As is normal for me, I got to LAX earlier than necessary. I must not remember going through the international terminal because it seemed way too fast and I never went through any kind of customs. That left me plenty of time to walk around, which is much better than even having to hurry or be stressed. I enjoy walking around to the different gates to look at the different destinations and see what kind of people are going there. I walked the whole length of the terminal and ended up coming back to sit in front of my gate. I’m in the China Airways area waiting for the first leg of my flight to Taipei.
I decide to people watch a bit until about 1 hour before we board. Just for good measure I take another lap around the terminal. I ate a lot before coming so I’m hoping if I my legs aren’t jumpy then I’ll fall asleep quickly. It’s about 1:00 AM, so everyone is closing up and there’s not much to see at any of the terminals.
On the plane I even stow my bag away, so I won’t be temped to do any thing but sleep. Shortly after takeoff, they turn the lights off and I position myself for a nice slumber. Of course, just like my overnight to Ghana, they turn the lights back on the bright lights and serve us a big meal. It wasn’t even good. Some chicken and potato thing that I and the rest of the passengers could probably have done without at 3 in the morning.
After the meal, I’m lucky enough to sleep a good chunk of the rest of the flight. Keep in mind this first flight is 13 hours, so even with a full night sleep I shouldn’t sleep anywhere near the whole time. With about 2 hours left, they fed us again. The woman, clearly far from American, asked the woman behind me what she wanted and commented that she probably wouldn’t like the Chinese rice soup option. She repeated the options to me and asked if I would prefer… a name she forgot. With success from her colleague she got out what sounded similar to scrambled eggs. Hey, I’m traveling to Asia, get that American food away from me! Not to mention eggs on an airplane might not be the berst option, no matter where I am. The rice is pretty good and after I scarf that down I watch a movie and listen to some Asian music, which was actually quite catchy.
After a long 13 hours we finally touch down in Taipei, Taiwan. I use my transfer ticket to get my new boarding pass. After talking with the woman she gives me a strange wave from an arm that seems stuck to her body. I’ve seen something similar with some kind of Asian culture before and I find it interesting to come up in a formal situation (for her, at work). She tells me to go through the security checkpoint and then take a left at the top of the stairs.
The checkpoint is quick and easy and I take the stairs to the top to work my legs a little more before the next flight. At the top of the stairs I’m immediately overwhelmed and I go into Ghana survival mode and just continue straight, which was rudely interrupted by a wall jumping right in front of me. I decide to make a compromise with the woman’s advice and take a right.
Not only have I literally traveled forward in time through the time zones, but apparently also 30 years in time. I feel like I’m in a dream still and this isn’t really happening. Everything is brightly lit with the strongest fluorescent bulbs I’ve ever seen. The floors and other surfaces are so clean that they also reflect the light from all other directions. The terminal looks like one giant light shining in my face.
Is this it? Did I just make it to heaven? Maybe I accidently boarded Malaysia airlines and this is where they take their planes. Shoot I wouldn’t want to be found if I were stranded here either. Small shiny objects already distract me, so this is just sensory overload. I feel like I’m walking in a futuristic version of the Las Vegas casino shopping areas. All of the stores are about as top of the line as you get. Everything is kind of off white like the apple stores with straight edges and perfect proportions. Even all the employees are dressed in matching purple dresses with all of their hair in a tightly pulled bun. I don’t even like shopping and certainly can’t afford anything here and yet I still find myself rationalizing to shop. I only defense I have is to keep my feet moving. The gates are marked by a sign hanging from the roof, pointing down a narrow hallway. The first priority of this airport clearly isn’t to get you on your plane. It’s much different from LAX or any other airport I’ve been to, where they have a section with the shops and then the rest, which is clearly dedicated for gates and small food shops or kiosks. I remember the Huston, Texas airport having some interesting and large things to look at, but I still felt like I was in an airport.
Anyway, I shake the allure off and turn around to actually take the left I was supposed to take for my gate. On the other side of the terminal there are even miniature gardens of plants growing on the wall. This is seriously the place of the future. It funny to think about my perception of America being ahead in all of this stuff, but I think we’ve fallen sorely behind in this race. I get to my sign and take the passageway to get to my gate. I enter a big room on the second story. Before I can even process anything, a musty moldy smell smothers me. Then I look out over several gates below and an awkward seating area. I guess they thin if you’ve gotten this far, you won’t buy anything. There are no shops in sight except for a few vending machines. I looked in one and saw a bunch of foreign-labeled drinks and of course a can of coke. I’m not even kidding you the price label under the coke said $20. All I can think is that they must have put the wrong symbol on there or done a poor conversion job.
The whole gate area felt like a temporary add-on. Something of a bungalow school building feel. They probably had to throw something together when they realized they spent the whole budget on the rest of the mall, I mean airport.
There’s no one down in this area at any of the gates, so my red flags go up immediately. I check the gate number printed on my boarding pass, but it lists a different flight number and of course there are no employees behind any of the desks to ask. There are also no monitors around the airport to check the status of your flight. I walk back up in a slight panic to find some kind of monitor or non-robot person I can speak to about my flight. I forget now why, but when I got to the top I turned back around and tried the terminal floor again. I went to the gate next to the one I just checked and there was an employee standing there. I went up to him and asked him where I should go and he said that his gate was the correct one and wrote the correct number on my boarding pass. Alright I think they just carved as pot for those monitors in the budget, but it’s probably more important to put another layer of wax on the floor.
I sit down at the gate and just people watch for a bit. All kinds of people are coming into the area and the vast majority look like they are of Asian decent. I start to laugh to my self when I think back to times I’ve heard or used to think that Asian people or even black people look similar. I can tell you from my 10 months in Ghana that is the opposite of the truth. I saw more diversity there in Ghana and now in this terminal than I could have imagined. Everyone looks different in their own way. Maybe it’s easy to say because many of them have a similar hair color. I got excited when I saw a group of monks walk around and take a seat. They looked like they are wearing the novice robes and were quite disappointing because they were glued to their phones just like the majority of everyone else around.
I get on the flight leaving Taipei, heading to Hanoi, Vietnam. Even though this is a much smaller plane than before I like this one more for some reason. I think it has something to do with a bit more legroom. The last plane limited the space going under the seat in front for storage and ended up just letting my legs go a few degrees past 90. There are also a lot less people on the plane and no one directly next to me, which I’m sure helped my comfort. They serve us another meal on this plane that vastly exceeded all the other meals. I’m not even sure I could categorize this as airplane food it is so good. I got the noodles which had little pieces of shrimp and some green veggie crap. Then there was really fresh fruit. Unlike the alcoholy pineapple form the last flight, this one looked like it was just harvested before we got on the plane. There was a piece of green fruit that was a little denser than an apple with the sweetness of a pear. The other one was much less dense, white with black seeds through out, and was as juicy and sweat as watermelon. The best way I can describe these fruits is to relate them to others I’ve eaten, but it really cheats them from their unique deliciousness. There was yogurt too, but I haven’t been away long enough to enjoy it fully. Then a woman came to ask if I want tea or coffee. I said I’d like tea and she extended a tray of green limes and a fork to me. She said “take some orderves”. I’m not sure a lime is an orderve, but I took one off her tray and smiled at her. She said “no, put your cup on the tray and give me my fork back”. I don’t know the edicate of Asain tea drinking yet. I clearly failed this one and will take that as a lesson for the next time I’m offered tea in Laos.
Before I knew it we were descending to Hanoi airport. It was a cool desention to see because we went from really clear and sunny outside to in the midst of clouds that seemed like they swallowed us right up. Then the water started streaming across the window and as we lowered below the clouds it was dark and gloomy.
I arrive in Hanoi and we get in a bus to take us to the terminal. More security checkpoints and then into the terminal. Apparently that new clean futuristic look isn’t common to all Asian countries because this is nothing like Taipei. It’s feels more like I’m at a boardwalk. There are glass cases everywhere that are packed with as many souvenirs as they can fit. It seems like I would have to buy the items with the tickets I just won playing skiball. The food places between the shops had big flashing lights that tried to get your attention away from all the small tid bits. Of course this is another terminal with no big computer screen to show the status of your gate and flight. It says terminal 8 on my boarding pass, but I’m a little skeptical now. I walk around snaking through the terminal on the first and second floor. It literally look me 5 minutes to walk through the whole thing and now I have nothing to do. It’s just a small enough terminal that if I keep walking through I will either get bored or make the guards think I’m some crazy man. I find terminal 8, but the sign says Hong Kong. There are also no employees at the gate, so I sit patiently and wait for someone to show up. I have a few hours before my flight anyway, so I’m very relaxed. Finally some people come and tell me my gate is number 3. I go over to 3 and triple check with the employee to make sure I’m in the right place. From there I sit and read a bit and keep checking information above gate 3.
I get on to the plane, which has propellers, and we take off quickly. This time the flight is much shorter and there’s no food and a quick drink service. Before I could really even settle into my seat we start to descend into Laos. The scenery is absolutely beautiful. There are big mountains and rivers everywhere. It looks like were landing in the middle of a large forest. There are a few groups of houses here and there, but mostly no sign of humanity. Then we fly over the Nakang and Mekong rivers. We touch down and go quickly into the terminal to fill out visa information. The process is quick and painless and my bag is the same way. I go out into the lobby and meet my two direct supervisors, Jua and Andrea. We get into a bus and drive to my guesthouse, where I’ll be staying permanently, unless I find something that fits me better. The road is in good condition and it’s closely surrounded by pants and small shacks. It’s still very sparsely populated with cars and places on the side of the road. There are a lot of motorcycles on the road and we pass a few in the opposite lane while there are other cars heading right for us in the opposite lane. This type of thing happens in the US, but at a much further distance and with a bit of urgency. The driver is acting like he’s steering a boat down a gentle river, not barreling down a road in the opposite direction of traffic. Good thing I’m a bit used to this from Ghana, so I’m only slightly concerned.
After a two minute drive we reach town and everything becomes much more dense with buildings and vehicles on the road. It seems like the top speed here is not much over 30 MPH. As we drive down the street Andrea gives me some geological pointers that don’t stick anywhere in my brain after the day I’ve had. I do appreciate her help though and I do remember something about the big rivers meeting by somewhere around people. I’m sure it will all come back quickly the next time I hear that info. Then she points out a big Vat or temple at the top of a large hill overlooking town. We reach a roundabout and without even hesitating he cuts off the traffic coming from our left to wait for the traffic on the right to clear. Then we muscle our way into the traffic and arrive at the guesthouse. They walk me up and everything was set up prior to me getting here, so we say goodbye and I follow someone up to my room.
In my room theres a big bed, fan, small fridge, tv, running water with toilet, sink, and shower, and a door leading our to a shared patio. I’d say this is quite a step up from my Ghana experience. I guess I won’t be waking up early to fetch buckets of water here. After a few minutes of getting settled I get that itchy feeling and instantly recognize I need to leave and walk around a bit. I go down to one side of the street to a big golden Vat. It is beautiful and I can see monks walking around inside and outside the area. I go down some more side streets before heading back to my room. Later at night my colleague, Caroline, come back to her room down the hall from mine. We introduce ourselves and then head out to stop by an ATM and get some dinner. She takes me through the night market, which I’ve seen many photos of on the internet. There’s a lot of cloth it seems, but I can’t look down too long or my head would get taken out. I’m literally ducking the whole time I’ve been walking while also trying to dodge people and not step on something or fall. I make it out with only bumping into one thing and then we head down the restaurant street. At the end we pick a place that has a smattering of things from local Asian foods to French foods. The French owned this territory for some time so there is a bit of influence still here. I order the chicken stew. It was good with big pieces of nonfatty chicken and some green vegetable stuff. After eating we head back to the guest house and it starts to raining so we get umbrellas so we don’t get too soaked. By that time I can keep my eyes straight so I immediately get a shower and get in bed. The plan for the rest of the weekend is to explore tomorrow and go to some kind of baby celebration event on Sunday for one of my other colleagues I haven’t officially met yet.