Tag Archives: flight

New Place of the Week: Taipei, Taiwan

NPotW now has an international flavor. My most recent travels took me to Taipei for a weekend for an ultimate frisbee tournament. I left Seoul on Friday evening and returned Monday afternoon. I made trips with this kind of quick turnaround at least twice a month in college with my university’s club ultimate team. A whirlwind adventure like this often takes me to new places, but since I’m there for a tournament, I’ll spend most of my time at the playing fields and not see too much of the town. Taipei was no different.

The flight from Incheon International to Taipei Taoyuan International took about two and a half hours. Despite the short flight, the airline still provided a meal and free drinks — reminders that North American carriers suck. After a steak, glass of wine, shot of Courvoisier, and half of “A Complete History of My Sexual Failures,” we landed in Taipei.

It was everything I had expected…which wasn’t much. I had heard Taipei was very similar to Seoul, and the comparisons aren’t unfounded. It’s big, has its own layer of smog, and endless traffic leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being a city with one of the world’s highest population densities, Taipei still manages to have a fair amount of greenery — much more than Seoul. The streets also seemed wider, giving Taipei a noticibly more open feel to it than Seoul.

Like I said, I was there for a tournament, so I didn’t have time to see any of the sights, most notably the Taipei 101, the world’s tallest completed building. Standing twice as high as the next tallest building in the city, Taipei 101 dominates the skyline and can be seen from anywhere in the city. Other than that, not much separated Taipei from any other big Asian city, especially the one in which I’m currently living. In that same vein, though, since I live in a similar city, I’m sure there are plenty of sights to see in this town, but I wouldn’t make a long trip out of it.

As for my business there, our team — the only one of the eight from outside Taiwan — won third place in what was a lackluster tournament. We received bronze medals and a team trophy and then lost them all to a member of the winning team in a series of unfortunate Rock-Paper-Scissors games. I went to Taipei, and all I got were these stupid photos…and a strawberry-flavored Kit Kat bar. [hover over photo for captions; click to enlarge]

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Korean Air Review

My plane as seen from O'Hare.

My plane as seen from O'Hare

The nearly 14-hour flight from Chicago O’Hare to Seoul Incheon passed by rather quickly thanks to my all-night packing affair coupled with my propensity for sleeping on moving vehicles. All in all, I’m sure I slept more than seven hours of the flight, which is probably a major reason I can’t truly believe I flew halfway around the world.

The six or so hours I was conscious were actually rather pleasant for being strapped to a seat inside a cabin suspended 32,000 feet in the air. I flew Korean Air, and the journey was much easier than I had anticipated. For a pre-paid flight, I wasn’t going to be difficult, but I had heard good things from my mom, who flew Korean Air from Dallas to Seoul en route to Vietnam.

This particular flight didn’t have personal viewing screens, just a large projection in the middle of the cabin. I had my own means of entertainment with my laptop, my Nintendo DS and my iPod, so I was rather indifferent to this fact, especially because they showed Korean news and some crazy Korean movie that involved (from what I could gather from glances and not reading the subtitles) a girl who gained superpowers from having too much Soju. It was worth the occasional peek.

There was lots of leg room, especially when I put the seat back. I was surprised at how far the seats leaned back, but I wasn’t going to complain. It definitely helped the sleeping patterns. The few occasions I woke up were coincidentally (unless I have some uncanny sense) the same times the attendants served food. The staff was very friendly despite a bit of a language barrier, and the meals were a little better than typical airline food. For each of our meals, we had two choices of entrees, one Korean and one, well, not-so-Korean. Between meals, the staff also provided snacks, such as a choice between a BBQ pork-stuffed bun and a banana half, as well as tea in addition to the standard airline drinks.

Overall, Korean Air was a pleasant trip, especially since I didn’t have to pay for the ticket (thanks, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education). I would fly them again, and I probably will since I’ve read flights around the tiny South Korean peninsula are rather affordable.

Has anyone else flown Korean Air? What was your experience like? Any recommendations on other overseas carriers?

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And off we go

I decided to make (read: procrastinate) packing into an all-night affair. Since this was also my last night in my room and house of the past two years, I had cleaning to do on top of that. The Olympics were no help, either, as NBC forced me to peek into the Michael Phelps love-fest as well as the women’s all-around gymnastics competition. Nastia Liukin provided quite the respite from a stressful day.

Anyway, packing and cleaning for an overseas move, limited to two 50-pound bags and a carry-on, I had to first and foremost prioritize between things I really needed and things that added to the piles of black garbage bags of what essentially became junk. I donated three full bags of clothing, and various things like clothes hangers, a TV stand, my desk and a golf putter ended up in my front yard free for passers-by to collect.

This arduous process of streamlining my life to (almost) the bare necessities took me until 5:15 a.m., which also happened to be the same time I needed to leave to catch the bus. The final rush of cleaning carried me to the bus, on which I stayed awake for about 10 minutes. Next thing I knew, I was working out the cricks in my neck as we pulled into Detroit Metro Airport. This was only the beginning of my prolific sleep habits for this trip.

I had little semblance of coherence. For the past five years, I’ve flown — although domestically — at least twice a year. I should know the check-in process in and out: Scan ID or credit card, grab boarding pass, wait for luggage tags. Today I decided to walk up to the check-in counter and absently stare at the clerk. After an awkward pause, she points to the kiosk and says, “Sir, you can start checking in now.”

Oh, right.

After boarding and falling asleep before take off, I found myself dazed and landing in Chicago 15 minutes later — thanks to the time zone change — but four hours before my next flight. I meandered my way over to the international terminal and prepared myself for the next flight; being the only one at the gate, I set my stuff down in a corner, laid my pillow on the ground, and slept for yet another 2+ hours.

The countdown of days left in the U.S. had now become a matter of hours and minutes. I made my final calls to my parents and my brother in the minutes before boarding, letting them know I’ll e-mail them as soon as I land on the other side of the world. I hang up my American phone for the final time and get in line to Korea — but not before I enjoyed my last truly American lunch.

A Big Mac is an appropriate final meal in the U.S.

A Big Mac is an appropriate final meal in the U.S.

But as I tried to get on the plane holding my fresh Big Mac, the Korean Air employees noticed on my boarding pass — the same one with which I went through security when I changed terminals — that I had been “randomly” chosen to be searched, usually annoying but moreso exasperating now that we were only a half hour before departure.

After a quick frisk, inspection of my full 38-liter backpack and watching my Big Mac roll through the X-ray machine, I rushed back to my gate where they were essentially holding the plane for me. I found my seat, inhaled my McDonald’s, and immediately did what I do best: I fluffed my pillow and fell asleep before take off. After a pattern of sleeping, eating, watching Scrubs, sleeping, eating and sleeping, I was overlooking the green mountains of Korea and slowly descending toward Seoul.

I'm guessing that's Chicago in Hangul.

KE 038: I'm guessing that's "Chicago" in Hangul.

I’ve made it. Let’s begin.

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