Jun 27, 2011

Take Flight

Checking my room for the utmost time, making sure I emptied every drawer and cabinet in my Taipei bedroom, I struggled to find space in my luggage. Earlier, my sister remarked "it's bursting." Seems like the "light" baggage I started in Hualien had accumulated to a massive 27kg when I haul it out of my room. One last look at my home for the past 14 days and I'm off.
As the bus pulls out of Taipei Bus Terminal A, I bid goodbye to Taipei. "Pulsating" is the word for it - a city bursting with people, traffic, business, and more people. As the very empty bus weaves westwards to Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, rain and gust showered us reminding us of the typhoon which just passed and my flight's delay thanks to it.
I took a rare descent at Terminal 2, relieved to find the place a far cry from the ghostly aging Terminal 1. However, the good dream soon turned sour at check-in. "There's been a further delay. Departure is now timed at 01:30am." "But why? Isn't the typhoon gone already?" "Late arrival of aircraft." She said. I looked at the flight display and true enough, all flights that day were on time except San Francisco. A typhoon wouldn't specifically pick a San Francisco-bound flight, but poor aircraft dispatch and treating it as a second-class destination will, as I found out later. Then she started bossing about my overweight luggage, demanding that I remove 5 kgs and destroying my plans to be light and cool onboard. I'd expect better treatment for a frequent flier on peak season student fare.
I then paid 5000 miles from my frequent flier program to access Dynasty Lounge. After being pampered by Malaysia Airlines with a buffet bar and endless dessert I'm spoiled for the down-to-earth Dynasty Lounge. It only offers noodles, cakes, sweet potato and drinks. So much for Taiwanese hospitality you see circulating around the globe on "Visit Taiwan" ads.
Anyway, my flight turned out to be a nightmare. The cabin was warn and tattered, it felt like they just rescued it from decommissioning and flew it in for an emergency evacuation flight. There were no PTVs, the seats were dated back in the 90's, and lights were flickering during taxi. At one point my fatigued eyes even imagined seeing cigarette smoke billowing out of the back cabin - smoking section. They don't exist after the 90's thanks to vigorous anti-smoking campaigns. I was stuck with two Vietnamese sisters who kept invading my space and even asking me to move a seat so that she could lie down completely. Things would have been better had not the delay, which messed up my arrival in San Francisco. I then regretted my choice for China Airlines. I paid almost NT$ 8k more, got a 2-hour delay at the airline's home base and then an outdated cabin, a far cry from what the China Airlines website promised.
Immersed by the cabin's heat and boredom, I flipped through the entertainment guide. Apparently China Airlines still operates this ghetto aircraft around the world. To San Francisco and Amsterdam on a regular basis. Interestingly they did not show any specifications of this aircraft on paper or electronically.
Fast forward to arrivals. The notorious American customs and immigration was a far cry from my friendly attendants at San Francisco International Airport. At one point even Customs Officer Ngo (his nametag) seems more friendly than the matron chief stewardess who asks passengers to "switch them off RIGHT NOW."
Once on American soil I called Soon Khen. The rest, they say, is history.