#036: How to Blow $300Tak's dispatch released on 30 June 2015

Grilled Octopus in Taipei, Taiwan

It is quite obvious you are on a party bus speeding along the expressway in Taipei, Taiwan—except you aren’t. Contrary to the magic blue and purple colour tones emanating from the interior LED lighting system, this is really just the airport-to-city bus that ended up at your service.

The bus is getting closer to a stop where you can easily walk to your hotel. Your eyes dart from the map to the street signs. 3-blocks, 2 blocks, 1 block and the bus blows right on past. You now know that the bus won’t stop unless you signal for it, but where is the button to signal? What is the procedure?

You scan the contours and find nothing, no pull strings, no buttons, nothing. And then you find it, hidden in the shadows. You push the button to stop the pseudo-party bus but the bus keeps rolling. The driver looks up in his mirror and back down. You stand up—maybe you need to stand up for him to stop? No, the bus keeps going.

Luckily there is the end of the bus line where the bus always stops—the central station. The traffic light turns green and the bus pulls into a bus lane on the east side of the station. You stare back down at the map noting that you can still walk to the hotel, it will just be double the time investment. You start walking.

Fried Chicken in Taipei, Taiwan

The fried chicken looks glorious. It is bouncing past you in the hands of oncoming pedestrians. You read about it before your arrival—one of those magical items that produces all kinds of accolades. It just so happens that an accolade-producing place in Taiwan would just so happen to be the very place you are at the moment, a Taipei night market. Must eat chicken in a must see place.

Somewhere here, amidst the crawling crowds, is “the” fried chicken stand. You pass splayed-out grilled octopus, some hacked up goose entrée, a fair number of dim sum and countless smoothie and juice carts. And then, on your right side you find it, the fried chicken seller.

The fried chicken goes through a specific process, first being fried and, at some point, after it is ordered, tossed on a grill. Some powder seasoning is sprinkled over it. The line moves relatively quickly. It is now your turn and you ask how it is served. Not as a chicken sandwich, not as an entrée just pieces of chicken. You place the order and wait.

Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan

You sit at a small area of miniature tables wedged between carts. You go to take your first bite. You quickly recoil and put it back down. Biting red hot molten lumps of iron might produce the same reaction. You wait for as long as can and try again. It tastes like nothing. Surely you must be missing something as it looks so good. You take your third bite, your sixth bite and another bite and nothing reveals itself. It is the most mundane tasting piece of fried chicken you’ve ever had. It is crunchy but it tastes like its reviews, hot air.

The smoothie dealer is going to come to the rescue. You miss the concoctions you had so many of in Vietnam. His English is non-existent but you get assistance from the customer behind you in line. She conveys the order. You receive your smoothie and its nothing like the ones in Vietnam. It tastes flat, a circus clown post-lobotomy.

You continue to walk but can’t find the reason to make another transaction. Your skepticism is firing at every dish you spot. Simply, you are disinterested in being so disappointed again. You claw through some kitschy merchandise and exit the trumped-up market.

You wander the streets of Taipei looking for something fun to do. If waiting on street corners watching the walk signal was fun, then you’d be having a lot of fun. If walking along quiet streets while cars pass by were fun, you’d be having a lot of fun. But if you actually wanted to have fun, then it seems you are in the wrong place.

You are standing at the quiet bus terminal. There are no buses to be found. You start to wonder if the bus to the airport commences from somewhere else. You head inside the station. There are no signs that you can find posted anywhere.

Without signs, your best bet is people. The first person doesn’t know English. The second person knows some English but isn’t familiar with the airport bus. You continue roaming about, quickening your pace. You find the official information booth but they do not speak English either.

You are now walking hurriedly out the western exit of the station. A gentleman had point you this direction but you see nothing that would indicate that which you seek. You cross a street, cut between some buildings, enter a parking lot and finally find yourself at another bus terminal. This is promising.

You find what appears to be your airport bus with its engine idling. You ask around to make sure you have it right and board. Gone are the magical disco lights, Las Vegas is far away. The bus pulls away from the station as you catch your breath from the unfortunate adventure. Starting a travel day with sweat is never the goal but often the result.

You enter the automatic doors, turn to the left and head towards the large mass of people at the Peach Aviation counter. As you get closer, you realize that no one is waiting in line. A suited gentleman is in the middle of the mob. There is a sign next to him. “Flight to Naha, Okinawa canceled”.

“The flight is canceled?” you ask in disbelief.

“Yes, you can get your money back or take the next available flight either tomorrow or the day after,” he responds.

“I need to head out today though, I have reservations and…”

“The flight is canceled. You apply for a refund and buy a ticket on another airline,” he proposes.

“Well Peach Aviation should pay for my ticket if I need to buy a ticket on another airline.”

“Well, I do not work for them but they are just a low-cost carrier and will do no such thing. They are proposing a refund or you can fly out on another day,” he says mechanically, tired of hearing the same sort of complaints. Getting him to understand that a refund (or flight in two days) doesn’t get you to Okinawa today is an unattainable goal. Peach Air put a patsy on the firing range.

He explains multiple times that Peach Aviation is just a low-cost carrier, as if that absolves them from any type of customer service or ethical responsibilities (which apparently it does). “If instead you had booked with a legacy carrier then…” he keeps saying. You ask him about Taiwanese and Japanese law. Do they protect passengers’ rights with this matter? He looks back at you like you are advocating for dogs to fly planes. You thank him for his time.

It sure is a good thing you ran for that bus to get to the airport so early. You later find out that your flight was canceled the previous day, but not much effort was put into informing you. In any case, it is no longer time to fight a losing battle, it’s time to make Plan B, however painful it might be. The fact is, you need to get to Okinawa because you have another flight in a couple days out to Tokyo.

At the China Airlines desk, you find the flight to Okinawa is around $335, and yes, there is availability. You look back at the mob of people around the Peach Aviation patsy, many will be needing seats too. However, you decide to pass up on buying the ticket on the spot. Perhaps the internet will be of assistance.

You head upstairs and connect to WiFi (much more simply than you would have had you been in a NYC airport). You pull up your credit card benefits, vaguely recalling it might be of use here and realize indeed that it covers Trip Interruption insurance. Not only that, but it covers up to $10,000. Rather than spend $335 Okinawa, you wonder if you can have a $10,000 vacation enroute to Okinawa.

You call up the credit card company to ask how the refund process works. You feel elated as you listen to the hold music. A representative picks up and you explain the issue and your question about how Trip Interruption insurance works.

“That would not apply in this case.”

“Why? My trip is being interrupted,” you stammer.

“It is only for medical conditions that interrupt your trip, not for flight cancellations.”

If insurance actually paid out when you needed it, what a dream. You are back to square one. You are dismayed at the lack of coverage and help given in this situation. On the other hand you are sure glad you didn’t book $9,995.48 of travel only to find out what Trip Interruption Insurance really is.

If you had been notified the day before (when Peach Aviation had actually canceled the flight), you would have had many flight options at your disposal. You could have woken up later, sauntered to a bus and taken a cheaper flight. Unfortunately, your only realistic option at this point is China Airlines’ non-stop flight or a couple long flights with overnights in Hong Kong and such.

Given the steep price of the China Airlines flight in economy, you decide to check for business class and notice that business class has availability and is running for the same price as economy. Lacking any options, and feeling like you’ve actually gained something in this chaotic process, you book the flight (especially given it is cancellable).

A little while later, having turned up no good options for alternate flights, having booked alternate hotel reservations given that you won’t be able to connect to a certain ferry in time (and having digested the reality that your non-refundable hotels are something you get to pay for even though you won’t be able to get there due to no fault of your own), you gather your belongings and head back downstairs to get ticketed on China Airlines. On your way to the counter, you stop at the ticket sales desk and ask about tickets for today (despite having already purchased it online).

“We are sorry, today’s flight is sold out.”

Purchased in the nick of time.

This is the story of how to quickly dent your travel budget by over $300 on the road. Who would ever want a $300 meal or a $300 shopping spree when you can spend $300 to clean up a mess from a company backing out of a contractual agreement without recourse? Surely it is one of the more exhilarating experiences money can buy.

As you poke at your China Airlines business class meal (“the German assortment of sausages and mashed potatoes”) amidst the clouds, you find yourself waxing sentimentally about the fried chicken last night. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

City Street in Taipei Taiwan
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Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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