Well, I finally have the time and energy to sit down and write about my first night in Taiwan. This happened last Thursday night and Friday morning, but I thought it was an interesting experience, so I will get it out now before I forget the details.
We arrived in Taipei at about 10:00 at night, and I was one of the first to get their luggage and go through customs. The customs officials didn’t even stop me – they just waved me through. This was a welcome sign that I might not actually look like a terrorist after all. I spent about eight hours in the Osaka airport because I had to check out of my hotel at 11:00 in the morning and my flight wasn’t until 8:00 at night. I was stopped by the police once in the airport on a random passport check of foreigners, had my bags searched while in line to check them at the Northwest counter, and had my carry-on bags and shoes searched just before I boarded the plane. I was a little tired because I was too excited to get much sleep the night before, but I still don’t think I looked that much like a terrorist or international drug smuggler. Glad the Taiwanese didn’t think so…
Anyway, I called my ‘exchange buddy’ Ken and asked him which bus I needed to get on to go to Kaohsiung. I didn’t know how to use the phones here, so I asked a younger guy. I heard most young Taiwanese speak pretty good English, so he seemed like a safe bet. He turned out to be Japanese, though, and he had just arrived as well, so he didn’t really know much, either. Somehow, the two of us managed to figure it out and I got in touch with Ken. The lady at the bus counter spoke enough English to sell me a ticket and point me in the right direction.
My impression of the Taiwanese intercity bus system was a bit negative at first, since the bus driver made me load my own luggage and seemed to be in a really bad mood, but this all changed when I got on the bus. The seats on these busses are recliners! There is a switch to lean your seat back, armrests, and PLENTY of leg room! When I transferred to another bus, the bus driver put some movies on. There are two or three screens on each side of the bus, one screen every two or three seats back. They play two movies simultaneously, which you think would be nothing but an annoyance, until you find the volume switch on your chair. There are speakers built into the headrest! There are left and right speakers on each side of your head that you can bend a little toward your ears and a volume and channel changer on the armrest so you can select which movie you want to listen to and at what volume. This sounds a little nicer than it actually was, however. They were playing American movies with Chinese subtitles, but since this was an older bus with older speakers, the dialogue didn’t come out to clearly. The explosions and dramatic chase scene music, however, came in clear as day. Thankfully, they were playing movies like Van Helsing, which don’t require a thorough comprehension of the plot.
I got off at the bus stop in Kaohsiung, which is really just the street corner, at 3:30 in the morning. As I got off, one of the cab drivers came up to me and started speaking to me in Chinese. I speak all of three words in Chinese, so this must have been an interesting sight. I tried to explain to him that a friend was coming to meet me, but he kept motioning that I put my luggage in his taxi. I decided to try the best communication method I know when it comes to a non-English speaking Chinese speaker – I resorted to Japanese. Since many characters are the same, I decided to whip out my Japanese cell phone and type in the name of my university here in Kaohsiung. Then I typed in the characters for ‘friend’ and tried to gesture out the sentence “My friend is coming to pick me up and take me to National Sun Yat Sen University.” This didn’t quite go through, so I showed him Ken’s phone number, at which point he took the phone out of my hands and held it up to his ear. Again, I TRIED to explain that this cell phone was Japanese, so it doesn’t work in Taiwan, but it didn’t seem to work, because he tried again after I managed to get him to give me the phone back. He finally called Ken, who, being from Taiwan, speaks the local language and managed to explain what gestures don’t seem to cover.
So I got to my dorm room at about 4:15 in the morning, at which point I realized I was starving. He took me to a local all-night eatery for some kind of large dumpling filled with meat, a convenience store to buy some necessities like soap and drinking water, and brought me back home. I didn’t manage to get to sleep until about 6:30 am, so I wasn’t too concerned with my lack of a mattress. I spent my first night on a board, sleeping on a pile of clothes and towels, with a borrowed blanket. It was uncomfortable, but I was tired enough to sleep until well into the next afternoon.
Well, that is enough for one story. I will give some of my impressions in the next post…