30 October, 2011

Divertimento: Change, in the Sky and on the Ground

Divertimento: Change, In the Sky and on the Ground

And so, time to fly again. Though some may enjoy it, I have always thought human beings are not meant to be moving around so much, if at all. Are we supposed to conquer nature, conquer other nations, wreak havoc on economies all over the world under the banner of "globalisation"? And who are the beneficiaries of mobility - the majority or the minority? No wonder there now is "Occupy Wall Street". As you shall see in some of my coming articles, perhaps there will soon be an "Occupy Hi-end" movement in audio; about time, don't you think?

Now and then

Progress, Two Chinas, Two Generations As I wanted to stop over in Taiwan on my return trip, this time I opted for China Airlines, not to be confused with Air China, the (PRC) People's Republic of China's state carrier. That meant I had to take a red-eye flight to Tapei and wait for an early morning flight to NYC.

As soon as I got on my connecting flight I was surprised. China Airlines, which I had used countless time decades ago when I was in a long distance relationship, had reeled from a few disasters, grown old and allowed herself to deteriorate over the last decade. But everything interior now seemed revamped. That is, thankfully, with the exception of the beautiful traditional qipao worn by the stewardess. In the right pic above (click to enlarge), you shall also see the qipao worn by three beautiful ladies over 50 years ago in Taipei 永康街. Time has not diminished the beauty of the captured image in my heart. Note also the tricycle in the background, a luxury in the fifties.

Inside the cabin, I was even more surprised when I browsed the in-flight magazine: Aviation Week’s 2011 Top-Performing Airlines study ranked China Airlines as the world’s tenth mainline carrier! Wow, who would have thought!

An airport finally tries to re-invent itself I had to move from one terminal to another. So around 2:30 am I was shifting around the Taoyuan International Airport. Even more than airports in the People's Pebublic of China, you feel the weight of history here. Its change of name (see above link) had signaled seismic changes in Taiwanese politics. The airport was a much-criticized drab structure, but this time I saw tremendous efforts being lavished on its renovation; it seems to me it is perhaps modelling itself on the Korean Incheaon airport, which is not a bad thing. It is about time. Considering how much Taiwan has re-invented herself in the past decades, the airport has a lot to catch up to.

The transit lounge was yet another surprise. Modern and reasonally comfortable, though not quite as luxurious as Incheon. We are talking about the common man here, not the VIP lounges. I was able to get some rest.

In the morning, I was not hungry but went looking. The eateries are comfortable and I decided to try out the classic staple Beef Noodle Soup 牛肉麺. The staff sliced open a package of noodle and took quite a while to prepare. I said this ain't going to be good, packaged noodles! But it turned out just the other way. The noodle was al dente (Q 感), the broth flavorful and not heavy in MSG, the beef succulent. A generous sprinkle of scallions and non-salty but flavorful pickled vegetable 酸菜 enhanced the flavor. Why, it was one of the better bowls of noodle I have had in Taipei!

Boarding the flight to NYC was an even bigger surprise. The cabins have been modernized and finally every seat gets its own screen (they must have been among the last international carriers to do so).

click pics to enlarge

The Beauty of Kansai

The flight refuels in (Osaka) at the Kansai International Airport. I must say, the descent on a clear day was a spirit-lifting experience, perhaps not as dramatic as Vancouveur or Seattle, but possessing a calm beauty its own.

It seems all airports now have undulating roofs, and this one predated the HK airport. I rather liked the intimacy and scale of this unusually laid-out airport. The control tower immediately grabbed my attention. I liked its isolation, seemingly devoid of population, a NASA station in the desert. When I got home, I did some research and found out that Renzo Piano was the architect for this airport on a man-made island. Make sure you read the fascinating wikipedia entry and discover this airport's technological advance and its link with the HK airport. In terms of design, if you ask me, it speaks to me more than the coolly grandiose Norman Foster, whom I have always thought over-rated.

China Airlines used to be known for its food. I am glad to report on this international flight the food was excellent. The fish I had was presented Japanese style, simple and flavorful. The flight was only half-full. I suppose people don't even want to be near Japan in the wake of the quake.

El Nina?
Just as we were to descent, it was announced there would be a delay due to visibility, which had never happened to me before on my trips to NYC in the fall and spring. When we finally descended through the clouds, I found out why.

It is extremely rare for NYC to have a snowstorm in late October. Fortunately, it was not too bad in Queens, and after a bit of waiting I got my car service and got home.

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