The First Leg (of an as-yet unnamed Journey)August 21, 2011
[Typed all mid-yesterday, which is still a slightly fuzzy concept for me]
We left deep enough into the night that the airport, SFO, was relatively empty but for a few dazed travellers– not a few of whom were pajama’d. The goodbyes were not terribly drawn out, since it’s been a solid week of that and we’re all quite fatigued by it. There was the last-minute worries, the mildly-tearful/kind-of-painful hugging, the very-much-more-tearful phone call to leave a voicemail on my absent sister’s phone, and then we were gone.
I was feeling ill and borderline narcoleptic for the two hours between security and boarding; I read only a few pages of Homestuck (by “a few” we mean “a few dozen,” but shush) before dozing off in various locations around the gate. We boarded and I fell into almost immediate unconsciousness. I don’t remember any safety announcements, or taxing, or take-off. I woke up somewhere mid-Pacific, eight hours in, in total darkness, having apparently missed the first of two meals. I spent a good deal of time on the remainder of the flight with my nose pressed messily to the glass of my inadequate porthole, watching the pitch of the sea and the ashy clouds as they were lit from beneath by sharp spikes of lightning.
From the plane to the ground to the baggage claim to the car was uneventful; the most noteworthy thing was our ride, which was some sort of slick black luxury hybrid, and made me feel very cyberpunk (a la Gibson) to ride in. Our driver, though polite, was totally silent for the drive into Taipei, and for the first half of it so were Devin and I. It wasn’t until the red, fat sun first showed his face that we could speak. He asked me how I was doing. I still felt unreal– not surreal, not dreamy, just artificial. I told him as much, and watched the forest of smokestacks that lined the highway belt gray columns of steam or smoke into the gray/orange sky.
We could not check into the hostel when we arrived there, so just left our bags locked there and wandered out into the damp heat. The sun was still not all the way up, and already it was harsh and sticky, and the city smelled strongly of too many things, putridity and sweetness mixing into an overwhelming mix. We walked around for a good while, because nothing was open except convenience stores, and I tried to adjust to breathing the thick air. I’m still having a hard time with that, though it’s been hours since.
At length, over milk tea from 7-11, we decided to ride the subway to nowhere in particular, then honed our destination to Taipei 101, which is the second-tallest building in the world. That’s where we are now; it took a bit of doing, since we couldn’t figure out what subway stop it was, and since we fussed about underground trying to find free wi-fi anywhere. We still haven’t found any, and are still therefore unable to alert our families that we landed alright. Moreover, we discovered that the mall in the tower here is also still closed– we landed at five in the morning, local time, which means the last five or so hours have been largely useless since no tourist attraction opens before ten. We did find that the observation deck on Taipei 101 opened at nine, though, so we’ve absconded up here (on the world’s fastest elevator!) to marvel at the view and try and cool off in the air conditioning. Our next mission is to find SIM cards; then, internet. Then back to the hostel, then probably out to Jubei to look at the apartment.
Devin periodically asks me for my impressions so far. I’ve told him, so I may as well also tell you: I feel very separated, very alone, but not quite so alien as I expected to feel. The language barrier has got me incredibly shy, and so far I’ve spoken to no one but Devin. Without my phone, he’s pretty much the only person I can talk to right now. (He does insist that with the cupla focal, couple words, that I have– and with slow, clear English– I should be able to order food and such, but the shyness has thusfar prevented me.) I have not fully formed impressions of the place itself, though the observation tower here has helped me a great deal in visualizing the grander conceptual lay of the place. Seeing the roofs and the gardens and the streets helps; I can pinpoint differences, similarities, begin to build an epistemic model of what I’m dealing with, here. I’m not as ontotic as I was when I travelled last, which is perhaps a good sign. Perhaps it means I’m building a tolerance. Perhaps it’s just having him here as a stabilizing influence. I think I shall ask him about that now, and then perhaps we’ll descend the seventy floors down to the mall to look for iphone cases or whatever. (Ha, he hit the end of his chapter just as I finished this. Good timing!)