q. current home/addy where i stayed (neighbourhood) and how long
a. seoul (same airbnb, itaewon), taipei (airbnb/service hotel #1, zhongzheng) taipei (airbnb #2, daan)
q. favourite meal
a. roasted goose/duck lunch. i’ll eat chinese duck on occasion but i’ve never had goose before. there was the option to get bone-in or boneless; we opted for the boneless as we already had a hard enough time with the menu, even with two mandarin speakers. you also have your choice of chili, vinegar/plum sauce and their ‘secret’ sauce that’s very close to a neon orange that tastes slightly tangy. they recommend to mix all three sauces into one bowl but it really didn’t matter, the goose was so damn good on it’s own. the meat wasn’t moist, it was downright juicy. the flesh wasn’t packed together very densely and each piece was sliced about half a centimeter thick so you could get a good meat to sauce ratio. the skin was more moist than crisp and each slice had a perfectly even fat sandwiched between the skin and meat. so money.
q. most memorable moment / best highlight
a. our safari from our airbnb to the airport on our last night in seoul. our flight departed at 730am and the subway didn’t run early early enough so we were forced to take an hour long bus ride. we slept at 1230am, woke up at 330am, walked down the main drag of itaewon which was stacked with garbage on both sides and had vomit on the sidewalk (a wednesday morning, mind you) and found our way to the bus stop. we bumped into an american couple who had also travelled to korea for the same time and we shared our lukewarm experiences of seoul with each other. memories of mediocrity at 4am, that’s the ticket. our bus arrived and the seats were nearly double-wide that reclined which was going to make for a relaxing ride to the airport. or not. i would liken the bus’ suspension to that of a tug boat in the middle of the pacific ocean and our driver’s gear shifting would’ve rivaled that of an epileptic. i have a storied past of vomiting on or within the vicinity of horrible rides and it took all of me to stop it from happening even though i hadn’t had any alcohol for three days. we arrived at the airport a little past schedule so we made our way to the check-in immediately to get the ball rolling. i kid you not, the lineup was over 150 people deep and it snaked it’s way outside of the ribbons and continued on until we found our way in the end of it. by the time we had gotten to the first three switchbacks, it was already within an hour of our flight so we kindly brought this to the attention of the lady directing the passengers to the check-in counters. she pulled us out of our lineup and into the one for taipei (which was labelled ‘bag drop-off for check-in’); this lineup had just as many if not more people in it than we had in front of us. even better was that only one check-in counter was available to our new line while our old one had over 10. haha is fuming and borderline freaking out about now that we’re going to miss her flight. i am the voice of reason. “they’ll push us through security if they really need to”. my calming voice has worked and we patiently continue to wait. by the time we had made it to the check-in counter, we actually made it at the exact same time as the couple ahead of us in the old line. YES! oh wait, we also had about 8 people in front of us who were forced to leave our line after waiting in it for 20 minutes because they weren’t going to taipei; off to the back of the 45 minute lineup they go. we check in, tell the security attendant that we are dangerously close to missing our flight so he points us to the ‘shorter’ lineup. we queue. haha hands her passport to the guard for scanning. the ‘self-destruct’ beeping sounds that james bond movies have made famous is set off. passport is scanned a second time and the beeping sounds play once again. hmmm. we are told that we need a stamp on our boarding pass from the check-in agent. we shimmy back through the narrow lineup with our baggage in tow. walk up to the check-in counter explaining that we need help and we need it immediately. some lady looks at our ticket, calls some people over so they could all look at it together and then we proceed back to the gate with her without any applications of a stamplike nature. after some discussion with the security guard, she concedes that we need to go back to the check-in counter to obtain this stamp with her. haha is unbelievably frustrated at this point and she puts her foot down and basically tells the attendant that we’re not moving and that she can do so and we’ll wait at the front of the security check-in lineup. she comes back after a few minutes and the guard confirms that we are good to go. except that the security baggage check is extremely long at this point and we have 25 minutes to get to our flight (which still requires a shuttle). we are told to go back to the original gate that we came in and that there is a side gate for priority and staff boarding. sigh… so we shimmy our way out of the 2 foot wide lineup again, pass through the priority gate and… another lineup of 8 people being processed one. at. a. time. this is the worst security process i have ever witnessed. the first guard looks at everybody’s passport, asks the holder ‘is this you?’ (in those exact words) and hands the passport back. meanwhile the guards scanning luggage are putting people through the metal detector in an awesomely inefficient manner. only one person seems to able to occupy the loading, x-ray, scanning and pickup zone at a time. you cannot hand your boarding pass to the guard without the other person picking up their items. we have 15 minutes and counting. i want to scream. i exit the lineup without my belt and am running the rest of the way with my pants starting to fall off my ass. customs clears us and we are off to find the shuttle. it’s three levels down and we are doing our best, weaving through human slugs that are disguised as travellers. we hit a bottleneck on the last set of escalators down. two ladies are carrying two boxes of instant ramen each and are standing beside each other, blocking the way down. we can see shuttle just arrive as we’re descending. the ladies clue in that they are not the only ones in the airport and we do our best to run down with our luggage while not pk’ing on the metal grates. as we run up to the shuttles, we’re waved off by security. it’s too full and we have to cross the platform to wait for the next one. i lose my mind. i’m screaming while fingering the shuttle, god and anything else i can think of. i’m throwing my suitcase over to the shuttle’s gates instead of rolling it. i’m completely over korea and all the bullshit that has come along with it. haha is the yin to my yang and she’s calming me down while rolling her eyes at our predicament. as we exit the shuttle, we have to go up two escalators in what is essentially rush hour foot traffic. i wave her down to go first and not wait for me. by the time i get off the escalators, i can’t even see her. i start running for the gate and in the horizon i can make out a crazed asian lady sprinting with her hair flying up, down and side to side. i chase after her on the moving walkway and even while i’m running on it, she’s still pulling away from me. it’s at this exact moment that i’m realizing how out of shape i am. i run for 10 second intervals, then 9, then 8, and eventually 2. each time i see her turn around to look at me i start to run again until she faces forward. by the time we get to the gate, there are no more passengers left to board and we’re both dripping. the silver lining on this story is that we ended up sitting in the emergency exit seats which have more leg room and designated overhead bins since they are not allowed to store luggage under the seats. as long as i live, i will never forget haha’s flush-faced, sweaty smile as we both buckled up and were leaving this godforsaken country.
to you, korea, i say this: you tried your best to hold onto us and trap us within your grasp but we persevered through your stupid obstacles, dealt with your incompetent flight and security attendants, froze time and defied the odds to finally escape your horrific excuse for a travel destination. FREEDOM.
most memorable moment of korea? escaping.
q. greatest challenge
a. balancing off down days with busy days. i think that the travel is starting to catch up with me. being on the go all the time is exciting but in some sense it’s starting to make a ‘vacation’ not feel so much like one anymore. i’m also starting to get stir crazy without anything active to do; think i might try to source out some tennis racquets in taipei or hong kong. god knows that i need it before i turn into a dumpling
q. what i miss most from home
a. my chiropractor. 6 weeks of snowboarding alongside 2.5 months of random beds and pillows (minus 5 nights of westin’s “heavenly” beds), my body is falling apart. my back will have good days and days where it feels like a 2×4 but my knees have been just killing me non-stop. probably pushed it a bit hard in hokkaido and all the walking probably hasn’t helped at all. man it sucks to be old.
q. next stop
a. hong kong
q. weirdest observation about current culture
a. the taiwanese are nothing like the mainland chinese. after trips to shanghai and beijing, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up everytime i hear mandarin being spoken. it’s a breath of fresh (maybe an exaggeration considering that this is still asia) to see that not all mandarin speakers are mongrels. everybody i’ve run into over our first four days have been very polite, conscientious and aware of their surroundings. i can’t believe it has taken me this long to visit the country but i can always tell it is somewhere i’d want to come back to.
q. one tip i would give myself if i were to come back
a. get comfortable riding a scooter. it still feels like a deathtrap since scooters have a small box that they park themselves in when turning left (in the middle of the intersections) but it would really cut down the amount of walking in the city. with taipei’s roads being quite wide and local drivers not driving like complete retards (like in china), i think it could be a different spin to the city. it’d deserve extra points if i had a family of four by then and could fit them all onto one scooter.
q. friends i’ve hung out with/visitors
a. my snowboarding partner in crime, marsha-san. best tour guide evah; definitely a 5/5 tripadvisor review coming up. we’ll be joined by frank and karan tomorrow and will be hopping around with them over the next three weeks too
q. one random/weird/cool thing i learned about the country i’m staying in
a. the food. not only is the food my first draw for taipei nor is it because it’s so good but it’s so accessible. food feels like it’s engrained into the culture here and you can see people of all ages and demographics eating together at restaurants, hole-in-the-wall diners and night markets alike. two twenty-something girls dining at a street vendor with sleeping babies on the floor behind them. seniors walking through the night markets and sitting down for a snack. the city feels like it comes alive once the sun goes down; many restaurants don’t open until 5-6pm and there’s so many night markets to choose from.
q. one new experience/memory that will stick with me
a. our first 6 hours in taipei. after a week of fumbling around in korea, everything just seemed to fall into place from the moment we landed in taiwan. the bus ride went smoothly, we had a challenging time getting wifi at our meeting spot and she ended up walking into us as she entered the station. a hole-in-the-wall beef noodle place for lunch, shaved ice for a snack, din tai fung for dinner and a few hours of walking through galleries, parks, art installations, shops, taipei 101 and malls made for one of the best “welcome to…” days i can recall.
q. portion of luggage that’s been the most & least useful
a. my flannel shirt and scarf have now officially been retired. landing in taipei into 25 degree heat felt just as good as that first day in hokkaido powder. my extremely limited winter wardrobe put in some serious work over the last two months and i’m really happy that i opted to bring as little as i did. we cleared out about 6 pieces of winter clothes between the two of us and i think that anything covering up my forearms or shins will be sacrificed to the summer gods before we leave of taiwan.