Wednesday, May 05, 2010

698 Are We There Yet and The High Cs

698 Are We There Yet and Life On the High Cs.

(ABOARD UNITED FLT. 803) -- We’re 32,000 feet over Toronto and heading northwest at almost 600 mph. At this rate, we’ll be in Tokyo about an hour earlier than scheduled.

Ever been to Dulles Airport? It’s well named. It is as convoluted and impenetrable as the Brothers D., complete with an ultra modern Subway to nowhere and more twists and turns getting from one gate to another than the combined minds of these gentlemen. People movers that don’t move. Four trillion gates. But bright and airey.

It was raining heavily as we left "home" in a Saab/Fairchild puddle jumper, one step up from a crop duster. In Washington, the sky began to clear.

This Boeing 777 to Tokyo is large and comfortable. The flight attendants speak English and Japanese. The video system is on the fritz. And it’s cold. But not nearly as cold as outside. Fifty nine below zero according to the Too Much Information screen.

Like almost any flight these days, this one takes longer to exit than it does to enter. There’s a system for entering, but exiting is chaos. That’s the bad news. The good news is the people movers at Narita Airport, Tokyo move. And the security checkpoint people speak English, more or less. That said, their English is far better than our Japanese.

The Tokyo security checkpoint is jammed but like most major airports moves quickly and smoothly. Of course, there’s one poor elderly Japanese woman who gets her own personal pat down, reason unknown. And the lady from Atlanta who is worried about making her connection – in two and a half hours.

(TAIPEI) -- Talk about your "city that never sleeps. This place looks like Queens, smells like 32nd St. and runs at all hours and at warp speed. The main mode of transportation, at least so far, seems to be motor scooter. Dodging these bug like two-wheelers is what we now call "a challenge," but which more accurately are hell on wheels.

Day and night, these bugs are running over the highways, the alleys and the sidewalks. They park in herds.

The night market is not a formal place. It's a bunch of street vendors who gather after dark and sell everything that is legal, and probably some stuff that isn't. It's hard to tell the difference. But it's not just street vendors with carts full of cloth or hot noodles or souvenirs. It's brick and mortar stores as well. Want to buy a Honda at 10 PM? No problem. When last passed at that hour, there were no customers in the showroom, but it WAS open. How about a bridal gown at midnight? Two places to choose from, and both of them high end. Need a suit? How about an all night tailor. Or an auto repair place with "mechanics on duty 24/7?"

It's May. It's hot. It's humid. This is the tropics, afterall. But the Taiwanese have a trick to make you feel better about it. They -- as most of the rest of the world -- use the Celsius temperature scale. So when it's a sweltering 95 degrees, the local thermometers read a casual 35-ish, maybe even a little on the chilly side.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®

©WJR 2010

Some of this material has appeared in the Centre Daily Times newspaper of State College PA.

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