Lost Luggage

Today I’d like to share with you a story about some of my recent travel adventures. As you might guess, my adventures have something to do with luggage. How many of you have travelled internationally recently?

Men have it easy. You can pack deodorant, a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and 7 pair of underwear into an overnight case for a week-long trip. You know that your hotel will have shampoo and soap and a comb. Not so with we women. Before the heavy duty restrictions on luggage, I used to travel with 3 suitcases: one for clothes, one for shoes, and one for toiletries (make up). Hah! Not any more. Now, I’ve had to learn to cram clothes, shoes, and make up into one small carry-on. I usually write out a list of everything I think I’m going to need on my trip, cut that in half, color coordinate my outfits, and select shoes and cosmetics that do double-duty.

For Chinese New Year, I planned a trip to Sri Lanka (a tiny island close to India). I knew it would be HOT and that I’d be changing hotels often, so I carefully packed summer clothes (shorts, t-shirts, sandals, swimsuit) and managed to fit everything, including my laptop, into a carry-on. Once in Sri Lanka, I started shopping. The gems and batik were easy to fit in my suitcase. The giant carved wooden masks, not so much. So, I purchased a duffle bag at the Kandy market and filled it up with exotic souvenirs. Two weeks later, I once again carefully packed most of my personal items into the carry-on and the masks, the laptop, and a few items of clothing into the duffle bag. Now, if you’ve never been to Sri Lanka, let me tell you, there is a lot of crime there. But, I was at an airport with armed guards everywhere, flying Srilankan airlines so I thought my luggage was safe. Think again. As I checked my one suitcase in, I had a strange feeling. Little did I know, watching my suitcase on the conveyer belt it was the last time I would see it.

My return flight stopped in Singapore where I changed planes to China Air. As I was checking in, something made me ask about my luggage; China Airlines could not find it on their system. It had disappeared. “It can’t really be gone”, I thought, “I just saw it a few hours ago.” China Airlines assured me they would do everything they could to find it. Now, 2 months, many, many phone calls and emails later, my luggage still has not been found. Apparently it grew legs and walked out of the Srilankan airlines cargo hold. The moral of this story? Do not check luggage if you can possibly help it, especially on an outbound flight from Sri Lanka!

Shanghai

If you think that my luggage adventures ended there, you’d be wrong. On a recent trip back to the US on China Eastern airlines, I had a 14-hour layover in Shanghai and the airline was paying for my hotel. Sounds like fun, right? It was, right up until it was time to leave to go back to the airport. My 2 bags (I guess I didn’t learn my lesson) were loaded into the very back of the hotel van. The driver got in and we headed to Pudong Airport. photo I was the only passenger that morning. The driver stopped by the China Eastern departures area and I went to get a cart for my luggage. And then it happened…the driver took off – with my luggage still in the back of the van!! I stood in disbelief and then thought “It can’t really be gone.” So, I was in a foreign country, at the airport with no luggage, and my flight was departing in 1.5 hours. It took me 10 minutes to find the right airline representative to explain my story to. Another 30 minutes for them to figure out the Chinese name and phone number of the OgOd hotel. (I knew the EN name, and the name of the street, but not the Chinese characters.) Finally, the airline representative called the hotel, and was put on hold. In the meantime, the airline was insisting that I check-in and board the plane. I checked-in (it’s easy with no luggage) but insisted I would not be leaving Shanghai without my luggage! Now what? Finally, the hotel talked with the airline rep but said they didn’t know when they could get the luggage back out to the airport. I asked the airline rep, as calmly as I could, to tell the hotel that I would go find a policeman and tell him that my luggage had been stolen. Within 15 minutes, my luggage was delivered to the airport and the airline had me RUN though the entire airport (it’s BIG) to my boarding gate. By some miracle, I made my flight! The moral of this story? Keep an eye on your luggage at all times, and do not check luggage if you can possibly help it.

Year of the Snake

It’s nearly Chinese New Year, that time of year when Taiwanese from all over the world return to their island home to celebrate the most important traditional holiday with their families. The decoration vendors are springing up all over the roadsides and alleys, their booths displaying bright red and gold items of every size and shape. CNY is supposed to mark the end of Winter but this year we’ve really had a super mild season. The sun’s been out for a couple of weeks now, with temperatures ranging from 16 to 23 degrees celsius. Last winter I had no cold-weather clothing and boy, was it cold! This year, I was prepared (hats, scarves, gloves, coats) so yeah, of course we have warm weather!

For the foreigners (and most everyone) CNY means a vacation – 9 days this year (Feb. 8 – 17), by government decree! And, it means food – lots of it – and money and gifts. The atmosphere is festive: my building lobby is all decorated up with red lanterns, lights, and golden snake images, and each floor still has its Christmas decorations out. Our annual Spring party will be held the week after CNY and folks are excited to see what sort of prizes (and cash) they could win.

I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for 2 weeks to tour the island and learn to cook some Sri Lankan foods. I have my own personal guide/chauffeur: http://www.toursinsrilankabathiya.com/tour1.htm. The weather there is supposed to be HOT (34 degrees C); I’m hoping to come back with, at the very least, a tan and some amazing photos. I also want to shop for gems (spinel, sapphire, and zircon), batik cloth, and spices! My Asian adventure continues…Xin nian kuai le!

CNY 2012

Xin nian kuai le (shin knee-en coo-eye luh) Happy New Year!

You gotta love it when an entire country literally takes a week off to celebrate the lunar new year. Festivities abound and firecrackers are in the air! The color red (one of my favorites for any occasion) and dragons are seen EVERYWHERE!  Everyone is in a good mood: the people who have time off are happy and those that don’t are typically in service industries (transportation, food, retail) – they’re happy too ’cause they know they’ll make a ton of money. Stores are having HUGE sales and despite the chilly weather, a warm, inviting atmosphere prevails.

I was invited to Yingge to spend an evening with the family of my Melaleuca upline. She told me the “rules” for observing CNY with your family. Unmarried children go to their parent’s home for at least the first 3 days (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday) of CNY. Married children, spend the first few days with the wife’s family and the next few days with the husband’s. Parents give their small children hong bao (red envelopes) filled with money. Sometimes, the older children give their parents hong bao (I haven’t figured that one out yet….). It’s a sign of respect and, as far as I can tell, more of a symbolic gesture than a means to pad ones bank account. I think I shocked the nice people in the Temple below my apartment by handing them a red envelope. It wasn’t much; just a way to say “thanks” and to help towards the cost of updating their interior, which looks amazing.

Lots of people take  extra time off in conjunction with the national holiday so I’m sure the party feeling will continue…

Preparing for CNY 2012

It’s the “Year of the Dragon”, y’all! In preparation for the Chinese New Year, red, black, nd gold decorations are being hawked in nearly every store and street corner. The selection is mind-boggling: dragons in every size, “blessings” and wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. Red velvet and brocade “firecrackers” on a string. Hong bao (red envelopes) waiting to hold gifts of money to share with loved ones.

Chinese New Year decorations

At work, they hired three members of a local calligraphy club to create personalized red banners for each of us, to be placed above and next to our apartment doors. The ancient ones labored for many hours to share their “gift” with us. We had 60 different sentiments to choose from. Mine are in place – I’m really not sure what they say or even that I placed them correctly (for all I know they could be upside down!). A local business placed a wish for “heavenly blessing and protection” in our mailboxes.

The Temple downstairs has been busy renovating half of it’s interior with incredible bas relief tableaus carved out of stone, statuary, and other architectural elements I don’t the names of! Everyone is preparing for a week of celebrations with family and friends. My Chinese teacher is headed to Shanghai to visit her parents. Wellcome has aisles and aisles of specialty foods. I’ve been invited to several parties which I’m guessing are mainly about eating but I’ll find out soon enough…

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As for me, I will take the road less travelled…