tulip bulbs & temporary passports

posted in: travel 0

Observations about Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam:
1. They sell tulip bulbs in the gift shops.
2. All announcements in the airport are terse threats to the people late for their flights, who must “come to the gate NOW or we will offload your luggage immediately”
3. Under no circumstances, not even your grandfather’s funeral, will they allow you to board a plane heading to Taiwan without 6 months validity left on your passport.


It’s one thing to be denied at check-in when you’re in your home city. But I had already flown from Oslo to Amsterdam and had further boarding passes for Guangzhou and Taipei. I was at the gate just before departure when this Chinese stewardess just refused to let me on the plane. (It’s a specific policy with Taiwan–they get fined if they allow passengers in with less than 6-months left on their passport, because of the risk that they will be deported.)

Short of having a heart attack, I watched them close the gate while I tried calling the Canadian Embassy in the Netherlands to see how quickly I could get a new passport. As is typical, it was impossible to reach a real person so I left a message. I then went to check at ticket counters in the airport to see if it was even possible to get another flight that would get me to Taipei in time for the funeral. (Great timing, it’s also Chinese New Year, the busiest travel time in Asia.)

I managed to find a ticket that departed 8 hours later, with a layover in Hong Kong. But of course I couldn’t commit before being certain about my passport… still unable to reach the Embassy, I took a train to the Hague to see them in person. (Good thing the city is only 30 minutes away–hooray tiny Netherlands.)

Grabbed a taxi from the train station and got to the embassy after a suspiciously long and rainy ride (yes, he screwed me). Thankfully, the embassy had gotten my message and were very willing to help–I was really pleasantly surprised to see government bureaucracy actually working to help me! Of course I had to fill out an application for a new passport, and they would have to cross-check my references and get approval in Canada–but I got photos done around the corner, paid a 200 euro fee, and I was on my way back to the airport after only 3 hours.

my temporary and 'old' passport

at the airport, I bought an expensive one-way ticket to Taipei from this Chinese dude–which for some reason I had to pay in cash. seemed dodgy, but it was a much better deal than what KLM or Lufthansa could offer me (first-class tickets at four times the price). more waiting, more layovers… and then the discovery that I needed a visa to get into Taiwan because of my temporary passport. more photos, more cash. but I finally made it to Taipei, 36 hours after leaving Oslo.

modern airports unite

posted in: cross-culture, travel 0

hong kong — airport, or shopping mall?

airport of the year from 2001-2005 (with a mere second place in 2006). fastest way to get there is taking the subway. you can check your luggage at Hong Kong station in Central, maybe shop a bit at the swanky IFC mall, then take the 23-minute ride to the actual airport… and shop some more.


kuala lumpur — airport, or shopping mall?

fastest way into town is to take the 28-minute KLIA express train to KL Sentral station. the airport looks eerily similar to HK’s airport: shopping shopping shopping. just with more muslims in headscarves walking around. according to wikipedia, the airport was designed by a japanese architect with the concept of airport in the forest, forest in the airport. It also has the world’s first six-star animal hotel for pets.


singapore’s budget terminal

the 2006 “airport of the year” is a 30-minute subway ride from City Hall station. plus an extra 5-minute shuttle ride to get to the budget terminal (yes, it’s actually called the “budget terminal“, as opposed to Terminals 1 & 2). they only tell you which gate your flight is at 30 minutes before departure, and last call is 10 minutes later (the terminal is small though, so this is not a problem)–which means most passengers wait in the large common hall instead of at each gate. I flew tiger airways, which was fun (and cheap). no assigned seating. all flight attendants and staff wear cotton tees and pants by giordano with tiger-striped belts.


happy new year

posted in: hong kong 1

Funny thing about New Year’s Eve. Last year it was Hong Kong. This year it was New York City.

Flashback. 31 December 2005. I was limping along in a walking cast, facing the impossible task of navigating through half a million people on foot. The problem was that my hotel was way too central, being next to Hong Kong’s Victoria harbour. HK authorities had cordoned off one-way pedestrian traffic on all the roads, so I probably walked a mile just to cover two blocks. I just wanted to sit.

Flashforward this New Year’s, dear friends, which I spent at Gate 6 of JFK airport, since my flight to Taipei was delayed due to… a missing part?! The arriving plane emptied its Taiwanese passengers on time, and we were all ready to board. But we waited. And the ground crew waited. And we discovered a part was missing. And then discovered there was no replacement part at the airport. And then found it impossible to find a hotel that would take us on New Year’s Eve.

And the shouting marathon began.

I’m impressed by these Taiwanese, very energetic. they only paused when the ball dropped in Times Square on TV. they did the countdown. they resumed the shouting match.

I was tired. I had barely slept in the last few days/weeks, so I was able to semi-pass out in the airport chairs. But every time I woke up, the shouting was still going on. At least they brought out the blankets and pillows and snacks from the plane.

When I woke up around 4.30 am and they distributed breakfast from the plane, the shouting had subdued. And that’s when I saw the mice scurrying on the floor. I don’t think the people sleeping on the floor saw them.

Well in the end, they were only able to put us up in a hotel at 11 AM, at which point I got a few hours of zzz’s in before we really set off at about midnight, 26 hours past schedule.

[cut to 20 hours later…]

I survived China Airlines flight 6406, and all I got was this lousy box of chocolate.
I survived China Airlines flight 6406, and all I got was this lousy box of chocolate.

3 things of note during my 20-min layover in Taipei:

– the very first thing I saw as we peeked under the clouds was an EVA airlines hello kitty plane on the runway

– a gigantic taiwanese flag is painted on the broadside of the airport wall to greet arriving planes

– at the gate for my departing flight, a large sign:


the first 3 things I saw when we dipped into hong kong:

– a boat

– horribly ugly condo highrises behind the airport

– cable-cars ascending the steep lush hillside of lantau island