China, Kind Of
Updated September 29, 2006 (trip ended Sep. 17).
Time traveling: 5 days
New stores: 8 Taiwan, 46 Hong Kong
Spent on coffee: $74 HK
Medication: 4 fake Excedrin, 1 Nyquill caplet, 1 cold/flu tablet
Monday, September 11, 2006
I arrived at work on Monday morning to discover that a coworker I was working with was on vacation. I figured I would run out of work in a couple of days, so rather than wasting a couple of days with make-work, I asked my manager if I take a few days off to go to Hong Kong. I wasn't hopeful when I pulled up the travel sites, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a $750 fare to Hong Kong. Why Hong Kong? The reasons will become evident.
Fare ended up being higher, $800 on China, because Eva did not offer electronic ticketing. I'll have to remember that, because with one or two days notice I could have saved the $50 bucks.
September 12, 2006
Instead of anticipation, Monday night was filled with worry because, about six hours after booking my flight to Hong Kong, my nose became congested, and by bedtime I was blowing my nose regularly. The congestion persisted throughout the night, and I also felt just a hint of a headache, and I feared that my second trip to Asia would go the way of my trip to Japan--weak and sore from a sinus infection.
I had stayed up until midnight to get my body ready for the 1:00 AM flight, and then I slept as much as I could, about 9 1/2 hours in bed, before finally reviewing my packing and heading off to work. My symptoms abated not a whit into the early afternoon, but rather worsed, with the congestion turning into a runny nose, the hint of a headache becoming more pronounced, and perhaps something like muscle soreness. I made a point of picking up some Nyquill caplets for the flight in the hopes of sleeping through the worst of the symptoms.
The night before I had left my phone at Scrabble club, and it was a good thing I picked it up when I did, around 1:00, because around 2:00 I received a call from Travelocity. The representative, who was hard to understand, said my reservation was showing as canceled and wanted to know if I had done it. I said no, with a slightly panicked sound in my voice, and "Michelle" mumbled something else and said she would look into the matter and get back to me. My mind raced with speculation as to what the problem could be? My credit card? My name? Something else? Finally "Michelle" called back and said she could not explain the problem, maybe a computer error, but that she had restored my reservation, with one change. Instead of a 10-hour layover in Taipei on Sunday I would only be there an hour. That sucked, because I was really hoping to add two countries to my list for the price of one.
A while later "Michelle" called back again and said my card was decline. I understood right away--she had not entered "NO LAST NAME" correctly. I waited for my confirmation e-mail, and, when it had not arrived after 30 minutes, I called Travelocity myself and spoke to "Rochelle" this time. "Rochelle" said that everything was fine with my reservation and I was confirmed, and furthermore I had my original 10:25 AM flight out of HKG on Sunday. Strange, strange, strange. And since "Michelle" had not logged any record of having dealt with my account, "Rochelle" had no way to verify what had occurred.
Later still, "Michelle" called yet again, to warn me that I was going to have problems boarding the flight because of my lack of a last name. I told her I had already boarded several flights with no problem.
Meanwhile, my symptoms persisted, and I had to keep going back to the bathroom to blow my nose. Not good. Scrabble club after work, and my runny nose persisted. I had intentionally decided not to take any cold pills until the plane flight to see how the symptoms progressed on their own.
I arrived at SFO Long Term Parking around 11:10. Packing my backpack took a while, and when I finished it seemed bulkier than when I went to Mexico or London, and I wasn't sure why. My only items of clothing were one t-shirt, one undershirt, one small towel, one washcloth, two pairs of socks, and two pairs of briefs.
Confusion at the China Airlines counter because of my name. The attendant recommended that I put Winter as the last name.
I had left my current book, The World According to Garp, back in the car because I thought it was too big. I hoped to pick up something smaller, standard pocket book size, at an airport shop, but nothing looked good, so I ended up settling for All the King's Men. It was the same size as my other book, but the upcoming film had sparked my interest in reading it.
Something new at security, a machine in which I stood while quick puffs of air blew at me, startling me.
I had already been told that the flight was not full, and I hoped to get three seats all to myself, but the best I was able to manage was a center row of four seats with an old lady at the other end. Two seats were not enough to allow me to lie down, but nevertheless I slept, probably in large part to the Nyquill caplet I took just before boarding.
About 9 or 10 hours into the flight the Nyquill wore off and my nose started to run, so I took another pill, a daytime tablet this time.
We touched down around 4:18, earlier than I had expected, which meant I would have to wait at least until 6:00 to visit a Starbucks, if I could find out. I asked many and received conflicting reports. A China Airlines attendant said there was one, but an American-sounding pilot claimed there wasn't. I kept wandering, and I spotted a young lady setting up a coffee kiosk named Tycoon. She spoke enough English to direct me down another hallway, and there I finally saw the Starbucks sign!
While I wandered, I immediately noticed plenty of signs in English, and I was pleased to discover that the electric outlets were the three-pronged U.S. variety. I was, however, a bit puzzled by this.
I asked a employee of a nearby restaurants, and she said the Starbucks opened at 6:30--I had an hour to wait, but amazingly enough there happened to be an unprotected Wi-Fi network in the area, and I was able to work on my log while the sky lightened outside the window. Interestingly, even though I was able to get online, I was not able to connect to either of the FTP sites where I upload my web pages and photos.
Around 6:00 a young lady arrived wearing a black polo shirt with the Starbucks logo on the sleeve. I asked if she spoke English, and she replied "Just a little." I asked about the manager, but she did not understand the word. Nor "supervisor", nor "boss", nor "in charge". I said I would wait, and when a young man arrived about 5 minutes later I asked the same thing. Same response. Finally, just before 6:30, they opened the kiosk and I saw a third employee. She seemed to speak more English, so I decided to speak with her, and I also decided there was no point in asking for the manager. I just explained my purpose, slowly and deliberately, and I managed to obtain the sample coffee and learn that there is another location, outside security. I had one more question, whether these airport locations were operated by the same company that runs the rest of the Starbucks in Taiwan, but I did not think I would be able to explain this, plus there were customers waiting.
I tried to exit to find the other location, but I was informed by personnel that I could not exit that way. I would have to exit through the arrivals area, and that the entire process of exiting and reentry might take up to an hour. I decided to wait until Sunday, when I would have more time.
I did not manage to sleep on the flight to Hong Kong--my body thought it was much too late in the day for that. But I managed to get further into All The King's Men, nearly 80 pages in all, and I was finding the book fascinating.
I found my first Starbucks in Hong Kong before I even reached immigration. As I expected, the location looked very much like a Starbucks in America. The prices were higher, $14 for a short coffee (listed on the menu, along with the three larger sizes), which comes to about $2 US. I noticed an wide variety of juices that caught my eye, and I made a note to try one of them. I did have a chance to sample some type of pastry having to do with a Chinese holiday--I forget the name.
Unfortunatately, the delay at the Starbucks meant I had a long way to get past immigration. I made up for it by paying the $100 HK for the Airport Express to the city, instead of $40 for the bus which would take about 40 minutes instead of 24. Before leaving, I exchanged $100 US at a rate of 7.18, just to have some cash, and I paid $60 for a map that turned out to be pretty chintzy for the price. On the train, a friendly American pointed out that free maps had been available everywhere, and gave me one of his.
The second Starbucks was at Hong Kong Station, and there the manager gave me directions to nearby ones. I immediately got lost on my way to Exchange Square and ended up in the IFC Mall, where there is a location. This location, unlike Hong Kong Station has electrical outlets, and there I discovered that I had brought the wrong plug adapter. A kind gentleman let me borrow his. I decided $48 for 200 minutes of Wi-Fi access from a company called PCCW was worth the convenience. Unfortunately, I still wasn't able to upload files to either of my FTP sites.
I took advantage of being at the mall to pick up an umbrella. Karen had warned me that the weather was not good that week, and that a typhoon was expected, and the sky sure looked like it was going to break open with rain. When I exited the mall, sure enough, drizzle. Not enough to need the umbrella, but given that I was carrying expensive electronic equipment, it was best that I have it.
Incidentally, the mall offers a pretty good view... but of what? Downtown?
I found an electronics store TaiLin, but they did not have any plug adapters. The employee kindly walked me over to another location--nothing. They in turn directed me to a computer store, which had an adapter, but a universal one, at a whopping price of $240!!! Yowza! The employee though suggested the Wanchai Computer Centre. By coincidence, the Support Center is in Wanchai, so I decided to head there next.
But first the two Exchange Square locations. At the second, the manager was busy behind the bar, and when I asked for a sample, he kept saying "a taste", "a taste". He came back with the sample cup only halfway. I asked for more, and he still did not fill it to the required amount. I considered just buying a coffee, but since I was hungry I decided to try the blueberry cheesecake, for $25, and while the barista rang me up I got her to add a bit more coffee to my sample cup. Cheesecake was pretty good.
Oven, presumably for the panini. At least six different varieties of fresh juices.
View from outside Exchange Square.
At 2:30 it had been about twelve hours since my last cold pill, and my symptoms did not feel like they were returning, so I was hopeful that this was just a 24-hour bug.
7-11, Circle K, McCafe, Bank of America
Wanchai was just two stations away, and I quickly found the Wanchai Computer Centre, and the first shop I tried had an plug adapter for just $19. But for that price, the cashier did not want to take a credit card, so I pulled out cash.
Wanchai appeared, at least on the surface, a bit different than the very clean area around Hong Kong Station. I saw what appeared to be homeless and/or indigent persons around. Many small businesses had signs only in Cantonese, no English. I took a side street, Luard Rd I think, towards Gloucester Road, and I saw the traffic very backed up, even at 2:30 PM. At Lockhart Road, I saw a strip club, and perhaps others down the street. I was of course curious, but I had no time for that, nor energy really. The straps of my backpack were really starting to cut into my shoulders. I started thinking about heading to Causeway Bay to check in to the hostel and unload some things.
Free public toilets.
I hung out at the Gloucester Road store a bit then went next door to the Luk Kwok Centre and up to the Support Centre (not sure if they call it that). I had been told the stores were run by Maxim's, but there is actually a subcompany (?) called Coffee Concepts, Ltd. that handles Starbucks. They were surprised to see me, because my e-mail had just been forwarded to them by the Maxim's PR department. Regardless, they were extremely helpful, and one of the assistants spend considerable time with me pointing out which stores were close to which MTR stations.
One interesting note--all of the employees of coffee concepts I saw, maybe 10 in all, were very young, and all the females attractive.
Before continuing on with Starbucks, food was a must. I took a side street of Gloucester Road and saw many shops and restaurants. I went for a Filipino place called Mang Ambo, where I had rice and chicken liver. The last time I had liver was when my grandmother cooked it, and as far as I could remember it had been years, maybe as many as five or ten.
View from a foot bridge in Wanchai.
Wanchai Tower and the Sun Hung Kai Centre were relatively close, but the final store in Wanchai, Hopewell Centre, looked to be very far away by foot, and I was exhausted. I decided to head towards the hostel, and though I decided I could live with just eight stores for that first day, when I saw three other stores in close proximity, including one a few doors down from the hostel, I went ahead and visited them too.
The first typically Asian ornamentation I saw in Hong Kong, which otherwise was looking very western, a bit Londonish even.
And as night approached, the vast sea of neon signs that I associate with Asian nighttime scenes.
I finally reached the Wan Fat Hostel, a tiny place on one of the floors of a building on Paterson. I couldn't decide if the hostel attendant, Noel, was flirting with me or just being friendly at her job, but I wasn't in a position to do anything about it anyhow. I crawled directly into bed and was soon asleep, completely oblivious to the light from the adjacent room, or the hint of smoke from the Japanese guest's cigarette. I wasn't sure if smoking was allowed, but I was too tired to care or do anything about it.
The coffee had a heck of an impact, because between about 7:30 and 2:30 (a guess) I used the bathroom a whopping 11 times. If that's not a record, it's close. But on the bright side, my symptoms did not return, even long after the cold pill had to have worn off.
Past 2:30 I was unable to sleep. I just lay there tossing and turning. At 3:53 I turned on my computer to see what time it was. Two more hours, I thought, before there was any point in leaving. I kept tossing and turning. Finally, a bit after five, I decided to go ahead and shower. I turned on the hot water, and while I waited the required 10 minutes I discovered a low Wi-Fi signal and confirmation from Karen about plans to meet.
It was just after 6:00 when I got down to the Wan Fat office, and of course there was no one there. I debated whether to ring the doorbell or not when another guest arrived wanting to check out. He was less patient...
It was almost 6:30, and I figured by the time I reached the MTR Central store it would be 6:45. So there was little point in exiting the station for food. Still, it had been some 14-15 hours, I think since I had eaten, and I was starting to feel weak and dizzy, though I was surprised that my headache had not intensified to any significant degree.
The store finally opened, a few minutes before 7:00, but the pastries had not arrived yet, so I had to wait a bit longer yet for food. The store in Alexandra House, the flagship store, had plenty of pastries, and I chose the strawberry/blueberry cheese danish, which came topped with an actual strawberry and actual blueberries, rather than just the flavoring like back in the states. And I was offered the option of having it heated. Unfortunately, the bread itself was a little too dry for my tastes. I did like the fresh orange juice, however. In addition to orange, the Hong Kong stores offered several other varieties of juice--grapefruit, ginger punch, guava, passion fruit, and something called calamansi.
As I caught up on my blog, I noticed something odd. I was having trouble typing. I kept hitting the wrong keys, and sometimes not pressing the key hard enough. 7:52 = 11:52 Pacific, not that late, so I had no idea what was going on.
After failing to find Jardine House on my map, and not getting any useful information from the barista I asked (the others were busy), I was about to set out for other stores when I stumbled across a sign. I followed the sign along the walkways and eventually found the location, in the basement of Jardine House along a slender hallway.
Hong Kong seems to have the largest network of pedestrian walkways between buildings and across roads that I have ever seen.
Next I headed to Caine Road, and I encountered my first hill, and a steep one. That danish wasn't nearly enough to make up for the previous day's food deficit, and I found myself pretty tired when I reached the Starbucks. All along Caine Road were beauty shops, many advertising foot and body massage, and I decided to take a break. For $171, or about $24, I got 45 minutes of excellent massage. For all the massages I had had at Chinese/Asian places in the States, this was the first in China itself, and the masseuse seemed to be better trained.
It was good I rested a bit, because I then faced a very long walk because I misunderstood the directions I had been given at the Caine Street store. I thought the barista had said to go straight when I reached the escalator, but after walking a ways down Caine, I did not see any Starbucks. I doubled back, and I decided I needed food, so I picked up some curry chicken from a small stand, the name of which is a mystery to me (the green sign). I sat and ate, and then I asked an American-looking female about the Starbucks. She instructed me to go follow the path of the escalator, but under it, and I would see it. I didn't quite get what she meant, and I ended up passing the store. Thankfully I asked another American before I had gone too far out of my way, and he directed me back where I had come from, but under the escalator.
About this escalator. I was told it is the longest in Asia. Of course that is meaningless to me, since I have not seen such a thing, these escalators along streets, in any other city in the world--not anywhere in the United States, Canada, Mexico, England, France, Spain, or Japan. I asked if they were common in Asia, and the barista said just Hong Kong.
Incidentally, most of the stores I visited, at least the larger ones with plenty of seating, have magazine racks.
As helpful as the Support Center was, I was given one piece of erroneous information, that the Century Square store was closed. Well, actually, the original location had closed, and it was already crossed off my list, but then the barista at Cochrane street told me that it had reopened, in Century Square itself instead of an adjacent space.
Throngs of people crossing Queen's Road Central, a principal thoroughfare.
From Century Square I made my way down to Queen's Road Central and then east towards the Citibank Blank. I detoured from the main road onto Battery Path, and it took me through a mini park where apparently exotic plants were designated. As I looked up through the foliage at the Citibank Tower (name?) and the other tall buildings, the contrast was striking.
Something amusing at Citibank Plaza, a bathroom shared among the different businesses, but with stalls and urinals designated for specific shops. Now how the heck do they enforce that? "Excuse me sir, but you are urinating in the wrong stall???"
View outside Citibank Plaza.
From Citibank to the Hutchinson House I got very mixed up and ended up walking through Hong Kong Park. Not the worst thing I could have done, except that my feet were really hurting. And the park was very humid. And I kept thinking I felt invisible bugs biting me.
Cool buildings, from two angles.
After Hutchinson I was in a hurry to meet Karen in Mongkok, so I very quickly stealthed the three stores in Admiralty, having a shot from each in quick succession.
I arrived at the One Grand Tower store maybe 10 minutes later, and there was Karen, with, as she had told me, two friends. I was pleased to see that Karen was the most attractive of the three. And that is actually quite a compliment, because I have never found Asian women to be the most attractive of all the women in the world, with the exception of the few I've met who are half Asian (usually Japanese) and half White. However, I have to say that being in Hong Kong, where nearly all the women were of course Asian, I was seeing more and more that I found stunningly beautiful. I guess you get used to what is around you.
Karen greeted me with a gift, an reloadable MTR card called and Octopus card, which reminded me of London Transport's Oyster card.
After a short time Karen's friends left. We remained there for a while chatting, and then when I felt the three shots had settled I went up to the counter and introduced myself. I was surprised to learn that the manager was expecting me--the Support Center had called. Karen then led me to the other two Mongkok stores, and at each I was expected. In fact, at Gala I did not even have to tell them who I was. They already knew, but they wouldn't say how. "A secret", they said.
Time for dinner, and Karen called her sister to recommend an Italian restaurant. We headed over to one of the several Spaghetti House establishments I had seen all over, where the music played was all in English and could be described as easy-listening. Nothing today's kids would listen to. Stuff I used to like, like 10 years ago, like Chicago and Air Supply (okay, more than 10 years on that one). The menu did not include spaghetti and meatballs, but the spaghetti bolognese was decent. The main course was preceded by soup, potato perhaps, which surprised me.
According to Karen, tipping is not required.
After dinner we took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui and walked around. Plenty of Starbucks in the area, but I was caffeined out and only visited two, stealthy because I just didn't feel like giving my spiel. Actually, we stopped at the first primarily because I needed a bathroom. There was none in the store itself, but rather inside the Kowloon Hotel. While walking through the hotel I got a crazy idea, but Karen, who still lived with her parents about an hour away, did not think she could get away with not coming home. However, we later went over to Victoria Harbour for the view, which was spectacular, perhaps the best skyline in the world, and also undeniably romantic. In fact, it would have to have been one seriously cold-hearted ice queen to not feel the romance in the air, and Karen, though shy, was not such a person. The rest of the evening went splendidly, and we made plans to meet on Saturday night.
Crappy photos of a great view.
Because I made my travel plans so late, I could not find the best price for three consecutive nights, so I had to switch hostels, from Wan Fat in Causeway Bay to the Yes Inn in Fortress Hill. Again, a tiny establishment on a floor of a nondescript building.
Unusual electronic key.
I turned off the light, and I went to pull the blanket over myself, and I promptly whacked the back of my hand sharply against something, right on a nerve. Fucking hand nearly went numb. Turned out there is a think shelf-like piece of wood there attached to the wall, in what must be the most awkward and useless location ever. I could not even imagine what it was for. But sure enough, as I expected, later in the night I hit myself again, though not as hard.
Having a toilet in the room was convenient, but despite having had 14 coffees instead of 12, I did not need to kiwi as many times as the first night, and sleep was much easier to come by, with only one real distraction, that I could not get Karen out of my mind the entire night as I anticipated Saturday night's meeting.
When the sky had seemed to lighten enough I went out into the hall and asked another guest the time--6:15. I figured by the time I got ready to go and found the Starbucks it would be open, so I jumped in the "shower". I use the word sparingly, because, in another new experience for me, the shower and toilet were all the same room. Very awkward, I think. And I couldn't get hot water. Hate that.
I could feel that the banana and apple wouldn't be enough, so I tried the blueberry donut. Though called a donut, there was no hole. And something else unusual, I ate it with a knife and fork.
I caught up on my log and went through my receipts, and I noticed that the short brewed coffee I had ordered at that last Starbucks the previous day actually cost more, $14, than a shot of espresso, $12.
When I wrote with a pen, to mark the stores I had visited, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my hand where I had hit it the night before.
I had felt fine when I got up, and during the walk to the Starbucks. But after having that first 4-oz coffee of the day, I started to feel a headache, and hints of nausea. I figured it had to be mild caffeine poisoning, a combination of the fresh coffee and the previous day's caffeine that had not yet full metabolized.
Mooncake! That's the special festival pastry the stores were sampling.
At the Quarry East station I saw this map of the closest Starbucks--that's what I'm talking about. I wished for more of those, because From Fortress Hill eastward I was off the map I had bought. The Fortress Hill store I found easily, because the first passerby I asked knew the AIA building. Kings Road was also easy. But despite the map in the station, and directions from a manager at Kings Road, Taikoo Shing eluded me until I stumbled across it inadvertently. I definitely needed a map that covered more of the city.
Second sample of the day did not seem to seem to make my headache and nausea any worse, but the humidity wasn't helping make it any better.
Meanwhile, everywhere I saw youngsters soliciting donations for some organization called "playright". A lady who gave me directions to the Tai Koo MTR explained that Hong Kong designates specific days during which charitable organizations may solicit, usually Saturday.
Two more stores in Tai Koo, and then back to finish up Causeway Bay. On the way to Hysan Avenue I stopped at a money changing booth, and the gentleman seems tickled pink by my "thank you" in Cantonese. I was sure my pronounciation was atrocious, but the man gave me an A for effort.
After Hysan I needed to get some food in my stomach. I wandered around looking for something appealing, and I finally settled on this place that had some pork dried like jerky and spiced with chili. The shop sold nothing but meat, so I ended up eating the thing by itself, and it burned my mouth some.
Times Square is a hellah big shopping center, at least 14 levels, with two Starbucks. It took me a while, because I had to sit and stare at my sample coffee each time before I could bear to drink it. When I finished up the previous day I had added up all the stores I'd have easy access to, and come up with around 17 or 18. But after seven, just 28 ounces of coffee, not much more than a venti, I was already starting to feel overcaffeinated and occasionally queasy.
I was forced to take a break from the caffeine, however, and it could have been a permanent break. See, I had almost chosen to leave my camera battery charger back in the States to lighten my backpack. It's a good thing I didn't, because after only a few hundred frames the battery charge was at medium, and I had no idea if I would have been able to finish the next few days without the charger. Still, I was forced to go back to the hostel and retrieve the charger.
By that time I was hungry again, and I ordered some curry pork with rice from a restaurant just down the street. It had started to rain lightly, so I sat in a corner next to the steps to the pedestrian overpass. Seemed perfectly normal to me, sitting down to eat, but for some reason I got looks from many of the passers-by. And I was getting the looks before things got messy, once my spoon-like thing broke and I had to use my hands some.
One more store Wanchai, Hopewell Centre. While there I asked the baristas about the last two stores I had not identified on Hong Kong Island, Cyberport and Hong Kong University. It took them a while, and they had to call the stores, but I finally learned that it was going to take me too long to get there and back, and being on time to meet Karen was more important. So after the two stores in Sheung Wan, I finally headed over to Kowloon.
Took me longer than I had expected to find the Nathan Road store, and by that time the sun was setting and I decided to head to my rendezvous with Karen. I had time to reshoot and visit a couple more stores, and then I went over to the Harbour Centre. Karen was not there, and for a few moments I thought she might have changed her mind, but she showed.
First we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe so I could photograph the city shirt for a friend, and then back to the Starbucks to send him the photos. Then I needed food. Karen wasn't hungry, so we just wandered around looking for something I could grab quickly. A donut was all I could find before my desperation took over. During the hunt, I had been carrying the sample coffee from the previous store because I just couldn't stomach it without food. I had a lid on the little sample cup, but I was still a little worried
At Karen's suggestion, we went back to the harbour to see the light show, put on by many of the buildings on the island. I found it thoroughly underwhelming, and I wondered why so many people clapped. I suggested we get out of there, and Karen, though shy and not talking much, was a willing participant in escaping to see what the night might bring.
Thought we had met only 27 hours earlier, our goodbye was still sad, but sweetened by that kindest of grampa figures, Beard Papa. Yes, a Beard Papa stand in the Mongkok station. I hadn't had Beard Papa cream puffs (or any other cream puffs for that matter) since my trip to Tokyo, and they were just as good in Hong Kong. From that moment, I would always associate Beard Papa with Karen.
I slept as long as I could, then killed time checking my e-mail, but still I arrived at Olympian City 2 so early that I had to wait nearly 30 minutes for the Starbucks to open. While I waited, I noticed a security guard keeping his eye on me. But once the Starbucks opened, the guard disappeared, perhaps off to make his rounds. And the barista I spoke to was one of the two in Hong Kong who had heard of my project, so taking the photo turned out not to be a problem.
One more stop, Maritime Square, and then on to the airport. Again, it took more than at the China Airlines counter, presumably because of my name. Interesting, because the name had not been a problem for Southwest, nor Alaska.
Four stores to visit, and I thought I had plenty of time, but after dawdling at the first, and then the second, I was told that it would take me 20 minutes to get to Gate 28, and I still had Gate 16 too. By the time I finished at Gate 16, which was in a direction opposite of my gate, I decided I was going to have to leave 28 for next time. But when I reached my gate, 21, I saw that the boarding line was long. I asked if I could have 5 minutes, and the attendant said yes. I sprinted in as calm a manner as possible, and I was able to get to 28 and back with time to spare.
I was not expecting food on the short flight to Taipei, but something was indeed provided. I stress something, because I have no idea what it was. I ate it, and I'm perfectly happy going the rest of my life without ever knowing.
On the way to passport control I spotted a sign warning that drug trafficking is an offense punishable by death in Taiwan. Darn it, I thought. I'd have to leave all that fine weed I had brought in my rectum and abandon my plan to offset my expenses with a little peddling on the side.
I breezed through security and headed straight for the information counter. The representative was familiar with Starbucks and suggested going to Taipei 101. About $40 by taxi, in 40 minutes, or an hour on a bus for a tenth of the price. Since I would only have time to visit a fraction of the stores anyway, there was no point in wasting the extra money. I went with Airbus. I even got a free map--gotta remember to also try the info counter first.
I bought my ticket right in time and only had to wait a few minutes for the bus. As I prepared to board, the driver kept asking me something over an over. I had been warned that English would be harder to find, and I ran into that problem right away. Thankfully, one of the passengers, an attractive young lady, spoke enough English to translate for me. All the driver had been asking was where I was going. An hour and a rather bleak landscape later, I was at Taipei 101, which turned out to be a huge shopping center.
One new thing on the highways--some of the on-ramps are metered, like in America, but with a timer indicating how long before the light changed. During the drive I thought about how Taiwan was my ninth Starbucks country, and how it was starting to seem almost routine to visit new countries, kind of like how traveling among countries in Europe started to seem routine.
First stop was the restroom, where I was surprised to see females mopping in the men's restroom without closing it off, something I would never expect to see in America.
My search for the Starbucks led me through a food court, and though I generally opted for mall food, I figured I'd give it a try. I picked a counter that had a photo menu, and I just pointed at an item I recognized. The rice, eggs, and meat were familiar enough, and that's pretty much all I ate. The noodle-like things on the left I could swallow, but they did not take very good. I couldn't stand the taste of the sauce on the cucumbers. And the stuff on the right, I had to spit it out. Unlike in Hong Kong, where forks seemed plentiful, all I was given were chopsticks, and I've got to say I truly butchered that food.
Another interesting thing, all the food preparers seemed to be wearing surgical masks. And the staff cleaning up the tables too, I think.
I noticed a couple of brands, City Super, and Welcome, that I had also seen in Hong Kong. I found this curious, given the political situation, which just means I'm not quite clear on what's going on with China and Taiwan.
The Starbucks turned out to be in what appeared to be the office tower portion of Taipei 101. The barista in charge understood my mission, and I further convinced her to write out an explanation of what I was doing, in Mandarin. While at the store I also picked up some Starbucks cards for a fan in America who had requested them. In Taiwan, you have to pay for the cards themselves, even without putting any money on them. I had hoped to use the card to identify each store by having a barista run the balance and then matching up some type of number on the receipt, like I did in Japan. But I saw no numbers on the receipts to help me identify the store, and I suspected that was going to be a problem. I was right. The barista at Taipei 101 told me the next closest store was in the New York New York shopping center. No such store was on my list, and when I arrived I had to hunt through the list with the supervisor to find its listed name, Song Shou. I would have to repeat this over and over that day, and I bristled at how much work it would be when I returned to Taiwan to try and visit all 100+ stores.
Outside the store was a trash can, on top of which were a dozen or so small paper cups filled with something that looked like dirt, or maybe coffee grounds. Sitting nearby were three people, two who sounded European and one who appeared Asian. I asked if they knew what the dirt was for. The older man, moustached, assumed they were trash, and neither he nor his friend looked too curious. But the Asian lady went over to the cups and quickly explained they were for cigarettes. Interesting.
Motorcycles (or scooters?) seemed to be dominant in Taipei.
Two more nearby stores, and then a longer walk from Mitsukoshi to Shi Mau. Not really that long, not compared to some of the distances I've walked in cities like London or Mexico, but after three solid days, plus part of Sunday, I was exhausted, and pretty much coffeeed out. The thought of returning to Taipei to visit all 100+ stores seemed daunting indeed. Shi Mau is large, with plenty of power outlets, and I picked up a strong "default" Wi-Fi signal, which gave me all the excuse I needed to take a break. I'd definitely visit #6, but beyond that what's the difference if I visit 7 or 8--I'd still have more than 100 to go in the city.
GuangFu (or Kuang Fu (wish they would standardize on spelling)) was farther than I thought, especially after I went the wrong way, twice. It had started drizzling, and the sky had darkened, and I was more than ready to call it a night, so I headed to the Grand Hyatt to find the AirBus.
Airbus didn't leave 'til 7:00, which gave me about 30 minutes to rush a few blocks and find some food. Some beef fried rice with pretty much all the sauces omitted. Each time the cook asked if he should add this or that, and I said no, he looked more and more surprised, and amused.