Got back from Taiwan last Monday, actually... had lots of fun :) The flight over there was pretty uneventful, but as I had expected, the food on American airlines is pretty crappy compared to the food on Asian ones (by "American airlines," I mean US carriers in general, not specifically American Airlines, although this time I actually was flying AA. I've flown overseas on Continental and United too, and they aren't much different though—yeah, I know they've merged :) The flight from DFW to Tokyo/Narita was on AA, and food was a bag of peanuts, a turkey sandwich, and beef and rice, where the rice was mushy and the beef was pretty plain. The flight from Tokyo to Taipei was on Cathay Pacific, and food was a bag of peanuts, and chicken and rice, where the rice was pretty decent, though not perfectly-steamed, and the chicken was tender and quite tasty.
On the flight from Tokyo to Taipei, I sat next to an older couple from Japan (probably in their 60s or so). Towards the end of the flight, the lady said something to me in Japanese, which I didn't understand at all. I attempted to tell her that I didn't speak Japanese, but perhaps doing that in broken Japanese wasn't the best way to accomplish that, since that showed I knew some Japanese :) So she kept trying to talk to me, and while our conversation was extremely limited, we actually did understand each other some. I found out that it was their fourth trip to Taiwan, and they'd be taking the high speed train around the island; we agreed that the food and fruits in Taiwan were very tasty; she showed me pics of her grandkids and some scenic spots in Kyoto that she'd been to; I told her that I was visiting relatives and that it had been about 16 years since I was last there; and various other miscellaneous stuff. It was pretty neat how much could be done with extremely rudimentary language skills.
Some of the places I went to:
- Taichung (rode the high speed rail from Taipei; top speed I saw on the electronic sign in the car was almost 300 km/h)
- Taroko National Park — didn't get to see much of it; definitely need to spend more time there the next time I go
The subway has definitely made getting around Taipei easier (especially with the help of bus/subway schedules and maps in Google Maps on a smartphone), and the high speed train and expressways have made getting around the country much easier too. I remember the last time I was there, it was a slow journey along mountain roads to get to the east coast; now there's a really long tunnel through the mountains that cuts travel time down significantly. Food was great too... I had forgotten how many street markets there are there.
On the flight back, I was unexpectedly upgraded for free to business class on the Tokyo to DFW leg. Don't know why, but my guess is that it's because when I bought my tickets, I didn't choose a seat for that leg—very few were available, and none of them appealed to me. I figured that maybe if all of the regular coach seats were gone, if I let the airline pick a seat for me, I'd get one of the premium coach seats without having to pay extra. When I checked in at Taipei, the Cathay Pacific agent said she wasn't able to print my boarding passes for the AA flights; I'd have to go to the gate agent when I got to Tokyo. After arriving at Tokyo and taking the shuttle train to the other building where the departure gate was, and doing a bit of walking, I got to the gate to see that they were already boarding, and the gate agent was paging me. I went to the counter, gave her my documents, and after a bit, she gave me my boarding passes and said that I'd be in business class. I didn't ask for an explanation, but just went to the priority boarding line :) (which wasn't really a line... only one other person ahead of me). Very swanky—offers of champagne before takeoff, drinks kept coming, and the food was actually quite good. I'd say AA business class > Cathay Pacific coach class ≫ AA coach class. And the seats were big and easy to sleep in (although I was actually trying to stay awake in an attempt to minimize jet lag).
It was a good vacation; got to see relatives and see the sights. Brought back various snacks, as well as a Formosan sika deer plushie for my foxy :) Picked up two types of bamboo flutes for him too; one transverse, the other end-blown.