Sunday, February 5, 2012

Welcome to Taiwan!!

After a 12-hour flight from LA to Tokyo, we had a 2-hour lay over. We then flew for another 4 hours and landed at our destination, Taiwan, at 10:30pm, local time.

The first step in the arrival process was “immigration” where our passports were checked. As we approached, there was a sign that read, "Fever inspection; remove hats." No problem. Then on to baggage claim where we piled our 4 bags, 2 medium and 2 small, onto a cart. Again, no problem. Then we proceeded to customs. There was a lane for those who had “nothing to declare.” That was us, as well as nearly everyone else. There was no attendant in that lane, so we all walked on through with no inspection of us or our bags. Nice. We easily maneuvered through this whole process by following the signs that had English subtitles.

We didn’t know who to expect to be picking us up, but we found him quickly when we walked through the customs door into the main terminal because he was holding up the customary business sign with the Singform Company logo and our names (as well as “Mike Kreager and Donnie Gray”). The Singform man did not speak any English. We knew we might be in for a problem when the man looked at our luggage cart and started counting. Then he realized we still needed to find Mike and Donnie with their bags! There was no mistaking the look on his face. "Oh, boy..." looks the same on any face. We immediately hatched a new plan in case we were not all going to fit in the car. It wasn’t long before Mike and Donnie came through the entryway. They were traveling light, one duffle bag each, considering they are staying for only 3 weeks. However….when we reached the car, it was obvious the 5 of us and all the luggage were not going to fit in the car. Time to throw the new plan into action: Don and I stay in Taipei overnight and take the Bullet Train (HSR) to Chia-yi in the morning. There was really no choice, so they agreed and we waved good-bye to them as they drove away.

Note: It was surprising to us that we saw Christmas decorations as soon as we got off the plane. There were poinsettias lining the windowsills of the concourse, Christmas trees were every where in the main terminal and there was garland with Christmas balls hanging from the balconies. It gave a false first impression that we were in an English-speaking country.

Don and I looked at each other with our cart of luggage and went back into the terminal to see how we were going to get a hotel. At this point, it was clear that Taiwan is not set up for English-speaking visitors. There was no one proficient in the language to help us. The hotel counter was closed. A taxi “director” wanted to put us in a cab with no destination.

Don realized we needed NTD (Taiwanese cash) to pay for a cab so decided to take care of that issue first. The ATM would do so easily, but it was hard to know how much money was needed or what the NTD amount translated to in US dollars. We also had no idea how cheap or expensive a taxi or hotel would be…because all that information was in Mandarin. We got a quote from the taxi “director” and made a reasonable guess from there using our handy currency exchange app on the iPhone. (The phone would not connect with the internet, but non-outgoing data worked.) Then we let the taxi “director” hail us a cab in which the driver knew less English than he did. I again took out the iPhone and used our Mandarin phrase app to communicate that we wanted a hotel tonight and the train in the morning. Voila! It worked. Off to the hotel we went.

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