Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Visit to the Far East, Taiwan!

It had been over 10 year since I've last visited Taiwan. The land where my mother, uncles, aunts, and some cousins grew up. Most don't know this, but I lived in Taiwan for a year and a half when I was a kid (born in the US though). It had been over ten years since I'd last been back. Much had changed, but I was happy to see a lot was still the same.
The feeling of reconnecting with your roots and to see the places where your family grew up is incredible. I'm so proud of the long history, customs, food, respect, family values, language, and did I mention food? There is such a long history of my people and to go back and learn more about it from my mom, uncle, and cousins makes me even more proud. After the second day I was already thinking in Chinese, that didn't take too long! For those that don't know, I speak Mandarin fluently and lived in Taiwan as an expat kid from 1988 to 1990. My dad relocated the family to Taiwan for work and I attended a prestigious American school that I hated. I walk away from that experience learning that expat kids are for the most part stuck up snotty brats.
Every time I come back I am reminded of the differences between the US and the far east. I wish more Americans would travel outside of the western world and see how lucky they are to live comfortable US. I want people to experience the fruit and veggie markets, the night markets, the different foods, and the hard working people who are doing what they can to rise their family. It's not always about doing what you love, but doing what you need to do to feed your family. Sitting in an air conditioned office on a comfy chair typing away doesn't seem as bad if you think about hardworking people working under the hot Taiwan sun in the extreme humidity. Or think about the man scooping hop soup from a hot cauldron all night long. I wondered how he lost a chunk of flesh from his forearm... Moral of the story? Sometimes we need to just shut the hell up and do our work. Be grateful for what we have and quit bitching.
The food was flavorful and reminded me that Taiwan is the country that best fits my palate.
I ate so much I think I may have hurt my insides. Here's a quick overview. Please see my facebook for many, many more!

Sao bing you tiao. Sesame pancake w/ fried soybean cruller

morning market in Banciao

Banciao night market. Yes, that is a tub of raw chicken out in the open.

oink oink

pork blood popsicle

stinky tofu

I'm happy to report that my Mandarin improved and actually made me want to work on my reading and writing... I think some time in China and Taiwan is in order. Get down to exploring the roots of my people. We'll see if this comes to fruition.
With every trip to Taiwan, the most important thing is to go and visit my grandparents gravesite. There is great tradition and practice behind what happens to those that pass. It is desirable to be buried on a mountain, the higher on the mountain the better. And the better the feng shui the better. My grandparent's are buried on YangMingSan. It is the mountain where government officials and the weathy purchase their plots. My grandfather was a a Congressman for Taiwan. It is tradition to bring incense (three for each person visiting), Chinese burning money, flowers, and food. The flowers and food are displayed and the incense is lit. Each person gets three to hold with both hands, everyone bows three times, and says their piece. Afterward, the Chinese paper money is burned n a little hut at the foot of the site. The purpose of this is to send money up to my grandparents. You call out, "Come, come and get the money."

I remember doing this as a kid on hot, humid Taiwan summer days and being scared of getting too close to the fire when throwing the money in. You can only leave after the incense is burned 2/3 of the way through. The groundskeeper for my grandparent’s lot came by to say hello and chatted with my Mom and Uncle Charles. I got a small lesson on mountains like YangMingSan and things you should and should not do from my Cousin Michelle and Nicole. I learned that you are supposed to point at or take pictures of other people’s plots. You should care for the plots of the dead. My family pays the groundskeeper to upkeep my grandparent’s site; not every family does this. I saw many plots on other areas that were a complete mess. The shrubbery was overgrown, weeds that needed to be pulled, rubbish in the plot, broken tombstones from earthquakes and wear and tear. It was really quiet sad that their families haven’t taken care of them after they pass.
Every time I come back I am reminded of the differences between the Eastern and Western Worlds. The norms and cultures are so different. I like the reminder.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New York to California in five hours!

Travel karma, a term I started using when I gallivanted solo around Europe for four months back in 2006. I attempted to describe travel karma here, but I just can't seem to get the words out right. So if we are ever on the road together or you hit me in the right mood; we can have a big discussion about my thoughts on travel karma. In the mean time, this post is a classic example of it.

The life of Vagabonding Betty in the past 16 hours. I’m scheduled to fly from EWR to SNA at 5:30pm with my beloved Continental. I had slight issues checking my bag and snowboard, got through a packed security line (even on Elite Status), and made it to the gate, shoes untied, and 10 minutes before boarding. My modus operandi is to make my first stop at the gate and ask if they are looking for volunteers to be bumped to the next flight. It works out 75% of the time and ideal for those that have a flexible schedule and looking to earn some travel vouchers. I’m told there are already three volunteers, but they would put my name on the standby list. The travel voucher would be for $300, the exact price that the flight cost. Sweet, I take a seat, start up my laptop, insert my aircard, and start answering work emails. Hey, might as well be productive while I wait. I may be a part-time vagabonder but I’m also a member of corporate America.

They announce the flight will be delayed so I walk up to the agent and ask what the status is on getting bumped. He said he wasn’t sure yet, but needed a favor. They wanted me to switch my window seat for a middle seat so a couple could sit together. The wife is skittish about flying and wanted to sit with her husband, amateur travelers. I hesitate for a second and agree since I didn’t plan on sleeping anyways. He thanked me, promised he would do something nice for me as thanks. I didn’t go sit down and instead stood at the next counter working while I waited. There were two business men between the counter and me waiting for a standby seat, picture typical heavy set, balding, hot shot rude American business men. They go on to talk about ski trips with their families, work, and complained about the standby process. Meanwhile, the Continental agent is standing there the whole time within ear shot. These men need to learn to not talk shit to people that they need something from. The agent comes over to me and whispers, “I’m going to bump it up to $400.” Sweet! A little while later, the obnoxious business men board and I continue to wait. The agent comes over to me, comments about the behavior of the men; we laugh about it and gives me the good news that he’s able to process the bump*. We chat about his work, my work, and the funny things that he sees. He ends up bumping my voucher up to $500, $20 in food vouchers, and a hotel for the night which I passed on. The agent re-booked me on the next flight at 8:30am tomorrow morning and I return home a happy traveler.

Which brings me to today, I’m currently sitting my flight scheduled for 8:30am (enjoying a vodka club*). The agent yesterday was nice enough to set me up in seat 14F, extended leg room! It’s not first class, but I didn’t want to push the travel karma by putting myself on the first class standby list. Plus, there are three little kids in first class so I figured 14F was the better option anyways.

The flight ended up getting delayed for over an hour on the runway, but you know me, I happily entertained myself on my CrackBerry. As we’re waiting on the runaway a man behind me calls the flight attendant over and starts complaining about the fumes coming through the vents, the filtration design on the plane, the delayed flight, and air traffic. The pretty flight attendant, Mary, responded in a way more professional fashion than I would have been able to. She kindly explained that it’s from the fumes of the planes in front of us, the NYC area is busy especially on Fridays, and if he wanted to avoid it to fly out of Omaha. Then to my surprise, she mentions the Louis CK appearance on Conan!

Coincidentally, I just saw it last week. I butt in being the professional at eavesdropping that I am and joined their conversation. I agreed with Mary and told the unhappy travelers they need to see this video. After watching the video I had vowed to never complain about flying again. Mary and I share a look while the man bitched about how he’s going to write to Continental telling them he’s never going to fly them again and to have them replace the air filters on their planes. I chuckled, put my headphones on and thought how “everything is amazing, nobody is happy.”

So, I realize the post is getting a bit long, but it was an unreal experience that I had to share. We eventually took off and I ask the two Southern women, with their big hair, wearing blingin watches, rings and gloves(?) sitting next to me if they can get up so I can go to the bathroom. They shoot me a dirty look, but manage to make their way out of their seats and into the aisle so I can go brush my teeth and pee. I get one more dirty look, so I turn and say, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience, but I think you’ll be OK.”

I go to the bathroom and make a pit stop to chat with Mary before heading back to my seat. We are cracking up about the “non-contributing zeros.” She introduces me to Ahmad and I hang out with them in the back for a bit*. They tell me about some of the funny things that have happened to them on flights and I am reminded of my childhood dream of being a flight attendant. Hey, I’ve been flying since I was a baby and used to love the airplane food! Yes, my palette is much more experienced now and I no longer enjoy the food, just the beverages ;)

I return to my seat and along come Mary and Ahmad with the food and beverage carts. They give me preferential treatment, we chat and exchange some laughs, and the passengers around me are in shock. The Southern women are confused and the dirty looks end once they realize I’m tight with the crew. I partook in the miracle of human flight sipping on free vodka clubs, suckaaasssss.

*Parts of the story have been left out to protect the innocent.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What is Vagabonding?

After years of traveling and backpacking solo over ten countries, I'm doing it. I'm starting a blog to share with the public my travels, thoughts, stories, encounters, pictures, travel advice, etc. Long over due, but hey, better late than never.

So it would only be right to give some background on this term "vagabonding". It's coined by Betty Chan, haha kidding, well kinda... I had heard about this book, "Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long Term World Travel" by Rolf Potts. My heart basically was bursting from my chest as I read this book. Rolf had taken all my views and opinions on long term backpacking and published into a 224 page book. A book that I've encouraged my fellow traveling buddies to read. But to be honest, I think only one has read it, and I think he skimmed it.
Vagabonding, it's my preferred method of travel (solo backpacking to be exact). There's a sense of freedom that I've never been able to find elsewhere. To rely on your own wits and to create the experience for yourself. It feeds my soul and keeps me feeling alive. So here, you will find my stories and travels around the world. I can't guarantee the posts will be grammatically correct, but I can promise they will be filled with entertaining stories of the situations I find myself in, people I meet, food I discover, and all the goodness in life the world has to offer if you just go out and find it.