ash has to work in the mornings this week, so if i manage to be awake then i've got some time by myself in his place. so i'm sitting here drinking my apple milk and deciding if i am going to venture out by myself for awhile before he gets back. (it's about 11am here now.)
i decided to not sleep much the night before flying out, hoping to perhaps mess up my internal clock. i slept 3 hours, from 2:30am - 5:30am. jack came by my place as planned. he picked me up and we ate at house of pies. as we were paying, jack said "you should take ash one of these pies." he was referring to the mini pecan pies they make. (not as small as the ones at convenience stores...about two or three times that size, but maybe 1/4 or 1/3 of a regular size pie.) i said i wasn't sure how i'd transport it. he bought one anyway. so when we went back to my place i put it in a big ziplock bag and buried it in the middle of my clothes in the check bag.
we made it to iah without a problem. i got checked in with no problem. security was no different than it's ever been when i've flown in the past, so that was no big deal. i checked in at my gate, then i went and did currency exchange to get some taiwanese money. i had been told the exchange was currently about 31:1 or so, but i got 26:1. so i didn't get a very good deal. but it made me feel better knowing i had some ntw for when i arrived, just in case. the departure was on time. i flew in a 777, which i thought was going to be huge but it really wasn't. (unless i missed part of the plane.) in economy it's 9 seats wide, 3 seats in 3 columns with 2 aisles. my seat ended up being over the wing, middle seat, right side of the plane. i was a bit concerned because my row was the one right against the bathroom wall. no, not for that reason -- because the seats were even a bit narrower than the rest of the economy seats, and mine couldn't recline because of the wall. the window seat was taken when i got there, and a bit later an asian woman took the aisle seat. it was not crazy, but tight enough i was thinking "man, this is going to be an uncomfortable 14 hours." the woman was with a guy who had a seat somewhere else, and before we left he came and got her. i guess they found an open seat where he was. which left the one by me free, so i moved into it. that helped the comfort level a lot. although when you're in economy on a 13+ hour flight, there's only so much comfort level possible. the food was okay. with tech updates, now you get a touch-screen right in front of you (in the headrest of the seat in front of you) and you can choose from a large selection of movies, tv shows, music, games, etc. all for free. so i watched up and gangs of new york, as well as some episodes of futurama and big bang theory. and i listened to some of their music, including about 3 hours of sleep "listening" to nirvana's nevermind album over and over. the flight was mostly asians, although the guy next to me was hispanic. i was over the wing and the windows were closed most of the time, so i didn't really see anything (like the ocean, or alaska, or japan, etc.). there were a few people wearing surgical masks on the flight. oh yeah, and i believe this may be the first time i ever used a bathroom on a plane. i think...can't recall for sure. but when staring down the barrel of 13+ hours, i decided to not even consider holding out. the flight itself was uneventful, really.
we landed at narita and i got off the plane, not really knowing what to expect. but pretty much everything was in english and japanese, and you pretty much have to follow certain limited paths with fairly simple choices. plus most of the people working in those areas spoke decent enough english to help if you had questions. i had to go through a security check there, but it was also no big deal. since i wasn't leaving the airport, i didn't have to go through customs or anything. i had to walk a ways and then hop on a bus, which took me to another terminal. there i had to wait in line to get my boarding pass. then i had to get on a tram/rail that took me to another terminal area (it was a short, straight trip though). i had wanted to look around some, but i was worried about not knowing what i'd have to do and end up missing my flight. i had a 3 hour layover, so i ended up getting to my gate with about 2 hours left. i decided to walk around the terminal area. it really didn't seem all that odd, other than stuff was in yen and it looked like the japanese section of the international area of grocery stores. :) i didn't ask if they took u.s., and i didn't exchange any money for yen. i also went to the bathroom. it was just like bathrooms i'm used to, except they added a third option: a japanese style toilet. which was a ceramic ovalish hole in the ground with a half dome hood covering 1/5 or 1/4 of one end. kind of imagine if you took a urinal and shrank it to about 1/3 or 1/4 of its size and then put it in the ground. i could imagine how you might use one of these, but i decided to be friends with the kind of toilet i'm used to. i thought about taking a picture, but i didn't really want to (a) appear too naive and foolish, and/or (b) get questioned, beat up, etc. for taking pictures in the bathroom. :) other than that, it was just a couple of hours of waiting, watching a lot of asian people walk past me.
the plane from narita to taipei was a 747 (747/200 i think). it was bigger. it had 10 seats across in economy (3/4/3) and had way more wasted space as far as headroom and such. it also had a second deck, which i assume was just the bump you see on them so it is probably fairly small (compared to the rest of the plane). (you might think as a person with an aerospace engineering degree i'd know my planes. but you'd be wrong. i was way more interested in the "space" portion than the "aero" part.) up until i got on this flight, i'd been pretty awake and functional. (i had been hoping to sleep on the first leg, but that didn't really happen.) once i got in my seat (window seat, over the wing) i ended up sleeping most of the flight. but i guess it didn't really matter, since it was dark outside and i could mostly just see a wing anyway. i didn't eat any of the food they offered, but i did have a cup of apple juice. of course, i'm not sure what informational stuff i might have missed while i was asleep.
we arrived at taipei. as with narita, fairly fixed paths and limited choices. i did stop at a duty-free shop and buy ash a bottle of glenlivet single malt scotch (the aged 18 years one). i was looking for disarrano but i couldn't find any. (when we were roommates i noticed one day my bottle was almost completely empty, and when i asked ash about it he said he'd just drink a little bit. but the bunch of little bits added up.) i got in line to get a free 30-day visa. when i got to the lady helping me, she was very nice and then said "did you fill out one of these forms?" and held up a paper. i guess i did miss something because i was asleep on the flight. so i took it and went to a desk and filled it out. well, most of it. it asked the address of where i was staying and i wasn't about to try writing the address in chinese. so i got back in line and went to her again, then she wrote the address in for me. i went down to baggage claim and got my checked bag (which appears to have made it fine). at this point i wasn't sure about declaring stuff and all that, but i didn't i was good and walked through the "nothing to declare" area. ash was there waiting for me.
leaving the airport was the first time things seemed too different. it seems airports are little bubbles where things are somewhat the same. the people working there and the people flying may change, but the airports work about the same and look about the same. once out of there, there was much less english (written or spoken). ash got tickets on an express bus and we went back to his place. it was probably at least a 20 or 30 minute drive, although we were in slow traffic for some time so i'm not exactly sure.
ash lives in...well, think of downtown lofts. hard not soft. he lives on the second floor in a corner room. it's a single room, probably about 450 square feet. there are tons of mopeds driving around. he lives at an intersection, and i assume it's a fairly busy one. when we got here last night it was midnight or 1am here, so we talked for awhile then walked to a 7-11. they're all over the place. i got some kind of pre-packaged beef and rice, an "ice fire" brand lemon juice and vodka "malt beverage", apple milk, and strawberry milk tea. he keeps the windows open, and there is quite a bit of street noise. fortunately, that doesn't really bother me.
i drank the apple milk this morning while writing this post. the picture on the box is some milk being poured onto apples. and that's about what it tastes like: apple juice mixed with milk. the only thing on the box in english says "premium flavored milk". i hadn't really thought of apple and milk mixed before, but it's pretty good.
ash gave me an extra sim card he had, so i've got my razr with a local phone number. although ash said it's expensive to call, so i should just text if possible. i have no idea what the rates are on any of it though. as i mentioned above, ash is working in the mornings this week, so if i'm up during that time i have the opportunity to strike out alone. i may do that this morning for a bit. ash made a map by hand of the surrounding area and some things i might care about (like coffee shops, places to eat, etc.). he also said last night he was planning on letting me deal with taking care of my own stuff while we're out and about, so i can get more culture shock. i'm not sure if i'm excited about that or not. but it's probably good for me.