Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 08 2009

The trip back

It was 2 a.m. by the time I got to bed last night in Madrid after packing all my stuff up in preparation for our departure in the morning. A little after 3 a.m., someone started knocking on the door of the hostel. The sound quickly grew more insistent until it became a loud pounding. The pounder would go at it for a minute or so, then stop just long enough for me to fall asleep before starting up again. At first I thought someone had forgotten their key, but the keys to the hostel are all on one ring, so if they had the one to get in downstairs, they would also have the one to the front door. I had no idea what the situation was, so I didn’t answer the door. Nobody else did, either. The banging continued until after 5 a.m. When I got up at 7:30 and took my stuff out to the hall, I found a young woman sitting in the lobby under several layers of mascara. Was she the violent pounder? At that point I didn’t care; I just wanted everyone to get going in order to avoid another mad rush to the airport.

Checking out was simply a matter or handing the keys in to the young man at reception who claimed that he hadn’t heard any pounding the night before, and we caught a cab on Gran Villa. The city, few people on the streets yet, was bathed in bright morning light; it was a beautiful day. Driving through it drove home the fact that we hadn’t time to properly see it. That’s one of the hazzards of travelling that way, I guess. If it were up to me, I would have picked one or two places, preferably large cities like Barcelona or Madrid, and stayed for a week each, making more of an effort to interact with local people and see what living there was really like. I’m not fixated on eating the best food or seeing every sight; I eat wherever I feel like, even fast food sometimes, and am more interested in the regular streets than monuments and cathedrals (castles are pretty cool, though). This trip was an experiment for me in a different kind of travel, and while I’m glad I got to see the places I did, I definitely would have done it differently had I been on my own.

As for what I did manage to see: Spain seems like a rather impatient country. Wherever we went I felt like I was holding someone up, and it wasn’t just when we stopped in the middle of the high-speed lane on a highway. It’s also a great deal more messy than I had imagined, especially the pervasive graffiti and the areas around the towns, outside the tourist zones. Even Taiwan doesn’t look too bad in comparison, actually.

The drive to the airport was quick, the driver whistling along to a CD of Zamfir’s Greatest Hits. Breakfast was donuts at the airport cafe, and then on through the usual security theater show, where I got patted down by a cute guard after the machine detected a fraction of a receipt in my back pocket.

The flight to Amsterdam was so crowded that I couldn’t find an overhead bin for my backpack. When I found occupied only by a jacket, its owner told me not to smush the poor jacket, possibly due to eggs in the pockets or something, and to please find another bin. “Sure, that’s fine,” I told him. “If you don’t want me to put it in there, I won’t.” He smiled. “I will find another place, perhaps on the wing, or tied to the tailfin.” He stopped smiling. “Or maybe I’ll just stand here. You don’t actually need to go to Amsterdam, do you?” Cold stare.

Eventually I managed to stuff the bag into another bin, egged on by a group of enthusiastic American teens as if I were chugging a beer. Then we were off, flying north over Spain, France, Belgium and Holland to Amsterdam’s modern Schiphol Airport. Every few minutes they would announce that someone or other was delaying a flight and that their luggage would be uncerimoniously dumped from the airplane while all the other passengers sniggered and jeered if they didn’t get their asses on the plane right quick.

Gordon had warned us about food on KLM flights, and he was right; it’s clearly not as good as Air France in this respect (though still much better than China Airlines, of course). It seems that the airline spent most of its food budget on packaging that tries to convince you that the food is actually very good and how you should appreciate all of the trouble they went through to fit the meal into such ingenious packaging. Gordon was flying on to Copenhagen the next day, so Ray and I proceeded to the gate for the flight to Hong Kong. I got through the security theater first, but Ray took forever to show up. It turned out that he had stopped for curry on the way, convinced as he was that there would be slim pickings on the flight.

We had to go through another bout of security theater just to get on the plane. In fact, this grand farcical opera has become so pervasive that I was told to take off my hat just while walking through the duty-free shops area. I was sure that if I had asked why I would have been marked and delayed from the flight. Or maybe they just didn’t care for the hat.

I’d specified a window seat on an exit row, which, on the aging Boeing 747-400 turned out to mean that I had no actual window and about six inches of space in which to put my right knee. The windowless part didn’t particularly matter as we were travelling mostly at night, but the position was awkward, especially for a lefty like me. The old plane had no in-seat screens, just old CRTs mounted on the ceiling, the stripping hanging loose over the aisle. Fortunately the flight was only 10 hours instead of the 13 we’d spent going to Paris two weeks ago, albeit with better food and seat videos. I managed to get some sleep in between watching Futurama episodes on my iPhone and chatting with Ray in the back of the plane about how I felt even more Taiwanese in Europe than in Taiwan.

There was yet more security theater in Hong Kong, even though we were just going from one plane to another. It occurred to me that I haven’t been back to Hong Kong in about ten years; maybe I should take a weekend sometime and make a visit, though I think I’ve worked through most of my travel-related urges for now.

The China Airlines flight back to Taipei was almost deserted. We could have laid down across rows of seats and nobody would have noticed. Taoyuan Airport was in a similar state. In just a few minutes we walked off the plane, through immigration and customs and got right into a taxi to Xindian, where I spent the afternoon sifting through the detritus of the journey that has accumulated in my pockets and bags: tickets, brochures, restaurant cards, receipts, etc. I have no idea what time my body clock is on at the moment and am making no effort to find out.

So that’s the trip: Tomorrow we return to our regular Taiwan-based program, i.e. work and badminton. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the tales.

posted by Poagao at 6:41 am  

1 Comment »

  1. thanks for sharing another journey

    Comment by karen — February 9, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

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