So I was being forced from the city I love due to a change in visa rules. Having renewed said visa in HK (always my least favourite place) I get back home to Shenzhen to find that it was all a waste of time and money as the Chinese have decided to shift the goalposts. Understandable in many ways but how about some notice! Anyway, after much research, there are only 2 places I can go with the money I have left; Cambodia or back to Taiwan. I choose the later as it will at least offer some familiarity and a change of seasons and temperature.
As I’m flying from HK airport (Shenzhen adds too much tax to the fare), I opt to leave my home of nearly a year and travel via ferry. On the times I have been to Shekou ferry terminal they have always been subdued experiences, but not today. The crowds show how woefully inadequate the ageing port building is and the signage is useless. First, I am told the economy seating is sold out and I can only travel first class (this in itself is staggering and I’m sure a tactic geared at extracting cash from westerners). However it is only Y30 difference and the only other option is to return the way I came utilising two subway systems and a bus. It would be cheaper but take around 3 hours, hence the reason I selected the ferry in the first place. Begrudgingly I give in and hand over the cash only to be told to ‘hurry up’ by the bitch behind the ticket glass as they’ve now secured my western price tag finance . But this is just the beginning. The chaos is not only in the crowds but in the operation of the place. Having got my ticket I can check in at the port. They only check in one of my bags (which needs to be checked in as it has items which can’t be carried on the plane). Initially this seems great because I haven’t had to pay excess, though it would become a burden later. I am also catching the boat in the nick of time so everyone is in hurried mode. Next up is the heaving mass of a queue for the boat itself with added bag x-ray (I have already passed through one to get into the building). Again my bag goes undetected and I make the departure lounge to find the first class waiting area roped off. Korean businessmen in crisp navy suits are going under it so I jump over some seats (I am in the second class queue) to follow them. No-one stops them or me, so why it is roped off is a mystery. Then comes boarding. We are allowed to enter first by a very slim margin, so there’s no room for manouever for the seething masses behind us. Upper deck on the boat is first class in name only. We are treated to warm Coke and water by the hostess. The voyage itself is quick and steady and I can only gaze at the city I’ve come to call home slowly disappear behind me in the vapour spray and eventually the geography that consumes, for now, my lovely Shenzhen to memory.
Ahead, lies more chaos. If you have been following this blog you’ll know I already hate Hong Kong and I have also spoken before of its one strong point, the airport losing ground. Here is another example. Alighting the ferry I realise that in the chaos of the ferry port check in, I don’t know if my bag has been checked through to Taipei or if I have to collect it here and check it in again. I ask the smartly dressed middle aged lady at the first counter I come to from the ferry bridge. Hello I say. She ignores me and starts walking away. Hello, Hello HELLO!! I shout. She then stops and looks around at me. I then understand she speaks no English! This is ok in the backstreets of Kowloon but not at an international airport! It falls to a fellow passenger to tell me I don’t need to collect and I can proceed to security. This again is a waste of time. Having gone through one of those annoying zig-zagging queue systems, the bag that needs to be checked in is now caught on x-ray (why it wasn’t on the other 2 I don’t know). I need to go back to square one and check it in. ‘Don’t worry’ says one of the security team, you can come through once you’re done without going through security again. I already know that is rubbish and ask how that works as I can’t see any sign of a through system. She doesn’t know and hurriedly guides me back the way I’ve come in an effort to get rid of me and at the same time halt my questioning. I get to CHINA Airlines check in, she explains my situation to three personnel who nod and reassuringly smile. Moments later I am still standing there watching the same three gas about nothing. Again I prompt some action with hello! And one of them checks in my bag like I am an inconvenience before continuing his conversationwith the others. I meanwhile am looking for the way through security but there isn’t one and as I correctly guessed have to go through all over again. I flag the woman who said I could go straight through and ask her why she said I didn’t have to if she doesn’t know! ‘Thankyou for your cooperation’ she says. I continue to the aero-train, sweaty and agitated. The only good thing is I haven’t been charged excess baggage.
In the safety of the terminal I can then get down to some plane spotting and maybe a snack. I try and change money into Taiwan dollars to find I need to change it into Hong Kong dollars first. I decide to wait til I get to Taiwan. Finally the time comes to board. There are several sizable CHINA Airlines planes at HK (747s, A330s) and I wonder why this is. While it is called the Golden Route by the airlines plying their trade between HK and Taipei, due to the popularity and numbers using it, surely these planes were not all flying to/from Taiwan. As with all the planes I’ve flown in China, there is no choice of seat and one has been allocated for me. I am for the first time ever in the front row of the aisle seats. This is unusual as it is frustrating in that I can’t take pictures from my normal perch by the window but also in that the in flight entertainment and meal desk (if that’s the right term) are inserted into the chairs armrest. There is however ample leg room. As we are taxiing to the runway, the screen is showing the view from the front of the plane – as in the runway ahead of us and I thought that if you were scared of flying, this would be the last thing you’d want to be watching!
We are rolling and up into the blue. I can only hope that whatever awaits me in Taipei is better than the previous year, although secretly wish for a speedy return to Shenzhen. Another thing I have carefully been monitoring via the forums is whether I’m going to be asked for a return ticket. I mention this to 3 travel agents and all say no, a one way is sufficient. They are lying. Arriving at Taipei, unlike the year previous, I am grilled with why I am here, how long and where my residence will be. Sightseeing I say. It works. Just as well. Something that isn’t working however is my ageing degree certificate. It is many years old and worn by the passage of time that I have been travelling with it since but most schools fail to understand this and take the easy option to view me as a charleton. It is a race against time to secure the ARC (Alien Residents Permit) needed to ensure my legal status here in Taipei and many roles are hampered by the need to be local or the sheer volume of other westerners coming here, those who are already here, those gazumping me or by the frequent typhoons and rains which batter the tiny island, which in turn voids a day. Still waiting for a clear passage ahead at the time of writing.