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!