Arrival & Assorted Disorientation
Trip Start Sep 17, 2011
14Trip End Jul 19, 2013
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As I was changing planes in Beijing I received a last-minute email from the recruiter. Someone would probably be at the airport to pick me up, and if not I should call #### phone number. Hrm... okay we'll see.
I eventually arrived in Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan's main gateway to the rest of the world. By now the lump in my throat was dissolved by massive jet lag and hunger as the in-flight meals were not far removed from military battle rations. "Beef or pork?" the stewardess would abruptly ask me every few hours. As for the jet-lag, it might of been a placebo. At some point earlier in the cross-ocean flight, I fell asleep. At some other unknown point I woke up. It seemed like we landed in Beijing not long after I woke up, but I had no real idea. I could've slept 5 hours or 10 or 3 for all I knew. Oh and seeing Mainland Chinese soil from the air for the first time was kind of exciting.
Back in Taoyuan, I proceeded to immigration. "Passport please?" Again I was really nervous for no reason here. Whether or not my bag would arrive was also giving me the willies and that was a more legitimate fear. Luckily though it was there on the luggage belt.
I walked out into the arrivals hall going over the battle plan in my head. "k, look out for someone maybe holding your name on a sign or something... if not there, wait a bit, then call. If there's no answer, go get a hostel room in Taipei. Which hostel though? Ergh figure it out later."
Shortly I noticed a middle aged woman who looked a bit like the gadget-master from The Incredibles waving at me Asian-style, palm moving up and down instead of side to side.
My new boss, it turns out. We'll call her Beth. A teaching assistant from the school was there too, we'll call her Maggie. "Maggie will help you with your bag :-) We take you to Jhunan, to your apartment, okay?"
"It's 4,000NT a month, I didn't know how much you want to spend so I hope this is okay. If not can find new apartment later." 4k NT is like US $100. This was absolutely okay. A warm rush of relief washed over me like you wouldn't believe.
I had no reason to sweat. It was going to be okay. I had a job, a place to live, and my employers weren't going to kidnap me. It was going to be okay.
Maggie took my smaller bag, Boss Beth turned around and... WTF. A ridiculous brown poodle was staring me in the face. Was the poodle in Beth's backpack? Yes it was. Beth had a poodle in her backpack.
"This is Toto, my daughter! :-)"
We made our way outside where the Taiwanese jacuzzi-air hit me for the first time. It would take a while to get used to this, LA is built on a desert. I plopped my bag in the back of her British-flag emblazoned VW and we were off to Jhunan. Re: the British flag, I would soon realize that quasi-European/North American kitsch is popular here the same way vaguely-Asian kitsch is popular in the West, as a way of giving an exotic air to things.
On the drive down to Jhunan, the first thing that hit me was how unbelievably green everything was. Urban Taiwan was a schizoid mishmash of the ugliest run-down concrete apartment blocks I'd ever seen and literal walls of lush green bamboo jungle, there was little middle ground. We all chatted on the drive, getting to know one another while I scarfed down some dumplings they'd bought on the way to the airport. Dumplings, these particular kind called "xiao long bao" in Mandarin, would soon become a diet staple for me here, they're the cheapest, most ubiquitous meal next to beef noodle soup.
After less than an hour the Jhunan highway exit came up. I got a flash of "OMG I'm here" nervousness but it went away quickly. Pulling onto the main street, I was instantly impressed. It was way busier than I was expecting (I expected empty rice patties honestly, it was pitched to me as a rural locale), and there was no English anywhere. The Englishness would soon switch from a cool thing to a small nightmare, more on that later.
A whiff of "Chinese Medicine Store Smell" hit me from a nearby shop. I was back in Asia again, and it was awesome.