colossal, but moves fairly quickly. The guy tells me canned fish can be a "no" and thus no red flags. Getting my bags takes at least 30 minutes, of not 45 minutes. Going through actual customs is easy, and it's good here to be a white man as they just whisk me through and give some people a much harder time.

Thankfully our neighbor Chris is waiting patiently for me outside, as he'd been for the last hour or so. I walked out of gate 10, waited less than a minute, and we were on our way. What a great thing to have a ride back from such a long trip. Having to deal with a taxi or, perish the thought, the train, would have blown me out of the water mentally at that time of day. Luckily he was able to hook me up. Major props to Chris and Lisa on this!

I get home at 12:21 with a total trip time of 20:36. The luggage claim may have added almost an hour to this, I'm not sure. That and the delay to takeoff as well as the longer actual flight made this a long, long journey home. I thought it would be "easy" not having to entertain a kid but man, this was as rough as going out, which was almost 5 hours longer, door to door.

And that's it folks. Terren will be happy to know that this morning (Easter), the scale displayed an absolutely shocking 189, which is only a 3 pound increase with some adjusting still to do once I get a few nights of real sleep. I don't know how that's possible, to be honest. But there you go. 2 weeks of absolutely gorging and I only go from 186 to 189. A mere 5 days of cruise pumped me up 5-6 pounds. No wonder these Asians are so thin!

Anyway, hope you all (you all means about 3 people at this point) enjoyed this. Now you get to read 2 weeks of me lamenting not having a wife and kid around. I'll post some pics with narrative over the week as well. Hopefully some of them come out well, though any of the landscape shots are going to be hazy and blurry at best.

And that, folks, is all she wrote. Thanks for coming!

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  • At 4:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you, Norm. Great reading.

  • At 6:52 AM, Blogger terren said…

    Great stuff all around. Your writing was very descrptive - you'd make a great travel writer.

    By the way, it's been really windy here for the last few days and yesterday was no exception, which would explain your landing.

  • At 7:11 AM, Anonymous walter said…

    Norm, glad to see you are home safely and thanks for all the great reads. I look forward to seeing how the pics come out. The girls will be home before you know it.

    Terren has a good point, very windy here the past few days.


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