It is not always calm before the storm!
A few days left to my flight across the world, to a country and a city, where I do not speak a word of the local language, and my heart started to mildly panic. Adding to that, my flight was with ‘Eva Air’ (Eva.. E.V.A… I didn’t even know how to say it out), which no one I spoke to, had heard of.
A few hours before my flight, I started feeling anxious about my transit at Taipei. I had checked every website information I could, regarding the need for a transit visa for my origin, destination and passport, but I was still not 100% sure. I decided to call the airline, just to keep my mind at peace. The customer service lady was very cheerful and calm while asking for my flight details, but when I said I have an Indian passport, she was confused, spoke to her colleagues and then said that she cannot help me, that I should check it from other sources!
Panic struck me! I called up the New York Taiwan Embassy, no reply. New Delhi Taiwan Embassy, no reply. More panic. Finally, after 15 minutes, which seemed like forever, I got through to the Atlanta Taiwan Embassy and the gentleman over the line, calmly heard me out and said that I do not need a transit visa. He added very sternly “Do not go out of the airport!”.
I have watched enough of Amazing Race and heard enough stories to know that I need to ensure ample transfer time between two international flights. Almost five hours at an airport seemed okay, even though that is a lot of time to kill at an airport, especially one which is relatively unknown and probably boring.
I arrived at 4am. The airport looked dead. All the duty free shops were shut. I was ready to go find my gate and drowse off till departure time. I started walking through the long terminal and it seemed to go on, for forever.
After a few minutes of walking, I arrived at a waiting area that had books to read! That was a pleasant surprise.
Alas, they were all in Chinese. I sat for a while and then decided to go look out for ‘Sleeping’ zones that have reclining seats.
After a few minutes of walk, I found the next waiting area. Hello Kitty themed! I walk further and then a music themed waiting area. I realized that the airport was like a theme park waiting to be explored.
Four hours later, I was satisfied. Every waiting area was a surprise and I was like a kid trying to see what was in store for me.
They even had Hello Kitty phone booths…
…and Hello Kitty Mother and Child room. My introduction to things being cute. This has continued since then, even the video on the metro here, of a guy getting stuck at the metro doors and being dragged across is cute!
I found art galleries and libraries and installations showcasing the culture of Taiwan. This effort to make the airport experience great for the passengers and to promote the airport as a transfer point works for me.
There was something for everyone. There is a place which employs local blind professional masseuse and you can get a local massage from one of them. There were areas to play video games. I am sure I missed a few of the themes, because I was wary of wandering too far. The embassy guy’s “Do not go out of the airport!” was stuck in my head. I didn’t want to risk accidentally getting out of the international area.
And of course, stores. Lot of wine. A word of caution, wine here is hard liquor – 40-60% alcohol content. Do not make the mistake my friend did of gulping it all down like it is ‘wine’. Another reason, you will not suspect the wine to be so strong is because they sell them in 5 liter bottles like it is water.
I decided to stick to morning things and found a tea-tasting place. The lady took her time, brewed the tea for me and it was worth the wait.
To top it all off, the airport offers free tokens for the massage chairs upon showing your boarding pass!
What else can I ask for.