All entries for Sunday 26 June 2005
June 26, 2005
As most of you know, I excitedly left the prestigious University of Warwick on Friday at lunchtime after a nice send-off lunch from Big Sis. I was flying with Meurig, my supervisor, from Birmingham International, which is a very nice airport — much calmer than the hustle-bustle of Heathrow and much closer too. I sat waiting for a short time, contemplating the long journey ahead. I knew it was going to challenge my stamina — although nothing could have prepared me for the news that we would touch down in Bangkok.
Flying on KLM is nothing special, compared to Thai Airways the hostesses are old, unattractive and in need of replacement as much as the planes. So the first stint of the journey landed us in Amsterdam, a place I would very much like to look around, but from the air it looks just like any other european country. After a couple of hours wait we boarded a 747 destined for Bangkok. After a long flight and a bit of sleep we touched down in the Land of Smiles, just to pick up some passengers. We had 30 minutes to disembark the plane and walk around the airport lounge. This was torture! I wanted to leave the airport, it felt like home, but I couldn't go anywhere. My experience was like going to Dorset and not visiting the beach. I was so close. The best I could do was wander around a duty free shop, say a few words in Thai to the assistant, raise a short smile, and then return to the plane. I couldn't even buy any mango.
By the time we set off for Taipei, I was physical tired and mentally drained of energy. I put my craving for Bangkok to one side and concentrated on learning some Chinese. The flight wasn't too long to Taipei, less than four hours and we arrived at 5.30pm local time. Meeting us at the airport were two of Meurig's old students who booked us into a nice hotel in the centre of Taipei (The Howard Hotel) and took us for dinner. This is when I started to get my energy back. The food was excellent, plenty of vegetarian options and proper chinese tea. It was 24 hours since I had left England, so I was pleased to replenish my vital organs. We ate a great selection of desserts which really wetted my appetite for staying in Taiwan.
Next we were taken on a whirlwind tour of Taipei taking in the world's largest building named Taipei 101 after the number of floors — an engineering masterpiece. We jumped into another taxi and headed to a park with a big building in it (— I don't know how else to describe it). After a little walk, and another taxi ride, we arrived at the night market. I was told before I left England that I must visit one of these, so I was doing quite well for my first night. The night market is a busy place where you can buy pretty much anything, but most impressive to me was the food. The combination of freshly cooked food, snacks, fruits and desserts was a pleasing attack on the senses.
We returned to the hotel before midnight and said goodbye to Meurig's old students and their family, who had been very kind to us. It was time to get some much needed sleep.
At 7am we were awake again, and my first priority was checking out the breakfast buffet. We could have opted for a Western style breakfast, but I hadn't just travelled halfway around the planet to eat toast, so we went for the Chinese/Japanese buffet. The word 'buffet' doesn't quite do justice to the meal that was served, it was more like a feast. I filled my tray with as many varieties of food as possible: sesame balls, buns, noodles, vegetables, fruit and, of course, freshly made soya milk — mental note to bring soya beans back to England.
After filling my stomach, we headed to the airport to catch our 4th flight in 32 hours to Kaohsiung. This was a relaxed 50 minute flight — just enough time for a cup of Chinese tea (unlike my memorable 50 minute flight on Bangkok Airways where they managed to serve a whole meal). On arrival it seemed that we had a little problem as there was no one to meet us at the airport, but after a chat with the information desk and a phone call we were in business. I bought my first iced tea, and shortly after we were picked up and taken to the hotel. First impressions of Kaohsiung is that it is more relaxed than Taipei, the people seem more friendly and there is a better chance of a smile.
I decided to head to the university with David, the organiser of the conference, which proved to be a very good choice. I got treated to lunch at a Japanese restaurant and met several of his students — he has already got me proof-reading his latest book! It is very friendly in the University and I am sure I will be having a few adventures these next few weeks.