Sometimes fact is stranger – and funnier – than fiction. I had such an instance recently and I wanted to share my pain for your entertainment once again. I promise I did not embellish or add nonfactual elements to this. I lived every moment of the following. Enjoy!
I was recently in Okinawa, Japan on a week-long work trip. While that sounds like the dream job, it really isn’t all that glamourous. First, it is a work trip. There is not much free time to explore or do non work-related activities other than enjoy the local cuisine. Another drawback was the weather. I’m on an island in the South Pacific Ocean and you would assume the weather would be perfect. The first two days were nice. Then things changed. We were under a typhoon warning so we received the associated weather – wind and rain. This lasted until the end of the week and became an issue on my departing flight.
Being delayed on departure normally is not a very big issue, but I had another location I needed to be on the following week for work several thousand miles away. I had allowed was some room for flexibility, but I needed to be on-site Sunday afternoon to get ready for Monday morning.
The morning my flight left, the winds were brisk. And by brisk I mean in the 40+ mph range. The airline website was checked many times before the 45 minute taxi ride to the airport and it stated all flights were scheduled to leave on time. Ok, let’s try this…. A taxi was called, the hotel bill settled, and off to the airport I went. I checked the radar and it did not look good.
Upon arriving at the airport I was trying to locate the check in area for my airlines. As I found it, something happened that I thought was a Hollywood effect. Have you ever seen a movie where someone is looking at the list of departures and as they are looking at it, all of the departures change to delayed or cancelled? Well, that happened to me. I thought I was dreaming or watching a movie. I couldn’t believe I actually saw it. My flight was delayed. Initially that was not a big deal as I had a few hours at my next location. Then I noticed HOW long my flight was delayed. TEN HOURS! I immediately called the airline to change all of my connecting flights.
After an hour on the phone, it was determined that I could either overnight in place (less than ideal) or overnight in Taiwan and catch a flight out the next afternoon. Either way, I was not going to make it to my destination without an additional overnight. I decided since the typhoon was moving toward me, I would overnight in Taiwan (the opposite direction the typhoon was moving – plus new stamps in my passport – yay!). I remained on the delayed flight and rebooked all of my remaining flights and notified my coworkers. I also decided that I would want a shower and a bed so I looked online and found a cheap backpackers hostel very close to the airport in Taiwan, and I booked it. I could at least take a shower and change clothes (I would get my luggage in Taiwan) to feel and smell better upon my arrival.
I was at the airport two hours before my flight was scheduled to depart, then my flight was delayed 10 hours. So nearly 12 hours later, I was ready to check in and FINALLY drop off my luggage. After waiting in a long line, it was finally my turn. After handing my passport to the airline personnel, she punched on the keyboard and looked on the computer, and punched on the computer keyboard some more. She called over a supervisor. Finally, she said the words I didn’t want to hear: “Mr. Nunn, we cannot find a ticket for you.”
So I have waited 12 hours and my ticket disappeared? I immediately called the airline again as I was pushed to the side and everyone else continued to check in for the flight. We discovered that somehow my ticket to Taiwan was cancelled, but the remaining segments had been rebooked. Yay me. After another long wait on hold, it was determined this flight was full and there was another flight two hours later. What’s another two hours at this point? The ticket was rebooked, the remaining segments double checked, and finally my luggage was dropped off and off through security and passport control I went.
The flight from Okinawa to Taiwan was uneventful. I was just ready for a shower and some sleep. As I left the plane and was walking down the hall to passport control, a thought came to me. Do I need a visa to be in China? Will I be able to clear passport control or will I be stuck in the airport? I became apprehensive, but had no choice except to try at this point. I nervously gave the attendant my passport and with just a few simple questions, my passport was stamped and I was officially in Taiwan. YAY! It was time to gather my luggage, find a taxi, drive to the hostel, take a shower, and catch some sleep. If it had only been that easy…
Luckily, the email confirming my lodging at the hostel had the address in Chinese. Around 11 pm local time, I collected my luggage and went to the taxi line, showed the taxi driver the address, and off we went. On the way, I felt like it was a bad Lifetime movie in the making. We’re traveling down these dark alleys with all of the businesses closed and the metal doors rolled down. Periodically there was a door rolled up with people cooking things over fire on the sidewalk. The taxi driver pulls up to an alley of the alley and points down the alley. Are you serious? There is a hostel down here? I felt like it was a mugging waiting to happen. He must have sensed my reluctance, and pulled down the alley. Sure enough, there was a glass front to the backpacker’s hostel. The door was locked, but a number was posted to call. I called and they gave me the code to get inside and the gentleman on the phone said he was on the way and the taxi left.
Just a few minutes later a gentleman pulled up and came inside. He said this location was only bunk beds and I had reserved a private room for a few dollars more. He stated that he would take me there and it was only a few minutes away. Against my better instincts, (and this was an adventure) I loaded my luggage and climbed into his vehicle. Once again, we went down more dark alley with random fires lighting the way. We pulled up at a gate what looked like an office complex. He punched in a code, we pulled in, and following him we climbed out and went inside. This was it! YAY! I was so ready for a shower and a few hours of sleep.
As I was trying to pay for my room with my credit card, there were technical issues with his credit card reader. After trying a few times it was obvious it was not going to cooperate. I had exchanged a little money to get me through the night, but did not have enough to cover the expenses of the room. The gentleman that brought me there said he could run me to the ATM so I could withdraw enough to cover the room. While this was less than ideal, what option did I have? So once again, away we went down dark and deserted alleys and out of nowhere appeared a brightly lit convenience store. We went inside to the back where the ATM was located and there was a sign on it. It was not in service. It just so happened there was another convenience store a short distance away and away we went. This time, the ATM was working. I withdrew enough money to cover the room and bought a few things for breakfast the next morning.
We drove back to the hostel, paid for my room, and FINALLY I was able to see the accommodations for the night. I will preface this with saying this was my first stay at a hostel. I was pleasantly surprised! Two beds, a small refrigerator, a patio, a bathroom with shower, cable TV (not that I could understand any of it), and it was air conditioned. It was clean but not spotless, the doors were secure, and I’d stay there again. I took a much needed shower and went to sleep. Check out was at 11 am and I told them I would check out then and need the provided shuttle to the airport.
After a week in Okinawa, I was almost used to the very firm mattress and this one was no exception. It didn’t matter. I was exhausted. I set the alarm on my phone for 10 am and drifted off to sleep. If I remember correctly, I woke up before my alarm and video chatted with the family. That may have been the previous night – I can’t remember. However, I did wake up before my alarm because this room was just on the outside of the boundary of the airport. I could see the fence from my window and I was under the flight path for large planes taking off.
Checking out of the hostel was uneventful as well as the short ride to the airport. My flight didn’t leave until 5:30 pm so I had many hours at the airport – but at least it was a different airport! I checked the departure board and followed the signs to find where I needed to check in. I found my flight number without any warnings and thought I’d see if I could drop off my luggage. I figured it was too early, but the line wasn’t long and it was worth a try.
I waited just a few minutes and finally it was my turn. I handed the female attendant my passport and put my luggage on the scale. She punched on the keyboard and looked on the computer, and punched on the computer keyboard some more. Finally, she said the words I didn’t want to hear: “Mr. Nunn, we cannot find a ticket for you.” This was Déjà vu of the worst kind imaginable! She asked if I had a copy of my ticket, but I was one step ahead of her and already had my phone out to call the airlines. I pulled up my ticket and showed it to her. She smiled and stated that I was in the line for Air China (with the same flight number) but my ticket was for China Airlines. The China Airlines counter was at the other end of the terminal. I apologized, collected my luggage, and embarrassingly walked toward the direction she printed.
When I arrived at the counter of China Airlines, it was vacant. I found a locker to store my large suitcase so I did not have to wheel it around the airport for hours. I explored, found something to eat, and bought a few small items to use up the Chinese currency I had. Several hours before my flight my storage time was almost expired so I collected my luggage and went to the China Airlines counter.
I need to take a pause here. I’m in China and haven’t had much sleep for the past several nights. All the attendants I could see working the airline counter were young Chinese women wearing identical uniforms. Everyone working really did look the same (or VERY similar) to me – I was the minority in the largest sense of the word. Pause is over.
I rolled my luggage to the counter and presented my passport. Since it was still several hours before my flight, I asked if it was too early to check my bag. The attendant smiled at me and said the following words. “No, Mr. Nunn, I can take your luggage now. I’m glad you are at the right counter.” If those weren’t her exact words, they are very, very, close. WHAT? How did she know I was at the wrong counter? Was there an airport wide bulletin for a tired confused white guy? She must have seen the confused look on my face. She smiled again and informed me she was the one that had assisted me at the other counter. I was blown away.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, but that is 24 hours (or so) of my life that will remain in my memory for a long time. It is funny now, but when I was living it, I was not funny at all. I hope you enjoyed a slice of my travel life.