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Place of My Birth

Taipei, Taiwan

Two meals and several unsatisfying naps later, China Air Flight #7 touched down at Taoyuan International Airport at 5:30am local time. I couldn't help but smiled as I walked off the plane after the 13-hour flight, glad I wasn't in too bad of shape, but knowing there will be more nights like this ahead, as my trip includes several overnight train and bus rides.

At this early hour the whole place was deserted, I didn't see any shops or snack bars where a cup 'o joe can be bought. Although I've always pride myself in able to find my way around in places I'd never been before, I needed help to get my bearings. As it turned out, all the actions are on the floor above me, so I headed up to the main Departure Level and found what you would expect in any International Airport terminals around the world...duty free shops, food court, high end luxury good stores...etc. The whole place was quiet in this early hour; airport workers and shop employees easily outnumbered travlers 2 to 1. I found a quiet place to lie down and stole a quick nap. By 7:30, however, the whole place was buzzing with activities.

The last time I visited my birthplace was in 2005. In fact, I've only visited Taiwan twice since my family left at the end of 1987, when I was 13. I suddenly recalled a poem I had studied in elementary school about the prodigal son returning home, not knowing what to expect, only to be greeted by the local children as if he's a visiting tourist. I think that's an apt description about how I felt (well, minus the 'prodigal' part). Still, there was an instant connection with this place, and I couldn't help but smiled and nodded to everyone that I made eye contacts with.

First thing you need to know about Taiwan...it is NOT Thailand, it is not anywhere near Thailand, and it is not anything close to Thailand.

I began exploring after my nap. The airport has 2 terminals and gates are divided into 4 sections. It took me a little over an hour at a leisurely pace to complete the loop. Needless to say, had this been the setting of Tom Hank's movie 'Terminal', it would have been a short film. While the place is not new, it was very clean, maintained by ever present cart-toting cleaning crews like you'd see in Disneyland.

I literally yelped when I saw a Starbucks sign on the horizon, except it was on the other side of the plexiglass separating Customs, so instead of coffee, I ordered tea for breakfast, figured I'd better get use to it anyway. Tea drinking is an art form here in Taiwan; Taiwanese tea is the best in the world, there is simply no comparison, but I'm looking forward to sampling Butter Milk Tea when I get to Lhasa. I also ordered 'Chicken Pot Pie' (at least that's what was printed on the menu), but it turned out to be chicken in egg pudding...

After breakfast I continued exploring the airport, figured I can use the exercise to get my blood flowing after the long flight while train my muscle for the hikes in the weeks ahead (wishful thinking, I know). Paying more attention than before, I noticed the nuances that set this place apart from most US airports. There are more cultural displays in the airport than I can count, and not some flimsy billboards and the likes, but carefully designed, high production value display areas showcasing the many facets of Taiwan. The reason for them would become clear to me later.

The entire airport is wifi enabled (free!) and every 50 yards or so there are computer stations offering Internet access and phone charging stations. Despite the abundance of these services, every station was occupied, but people were very courteous and the wait was hardly 5 minutes at worst.

I walked by an outdoor smoking area, and felt the urge to light one up, but the duty free shops only sell cartons. I see quitting in my futre. I tried to take my mind off nicotine by looking for weird celebrity endorsements, but no luck on finding Brad Pitt pimping electric all-in-one egg beater/hair trimmer/battery recharger. Although I did find many 'relaxation zone' equipped with free massage chairs, and also a massage parlor charing $300NT (roughly $10USD) for a 15 minute session.

When one is stuck at the airport for near 10 hours, one must find things to pass the time, so i studied the flight information monitors and can definitively say that Japan and China are by far the most popular destinations. (Found one direct flight to Detroit....why?!) Majority of travelers in the airport were made up of locals and visitors from China, and hardly any westerners. It seems Taiwan is a stopover for many on their way to some place else (China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Thailand, US...). Too bad, Taiwan has so much to offer: friendly people, wonderful cuisines, perfect blend of modern citylife and old country charm, and beautiful sceneries anywhere you look. Then it dawned on me the purpose of those displays - intercepting the stopover traffic.

There is a bit of sadness in me knowing I'll be saying goodbye soon even though I never stepped out of the airport, but quickly I need to focus on several details still needing taken care of once I land in Beijing and before heading to Xi'an tomorrow night, then the trip truly begins.

permalink written by  Chihyau on June 19, 2010 from Taipei, Taiwan
from the travel blog: Backpacking in China
tagged Taiwan

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All that fancy talk and all about a airport! Its all about POP purchase. And isn't it interesting that there is wifi everywhere for free! Bad capitalists! But I like free myself as well!!

Write on Mr. Twain, write on.

permalink written by  Robert on June 19, 2010

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