Flight of Giants 2 – No for real this time!

Hi guys!

So I am working through my backlog of blogs I still have to write, and I should tell you about my flight from Xiamen to Taipei! My flight was leaving at 17:10 but I had to check out of my hotel at 12:00. As I didn’t want to waste time, I asked if they could store my luggage while I went to get some lunch, to then pick them up after. I asked if they could call a taxi, but one of their security guards also had an on-call driving service. So we called him, and he picked me up to drive me to the airport for 40 RMB. If you’d get a normal taxi the cost is similar, but there’s a chance that these taxi drivers deny you. We agreed on the price and paid before we departed. In about 20 minutes he dropped me off at the airport. So now it’s 12:45 and I am already here. Check-in didn’t start untill 15:10, which ment I had to kill the time.

For the first hour I sat down and finally finished Asimov’s Foundation. It’s a great book of fiction albeit a little dated, but I love reading it. Time creeped on and my butt was hurting from sitting on the stone ledge. It doesn’t come as a suprise that most chairs were occupied by the Chinese, so I had to adapt. Eventually I settled on a chair next to a guy from Malaysia who kept offering to share his food. It passed time quickly while talking with him and eventually it was 14:50 and about time to get in line. There I met a guy from Mexico, Elesier, who was in China and Taiwan for business as a company representative. We got to chat and spent the two hours after checking in while waiting for our plane. Great times and we’re keeping in touch.

As you can imagine with my height, I have to get an extra large seat with my ticket in order to properly fit into the plane. Normally this results in me taking the emergency exit seat, even if I have to pay additional fees. Colour me suprised when I arrive at this desk and the girl working there politely tells me that I have the emergency seat at the window. Wooo! So when we finally get into the plane, I see that my new buddy is on a different row and settle down. Few minutes later a tall Chinese guy plunks his butt down in the chair next to me, and eventually we’re chatting during the flight. Turns out he’s 1.90m tall. Damn, suddenly I feel less tall than I did in China.

But at least now it’s really a flight of giants. I guess that counts?

shrunk1

When you eat something you should not have…

It’s been two and a half weeks since my last blog and frankly, it has been an interesting time. Most of it goes by in a blur because you see so many things and get so many impressions that it’s insane to keep up. Nevertheless, after I met with Rubing on the 21st, I retired to my room for much needed air conditioning and ended up sleeping semi-okay for that night. That is, assuming you could sleep with 31C during the night. Below is a graph of the temperatures and you have to imagine that the entire week the humidity was above 80%.

temperature_xiamen

Needless to say, it was so hot that it felt like Daenerys and her dragons were toasting lamb next to you. On monday I woke up and felt like hell. I had been sleeping terrible and the heat was killing me so instead of heading out for the day I took it slow and slept some more untill I woke up around 15:00. I had already talked to Mina to meet her in the city after not seeing her for five years. So when she finished work, I picked her up at her place and we went to a small Korean restaurant in the city, where we had some Bibimbap together. It was really nice to see her again.

Michael and Mina

We went for a great walk along the beach and caught up on a long time of not seeing eachother. It’s definitely good to see old friends like that and I miss them dearly. Most of the guys here already moved to other cities and as a result you’d end up with a lot of pictures where I am hanging out with my female friends. Ah well, such is life! After hugging Mina goodnight I retired to my hotel to get a shower and rest. It was still balls busting hot, so I went to bed early.

Tuesday the 23rd.

I was still dealing with the immense heat compared to my hometown and started off in my hotel. I had no plans made on that day to visit friends, so I decided to go for a walk in the Bailuzhou Park. Many of the pictures can be found in my previous posts, but I did record a short video for you all to see.

Friday the 26th.

After meeting some other friends it turned into Friday real quick and I planned to meet with Miya for lunch. Five years ago, my friend Resa introduced me to Miya but due to bad timing we weren’t able to hang out in Xiamen before I left. That said, we did build a close friendship and on the 26th we finally met at a hotel near Gulangyu. I arrived first and eventually got a text from her that she was waiting in her car but had to find a parking spot. I found her car, stepped in and was suprised what such a short girl did in a big car like that. I even had enough room for my feet AND my head, so that was a major suprise. We found ourselves a parking spot and then went to the hotel for Dimsum. As this was the first time I had dimsum and it also was in a city famed for it’s seafood, I was a little apprehensive. Most of our dishes were great to eat, but Miya decided to buy one local delicacy called “Sea Worm Jelly”.

Yes, you heard that right. Sea WORM jelly. It is as disgusting as it sounds. I failed to take pictures of the whole thing but imagine it looking like this:

I am very proud to say that I didn’t splatter the entire meal with the contents of my intestines over it, but I’ll never eat that again. Meanwhile Miya’s eating it like candy and keeps insisting that I try to eat more of it. BLEH. Haha, luckily the rest of the food was very tasty so that made up for it. But I think my stomach still hated me for a good week after that when I moved to Taipei.

I am struggling to put all the stories into one blog because there are both a lot of memories and not everything is as interesting to tell for the public. That said, I am going to post a video later with a compilation of pictures. Most of them have been posted already but it’ll be nice to have regardless.

Flight of Giants

A few years ago I vowed that I would try to return to Asia to finish my studies and do my second internship coupled with my thesis in this region. Initially I wanted to move to South Korea, but after a lot of effort there was simply no available location within the timeframe that I had. Faced with this difficulty, I decided to pursue my second option, Taiwan. Luckily this has become a reality and on the 20th of August 2016 I stepped on a plane to follow my dreams and goals.

I woke up that morning at 05:45 to get ready and have enough time to check all my bags, papers and finish up a last set of chores. My plane would leave around 12:35, but with all the extra checks done by police around the airport, we decided that we wanted to head off at 08:00 in order to be in time. We arrived relatively early and were lucky that the security checks prior to entering the airport weren’t as long as we expected. After some last minute checking of papers, luggage and other unrelated aspects I waved my parents goodbye and moved on to check in my bags and pay the extra luggage fee. I was really lucky as the night prior to my flight I went to check-in online, noticing that I had the seat at an emergency door with extra legroom. Huzzah! Or so I thought.

Anyhow, before I digress, I ended up going through the customs and decided to get some food. Unhealthy McDonalds, but food nonetheless. While I was eating I ran into a group of four Americans from Portland that had done a cruise through Europe and were on their way back. We spent a good 30-45 minutes talking about all kind of things, after which we separated ways to get to our gate. Initially I followed the signs, but it turned out that I was at the wrong line waiting for my gate. Great, 20 minutes waiting for nothing. After I get to the right gate, I plunk my butt down with a bottle of green tea (Lipton of course) and wait for the gates to open at around 12:00.

Once the gates opened, we boarded and I went into the plane to find my seat. Sweet, it was a seat right at the wing and plenty of leg room. But as I am a big guy not only in length but also width, I sat myself down in the chair. Crap, this is tight. While my feet had enough space to make it work, my butt felt like sardines in a can. The only bigger seats would also cost 500 euro more. Screw that, let’s just sit through it. My neighbour was a gentleman from Barth, UK, and we had some great conversations on the way. It was the first time he visited so I gave him the critical advice for any foreigner to know prior to landing in China in relation to some cultural aspects and how to handle street food. One thing did frustrate me however. It was recently ruled that it was not allowed to use your phone at all in the plane. I had prepared all my music on my phone, with an extra battery just so that I could pass the time quickly. Instead the intercom announced that both the power packs and telephones weren’t allowed, yet during cruise you could use a laptop/tablet due to the way their safety regulations work. Great, welcome to China where it sometimes doesn’t make much sense.

By now it was time for dinner in the plane, and we got this pretty decent bowl of rice with chicken, coupled with some deserts and bread. Tasted pretty good, not extremely hot in temperature but good enough as a dinner. After dinner the lights went out and people proceeded to sleep. At around 2AM everyone got woken up effectively though for the second meal of the flight, this time beef with rice, carrots and other vegetables. Very tasty for an airplane meal, but it was a little random on the timing.

After two hours we finally arrived in Xiamen Airport as the very first flight of the day, touching down at 05:16 local time. None of the stores, none of the booths and none of the desks outside immigration were occupied. The only living souls there were the morning staff, security and yawning passengers trying to get accustomed to the heat and early morning.

We walked down to the immigration desks to get our arrival cards confirmed with our passport and then moved on to pick up our luggage. Seeing as I had two huge bags and we were the only flight that was in, it was relatively easy to spot them and get to the last checkpoint before sweltering heat, lack of air conditioning and struggling to communicate in Chinese. By now it was 06:00 local time, and I was in desperate need of a shower and just a change of clothes after that flight. So I walk to the taxi stand and get a female driver that would be my ride. So we load up the luggage with one piece on the backseat and the other piece in the trunk. Sadly, the trunk didn’t close and I tried to get her to put the suitcase on the backseat. The lady however assured me it’d be fine, so while keeping an hawks eye on the trunk we drove for about 20 minutes to my hotel.

After paying the driver 40 RMB ( 5 euro ) for essentially a 15 km ride, I headed up to the hotel in order to see if I could check in. As it was 06:30, none of the rooms were available and I was told I’d have to wait until 09:30 at the earliest to be able to move into a room. So I sat my sweaty back in the chair, bought a drink and waited. And waited… Eventually at 08:45 the guy at the desk beckons me over and shows the translation app on his phone. “A room is available”. So I ask him if the payment is done via credit card upon which I am told that it won’t work and that I need to pay by cash. Oh shit, I didn’t pick up cash yet. So out I go, finding a bank and trying to get money. No bueno. The bank doesn’t even register my card. Great, now what? So I walk back, stressed to the max and I convince them to at least let me pay for the night so that I can have a shower and some rest, before I would go fix everything and get the rest.

Finally they agree, I pay the first night (228 RMB) and walk to my room in the corner of the building. Getting a shower and some rest, I contact my friend Ru Bing to help me figure out some things as we were supposed to meet regardless. At this point I feel so tired that I start to feel sick from the stress of money not being withdrawable at the bank, that I have to call off a meeting with a friend that I won’t be able to see for a long time. It sucks, but my health and well being is more important than trying to push it beyond the acceptable.

After a short nap of three hours, I am ready to explore so I get myself prepared and wait for Ru Bing’s arrival. We meet up and head out for a SIM card first as well as checking other banks. At some banks they seem to have a daily limit, so we end up using multiple banks to get my rent for the hotel room sorted. Great, stress levels reduced by 90%, life is good. Turns out I had not enabled worldwide access to my payment pass, so I sorted that and we fixed the problems. Huzzah!

With a temperature of 30-32 Celsius and humidity being over 80%, the heat really can get to you. Prior to my trip, I prepared a gift for my friend Ru Bing because he once made a naughty comment about wanting something rated 18. For the entire day, I proceeded to make him believe it was something in those lines, to the point that he couldn’t contain his curiosity and was curious to what my present was. I told him we first would buy some water, walk to the lake and hang out there while I give the present (and tell his girlfriend about the reaction via wechat). So we bought some drinks, walked down and sat in the shade with this view in front of us:

Handing over the present, you could visibly see a mixture of horror, anticipation and excitement on the face of Ru Bing. Eventually when he finally opened it, he was so relieved I didn’t buy what we hinted at that he was crying from laughter. I regret not recording this…. T____T. Anyhow, inside the present were Dutch Stroopwafels, which are waffles with syrup inside. He’s already addicted as I know most Chinese seem to be when I bring them. Such is my evil plan!

After some more relaxing and tons of mosquito bites, we decided to walk for a good hour in the sweltering heat to a restaurant he recommended. I made some great pictures, and eventually we arrived for a bowl of noodles. These noodles were submerged in a hot and flavourful soup, filled to the brim with noodles, vegetables and little pieces of meat. What I didn’t realise though, was the effect of wet noodles that splash the soup occasionally, on a pristine white shirt. Ending up with more little orange stains from the soup splashing all around than I would like, I realise it may not have been the best idea. So before we head home, we jump into the Carrefour and buy some dish soap. Yes, you read that right, dish washing soap. Put a tiny bit onto the stains and rub it together until it disappears. A tip from Ru Bing that worked surprisingly well.

Heading home I end up chatting a bit with friends, set up some tools and do my thing. I made a few pictures so far, so hopefully you like them! All in all, I’ve been awake for a good 40 hours with a short nap in between, but it’s worth it!






A mountain of salt

Whenever anyone moves abroad in order to build up a life, study or travel, they end up dealing with cultural differences that sometimes seem to be unbridgeable. We’re so focused on our own environment that many people lack the ability to look beyond that frame of reference and implant themselves in the culture they visit. Now, I am aware that this is a blunt statement and a little bit overgeneralising, but I base it on my own observations while I lived in China.

Anyone who moves abroad essentially experiences four distinct phases during their stay. At least, they eventually would unless they get stuck in one mindset.

  • Phase 1: The Honeymoon.
    It’s like as if you take your newly wed wife on the honeymoon, it’s amazing and everything is fantastic. You can’t get enough of each other and keep covering eachother in the presence of the other. All is good, you’re happy.
  • Phase 2: The Hangover.
    So you had an amazing wedding celebration, and you drank a little too much together on your honeymoon. You get hit by the negative effects of too much and start to get irritated by things. In a foreign culture this festers like a dislike/hate for all the odd things and can really lock a person down in a negative spiral.
  • Phase 3: Recovery.
    You’ve realised that things are doing to be different for you when you’re there, and while it still hurts, you accept that some parts of life will be like a hangover.
  • Phase 4: Accepting.
    At this point you’re so ingrained in the culture that any of the oddities that you spotted earlier has faded to nothing special. You’ve assimilated and got used to the place so much that it feels like you’re home.

The problem that I see both from students that went to China, and from reading experiences of people going elsewhere is that a majority seems stuck in that second phase. They are so disgruntled with the place that they live in, that they grab anything and everything to voice that displeasure. And that sucks, honestly. It’s really annoying to read about a country you might have an option to study in, and see very salty people bashing that country non-stop. It feels like they get stuck in the second phase, where all they see is the negative. Now I understand that it’s difficult but you don’t help it out by raging at/with every foreigner that doesn’t sit in the same phase. Reddit’s a good example. There’s plenty of useful information available but you really want to avoid the vocal minority. A vocal minority that usually comes to a country like Taiwan, China, Vietnam etc with massive expectations and then get disappointed when it’s not matching up to their ideal.

The thing that I do not understand is the following:

If you aren’t happy somewhere, what makes you stay instead of moving on?