Tuesday, June 26, 2007


If you should decide to exchange your money for Taiwan Dollars at home, you can do that at most banks. If you bring cash and want to exchange it in Taiwan, you have to go to a bank. The bank finds out what you are doing, and gives you a slip. You go upstairs and wait until your number is called, in Chinese. I didn't understand what was happening and would not have known if my son hadn't been there. They are very picky on the bills you bring. They examine every bill on both sides. If it is an old issue of $100 or $50 bills, they don't accept them. Even the $50's that aren't colored aren't accepted. The $50's that had a small rubber stamp on them was rejected. So even though I brought $2000 in $100's and $50's, I walked away with $300 in American dollars still unused.
My husband in the mean time used the Visa card, and got money really easy.
If I were to do it again would just put the money into a savings account and don't worry then pay the Visa when you get home. There was one ATM that didn't let us withdraw, but later we paid for a dinner with the Visa and it worked. Then down the street at a McDonald's ATM, we were able to with draw money.
Fairly easy.

The Airports, Flights and What to Pack

The first encounter on this adventure was the airports. We flew from Salt Lake to Los Angeles. The flight didn't leave until around 10:00 p.m. So we were ready to sleep before we even got off the ground. The 757 was very comfortable going to LA, and that gave us a false sense of how nice it would be for the rest of the trip. But LAX brought us down to earth really fast. We had to disembark, and walk to a whole different building. As we asked various airport workers where our connecting flight was most didn't know, and directed us vaguely in “that” direction. We had some carry-on luggage (WITH WHEELS), because I have heard too many stories of people losing their luggage. It was a good thing too, because they did lose my luggage, and it went to Malaysia for a while.

What I did pack was helpful, but if I had an opportunity to re-pack, I would have done it differently. More on that later.

We finally were directed to a terminal five buildings to the south. It turned into a very long walk. When we got there, you would never believe it is midnight, because the airport terminal was filled with hundreds of tired families, most of which were going on to India and Saudi Arabia with huge piles of luggage, and prepared to stay at their destination quite a while (one told me 5 years). We were not given any direction anywhere on which line to stand in. I tried to ask, and was sent several places. We finally were told to stand in the huge line with only three people working at the service counter. Why don't they hire more people to take care of the rush? We stood there for about 45 minutes when finally a Malaysia Airline worker approached us and asked if we had luggage to check. When answered to the negative, we were ushered to one lone clerk who had nothing to do. We got our boarding pass, and then headed through security. The flight didn't depart until 2 in the morning so we had quite a while to find the gate and sit there with masses of humanity, crying babies, and poor exhausted elderly people all trying to make it back to the homeland.

We were finally allowed to board. It didn't matter that we had purchased our tickets way back in February, and had asked for seats that would accommodate a 6'2" man. His knees bumped against the seat in front of us, and when the person in front of him would push his seat back, it got worse. Malaysia Airlines is built for small people. I don't think I will ever use this airline again. All the people who looked like they would live in those parts had at least 4" knee space in front of them. We packed a blow-up neck pillow and acquired a blanket from the stewardess.

I had heard to take Melatonin (check with your doctor first before taking) if you are traveling overseas, and try to get as much sleep as possible so you are refreshed when you land. We had brought earphones and music on an I-pod and CD player. We brought the eye covers to block out light and if the music got tiring, ear plugs. So we took our meds and tried to settle in.

It is next to impossible to get comfortable, but the native India girl next to me seemed to not have a problem, drifted off in no time and slept the whole way. The flight over was 15 hours, and only 11 hours coming home because of a tail wind.

I fell asleep, but my poor husband sat up all night, and suffered from jet lag the whole time we were in Taiwan.

When we landed, it was 6:30 in the morning. I felt sorry for all those who were heading further on their flights to India and Saudi Arabia. They were facing at least 5 more hours of flight time. Everyone had to disembark and retrieve their luggage go through customs, recheck their luggage and get on their next plane.

We found the carousel where our luggage was supposed to be. The first thing we saw was a sign warning us of bringing fruit into the country, and that there were "quarantine beagles" on duty that would sniff us out if we did. The carry on luggage had apples, so as we stood there, waiting for our luggage, we ate the evidence and waited until the carousel turned off. Eventually some man found us standing there and asked us if our name was on a list he had in his hand. He was Taiwanese, and spoke broken English. We confirmed that one matched my name and the other matched our number, and he told us our luggage was not here. We weren't too sure what had happened, so he directed us to a very friendly lady who spoke English very well. She explained that Delta Airlines didn't get our luggage transferred to the departing plane, 5 terminals down in LA, even though we managed to get ourselves down there in time with a couple of hours to spare.
I was a bit worried, because one person had pointed to the number and said "that one not come." One had my name on it, the other was just a number.

As it turned out, a couple of days later, Dave's luggage arrived, and mine had gone on to Malaysia. Sheesh. The next order of business advice: find an ATM right away if you haven't already converted some money to Taiwan Dollars. You need money (around $7.00 for 2 to ride the bus from Taipei to Taichung. We were told to find the bus that takes us to the bullet train, but no one understood that terminology, (My son says the word for High Speed Bullet Train is Gaotie (gahow-tee-eh) is the pinyin pronunciation). We were directed to the U-bus, a green bus that took us on the long route to our destination. We thought we had been directed to the bus that takes us to the train, instead we just kept driving, and we realized this was the slow bus, not the fast train. It was okay, we got to see some fun countryside instead. It took about 2½ hours to get to Taichung. It is much more expensive to ride the HSBT anyway ($700 TD per ticket or at the exchange rate we got, it was around $21 a person).

Since I am on the subject of airport, the lady who helped us try to locate our luggage told us that we should have called the airlines 3 days before we flew and made sure our seats are reserved. This is something you can do from home, and then again from your hotel before going home. But this does not guarantee seats.
We got to the Taipei airport much earlier than required, because of a mix up. Malaysia Airlines didn't even open until 6:30 pm, since our flight left at 9:30 pm. And even though we were there very early, when we asked, they told us it was a continuing flight, and all those nice seats were already taken. I remembered the horrible trip over, and paid the extra $250 a piece and upgraded to business class, and we had a great flight home. They really pamper you in that area of the plane. It was great. But I will probably regret it when I see our Visa bill.

We tried again to make sure of our seat assignment in LAX coming home. We got there 3 hours early because our son didn't have a seat assignment. He ended up using his e ticket and getting a seat assignment and a boarding pass right away. We brought actual paper tickets, and our seat assignment was negated for some reason and we did not receive boarding passes but were told to go to the gate and ask the attendant there. She told us to cool our heels and she would call our names in 30 minutes. We were actually the last two people to board the airline and were separated, but coincidentally I was assigned to the same row as our son, and actually got to trade with a girl sitting next to him.

Luggage: In my carry-on luggage, I packed a library book, my personal journal, a palm pilot and keyboard, an I-pod with music and books on tape, a tape recorder, (supposedly to listen to my choir practice so I can perform in two concerts a week after we arrive home), and a CD player, along with library books on CD.

Advice: Forget the "new year's resolutions" as to what you intend to accomplish on these long flights. Instead, organize yourselves before you leave, get a good palm pilot or whatever you use, with a keyboard, and import some good music and possibly books on tape also pack a personal journal*. Then take the rest of the space in your carry-on luggage with several changes of clothing and under ware for you and your spouse in both of your carry-on luggages, just in case one of you forgets your carry on. You are not allowed to bring any shampoo, but that is okay because most hotels provide that stuff, and you can go to the nearest convenience store (they have 7-11 there) and get what you need. If you are one who needs Bert's Bees for your lips, and lotion, make sure you have that in a 1 quart zip lock, weighing under 3 oz. I missed my hair spray. I brought a sample one of a different brand that didn't really work with my hair.
*I used my personal journal more than the palm and keyboard because I didn't have access to an internet where I could post my journal somewhere. I don't know how much I would rely on electronics, in case the palm crashes. You don't want to lose all your writings, and a paper journal is safer, in my eyes. I have a friend who put her experiences in a blog right away. This seems really smarter, but again I didn't have that technology. She had a Nokia N800 which she loves.

I also had a very light-weight back pack of sorts. Actually it was a cloth bag with long draw strings that were attached to the bottom of the bag as well, which when pulled tight would close the bag and double as shoulder straps. It was a freebie from a hairdresser and said "sexy hair" on the back. I made sure to wear it so the advertisement was turned inward. I didn't want to be accused of false advertising because my very droopy hair from the humidity was not sexy.

Checked Luggage: I brought a variety of Wonder Tee shirts in several colors, along with over blouses from WalMart. I also packed some light pants and skirts that are made from that already wrinkled fabric. It makes for great packing, I rolled them rather than folded. They fit nicely into a suit case and really don't look bad when unrolled. It is so humid, the wrinkles pretty much get lost in a few minutes of wear. I packed some sketcher sandals which I purchased from Penneys. Your feet swell, no matter what you do from all that flying and these had some elastic, so they always felt fine. I purchased two pair, in case they broke, which didn't happen. I packed Sunday shoes, which I didn't need. I could have, and should have worn the sandals and not taken up suit case space.
Most hotels have hair dryers, but no curling irons, so I brought my favorite curling iron. Not that it did any good. It was flattened in 30 minutes once you got into the hot sun and high humidity. But they do have regular outlets, so you don't have to bring a converter.
Bring empty zip bags in a variety of sizes. These come in handy all the time.
I also packed about a cup of powdered Tide doubled zip-lock bags, one bag inside another bag, in case one breaks. This is very handy for washing clothing that either gets spilled on, or your underwear. It dried fairly fast in the hotel room if you use a towel and wring it pretty thoroughly. And speaking of towels, you may want to plan on purchasing a towel, because most hotels, besides the expensive 5 star hotels don't provide a real towel like we are used to. It is a tiny paper towel the size of a dish towel, and really doesn't get you very dry. We were stunned by this. Landis Hotel had real towels, but that was the last place we saw them. I also needed a hand towel in my back pack just to wipe the waterfall of sweat that began pouring down as soon as I stepped outside the air conditioning of the hotel and the car. I also got a battery operated fan which was very nice. We were there during Typhoon season (June to November) and the humidity and heat is amazing. The southern part of Taiwan in Kaohsiung is hotter but not as much rain, that is where I needed the towel the most. Taichung had regular afternoon rain storms, and they say it rains all the time in Taipei area.
Bring travel kleenex, and keep the spares in your luggage, and bring one in your purse at all times. Take your purse to the rest rooms. Most rest rooms have holes in the floor that you squat over and don't provide any toilet paper. I found one had a roll outside of all the stalls, you had to plan ahead and grab some before you went in. They throw the paper in a waste basket near the "toilet". I am sorry to be so graphic, but it would have been nice for me to know this before I traveled. I was lucky enough to have packed some pocket Kleenex, and was glad I did.
I purchased an extra memory card for my camera, but it took me awhile to find a place that handled anything for Canon. I wish I'd had one of these from the beginning.
We purchased rain gear at the 7-11 once we got there, and they were cheap enough, that if you didn't care, you could donate to someone when you leave, if you don't have enough room. One person told me to bring an extra suit case for all the things you buy there. You would need a newspaper to wrap them in, if you don't have enough clothes to surround the breakables. I made sure the breakables had newspaper and hopefully a box as well, then surrounded everything with my clothes to make it not rattle.
Wear a money belt for the trip over, and don't take it off on the plane. I had a friend who put his fanny pack below his feet for the flight, and during the flight, it shifted into someone else's space. He checked under his seat and feet before he exited, and forgot to look for it. He disembarked and realized his passport and money was in this fanny pack and was back on the plane. They would NOT let him back onto the plane once he had gotten off in Atlanta where he was supposed to transfer to the overseas flight. They made him wait until they had cleaned the plane, and once he got back on, it was no longer there. He missed the choir trip to Austria, to sing for Mozart's 250th birthday, and we missed him. He had to replace his passport, lost his money, didn't have any flight insurance, so he lost the cost of the tickets too. A very sad lesson, so I thought I would pass this along to those of you who don't travel often. It is hard to learn these lessons first hand, and much easier to learn from other's mistakes.

This is just a start on this blog. Check this again later, and watch for more additions as I think of more. I hope this helps all of you who are planning on going to Taiwan.

What Luggage? It's evaporated!

So Delta Airlines forgot to transfer my luggage when we got to LA. Which by the way was such a terrible airport.
we had to leave the building, and come back into another, which meant we had to go through security again. but we never got seating assignments so we had to stand in this line with hundreds of other tired, mostly India natives, who were checking their luggage and it was taking forever. Finally one man spotted us and asked us if we had luggage, then when we said no, he sent us to this really short line.
We got through security fine, but when we landed our luggage hadn't made it.
Sailor's arrived last night, but after checking things out, they reported mine headed to Malaysia, and wouldn't be here until tonight.
I had to wear my other outfit, and wash the first, which did NOT dry, so it is damp.
But that is okay, because being typhoon season, it is really hot, and rainy, so who isn't damp. It is just cold in the air conditioned hotel. Which, by the way is amazing. It is a 5 star, it turns out. Wow Nothing like it.
We now have Daniel in our possession, which is pretty amazing. We spent the day yesterday with an investigator who is amazing. He took us out to eat, then off to see his paintings. He has been working 3 years to get this display in the public works department, and his work is beautiful. He is a realist, so his painting of a leaf with a water drop looks like a photograph. We got to see Taiwan from the top of the mountain, but couldn't because was raining so hard. We got to see the devastation the earthquake 10 years ago caused on the way down. We got to see a temple, not Buddhist, something else, and the little lady there wanted to show and explain everything to us. Sailor said that most temple ladies are the same. Very cute.
We got to meet his sweet wife and baby later.
Today we head to Puli. We rent a car, and are starting our adventure with Daniel Liu, who will be our personal tour guide.
I get only 1/2 hour free on the internet here at the Landis Hotel and my time is up. More about the beautiful Farewell meeting yesterday morning with the 18 returning missionaries and parents and President and his wife.
bye for now