Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 24 2009

To Paris

I got to the airport in Taoyuan at 5:40 a.m. after three hours of sleep and a quick drive down the dark, wet highway. As traffic was light, I was surprised to find the check-in area crowded with long lines of travelers, most of whom had carts full of packages and other luggage. Is the economy really all that bad, I wondered, looking at the crowd of people taking trips abroad for the Chinese New Year. As I waited for Ray and Gordon (they were taking their own taxi) near the foot of the growing check-in line for our flight to Hong Kong, I saw an anxious-looking woman lift the rope and cut in line. None of the people seemed to notice.

The line was moving slowly, probably due to people cutting in, so when Ray called and said they were almost there, I got in line. A few minutes later, the woman in line behind me cut a row ahead, dodging under the ropes. “Christ, I can’t believe this, you’re cutting in line?” I said, aloud. “Where are you from, China?”

This was a rather unfortunate wording, as the woman was apparently actually from China, as were many of the other people in the line. When Ray and Gordon showed up a few minutes later and I allowed them to line up with me, the man behind me let me have it: “You think you’re so high and mighty, yet you’re letting people cut in line with you!” he charged.

“That’s different; we’re traveling together!” Ray said, but the man was not to be assuaged with such petty distinctions.

In the meantime, the time of our departure loomed, and the line was still not moving. Eventually the airlines staff called everyone on our flight to the front of the line, and we ran through customs and immigration to the departure lounge. Actually, I ran through, getting the empty gate first and stalling the staff there with amusing army stories until Gordon and finally Ray could catch up.

Strangely enough, the plane was mostly empty, and we all had entire rows to ourselves all the way to Hong Kong. The Air France flight from Hong Kong to Paris, however, was an entirely different story; it was packed full. The worst part was, despite being promised a window seat by the check-in lady, I found myself facing the next 13 hours in the dreaded middle seat, my elbows and knees tucked in, neither armrest truly mine, nothing to look at and nothing to lean on to sleep. Bastards!

The flight attendants walked up and down the aisle spraying cans of something in the air. I hoped it was knock-out gas, but no such luck; it was just air freshener.

After a noisy take-off and the dousing of the seatbelt sign, I got up and went to the rear of the plane, where I could at least stand and look out the bulkhead window, helping myself to water and juice. I spend the majority of the flight there, chatting with Ray and others. Gordon gave me half a sleeping pill, but I decided to tough it out and sleep in Paris.

Below us were the deserts of western China, then Siberia, a vast white cake world interrupted by well-organized white villages and black cracked rivers. The Red Elvises floated through my head. The windows frosted up and I tried to sleep, only managing to get a half-hour in before the awkward position awoke me.

We got two meals, the last one just as we were over Germany. The food was good, something I would expect from Air France, and the beer and wine flowed as freely as one could want. I talked a bit with the Taiwanese-American man next to me (Heineken) and the woman from Hong Kong on the other side (red wine in little bottles).

We descended through the Bespinesque skies above Paris at sunset, and arrived in better conditions that I had expected. The sun sank below the horizon as we approached the terminal, which was such a long way from the runway that I thought the pilot had to get out and ask for directions at one point. Charles de Gaul International is huge, in any case, and he was probably just driving around waiting for a parking spot to open up. The airport is also well-designed, with nice aesthetic touches everywhere. Luckily for us it was also uncrowded, and customs and immigration were a snap.

After the clean airport, the dirtiness of the subway into the city surprised me, as well as the garishness of the yellow/red/blue design under all the grime. It was empty at first, but at the first stop we came to a deluge of laughing, expressive, stylish party people washed onto the train, making me wonder if a gala ball had just ended nearby. An accordion started up somewhere down the train, and I thought, you’ve GOT to be kidding me. I turned around, half expecting a guy in a striped shirt and beret, but it turned out to be a portly husker singing Italian opera for change.

We dragged our luggage through a few stations and trains, up a long series of escalators until we emerged on the streets of Paris. I don’t know if it is a cliche, but “Holy Shit Look at Those Buildings” was my first impression of the streets, all lined with beautiful old, well-lit edifices and the occasional huge cathedral.

Despite the success of the movie series, taxis in Paris seem quite scarce, and we eschewed the long line of people waiting, preferring instead to walk to the Hotel d’Argenson, where I am now, typing this. It is the strangest hotel I’ve ever stayed at, and my room, apparently the only single room, is a strangely triangular affair tacked on to the end of the blue hallway. All of the wallpaper, curtains and carpet are floral patterns of various hues, the radiator clicks and the floorboards creak underfoot. The upstairs rooms are reached via an ancient one-person elevator crammed into the middle of the circular staircase.

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant down the street, delicious food after a long day. I was exhausted, and went to bed immediately after getting back to the hotel and waking up soon after with a Charley Horse full of particularly exquisite cramping resulting no doubt from the long plane ride, walking and kicking the tightly ensconced sheets from the confines of the mattress.

It’s about 9:30 a.m. now, and I just finished the hotel breakfast of croissants and hot chocolate served to each room. Nobody is on the street outside. We’re thinking of going to the Louvre.

posted by Poagao at 4:40 am  


  1. Aww…… I wish I were in Paris. It is interesting to know that you were impressed by the old buildings. The ones in Kyoto don’t seem to have so much luck to get your attention though. Anyways, enjoy!!! 🙂

    Comment by Daniel — January 24, 2009 @ 5:00 am

  2. Who’re Ray and Gordon?

    Comment by Prince Roy — January 25, 2009 @ 12:23 am

  3. Friends of mine. Sandy and Jojo introduced us; they live in New Garden City.

    The buildings in Kyoto didn’t look old or as interesting as the old buildings here, for some reason.

    Comment by Poagao — January 25, 2009 @ 4:19 am

  4. I love that you got bitched out in line at the airport after bitching someone else out. Those are the memories that stay the longest and grow in hilarity.

    Comment by Michael — February 2, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

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