If there weren’t any windows, I don’t think I would know that I was on a plane, I thought to myself as I sat on the upper deck of a new Airbus A380 leaving Guanzhou, China and heading to Los Angeles, my least favorite airport. This was a new route for me and so far it was pretty painless. I actually didn’t realize that I would be on the A380 until I was walking down the jetway and saw that it split in two, one ramp going up and the other going down.
I was in coach class on the upper deck and it was clear that the flight was not full, not that it mattered much because the seats actually had plenty of room for a change. Usually I go through Japan with American but I thought I would try a different route this time and was glad I did.
I don’t know about you but I’m a sleeping pill guy, I can’t sit on a ten or fourteen hour flight and not go stir crazy. Probably for the same reason that if I’m walking through a parking lot and come across an empty can I have to pick it up and put it in the trash. I guess I have a little Adrian Monk somewhere in me. An hour or so into the flight I take a pill and usually wake up a couple of hours before we land, a perfect flight in my opinion.
Flying, I used to carry a neck pillow with me on flights but now most planes have the adjustable headrest so I dropped the pillow. See, the goal while your traveling is to carry as little stuff as you can. You want get through the airport and on the plane with the greatest of ease, so to speak. This is not as easy as it used to be. Forget about 9/11 security scans and the woman with the toe ring that she didn’t remember to take off, or the guy that has a belt, cufflinks, necklace, gold watch and a pair of metal sunglasses in his pocket. What I’m talking about is with the introduction of baggage fees for checked baggage. People are trying to take as much as they can with them on the plane and this leads to a lot of time trying to pack far too much carry-on luggage and passengers (the cattle), into the aluminum tube that is a plane. Just think, “less is more”, the less I bring with me, the more space I have.
Hotels, since I usually work in small towns, I stay at local hotels, Chinese hotels. By that I mean that most of the guests are Chinese so the hotel isn’t used to foreigners. What that means to you is there won’t be HBO or CNN or very few if any English speakers around, not mention it will be very sparse western food catagory. This is fine for me because I can speak Mandarin and I would rather be close to the factory where I can “stop by” and see how things are going. When you have a planned visit, ie; the manager picks you up for a factory tour, the factory you see might not be the factory you get.
Most Asian hotels will provide a toothbrush and toothpaste as well as some toiletries so if you forget something don’t fret. They will also give you slippers that I suggest you wear, most carpets are swept clean, not vacuumed. Many times you will ask for a non-smoking room and that simply means they might remove the ash trays before you get there. The room will have mosquitoes as the door is left open while it is cleaned daily so be prepared. You might also have some noisy neighbors as it is common that people will rent a hotel room to have a small party as opposed to going to someone’s house. Most Chinese don’t entertain at home. This is very common in China but I haven’t really seen this in Thailand. All hotels will have internet but possibly not Wi-Fi so I bring a small travel router with me, it. It also acts as a signal booster for the hotels that have Wi-Fi but the strength is not great. Now, don’t let me confuse you about the hotels, I am speaking about the smaller local hotels in Asia, not the Hilton, Marriott or other international chains, they maintain the same standards worldwide.
Food, in China most meats and fish are cooked on the bone so your fish will arrive bone in. People will spit the bones onto the table, plate or the floor as they eat, so get used to it. Leaving the bones in is how it is done and I guarantee you, if you ask for something special you will regret it. Order from the menu. If you ask for something different, the reply will always be “No Problem” but trust me, order from the menu. They also bring the food out as it is ready so don’t be surprised if the plates arrive one at a time. The Chinese also like to shout “Fu Wu Yuen” (waitress/waiter) whenever they need something which seems rude but your in China so, their place, their way. This seems only to apply to China, I don’t see the same behavior in Taiwan. Thailand seems to be a step ahead as far as western food. If you can’t get it in Bangkok, you probably can’t get it anywhere. Bangkok has American restaurants that I don’t have in Florida, how that works I have no idea.
Driving, you’re not supposed to drive in China, you can’t legally drive with your western license and it’s very difficult to get a Chinese license so just forget it. In Taiwan, you can actually drive with most western licenses but you need an international license. The traffic is terrible but the public transportation is great so most people in Taiwan don’t need a car, this also applies to Thailand. The motorcycle taxis in Thailand are the fastest way to get from place to place but the MRT system is also fine if your in Bangkok.
Stuff, While in China I tend to load up on the fake goods, nothing important but Mont Blanc pens and things like that. They make great gifts to friends and are quite good for conversation. If you have teenagers, some fake Beat headphones are a wise investment because they will probably be lost or broken in a month or two anyway and no one will be the wiser. I always act like I bought it for myself but “if you really want it, you can borrow it”. It seems that since all the exotic stuff like flick knives, brass knuckles and fake samurai swords won’t make it on the plane anymore, street vendors are looking for new cash markets, like the sexually impotent. I don’t know if I would want to buy fake Viagra though.
To be honest though, if it’s an item your will use for years to come, buy the real thing, otherwise your really just passing the time until the copy breaks and you need another one.
Final thought, remember your in another country so don’t expect everything and everyone to act the same as they would back home. Try to take things in stride and be open to new things, you can always run to a McDonalds for a quick fix if you have to.