Getting to Taiwan and what I found there

This is the first is a series of three blog posts detailing my recent trip to Taiwan. The trip was to do a training course introducing Taiwanese professors on how to use the Intel Manycore Testing Lab.  This first part details my flight out and first day on the island nation.  If you're just interested in the training course, read the second part; the third part is about the misadventures of my return flights.

I don't like long plane flights. I can get across the country just fine, but when my travel calls for me to get across one of the oceans (and a continent or two), I start to get antsy. I really don't sleep well on planes. I think it's being too tall for most airline seats and not being able to sit completely still for more than 20-30 minutes without shifting.

Thus, I wasn't looking forward to the 13 hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo on the first leg to get to Taipei, Taiwan. I had selected a window seat (I prefer aisle seats) with the idea that I'd be able to lay my head against the 747-400's bulkhead and maybe catch some Z's. As I was checking in, I noticed that there was an aisle seat in the middle (four) seats with the center two seats unclaimed. I grabbed that one and hoped no one else would take those center seats.

On the plane

Luck was with me that day and I got to stretch out a bit. The guy in front of me, though, was even luckier since he got chosen to be upgraded to Business Class. Even so, it was a pretty comfortable situation and I got some patches of sleep along the way.

I brought a book (A Crown of Swords, the 7th book in Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series) to read on the long flights. I also was planning to distract myself with movies on the plane's video system. Looking in the airline magazine I was delighted to see that the first two features on our flight were scheduled to be Morning Glory and Megamind. When Convicted started playing, I realized that the February issue I had in my hands must have lapsed.  (I can only guess that since it was already March at our destination the new movie schedule was in force for our flight.) So, it was reading, sleeping and Bach on my iPod. 

The seats in the Tokyo Narita airport are not well padded (but what airport has truly comfortable seating). Sitting for the majority of 13 hours on an airplane didn't prepare my posterior for such punishment, either. Adding an extra hour of waiting for a delayed plane to take us the rest of the way also didn't help. Even so, the four hour hop down to Taipei was uneventful. I think I got much better sleep on that flight than the previous one, anyway.

After landing

My hotel, the Hotel Royal Hsinchu, had a car and driver waiting for me at the airport. It was just shy of midnight when we started out from the airport, so it was dark out and I wasn't able to see any of the "sights" along the way. With Avril Lavinge warbling on the radio, the only way I could tell I was in a foreign country was the dual language on road signs and the total lack of gaudy billboards lit up every 10 yards. Plus, the first illuminated signs I remember seeing were for KFC, McDonald's and 7-Eleven. There were several neon crosses in evidence, too.

The density of lights and signs increased as we got closer and then into Hsinchu (south of the airport), which is where we were holding the training session. I noticed that 7-Eleven is a popular chain. Along the Kuan-Fu Road there seemed to be a store every 6 blocks or so (much like we would find Starbuck's here in an American city). Also, the number of scooters on the road was at least double the number of cars. (There were times when it appeared to be almost five times as many scooters as cars.)

Bridge of the Enterprise or bathroom?

Check-in and finding my room was no problem. Setting out my toiletries in the bathroom I glanced over at the toilet itself. I was amazed, I was agog, I was flabbergasted. There was a control panel along the right side of the bowl!

Looking over this unexpected marvel I realized that the toilet had more available functions than my cell phone does. (For anyone who hasn't seen my phone, a mechanical pencil has almost as many functions as my phone.) Besides the many different water-based cleaning options (speed, rhythm, pressure, pattern) the seat was heated and could be adjusted for temperature. I imagined that sitting on this "throne" could make one look like Captain Kirk.

Sleep came easily that night. Wednesday I had all to myself. I went down for breakfast and found a buffet with a large variety of selections to appeal to travellers from around the world. I found weiße Wurst and Eggs Benedict (yum yum). For the next few hours I worked getting the lab exercises for class put together, tested, and polished.

25 dollars for a Coke?!?

About 4pm I decided to take a walk, so I headed down to find an archway that I'd glimpsed the night before. I noticed that the arch appeared to reflect the ornate decorations of some buildings up the side street that it guarded. I didn't go further to see since there weren't too many sidewalks along the street and navigating through traffic (scooters and cars and pedestrians and scooters) was precarious. So, I turned around to head back.

I noticed a lot of teens walking around at this time. Some were wearing matching coats, others had on a blue blazer and tie. All of them were carrying a backpack or bag full of books. I quickly realized that school must have just gotten out and kids were headed home. 4pm and school was getting out. I remember thinking that this was why American students were falling behind the rest of the world.

Along the way back to the hotel I stopped at one of the two 7-Eleven stores that could be seen from the hotel's front door. As expected, there were all manner of local brands of food, magazines, books, and other items. I was looking for something to drink besides water and found bottles of Coke and Coke Zero. There was some sarsaparilla, too, but I wasn't in the mood for something "new" when I was over 8000 miles from home. The drink cost me 25 dollars.  New Taiwan Dollars, which were being exchanged at the rate of about 29 NTD to 1 US dollar. A pretty good deal, really.

Back in my room I did some more reading in my book. I had dinner in one of the hotel restaurants, more reading, and turned in to be ready for a bright and early start on Thursday.
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