Air Force 1 Micah and Shirley 


Chinese New Year, Jan 22 through Feb 22 of 2002
Tianjin - Manila - Taipei - Hong Kong - Shanghai - Beijing

Tuesday, Jan 22 -- Bejing to Manila

With directions from school, we caught the bus to Beijing airport and boarded the airplane with no trouble, though finding out that we had an unexpected layover in Xiamen. The layover turned out to be 3 hours, so we snarfed a spam sandwich and a spamburger then watched Dexter's Laboratory in Chinese on the terminal TVs. On the plane to Manila we sat in the last row of passengers, three seats for us two, and the seats were farther apart meaning more kneespace besides. At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we took Leonard's advice and walked past the expectant taxi drivers to the Avis desk across the road outside (where the rental cars were). For $10 we got a car with chauffer and drove to Leonard's place in Makati, the business district of Manila metropolitan area. Leonard drove us over to the Tower Inn, where we got a small room. After unloading our luggage we learned how much to tip the Makati's omnipresent attendants: P 20 for manual labor, P 10 for menial services. Leonard took us over to the ritzy Peninsula Hotel where we had dinner. The Peninsula Hotel really is a fancy place: the lobby is a huge marble-walled room, lit low and graced by a live band playing soft music above us. I was particularly pleased when they played Herb Alpert's "The Bull" and also "The Girl from Ipanema." Then back to the hotel and bed.

Wednesday, Jan 22 -- Makati (metropolitan Manila)

We woke up at 9:30am, packed our stuff, showered and checked out at 12 noon. Down the street we deposited our luggage at the bag-check in front of the Landmark department store and submitted to the security check to enter the Glorietta Mall [1]. A very modern mall, it even surpasses the Brea mall in the beauty of its design. Walkways rise and fall, floors melting into each other. The central plaze stretches up four floors; movie posters drape down at least fifty feet to end above a wildly busy children's playground and display floor for advertising displays below. We went to the theater [2] at Glorietta 4 (on the fourth floor) and watched Lord of the Rings -- great movie! We discussed the movie over a small Wendy's lunch and mourned the recent passing off Dave Thomas, spokesman of many years for Wendy's. I mistakenly spent $60 at the Goodwill bookstore because I didn't examine one price tag carefully; we walked away with the several Asterix comic books, a cross word puzzle book, academic essays on anime, and assorted fiction titles. Current English titles are impossible to find in mainland China, and the Philippines' slightly-cheaper-than-the-US prices were an appreciated windfall. We picked up our luggage and called Leonard from the Tower Inn, reading our books in the lobby until he came. Leonard drove us over to Olympia Towers, where we checked into a room. This new room was actually nicer than the Towers Inn, with a small kitchenette, more TV channels, a newspaper every morning, and room service. The maids even folded clothes we accidentally left on our beds! Hung out at Leonard's house watching cable and reading, then went out to Gwailou's (sp?), a hangout for local AmBoys (American-Philipinos); included cheese on the nachos, our first real American food in months! This was followed up by dessert at a coffeeshop outside Glorietta: honeycake for us and chocolate "Delirium" for Leonard. Checked e-mail at Leonard's house and back to Olympia to watch MTV Asia and TVE (Spain!) before crashing.

  1. [1] This was the first time I've been in a country where the threat of kidnapping or murder is made plainly obvious by the amount of times we were checked for weapons and frisked by airport, hotel, mall, and parking garage security guards.
  2. [2] Interestingly, you are allowed to bring food into the theater; in fact, most of the people around us brought lunch from the neighboring Wendy's into this afternoon showing! Also interesting, the national anthem played before the movie and a series of patriotic images were shown for which everybody stood up. A third note, a warning played before the movie which mentioned a law which says it is illegal to use cellphones inside the movie theater. Nevertheless, this message did not penetrate the several people who received calls during the film.

Thursday, Jan 24 -- Makati

Woken up twice by room service at 8:30am and 10:30am; we learned then to place the Do Not Disturb door hanger before going to sleep. Left the hotel at 1pm and walked 5 minutes to Glorietta. A nice lady showed us where the crosswalk was and commented on Shirley's white skin. Lunch at the food court because we had some time before the movie started. Wandered over to the movie theater again and watched Zoolander. Found out that yesterday was Fellowship of the Rings' last day at that theater. (Shirley's comment: dang we were super lucky!! ^_^ LoTR was really great, and long live Legolas! New additional comment- dude, the guy who plays Legolas has a mohawk! Boy was I surprised, I expected someone normal! : [ ) Dinner was with Leonard and Rico at Ponticello's Italian restaurant, a place with a great atmosphere and cushy chairs. That evening we stayed out late at an anniversary party thrown by some old family friends, who actually introduced Leonard's parents. Good Philipino food, Sprite, wine, karaoke, purle ube (sweet yam) cake; Raymond, Dani and Chico discussed the presence of American troops in Basilan; we met April, Leonard's fiancee, and Koi, Leonard's Amboy friend and local radio personality. We didn't leave until 3am!

Friday, Jan 25 -- Makati

Woke up late. Micah went out and brought back breakfast from Dunkin' Donuts and a banana smoothie from the restaurant downstairs. At 3:30pm we met Leonard and went out to a late Japanese lunch at the nearby Rockwell/Power Plant mall. We picked up April at 8 pm and met Koi at the Makati Hard Rock Cafe. There was a huge line to enter but we just skipped the whole thing thanks to Koi. Mad props Koi! (At this point, the logbook is filled with a game of 'capture the squares', Micah - 19, Shirley - 17 (grr!) because the Hard Rock's loud music and large table weren't conducive to conversations; ie. having to walk over to the other person and yell in their ear.) There were two bands playing that night. The first was an alternative cover band, whose lead singer did an amazing job of sounding like the original singers and was properly rockstar-y by jumping around on stage and head banging. Shirley really liked them. The headlining band, South Border, covered popular-in-the-Philippines R&B hits with a rock-band lineup, and mixed in some of their own original music. They play until nearly 1 am at which point we meet their manager and then head back to the Olympia.

Saturday, Jan 26 -- Makati and Metro Manila

Leonard calls at 12:30 awaking us. He tells us he has no car and that we are on our own for the day, but suggests we sign up for a day tour at the Penisula. We head over and book a city day tour for 2:30 and grab a quick brunch at a bakery outside of Glorieta. Eat on the driveway of the Penisula waiting for the van/bus to arrive. We are greeted by Reynato Batista ("call me Rey") who with his driving partner Jun (John?) takes us on a 4-hour tour of the city. Rey was very friendly, very knowledgable, we (as well as another Austrialian lady) learned a lot about the history of "Mainila" and it's surroundings. We passed through Millionare's Row where the diplomats live, the American WWII Cemetary, the beachfront reclaimed land area, Rizal Park named after the national hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Fort Santiago, and the Ayala Business District which is the financial center of the Philippines. The last stop was Fort Santiago and we bought a bunch of souvenirs (we got a 50% discount, but the poor Korean tourists in the store didn't!). That evening we went out with Leonard, April, and Koi to a Philippino all-you-can-eat buffet located near Tower Records at the Glorieta Mall. The food must have been very authentic because it was really strange stuff. However, we had a good dessert at the Penisula. After dessert said goodnight and walked ourselves next door to the Olympia.

Sunday, Jan 27 -- Makati and Taal Volcano

Micah leaves to get breakfast pretzels, and is intercepted on the way back by Leonard, Koi, April, Shirley, plus April's driver. We endure a crowded (6 people in a Civic) hour and a half long ride to Tagaytay, home of the "lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano", Taal Volcano. The road leading to Tagaytay was lined with many fruit stands selling bananas, coconuts, honey, and buko (coconut) pies. We checked into a day room at Taal Vista Lodge (it was ok) and take plenty of pictures from an outside terrace. GREAT VIEW!! Went to a casino across the road for lunch but due to an intense hatred of bad and expensive casino food, Leonard suggested McDonalds [1] instead. A crowded 20 minute drive to Picnic Grove. A steep hillside picnicing site with a another good view. We spent half our time there looking at the beautiful view and the other half terribly amused by a kid throwing a toy parachute into a tree, knocking it out with rocks, and repeating it indefinitely. When he became bored with his parachute, he moved onto hurling rocks, tiles, and broken wood slats over a wall as we roared. Back at Taal Vista Lodge we napped after gorging on chips, and pineapple juice from Jollibee. Dinner at Dencio's, an EXCELLENT non-strange Philippino meal for a good price. Dropped off April and head towards Rockwell for LoTR. Discovered to our dismay that the last showing had passed so we hung out at a bookstore [2] for a while. (Koi who has contacts in the movie business "outs" several actors.) Returned to Leonard's and watched half an hour of The Gods Must be Crazy II. Koi drove us back to the hotel where we packed our things.

  1. [1] McDonalds sold spaghetti. In fact several fast food resturants sold spaghetti. On a separate note, this was Koi's first time eating at a McDonalds and will also be his last time eating at McDonalds.
  2. [2] We found English books to be even cheaper in Manila than in the United States, so we took advantage of this. The place we bought most of our books was the PageOne bookstore in Rockwell/Power Plant mall.

Monday, Jan 28 -- Makati

This morning we checked out of Olympia Towers and Leonard picked us up. We had lunch with Leonard and his parents, a very respectable and refined couple. Fried rice, white rice, corn on the cob, local veggies, pork chops started us off, and we rounded off the menu with macapuno ice cream topped with dice-sized cubes of thick flan. Macapuno is Tagalog for water buffalo milk! It was delicious. Afterwards we went to the mall and dropped off Leonard's computer and book shop. Back at home, we finished The Gods Must be Crazy II, napped and wrote postcards. Dinner we ate at an upscale Italian ristorante called L'Incontro. The atmosphere was homey because the place was small, and the lighting was comfortably low. On the walls, interesting pastas hung in baskets. The food was excellent, we recommend it enthusiastically. We felt bad because it was Leonard and April's eight month anniversary, but they insisted we come along. Dropped April off at home and went back to Rockwell to catch LoTR. Bad luck! we missed the early showing, its last at this theater. At Leonard's house once again, we watched Muppet Treasure Island, Friends and That 70's Show, a nostalgic shot of American television. This our last night in the Philippines we spent in Leonard's guest room.

Tuesday, Jan 29 -- Manila to Taipei

Woke up at 7:15am and had breakfast(!) at at home. Breakfast consisted of canteloupe, french toast with syrup, bacon and calamansi juice[1]. Arrived at the airport at 9am for our 11:10 flight. Payed for the airport tax with dollars. Got frisked by airport security. Many of our fellow passengers were wearing "placement agency" jackets, ladies bound for housekeeper jobs in Taiwan. The plane was an A300, about one third empty, with plenty of knee space. We landed in cloudy Taipei; a last minute bathroom run by Shirley meant she spent landing at the back of the plane. E-ma, Shirley's aunt, takes us on buses and subway to get home. Took a bus from the airport to Taipei Main Station. From the Station, you can catch the subway, other buses or trains. First impression: little coffee shops, chique young people with non-black hair, small houses, Taiwan reminded me of Japan (not to mention Japanese drama on TV, subtitled in Chinese). Green mountainy terrain, traditional Chinese style buildings were our view as we took the elevated subway back home. E-tie welcomed us home, we moved into our respective rooms, ate a 4pm lunch. Checked e-mail on the home computer, hooray! Jiejie got back and we ate dinner. Planned activities for the next two weeks. On a quick trip to the grocery store we bought milk, yoghurty drink, baozi and ice cream. Ate ice cream. Computer. Sleep.

  1. [1] The calamansi is a small green citrus fruit, about the size of a large grape. Its juice is similar to that of a lime. It was the first food I tasted in the Philippines, courtesy of Leonard's fridge. Don't hesitate to taste it. On a semi-related note, the word "buko" means coconut.

Wednesday, Jan 30 -- Taipei

Woke up at 9:00 am, Shirley was covered in massive mosquito bites, oh no! Milk and baozi (meat buns) for breakfast. Took the bus and subway to CKS Memorial Station with e-ma, where we met Shirley's mom's friend's son Zhenpei and his red-haired girlfriend. Went out to lunch at a Hong Kong style dim sum place, Zhenpei ordered several interesting foods like chicken feet. Afterwards he drove us to a botanical research park and we walked around, took pictures, and watched a schoolkid on a field trip fall into a pond. Ended up at a history museum: pottery, paintings, calligraphy... the usual. We finished up while Zhenpei took his girlfriend home, then we met back up and walked to a snack shop for peanut milktea and danta (egg tarts). A taxi took us to Hsimenting (Ximending), where we browsed very trendy stores. Zhenpei told us that this was a popular section of town for young people to hang out. Shirley bought a cute monkey for Ben. We looked at j-pop CD's, which are wildly cheap in Taiwan, and Shirley bought the theme music for her favorite Chinese soap,Qingshengsheng Yumengmeng. Spent about an hour in the Eslite bookstore down the street, a chain of bookstores across Taiwan. English language books were few and shelved along with the Chinese books so hard to find. I bought a book of stories set in Taiwan by a Chinese-American author. We went back to Zhenpei's house, then out to dinner with his mom, brother and brother's girlfriend; good noodles, meatballs in soup, shrimp & tomato & rice crispies, fried fish w/ ketchup, spinach, dragon buns, and beef w/ green onion. After dinner Zhenpei took us to Longshan temple, an temple in great shape and still in obvious use. Lots of people praying with incense sticks, throwing the half circles. Outside of the temple we browsed the Huaxi Night Market, watched a hawker play with snakes at a restaurant, used the bathroom at McDonalds. Taxied to Zhenpei's house, driven home. Checked email, talked with e-ma, went to bed.

Thursday, Jan 31 -- Taipei

We were out the door by 9:05 am to meet Zhenpei in front of the Mingchuan Girls' School. A short drive took us to the National History Museum, Gugong. Highlights included jades, curio boxes, carvings in bamboo, ivory, nuts and seeds. We had lunch at the cafeterial on the museum grounds (turn left from facing the main entrance), but it was too expensive and the food was nothing special. Afterwards we wandered through the gardens in front of the museum for a small admission fee; schoolchildren were feeding the fish, including some 4-5 foot monsters, couples were "chatting", and schoolmates meeting for a day of fun and games. Zhenpei then drove us home. On the way home we stopped at a bank and changed US $300 to Taiwan dollars (taibi). Spent the evening at home and went to bed early.

Friday, Feb 1 -- Taipei

Slept in late, until noon. Homemade fried rice for brunch. At 2pm we walked to the post office, sent postcards from the Philippines home to the USA, and a thank you note to Leonard's parents. Back at 3pm, we found out that Jiejie is busy at work so e-ma took us out shopping. I bought a battery for my electronic Chinese-English dictionary. Turned in Shirley's film at a developing shop. Bought hairclips and a vegetable peeler at a street market shop. Taiwan has a lot of little street markets, most probably stocking cheap mainland-manufactured basic goods. Looked at shoes. Went home and to sleep. Every vacation needs some relaxing days like this.

Saturday, Feb 2 -- Taipei

Woke up late again! Jiejie walked us to a bustling local Mitsukoshi deparment store. We browsed CD and, of course, DVD's. There were lots of little food stands, and we bought a paper box of creme-filled puffs which we ended up eating entirely before we got back home. Sorry e-ma! Jiejie took us out to a nice traditional Chinese restaurant with beautiful darkwood furniture and wall dividers, not far from Mitsukoshi. We had a small lunch that came in a wooden tray, main dish was your choice accompanied by a standard set of side dishes which you could ask for more of, just like home. After dinner went checked out a couple of night markets (??? & Shilin). The first was really crowded, mostly with people buying candy for the New Year. We looked at rose tea for jie-jie's friend, bought some dried cuttlefish and fruit jellies from a friendly young salesman. When we were interested in a product, it was ok to take a free sample! Just don't abuse... There were shops on both sides of the small road, plus a row of cart vendors down the middle. A funny thing happened as we were walking along, all of the sudden the cart vendors packed up their stuff in a flash and took off running! Apparently the police were coming along checking business permits. It reminded me of the CD lady in Tianjin[1]. This cleared some space and walking became a little easier. We stopped into a store and picked up some movies and music[2]. A second night market, only a subway ride away, had more snack food stands and carnival-type games. Shirley picked up some jeans from Bossini and left them to be hemmed. We looked at the puppies on Pet Street, Shirley connived her way into petting a very CUTE miniature schnauzer. I noted an interesting device: a coin operated call phone recharging carousel. Ate a corn dog fried in front of my very eyes, with French's mustard; not quite as good as Foster's honey-batter ones from home, but a corn dog nonetheless. We picked up the jeans and left as it was getting late. Back home and to bed.

  1. [1] The CD lady sells pirated CD's from a cardboard box on the back of her bike, and always has a good selection. The catch is that when the police are around, she cannot be found. One day after a long period of absence, she motioned to me from out of the shadows in a side alley as Shirley and I were walking towards the CD & DVD shop (legal apparently??). She wanted to let me know that she was back but that she couldn't come out at the moment and pointed across the street. Sure enough, there was a police car parked a hundred feet down. When we came back from the shop the cops were gone and she was out again so we took advantage and picked up a couple CD's.
  2. [2] Mr Children, Wands, Morning Musume, Ryoko Hirosue, and Ken Hirai remixes including M-Flo's remix of TABOO.

Sunday, Feb 3 -- Taipei

Slept in. Hmm, getting too lazy? Ate lunch at home. In the evening, Jiejie, e-ma and e-die took us on the subway to the end of the Tamsui (Danshui) line, to the mouth of the Tamsui ruver. We walked down a two lane street crowded with people enjoying the ocean breeze and browsing the touristy stores. I was surprised when we turned into a small alley and climbed a significant stairway up a small cliff, to a building called the Honglou, or Red Castle. It was a trendy restaurant/cafe that has quite a history in Taiwan, I hear. Enjoyed a small merienda on the balcony with a view of the estuary, a little expensive but good food. After taking pictures, we descended the stairway and browsed the night market, trying fried shrimp "taquitos" on a stick and watching fireworks over the water. At that point, we split up: Shirley, Jiejie and Micah went downtown to find the Hard Rock Cafe while the old folks went shopping elsewhere. It turned out that the Hard Rock was closed. Does anybody know about this? Apparently other Hard Rocks didn't since we got the business card a week earlier in Manila. We browsed the Fnac [1] book/music store. Continuing our book-buying spree, Shirley got Bridget Jones' Diary and the third Harry Potter, while I got a copy of The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds. We stopped at Pizza Hut on the way home and picked up a couple of pies. Back at home, pizza for dinner and stayed up far too late watching a new Mr. Bean DVD.

  1. [1] Fnac is originally a French store, which opened a branch in Madrid that Aaron and I would visit often to keep up on music and video games. It was the first store in Spain to let customers listen to CDs before purchase. Remember when that was a novelty?

Monday, Feb 4 -- Taipei

We woke up early for once, to meet Zhenpei at the Hsimen (Ximen) subway station. He drove us to pick up his girlfriend at her house. Then we went to Xiao Ren Guo, Little People World! This was a special request by Shirley, a revisiting of her childhood. They have miniature models of famous buildings from around the world: China, Asia, US and the world. The park is built in two areas connected by a railroad that runs through somebody's field. At the first station was a man making Dragon's Beard candy, which is made by pulling a sugary dough over and over until it becomes thin threads like a dragon's beard. There was a big warehouse-type building called Fantasy Land that had a few rides inside, including bumper cars; fun! A Wild West section was still under construction, but the log kiddie roller coaster was operating and we got to ride six times in a row without getting out, because there was nobody in line. There were rides for older people, so Shirley and Zhenpei's gf went on something called the Tamohawk, which almost made me lose my lunch just watching it go. We also rode the big water-slide ride where you must wear a poncho three times in a row, a mistake because each time we got a little wetter. The park had an "exotic" Egyptian dance show put on by a Russian troupe: Andre, Natalya, Olga, Svetlana and Co. For part of the day, we followed a cute little kid around that was visiting the park with his mom. That day the park had very few visitors and the weather was perfect, it was very nice.

After Little People World, Zhenpei took us to a hot medicinal bath center, where we got 45 minutes to soak in brown, boiling hot water. We each got our own comfy wooden room with a big wooden tub and a hairdryer, thankfully because we hadn't bought bathing suits. We went out to dinner outside a nearby Buddhist [1] temple. The dishes were all hot except for the soup, but thankfully were delicious enough that we ate almost all of it. On the way back to Hsimen Station, we chatted with Zhenpei[2]. Saying goodbye, we took the subway back and stopped at Carrefour (where was the almond smell coming from?) to pick up: apple xida cider soda, apple juice, Frosted Flakes and an orange jelly roll cake. Money from an ATM and a walk home, where Mr Bean lulled us to sleep.

  1. [1] Taiwan has so much more religion than the mainland. Buddhist temples, Protestant churches, it makes me wonder how the mainland would be had religion not been suppressed by the "modernizing" authorities.
  2. [2] He talked in sparkling English about the happy collision of the rising price of Kleenex and the opening of the gas station market, so that he got one box of Kleenex for every NT$ 100 of gas he bought. We also learned about binlan (betel nuts) and the glass-walled roadside booths with stylishly-clad women in them called binlan xishi, where truck drivers and farmers could stop for betel nuts, drinks, snacks and a little conversation. The Taiwanese geisha? Zhenpei also philosophized on the difference between Western and Taiwanese national pride: Americans and the French are proud of their country and love it, while the Taiwanese are proud of their money and hate their island.

Tuesday, Feb 5 -- Hualien

Woke up at 5:15 am, aka the buttcrack of dawn. Jiejie took us to Taipei Central Station, where we boarded the train to Hualien. Taipei Train Station is a big stop on the subway system, very convenient. The scenery was beautiful, Micah slept through most of it. Arrived in Hualian three hours later, acted like confused tourists at the station and managed to get ourselves herded onto a tour bus that promised a tour of the Hualien area and delivery to our hotel that evening. It is an area famous for its natural beauty, the main reason we had come here. Mr. Hwang took us around outside (south) of Hualien. We visited: a big lake in the mountains with boats to paddle in (NY$ 500, yikes), a random small town, "the house that cows built" which was probably connected to a dairy farm (had very buttery NT$ 40 vanilla ice cream), a small restaurant for a quick lunch, a fish farm (also home to pretty egret flocks), a mochi factory (bought strawberry ice cream mochi, NT$ 15). Shirley slept a lot, missed the fish farm, read a lot of Bridget Jones' Diary - pretty interesting, had many funny bits, made her want to see the movie. Today it rained on and off. The scenery was very nice, a side of Taiwan we hadn't seen yet. Back in town, our nice tour guide Mr Hwang dropped us off at the hotel as promised. We got checked in, dropped off bags and went out for a walk. Bought CD's (Ranma, Dragon Quest STK), and milk at 7-11. Dinner at a Japanese restaurant. Back at the hotel we listened to CD's and ate cereal before snoozing.

At this point in the transcription, my journal was stolen.

From here, we flew to Hong Kong and met Julie. After a couple of days romping around HK (Kowloon, dim sum, giant Buddha on Lantau Island, Victoria Peak, Cosmic Guesthouse, etc), we took a 23 hour soft-sleeper train back to Beijing.