I just got back from East Asia with my mother. It was just me and her as Dad has to stay in China for business reasons. Though my family were only together half the time and never on the same flight, the trip was overall excellent.
Days 1 and 2
Dad was already in China but had arranged for a shuttle to take us to the airport. Mom and I arrived at SFO to find that our flight was delayed by an hour. I wouldn't be surprised if the TSA was responsible; they seem to have a penchant for causing problems for travelers. On the upside, that left plenty of time to check out the airport shops.
The in-flight entertainment on United Airlines was great. I saw Shooter, Bridge to Terabithia, The Number 23 and parts of Wild Hogs on the plane. The music library was pretty sweet too, although they kind of sucked. Other than that, I had a good time chatting with a flight attendant named Vaughn.
The plane finally landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Aunt Jill picked us up and drove us to her house in Tainan. Mom and I had some rest before going to a nearby grocery store for snacks. Trying new foods is always exciting!
Jill took us to see my uncle Harrison and cousin Lori after dinner. I didn't like what I saw at all: Harrison was in a very bad shape due to Parkinson's disease. He was extremely weak and could barely walk unassisted. It's hard to imagine being in his shoes. I hope someone will find a cure to this terrible disease.
The other thing is that the Internet connection at Harrison's house was extremely slow. Jill had lent her computer to a friend and didn't even have Internet access at all. However, that's something I can live with.
The world-renowned National Palace Museum awaited us in the morning. Considered one of the must-see tourist attractions in Taiwan, the place was huge and had countless exhibits. I'm not that interested in historical artifacts but did my best to appreciate the local culture. I even ran into Vaughn and his crew there!
The bad news is that my aunt's car got towed just as we were leaving. Though Jill tried to haggle her way out of the fine as is commonly done in Asia, the towing company wasn't one to negotiate. The total fee was roughly NT$2,300 - which wasn't that much but still ruined our happy mood. Blah.
Jill took us to Danshui as the weather cooled down. Unlike downtown Taipei, Danshui was much less crowded and very relaxing. It made for an enjoyable stroll.
Mom and I visited Harrison again in the evening. The reason Jill didn't accompany us this time is that she and my aunt Phoenix don't get along well. Family drama sucks. :-(
Our travels brought us to Hong Kong. Dad picked us up at HKG and took us to the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. This is probably the best hotel we've ever stayed at. For one thing, the upper floors had an excellent view of Victoria Harbour. There was also a snack bar that served free appetizers. To top it off, each room had jars of complimentary chocolates. Jill loved the candies so much that we gave her most of them.
Hong Kong was so big that it was hard to decide where to go. I suggested Hong Kong Disneyland but later changed my mind as Mom had heard it wasn't fun. Another place we considered was the Window of the World theme park in Shenzhen, but that was too far away. In the end, the decision was to stay in Hong Kong and check out the nightlife.
One thing we learned the hard way is that there are lots of scammers in China. Case in point, our taxi driver ripped us off. He told us the normal route to downtown Hong Kong was too congested and asked for permission to take a longer but faster route for a slightly higher fee. Dad agreed to this, and the guy added about HK$80 to the charge. To be fair, that technically wasn't a lie because "slightly higher" is open to interpretation.
On a more positive note, the dinner was great. We were exploring downtown Hong Kong later in the evening when we saw a crew from FX filming a show. Accompanying them were hot chicks with "free hugs" signs. I wanted to hug them but was too shy to do so - even though Jill went right ahead. I'm admittedly awkward around girls, especially in front of my parents. Feel free to laugh at me.
We took the train to Shenzhen and met up with my cousin Tom. He drove us to his place in Dongguan after lunch to meet my aunt Yu-Hua and maternal grandfather Ching-Shang. Yu-Hua gave us a tour of the school where she teaches Chinese literature before treating us to fruits. I tasted pitaya and mangosteen for the first time. Yum!
Our hotel in Dongguan was also stunning. The most prominent feature was the huge swimming pool that resembled a small lake. While the weather was too cold for swimming, the landscape made for some great pictures. The lot also had some lily ponds and a botanical garden of sorts. It was just a beautiful place.
The day ended with dinner at a nearby restaurant. The food was plentiful, although most of the dishes were unappetizing.
Tom's girlfriend Sarah came over for a visit in the morning. They make such a cute couple. :-)
We had breakfast with Tom at a nearby café before he gave us a ride back to Shenzhen. I was a little nervous about visiting Dongguan at first because of its high crime rate. Tom was actually robbed and badly beaten by three thugs a few months ago. Despite my reservations, our stay in Dongguan was uneventful.
Shenzhen had few attractions besides local markets and eateries. On the other hand, the food here was much better. One thing that caught my eye was the poorly translated English at the restaurant where we had lunch. I mean, the "north fried dumplings" and "chicken spring rolls bombing" sound delicious. :P
It was time to fly back to Taipei. Dad is actually on a business trip and had to stay in China, leaving just me and my mother and aunt again. Jill drove us back to her home in Tainan before taking us to a local night market. I got to use an air gun for the first time; that was definitely a cool experience.
There was a little mishap: Jill accidentally crashed her car into the garage door as we returned to her house. The door sustained damage and wouldn't close. Two words: shit happens. The damage looked bad, but Jill's goddaughter's husband managed to fix it for her. Thank goodness!
According to Chinese tradition, one is expected to honor their ancestors at least once. Therefore, the three of us went to the stupa where my paternal grandfather Bien-Chuan's ashes are kept to pay respects to him and my late maternal grandmother Pi-Tan. This was done by burning incense and joss paper.
Mom then took me to her friend Su-Hua's house in the afternoon. At five stories high, her home was huge and filled with books. All of us then went to a nearby park for a stroll. Su-Hua and her husband treated us to a wonderful dinner at one of their favorite restaurants before we headed back to Jill's place.
The plan was to return to Taipei on Wednesday night, but Jill couldn't leave Tainan until early next morning. It was around 5:30 a.m. when we arrived in Taipei. Mom and I were totally exhausted despite getting a few hours of sleep in the car.
I'm glad I got some rest because my aunts Wei-Fang and Wei-Jen took us to Taipei 101 in the evening. This was my favorite part of the trip. Taipei 101 was so big that I didn't know where to begin. We did some window shopping before having dessert at a café. I was absolutely stuffed thanks to the generous servings. *burp*
All of us soon got tired from all the walking. It seems a single day here just isn't enough. Our last stop at Taipei 101 was a store on the ground floor that had all kinds of snacks exclusive to Taiwan. I couldn't resist the temptation and bought around 10 bags of potato chips and Doritos. Yeah, I'm spoiled. :P
Mom and I spent much of Thursday packing up for our flight home. There was time to spare, during which we and Jill went to buy acupuncture equipment for Harrison. I also got a haircut at Mom's suggestion. Seeing that the weather was rather warm, my mother and I went to shop for frozen treats afterwards. The day ended with another nice dinner.
The flight back to San Francisco was somewhat early in the morning. The two of us had a quick breakfast and bid goodbye to Jill before boarding our flight to San Francisco. It was another long ride, but The Astronaut Farmer, Breach and Ghost Rider kept me occupied. I also got caught up on some sleep.
Of note is that I bumped into Vaughn a third time. Talk about a small world. Perhaps our paths will someday cross again. Who knows?
On the whole, the trip was nothing short of amazing. The weather was hot but wasn't too bad for the most part. While the actual temperature wasn't particularly high, the humidity made it seem otherwise. I enjoyed Jill's company - even though she was damn pushy at times. Traveling with others always makes vacations more exciting. You can view my photos from the trip here.
The biggest problem now is the jet lag. I hope I can get enough rest before my summer English class starts on the 26th.
June 24 update: The photos are now online.
Currently listening to: The Definitive Collection by ABBA