wonderful grace

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Another year, another Easter away from home. Four in Georgia, three in Beijing, and now this one in Taipei. And every year I find myself surrounded by wonderful people who are joyful in their faith and amazing to hang out with. I really like the church I attend here, and I’ve made a great group of friends. We often hike or grab lunch after the service, just catching up on life and sharing prayer requests. I also have a Bible Study group that meets bi-weekly – that was something I never found in China.

Anyway, we often sing this song in church – I first heard it at a Christmas hymn-sing, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Wonderful grace

That gives what I don’t deserve

Pays me what Christ has earned

And lets me go free.

Wonderful grace

That gives me the time to change

Washes away the stain

That once covered me.

And all that I have

I lay at the feet

Of the wonderful Savior who loved me.

Wonderful love

That held in the face of death

Breathed, in its final breath

Forgiveness for me.

Wonderful love

Whose power can break every chain

Giving us life again

Setting us free.

And all that I have

I lay at the feet

Of the wonderful Savior who loved me.

The rest of our trip to Hualien (the part that doesn’t involve police and fines) was a blast. We basically ate for three days straight, though we managed to spend eight hours tearing around Taroko Gorge on scooters, too.

ready to rock n roll!

ready to rock n roll!

I’ve been to Hualien once before, last fall, and it is one of my favorite places in Taiwan, ringed by mountains and touching the Pacific Ocean in the east. The air is really clean, and it’s usually cooler than Taipei even though it’s farther south. Hualien is a city, but it has a small-town feel to it that makes it a great getaway from the big city.

My friend Chloe had slept over Thursday night so we could grab a cab together at 530 the next morning. Since I drive here I rarely take taxis, but when I do I can always count on a real character behind the wheel. This guy spoke no English, but sang the ABC song for us. Then he lectured us on the situation in the Taiwanese legislature, somewhat less than impartially – “Taiwan is not China,” and “China is terrible!” and all that jazz. Our bus left from Taipei Main at 6:30 down to Luodong, where we hopped a train to Hualien Station. Upon arrival, we rented scooters for the weekend and took off in search of our guesthouse. The only thing that could have made us leave the place was the wontons calling our names, because it was like a 5-star hotel. Definitely the most glamorous digs I’ve stayed at in years. It was a family-run place in downtown Hualien, decorated beautifully, with more than enough room for all six of us, tons of amenities, and breakfast delivered to the door. We chilled for an hour before dragging ourselves out the door.

One of the main reasons Novia and I wanted to go back to Hualien was to eat. Hualien has some dishes that are famous all over Taiwan. We started out at the most famous wonton shop in town – they have one thing on the menu, so all we needed to do was walk into the steamy little restaurant, sit down, and tell the waiter “six bowls.” Five minutes later bowls of steaming wontons in amazing broth were brought over and ten minutes after that they were gone.

bianshi, as this variety of hundun (wonton) is known.

bianshi, as this variety of hundun (wonton) is known.

novia bought some of these frozen, along with the broth, to take back to Taipei. hundun party coming up!

novia bought some of these frozen, along with the broth, to take back to Taipei. hundun party coming up!

From there we went to a legendary 24-hour dumpling stand that sells some of the best baozi and dumplings I’ve ever had. We tried their xiaolongbao (Shanghai-style soup dumplings, only these were more bready) and zheng jiao (steamed dumplings). Lest you think we were ready to pop, we were mostly just sampling and sharing, while making plans to come back the next day:)

best dumplings in hualien.

best dumplings in hualien.

line for baozi and xiaolongbao.

line for baozi and xiaolongbao.

that little sign has written on it: president ma ate here. interesting to see, as he is strongly disliked by most Taiwanese.

that little sign has written on it: president ma ate here. interesting to see, as he is strongly disliked by most Taiwanese.

Next on our non-stop eating tour of Hualien was an old truck on Fuxing Street. I had this snack last time I was in Hualien and have found nothing like it since, so of course we had to go back. It’s basically a scallion pancake wrapped around an egg, deep-fried, and then slathered with soy and chili. The egg stays gooey, so when you bite into it there’s an explosion of flavor and texture. Super unhealthy and super delicious. The truck doesn’t open till 1pm, but there are lines of people queuing well in advance, and we waited an hour for this worthy treat.

waiting for a delicious snack.

waiting for a delicious snack.

old food truck that used to sell the same snack.

old food truck that used to sell the same snack.

Feeling a bit full, we walked up to Hualien’s Martyr’s Shrine, perched on a hillside on the edge of town. It’s a beautiful and peaceful old place, with great views of the city. From there we collected our bikes and crashed in the amazing guesthouse for a few hours before dragging ourselves back out to go night marketing. Hualien has really good night markets with tons of great things to eat, but I had my sights set on one dish – coffin bread. Novia was with me on that one, and we waited in line for a good half hour to get our fix.

deliciousness.

deliciousness.

martyr's shrine.

martyr’s shrine.

...

big, empty, and peaceful.

big, empty, and peaceful.

...

these are some of my favorite places to explore.

these are some of my favorite places to explore.

great views out over hualien.

great views out over hualien.

juice options at the night market.

juice options at the night market.

amazing custard cakes.

amazing custard cakes.

making coffin bread!

making coffin bread!

the real I'm Lovin' It.

the real I’m Lovin’ It.

The next day we were up early to make our way around Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s beautiful national parks. It’s about an hour’s drive from Hualien city center, through gorgeous rice fields and banana plantations. We stopped frequently as we drove through the gorge to do some hiking and visit some sites. It was during one of these stops that Chloe stole toilet paper for us. We went into a bathroom totally unequipped and decided to hold it, but then happened to notice a supply room nearby. No toilet paper, but there was a pack of tissues that lost a few to us desperate desperados. The Gorge was beautiful, but it was a challenge driving it, as the roads were hilly and windy, plus I had Novia behind me.

beautiful Taroko Gorge.

beautiful Taroko Gorge.

somewhere in Taroko.

somewhere in Taroko.

near the top of Taroko Gorge.

near the top of Taroko Gorge.

site of a landslide.

site of a landslide.

...

Chloe and I had to add a new rule to our “foreigner game” as we went, namely, you can’t call one while driving (I was driving and she wasn’t; you’ll be glad to know I kept my eyes on the road, but that meant Chloe kept scoring all the points). Probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about, right? Well, if you spot a white person, 1 point; black or Indian person, 2 points; call someone and they turn out to be Asian, lose a point. It’s probably vaguely racist, but also a testament to the rarity of foreigners around here. I believe our final score on the weekend was 21-17.

On our last day we went to Qixingtan, a stretch of rocky beach on the Pacific Ocean. It was a cloudy day, but the water was unbelievably blue. There’s an Air Force Base right behind the area we saw, and the occasional jet took off right in front of us. Before leaving we went to eat wontons for the third time in three days. Of course, on the way to the train station we ran into the cops, but you’ve already heard that one. We missed our train, which actually turned out to be a good thing – scored some seats on a later, faster train instead.

chilling with an old dude and his guzheng.

chilling with an old dude and his guzheng.

qixingtan.

qixingtan.

blue pacific ocean.

blue pacific ocean.

basically my and Chloe's relationship summed up in one photo.

basically my and Chloe’s relationship summed up in one photo.

chilly day at the beach.

chilly day at the beach.

one last bowl of hualien wontons.

one last bowl of hualien wontons.

buying mocha to bring home.

buying mocha to bring home.

our sweet digs.

one half of our sweet digs.

Life’s really busy right about now with work and study and church and friends and dragon boat practice and all. Hope to post about Indonesia soon!

A speech by an overzealous Taiwanese police officer whose picture I have photobombed.

Regrettably, he didn’t think it was funny. Even more unfortunate is that the photo was of my license plate, taken on the side of a road in Hualien while I was being written up for my first-ever traffic ticket.

I’m rather discomfited by the whole thing. After all, I’ve been driving for how many years and I’ve never been slapped with a fine. I’ve been pulled over more than once in the states, but always got out of it. And now, while driving under the ostensible veil of foreigner immunity (aka police who don’t want to deal with white people), I get ticketed for a minor infraction that I don’t consider my fault. The fine is less than my haircut last week, though, and came with a free lecture.

As we took a left across oncoming traffic the thought had crossed my mind that this was an awfully busy intersection to be operating sans two-step turn, but I was trying not to lose the friend I was following and wasn’t really paying attention to which laws he was breaking. Until, that is, we swung left across two lanes of traffic and blew past the outstretched arms of two traffic cops and their little red flag. So much for traffic rules being relaxed outside of the big city.

Much to my chagrin, I was unable to test out the plot I had concocted should I ever be pulled over. It basically involves me pretending I have no idea what is going on and that I don’t speak a word of Chinese. As a rule, the coppers here in Taiwan speak zero English, or are too diffident to attempt it, and I know several foreigners who have been flagged down and gotten away scot-free because of a language barrier, real or assumed. I’ll still give it a whirl next time I’m dealing with the law, but I’ve heard that more Taiwanese police carry a sheet with traffic offenses translated into English and simply point to the misdemeanor, so the outcome could be less than positive anyway.

Regardless, the tried-and-true ignorant foreigner idea didn’t stand a chance when we were pulled over in Hualien since my Taiwanese friends, who were supposed to pretend they were Japanese in such a situation, wilted and played right into the hands of the cops. “You went through a two-step turn,” said the tall, solemn one. “What, where?” I demanded, alerting the officers that I could in fact understand them and making me seriously doubt that I’d be able to pull off the whole “ting bu dong” ruse anytime in the future.

We looked back and, sure enough, there were boxes painted on the intersection indicating a two-step left turn was necessary. In Taiwan bikes smaller than 550cc are required to turn right to turn left, and we had failed to turn and wait in the box before crossing the road. We were assured by the cop giving an impromptu speech on the subject that such rules were written for our own safety, but it’s a huge pain to wait at a red light, turn right into the box and then wait for another whole light while you watch cars and trucks make a simple left turn. I was well-aware of all this, as I actually do make two-step turns whenever I notice them, but the copper reiterated Taiwanese traffic laws at length – mostly for my benefit, I think.

The short and somewhat less somber officer demanded our licenses, denied my request for a warning on the grounds that I was following someone, wrote out two tickets, and smirked when Chloe and I jumped into the tall policeman’s photoshoot of our license plates. He told us we could pay the fine after five days (yet another chore that can be accomplished at 7-11 in Taiwan) and then assented to our request for a picture with him. What a peach. He handed over my ticket with an apologetic “不好意思,” which I generally take to mean “My bad.” Ridiculously Taiwanese.

I’m pretty sure we went through a few more two-steppers on the way back – getting our money’s worth, I suppose. And, somewhere in the annals of the Hualien police department exists an amazing photograph of two foreign girls with a scooter and awesome Taiwan-style poses.

not this picture. the more humorous of the two agreed to a shot with the crazy foreigners.

not this picture. the more humorous of the two agreed to a shot with the crazy foreigners.

democracy in action

Posted: March 30, 2014 in life in taiwan

The Sunflower Movement in Taiwan has been going strong for thirteen days now. There is no sign of resolution imminent and, if today’s mass sit-down is any indication, the protest only looks to be growing.

 

beautiful, isn't it? I was down there at 4pm, no idea where precisely.

beautiful, isn’t it? I was down there at 4pm, no idea where precisely.

One week ago Sunday, mere hours after I left the days-old protest, some students broke into the Executive Yuan, hoping to occupy the presidential offices there in addition to the Legislative Yuan that has been under siege since March 18. Taipei police moved to disperse them early Monday morning, using batons and water cannon. Add police brutality to the protest list, couple it with an unsatisfactory government response and then throw in high public dissatisfaction, and an already major demonstration is going to pick up supporters.

Today hundreds of thousands of people packed the streets around the Legislative and Executive Yuans in response to a call by student leaders. A mass rally was organized to show the level of public opposition to the Cross-Strait Trade Agreement, President Ma and his tactics, and the police action of last week. The protest leaders expressed their hope to signify the power of civilians by expanding the protest in defense of democracy.

I’m pretty sure their expectations were exceeded.

sunflowers, the symbol of a peaceful revolution.

sunflowers, the symbol of this peaceful protest.

and the not-so-peaceful bit of it. police officers stand guard around the executive yuan, from which protesters were brutally dispersed one week ago.

and the not-so-peaceful bit of it. police officers stand guard around the executive yuan, from which protesters were brutally dispersed one week ago.

"Women shi

“Women shi minzhu de Taiwan.” “We are a democratic Taiwan.”

After church and lunch, my friend Alex and I headed over to check things out. We were only going to observe, as actually protesting falls outside the legal reason for our residency and we didn’t really care to risk it. The crowds were so thick it was difficult to move. As we slowly trudged along the road with thousands of protesters, we saw tens of thousands more sitting in the streets, calmly chanting and singing and waving signs and sunflowers. Everyone was dressed in black to show their discontent over the government’s non-transparency with the trade deal. Every so often a chant could be heard in the distance, getting louder and louder as it made its way back through the crowds like a wave. My favorite was “taiyanghua!” or, simply, “sunflower!”

The masses were obviously excited, but peaceful as protesters could be. Today wasn’t just young people, either. Seniors, whole families, teenagers, gangsters – I saw the whole gamut of Taiwanese people representing today. Clearly a majority demands an acceptable answer from their government. Taiwan’s protest is not violent like those in Crimea or Venezuela, but that’s a testament to a culture that is characteristically nonviolent. Taiwanese society values peace and friendliness and social gathering, and that was more than evident today. It’s an amazing thing to have been a part of. Taiwan is not my country, but I support the desire for a more pure form of democracy and admire the Taiwanese who let their voices be heard.

Another nod to the Taiwanese conscience: after almost a half million people left the protest area, there was not a piece of garbage anywhere. And how can I not love a country where, upon hearing a siren, demonstrating people jump up and clear the road in five seconds flat. I swear, that ambulance did not even have to slow down. A wave of humanity surged up, flattened themselves along the roadsides, and cheered when the ambulance driver waved his thanks. And in that moment, I loved Taiwan more than China. An all-around enlightening day.

hundreds of thousands packing the roads around the presidential office.

hundreds of thousands packing the roads around the presidential office.

police stand guard.

police stand guard.

cool protester.

cool protester.

"Taiwan is not for sale."

“Taiwan is not for sale.”

great weather for a protest, at least in the afternoon.

great weather for a protest, at least in the afternoon.

Taiwan.

Taiwan.

kuala lumpur take one

Posted: March 25, 2014 in malaysia

I left at 12 midnight Taipei time, and arrived in Malaysia’s capital city at 430 am. Is it possible to fall in love with a city at first sight? Because the first thing I saw on my way out the arrivals gate was Dunkin’ Donuts! Sipping my iced caramel latte, I trolled around KLIA’s LCC Terminal (low-cost carrier, should you be wondering, and yes, all Air Asia flights land and depart from there for totally obvious reasons) looking for a bus or a train or taxi or rickshaw or something to central Kuala Lumpur. By a stroke of pure luck I ended up running into a barker for the Aerobus that goes directly to KL Sentral, so I hopped aboard. An hour later, having switched to the LRT for a short trip, I found myself wandering around KL’s Chinatown district. As it was only 530 in the morning mostly everything was banged up, so I went directly to my hostel. Hold it, that’s a bit of a stretch. It was more of a circuitous wander, as I got lost about twelve times en route.

I crashed in the hostel’s common area for a couple hours of much-needed sleep and then headed out to Batu Caves, about an hour away by public transport. The caves are huge, dug into mountains on the edge of KL. There’s some sort of Hindu shrineage going on too, with various small temples in and around the caves. The best or worst part, depending on your experience, is the monkeys running around all over the place. They aren’t the slightest bit fearful of humans, and will jump up to grab food out of the hands or bags of people dumb enough to bring it with them. I wasn’t yet terrified of the little buggers (that comes later in my trip), but I still steered clear of them because you never know with animals.

outside Batu Caves.

outside Batu Caves.

a devious little monkey.

a devious little monkey.

the caves had really high ceilings insides.

the caves had really high ceilings inside.

a priest.

a priest.

another little devil.

another little devil.

looking down on KL from up in the caves.

looking down on KL from up in the caves.

Batu.

Batu.

batu.

batu.

After the caves, I wandered my way around Kuala Lumpur taking in the sights and drinking approximately eight liters of water. Taipei is still coldish this time of year so I went from high 50s to high 90s, and I sweated. A lot. I visited several Buddhist (Chinese-style) and Hindu temples and a few Islamic mosques. Visiting different religious buildings has always been the most fascinating bit of travel to me, and it’s interesting when so many religions are so actively represented in one city. KL reminded me a lot of Singapore – bloody hot, cosmopolitan, and a cool mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture. Many people speak really good English, in addition to Malay and their own native tongue.

flowers stalls lining the road to a Hindu temple.

flowers stalls lining the road to a Hindu temple.

temple.

temple.

a Hindu priest.

a Hindu priest.

gorgeous decorative statues.

gorgeous decorative statues.

priests.

priests.

this small Chinese Buddhist temple was right across the street from the Hindu temple.

this small Chinese Buddhist temple was right across the street from the Hindu temple.

...

the coolest incense burning I’ve ever seen. they just burn up the spiral all day until there’s nothing left.

Masjid Negara, or National Mosque in KL. couldn't get inside, as non-Muslims weren't allowed through the door.

Masjid Negara, or National Mosque in KL. couldn’t get inside, as non-Muslims weren’t allowed through the door.

a smaller mosque where I witnessed evening prayers.

a smaller mosque where I witnessed evening prayers.

I'm so glad they generously provide outfits so I can walk around in  shorts and sleeveless when the part of the world I'm in happens to be sweltering.

I’m so glad they generously provide outfits so I can walk around in shorts and sleeveless when the part of the world I’m in happens to be sweltering.

a massive Chinese temple built on a hillside somewhere.

a massive Chinese temple built on a hillside somewhere.

all decked out with paper lanterns.

all decked out with paper lanterns.

...

The next day I visited the center of the city, Merderka Square, where the government buildings are located. It’s the historical core of KL and quite a bit of colonial influence has remained. From there I headed up to KLCC, or Malaysia’s World Trade Center. The famous Petronas Towers are there, but I declined to go up them. I met a friend for dinner and some touring/malling before heading away to catch a flight to Indonesia.

flags near merderka square.

flags near merderka square.

downtown KL.

downtown KL.

...

...

KL's famous central market. reminded me lots of the Silk Market in Beijing, just a lot more expensive.

KL’s famous central market. reminded me lots of the Silk Market in Beijing, just a lot more expensive.

some beautiful old architecture.

some beautiful old architecture in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur’s Little India.

graffiti along a canal running through the city.

graffiti along a canal running through the city.

the twin towers in the afternoon.

the twin towers in the afternoon.

and again after dinner. There's a really nice park behind here, too, with a fountain show and all.

and again after dinner with Amalia. There’s a really nice park behind here, too, with a fountain show and all.

 

history in the making

Posted: March 23, 2014 in life in taiwan

Taiwan has been in an uproar since late Tuesday evening, when hundreds of university students occupied the Legislative Yuan here in Taipei to protest their government’s disregard of the democratic process. Long story short, the KMT forced a pro-China trade deal through the legislature, bypassing a detailed review session that had been previously established and putting quite the capper on months of frustration toward a government perceived as unaccountable to the general public. Many Taiwanese believe the agreement gives Beijing too much leverage in their nation’s economy and, even worse, seemingly forfeits Taiwan’s future as a democracy, let alone its standing as the most democratic nation in Asia. After all, China has been trying to get its foot in the door since 1949, and this Cross-Strait Trade Agreement leaves Taiwan vulnerable to unprecedented political pressure from Beijing.

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detailing Taiwan’s current state.

Today after church a friend and I decided to pop over and talk with people protesting outside the Yuan (Taiwanese equivalent to US Capitol). A student told us that the hundreds of protesters inside the building will not leave until they receive a response from the president. Over the past several days similar demonstrations have sprung up outside government buildings in many Taiwanese cities, minus the breaking-into-government-property bit. I think many Taiwanese have just had it with the KMT and Ma’s government, and the Yuan occupation is the consequence of months of public dissatisfaction. The business with the trade deal just gave protestors an excuse to lean on their government for greater dialogue and transparency.

One guy told us that even if his government refuses to change the trade pact, at least the Taiwanese people are making their voices heard. Since Friday, when President Ma declined a request to meet with Taipei protesters, the number of supporters outside the legislature has grown, with people sleeping and essentially living on the streets there until their government gives them an answer. Among them are those who are peeved about the undue proceedings of the trade deal, others who dislike Ma and the KMT, and still more who believe the trade pact is setting Taiwan up for a Chinese takeover. They all have come together to let the government know what they want.

oops, nothing's getting mailed from these boxes anytime soon. outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.

oops, nothing’s getting mailed from these boxes anytime soon. outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.

the protests have been dubbed the "Sunflower Movement." sunflowers are symbolic of light and transparency, something the KMT government is apparently not.

the protests have been dubbed the “Sunflower Movement.” sunflowers are symbolic of light and transparency, something the KMT government is apparently not.

the general feeling.

the general feeling.

I had thought the occupation resulted from anger over the procedural injustice over passing the agreement, rather than the agreement itself, but the protesters outside the Yuan were most certainly also concerned about Taiwan’s national security and self-determination as a country, with regards to both the Chinese and their own government. As one guy lectured, Taiwanese democracy and its sovereignty are under constant threat from China, which hopes to “reunify” with Taiwan (and that would be annexation, the speech continued, since China has never governed our island or adhered to our brand of democracy). The trade deal is a wedge used to pry Taiwan open to Beijing’s influence. But, he said, Taiwan has also been threatened by its own government, both today and in the past, since the KMT has always tried to promote Taiwan’s Chinese interests and identity, even after it was completely obvious that they wouldn’t be getting China back, ever. Ah, the other side of the perpetual “who’s the real China” argument. And so, the guy who couldn’t have been more than 20 concluded, our government is setting us up for a “takeover deal.”

It’s all momentously interesting stuff. The coverage in America seems rather trivial, from what I’ve seen, or not seen, on U.S. news sites over the past few days, but it’s been fascinating to watch things play out right in front of me here in Taiwan. The protest is quite completely calm and organized. Areas are roped off, with protestors outside the Yuan blocking streets and entrances so police can’t get near to expel the students who have taken over the building. Alongside the crowds who sit and wait and sleep and listen to speeches are boxes of food, water, blankets, books, and phone chargers from supporters. Signs criticizing Ma and the trade agreement are everywhere, and police lurk around the perimeters, though these are drawn by protestors and keep expanding. The protest thus far is just so Taiwanese. Calm, cool, collected. Peaceful protest if ever there was one, and I hope it stays that way.

I’m impressed. Young people here who have no direct history with Mainland China are waking up and asserting themselves for the only country they have ever known – a free, democratic Taiwan. Let’s see how long it takes their government to listen.

protesters outside the legislature in Taipei.

protesters outside the legislature in Taipei.

the Legislative Yuan. notice the Taiwanese flag turned upside down, as well as the rude caricatures of President Ma hanging out the windows.

the Legislative Yuan. notice the Taiwanese flag turned upside down, as well as the rude caricatures of President Ma hanging out the windows.

some lovely signage.

some lovely signage.

"Xuesheng qu," or area for protesting students, clearly delineated.

“Xuesheng qu,” or area for protesting students, clearly delineated.

this one says, "Roasted President Ma."

this one says, “Roasted President Ma.”

supporters with water and other supplies.

supporters with water and other supplies.

and, you know, just in case...

and, you know, just in case…

Also, stories and pictures from Indonesia are coming, I promise! My roommate and I spent three hours blogging and studying in Huashan yesterday, so I’ll post some stuff soon. After that we saw 12 Years A Slave, which has finally made its way to Taipei. What a great film, a real thinker. Anyhow, tomorrow’s Monday and I’m off to bed. Later:)

the ups and downs of travel

Posted: March 13, 2014 in malaysia

The immigration officer at KLIA looked up at me and down at my passport, then back at me and the passport twice more. I was past security and through the official line of border control, but I ran into a second checkpoint at the door to the boarding area where Taipei-bound passengers were being corralled. The officer fired question after question, leaving me frustrated but rather more assured – I was glad to know they’d upped security, even if it took a jet vanishing into thin air somewhere along the same route I was about to fly to do so.

Seriously though, dude, get on with things. I know my picture is eight years old but that’s definitely me in the passport, and it’s been a really long day.

I’d spent Saturday night slash early Sunday morning hanging out at the international departures terminal in Bali. Not the worst airport I’ve tried to sleep in, but it’s still under construction and definitely overdoes it with the AC. I was half asleep while waiting to check in for my 5am flight to KL, and was rudely jolted awake by raucous Mandarin conversation in accents and volumes that were decidedly Mainland. I groaned as I opened my eyes, took in the large tour group storming the counter, and bolted for the self check-in.

The amount of times I’ve traveled between back and forth and within China more than justified my spending the next hour picking out exactly which people to pray would be on the other end of the plane. The Chinese people’s reputation as terrible tourists is well-earned. They most often travel in packs, like the one that was crowding the gate now, pushing, shoving, bellowing, and giving me a terrible headache. I theorize that tour groups such as these, which encompass the whole spectrum from fuerdai to peasantry, insulate their members so they behave exactly as they would in their home country. Too bad the rest of the world isn’t quite as forbearing when it comes to Chinese, uh, etiquette.

As soon as the gate opened I was nearly trampled by a horde clearly convinced they wouldn’t catch the flight if they weren’t first through the door. Shades of China passed before my eyes as the woman behind me thrust her passport over my shoulder and into the attendant’s face. I slapped it aside, scowled, “Pai dui!” and smirked when the woman did just that, slinking back into line with a look of bewildered surprise on her face. The gate guy grinned as he scanned my boarding pass and let me through the door. I blew past several Chinese wandering around the tarmac taking pictures even though it was barely daylight and there were signs everywhere strictly prohibiting loose tourists on the airstrip. Once aboard the plane I gathered from the woman next to me, whose phone camera was plastered against the window for the entire two hour flight, that the group was from somewhere in Guizhou. I congratulated myself on pinning their origin to the rural southeast, and settled in for twenty minutes of travelers cramming way too much luggage overhead and running all over the plane. I mean, there were bathrooms in the terminal, people.

More and more Chinese are traveling abroad, but they’re apparently not yet important enough to merit Chinese language announcements on international flights. Tour leaders can’t yell loud enough for the entire plane to hear, despite their best effort, so it’s inevitable that forty or so Chinese stand up the second the wheels hit the runway and start to retrieve baggage and shove their way forward. I can’t count how many times I’ve been on flight originating in or heading to China, or that has a large Mainland contingent on board, where the poor stewards have to run around the plane herding people back into their seats and slamming shut luggage compartments until the plane is safely to the gate. Also, a jetway rarely factors into the whole flying around Southeast Asia equation, and the planes often park so far out that shuttles are required to get to the terminal. An old Chinese guy put a real capper on the past several hours of human turbulence when he did the old hack and hock onto the shuttle bus floor.

As soon as we halted outside arrivals I blew through Malaysian immigration and hightailed it to the bus lanes outside the terminal. I had nine hours before my next flight and a lot I wanted to do in KL. There’s a bus that runs between the LCC Terminal and KL Sentral that is wildly convenient when it doesn’t break down on the side of the highway. Fortunately, they depart so frequently that it only took fifteen minutes for the next bus to come along and collect us unfortunate souls. KL is one of my favorite cities in Asia, as it’s quite cosmopolitan and really easy to get around. I met up with a friend for some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten, and then strolled in the air-conditioned walkway from KLCC to Bukit Bintang to do some shopping (H & M and Reeses! We have neither here in Taiwan).

I grabbed the 2pm bus back to KLIA for my last leg home. I had printed both boarding passes before my first flight, so I headed straight to immigration. The officer behind the desk scrutinized me and my passport, but stamped me through no questions asked. I went through security with a razor in my carryon for the sixth time in two weeks and made a beeline for Dunkin Donuts, unable to resist one last coffee. Who knows how many months it will be before I see that fine establishment again? I was all set to relax for the next forty minutes until I realized that border control was blocking the doors to each international departure waiting room, primed to interrogate anyone hoping to board their flight. Apparently safety measure intensify when planes just disappear from the universe. After twenty minutes in line…

Immigration guy: Hey, where are you going today?

Me: This is the flight to Taipei, right? I pointed to the sign right next to him.

Guy: Sure is. Can I see your passport? He proceeded to look back and forth at it and me eight times.

Guy: Why are you going to Taipei?

Me: I live there.

Guy: How long have you lived there?

Me, while overhearing the officer next to us tell some guy to remove his spectacles: About seven months.

Guy: How long will you be there for?

Me: I have no idea.

Guy: Do you have a Taiwanese ID?

Me, anticipating this: Yes, here it is.

Guy looks from me to my passport to my ARC and back at all three again: OK, miss, have a great flight and enjoy the rest of your time in Taiwan!

Me: Thanks, I hope I get there, and I wish the TSA was half as nice as you people.

And arrive safely I did, although I didn’t sleep at all during the four hour flight. It’s pretty much an airport rule that when a plane arrives well past midnight it parks at the farthest possible gate, but a spectacular justice was served as I waltzed past hundreds of foreigners and Taiwanese nationals waiting in line at immigration and breezed right through the single counter open to foreign nationals holding Taiwanese residency. I never travel with checked bags unless I’m going back to the states, and I ran right out the door and scored a cabbie who didn’t feel like making change and gave me a flat $1000 fare. I was in bed by 2am and up running to work at 6.

Life is bumpy at times, but it’s pretty darn charmed.