I am in Taipei!
Fourteen hours of flying, by far the longest I’ve ever done, and I was stuck in a middle row, middle seat, so it didn’t even feel like a flight so much as a really long subway ride. Without a window to witnessing Point A giving way to Point B, a sense of stasis sets in. Not a lot of legroom. The knees of the passenger behind me bumped against my back multiple times during the the turbulent bits. Pulling out, then replacing chapstick, eyedrops, magazines out of my bag was an exercise in contortionism.
Still, I slept a few hours (thanks, Tylenol PM!), listened to a couple This American Lifes (“This Party Sucks” and “Crybabies”), rotated through my Vacation playlist, juggled Vanity Fair, the New Yorker and The Atlantic, nearly finished my “Sheltering Seabirds” presentation.
The woman next to me, a Taiwanese expat now living in Toronto struck up conversation near the end of the flight. She thinks Obama’s health care reform is a good thing. I agreed. She thinks you have to let kids find their own way. I agreed, too. She strongly advised me to check out the East Coast of Taiwan: “If you don’t, you will have lost something.” Alice is her name. She also helped me practice saying hello and thank you in Chinese. Xiexie, Alice!
Felt a bit stupid going through the immigration check as I didn’t know I had to fill out a form first and the clerk looked at me with that special exasperation reserved for the most hopeless of idiots. I’m sure it’s just the first of many feeling-stupid opportunities that await — and in the end, I passed through, which means I now have my very first stamp in my passport! Harbinger of things to come, with luck.
A nice gentleman named Walter met me at the airport and transported me to the hostel. Given the lack of sleep, length of flight and increasing jet lag, my brain power had diminished to “low.” The language barrier was likewise problematic, but we muddled our way through 30 minutes of conversation nonetheless. (Walter has a five-year-old son, Terry, and lives in Nankan. On his days off, he likes to play basketball and baseball. He is a volunteer for the Wild Bird Society, hence his picking me up, but is not sure if he’ll be at the festival.)
At first, going from the airport (which is outside of Taipei) to Taipei resembled going from SFO into the City, only with more multi-layered apartment buildings and even more Chinese characters on the signs. But once we arrived in Taipei proper, the scene transformed into being more definitively another country. We crossed a river and Taipei 101 rose in the background. Tall as it is, the mountains behind dwarfed it, fading into clouds in a image straight out of Chinese storybooks. Thousands of folks on scooters dodged giant buses, backed-up car traffic and pedestrians. Seriously. Old men on scooters. Young women on scooters. Entire families on scooters. Some helmets, some not. Given my lack of enthusiasm for navigating the streets of San Francisco, the idea of driving in Taipei is a nightmare. Walter cruised around it all, no big deal.
After approximately 19 twists and turns, we arrived at the hostel, where a couple hundred schoolchildren in bright green uniforms were celebrating graduating English school. Or something. I am not sure. But the place was flooded with them. Walter made sure I was set up in my room, then left for the office. Jet lag hit full force, as did the realization that I vastly underestimated how much I would wish I had someone here with me. I’m so used to doing things on my own, enjoying things on my own, but the desire to link arms with someone and go marching and giggling down the street? That was a surprisingly sharp, deep twinge of wanting.
My roommate, Bee from Malaysia, showed up and encouraged me to get breakfast while I could. So, my first meal in Taiwan: Fried rice, edamame beans, corn flakes with soy milk, bread with NZ butter and American jam, and some tea, all served classic Continental-style buffet.
Things I forgot: sunglasses and my rechargeable AA batteries for the camera.
I should hit the streets. More when I can.
(P.S. The streets treated me well. Bee and I strolled through the market madness, and I found some cool blue shades to protect my eyes from the hazy sunshine. Sense of the lonely passed. Now, off to nap before the big welcome dinner. Adjusting to the time change is like when you’re just waking up from a dream and unsure what’s real and what are scraps of imagination.)