Sunday, May 23, 2010

708 No Plastic and One Recent Exception

708 No Plastic and One Recent Exception

(TAIPEI) -- So you’ve got this spiffy Platinum Titanium Gold Silver Super World Card and you’ve been assured by the Exclusive Customer Confidence Center where operators are identified as vice presidents that you will be able to use your Platinum Titanium Gold Silver World Card anywhere in the world.

Wrongo. Of course you know that there are small merchants in places like this that will not take credit cards, even ones issued locally. But you figure that at the better restaurants, department stores, phone rental agencies, cabs, the subway and bus lines and traffic court, they’d take a MasterCard or Visa or Discover, but you’d be wrong.

Anecdotally, American Express seems to have more market penetration here than the others. But, again, that’s not a hard statistic. You feel further misled when all the shops and restaurants at the airports – especially the Duty Free Shops – take the cards or US dollars or Sheckles or Euros or Canadian dollars and probably the gold bullion you belatedly realized you shouldn’t have bought.

So you come to a worldly town like this with worldly assurances from reliable (vice presidential) sources that you’ll be able to transact all your business as seamlessly as you can in Bellefonte, the Bronx or Boston. Wrongo.

Bring cash. If you don’t have stateside access to Taiwan dollars, bring American and exchange at a bank which will require your passport and give you a lower rate than, say, your hotel’s front desk. Or be ready to debit your checking or savings account. The ATM will cost you more than a currency exchange, but it’s also pretty convenient and you don’t need a passport.

We’ll have a few things to say to the issuers of our Platinum Titanium Gold Silver Super World Cards when we get back.

One of the few places we were able to use the P-T-G-S-S-World Card was at the Hotel Royal Taipei. And royal it is. But the first impression on an American traveler, is likely “This sure does remind us of the Essex House,” the old New York landmark now called the Jumeirah Essex House after its relatively new Dubai owners.

And as was the Essex House in one of its several heydays, it is quietly noted in one corner of the lobby that this is a JAL Hotel. This means, as it did in New York, a local face on a Japanese heart and mind. JAL and the Nikko Hotels it manages are the picture of a place where cranky Japanese business travelers have almost nothing to be cranky about.

Marble and glass and ivory and smiles and multilingual staff members who dress better and more expensively than the guests. Spotless. And when they say “Afternoon tea begins at 2:30 PM,” they mean 2:30 and not 2:29 or 2:31. How Japanese. How wonderful for those of us who are time compulsive.

Afternoon tea is a misnomer bordering on false advertising. It’s a full meal, usually a buffet. And in a joint like this, it’s a meal and a half. We didn’t have breakfast this Saturday morning, and we won’t have dinner. No need.

JAL may be on the verge of bankruptcy, but it still knows how to treat a customer.


--Things you can’t get here: Butter, cottage cheese, real American French fries, sour cream, cream cheese, ASA 100 color film, an iPad, and NASCAR posters. As you know by now you can buy a bottle of real American hootch on every corner, but no one except drug stores have Tylenol or anything similar.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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