AA response

So AA’s Twitter responses were paltry. Then, their original email response was unacceptable. So I responded with an additional email with even more details and told them their response was egregious and ignored the core concerns I had, and they called me to formally apologize… and also gave me 15,000 miles to help me reconsider moving my loyalty elsewhere (which is what I threatened. You have to threaten businesses to get what you want. This is a capitalistic world we live in here in the U.S.). So I got the compensation I wanted. And we’re even filing a claim through the travel insurance provided by our credit card to get our hotel reimbursed.

It feels good to win and be vindictive.

Stranded in Dallas

Airlines should really be banned from allowing such tight connections. Our flight from Bozeman down to Dallas was delayed for weather reasons, and so that caused us to miss our connecting flight back to New York. Then, in one of the most appalling airline customer service experiences ever, we were denied compensation for our hotel or meals, and treated in a condescending manner by an airline agent and even her supervisor.

It’s all right. I attacked them on Twitter, then told the Executive Platinum AA agent on the phone about the experience, then wrote a detailed account of our encounter to AA’s customer relations portal. I will get what I want out of these people – they have no idea who they are messing with.

the less traveled roads

When it comes to the national parks of the United States, everyone loves to talk about wanting to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Rocky Mountain National Park. At least one of them would be on the average person’s “bucket” list if s/he enjoys nature and natural scenery even in the slightest bit. All that makes sense since Yellowstone was the first national park of the U.S. (and the world), Yosemite is easily accessible in California, and Rocky Mountain is famous… for its rocky mountains. But what about national parks that are lesser known? Are they somehow less worth visiting or exploring?

Take Seoul or Jeju Island in Korea, for example. Ten years ago, Jeju Island was pretty much unknown to most of the non-Korean population, and it was famous only domestically for being the honeymoon destination spot of Korean newlyweds. I knew about it then only because of the Korean dramas I watched alongside my Taiwanese dramas, and because I had a Korean-obsessed friend who studied abroad in Seoul for a semester and traveled around the country every chance she got. Travel magazines and people who make an annual international tri once a year never visited Seoul much then. Now, it’s on the top destinations list for pretty much every travel publication, and people rave about Seoul, its nightlife and shopping scene. Jeju Island is also a destination that tops the well-traveled wander’s list, as so many articles mention it.

I resent judgments that certain national parks, cities, or countries of the world aren’t worth visiting. Some just have yet to be discovered by the rest of the world. And why would you just want to visit places that are oftentimes talked about and constantly visited – so you can be like the rest of the masses who do what “everyone else is doing? Wouldn’t it feel good to go some place that was gorgeous, untouched, where in a decade or two, “everyone” started going to and discussing, and you could say you’d already been there before the local environment started dying due to our carbon footprint and the hoards of followers started coming?

That’s why Grand Teton was so incredible. It’s known for being untouched, with flora and fauna that have continued to exist for the last thousands of years because of lesser human foot and car traffic. It’s what makes the place special, and it’s also a reason Glacier National Park is so spectacular (even though global warming is causing the glaciers to slowly melt away permanently, but that’s another story for another day).

I smell like rotten eggs

We’re dedicating about a day and a half to Yellowstone National Park. This park is massive, and you could probably spend weeks exploring it, not to mention hiking all the day-long trails and camping out here. But, we don’t have time for that, so we’re making do with what time we have. What was surprising in a good way to me was how accessible Yellowstone is. They really make it handicap friendly by creating boardwalk ways to see the majority of the major sites, whether it’s for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Grand Prismatic Spring, or any of the dozens and dozens of geyser/spring spots throughout the park. You don’t need to hike to see any of these things; you can just walk right on up. Old Faithful geyser even has benches that wrap around the geyser so that you can comfortably sit and wait for the geyser to erupt, which the visitor center has approximations of time of eruption for (and is actually really accurate!).

Old Faithful wasn’t as dramatic as I thought it would be. Maybe it’s because it’s slightly overhyped in general, but it didn’t shoot up as high as I imagined, nor did it even last that long. I was underwhelmed by it compared to other great sights to be had in the park overall. I actually preferred watching the Castle Geyser erupt more, mainly because it’s far longer, it’s not predictable at all, and, it’s actually much older than Old Faithful.

And because Yellowstone is the park of geysers, everywhere we went, it smelled like sulphur/rotten eggs. It was a very surreal experience to be surrounded by all these live geysers that could literally erupt at any second without any notice. Without even realizing it, both of us probably smelled like sulphur the entire day. When we came back to our hotel to rest for the night, I had my evening shower. As I washed my hair, I could smell the sulphur in my strands as I shampooed, and the stench was so strong!

Picking up “hitchhikers” in Glacier

We’re starting our national parks trip at Glacier National Park in northern Montana. We’re so far north in the U.S. that we’re literally just miles away from the Canadian border. Glacier actually spans both Canada and the U.S., just that once you cross the border and go through Customs, it’s called Waterton Lake National Park (of Canada). Glacier is the pristine and much overlooked little sister of Yellowstone, since most of the time when tourists are coming out to Montana and are not local or coming from neighboring states, they are primarily going to see Yellowstone, as it is the first and oldest national park of the national park system, and because of that one of the most famous. When we decided to go to Yellowstone, I knew I wanted us to at minimum also visit Glacier, especially since based on photos I’d seen of it, it would have much in common with what stunned me about Banff in Canada, which was the sparkling turquoise lakes and the endless snow-capped mountains and glaciers. The saddest part about Glacier is that it is slowly dying; in the early 1900s, 100 glaciers existed here. Today, we have only 30 left. I hope more and more people will visit (and not cause harm) to this place of beauty. What’s this place going to be called once the last glacier permanently melts due to global warming?

What I didn’t expect us to do during this day visit to Glacier was pick up some hitchhikers while in the park. Granted, we weren’t on some random road in the middle of nowhere and were already in the park, and it was a married couple with serious hiking gear plus their friend, who happened to be a missionary spreading the gospel through China, but visiting. We were walking back from some lake overlook, and they made some friendly conversation with us and explained that they mistook the timing for the free (and severely unreliable) national park shuttle buses, and asked if we could drive them to Logan Pass, which was where we were headed already. Otherwise, they’d have to walk all the way to Logan Pass, which was quite a long distance from where we were at that moment. We relented, cleared the backseat of the car, and in exchange, they gave us all their tips about Glacier. The couple met and fell in love as summer workers right here in the park 12 years ago, and though both not from nearby, moved here and have decided to settle here. They are regular day hikers in the park and literally know it like the backs of their hand (they were able to recite exact heights of mountains to us and tell us all the little nuances of each, plus the hiking trails, which were helpful for us to know given our limited time).

Walking around the park with the bits of hiking we had time to do, all I could think was… wow. They loved this place so much after meeting and working here that they both decided to uproot, move, and settle here. And now they have a five-year-old child at home (with his parents who even decided to move here, too!). That is true love for a place, no doubt. It reminded me of the story I recently read on my college travel Facebook group’s page, where one woman grew up going to Glacier for one week every single summer for about 15 years as a child, and once she and her siblings left for college, her parents relocated to a small town right outside of Glacier so that they could enjoy the national park year-round.

And this place smells so good. I kept thinking about that beautiful, fresh forest scent as the day went on. Places like this have the power to really change people and their life decisions. That is just so magical.

Huckleberry

Until the last couple of years, I never actually realized that huckleberry was a real berry or fruit. I thought it was some fictitious fruit that Mark Twain named his famous Huckleberry Finn character after, and that the huckleberry pie I always read about in children’s stories when I was young was just a fake and delicious dessert meant to tempt me to crave a new sweet. I tried researching to see if they could be found in New York, and unfortunately, no sources could help me.

So I was excited to learn that huckleberry is indigenous to the general Pacific Northwest and mountains of Idaho and Montana, and huckleberry is actually the state fruit of Idaho. It cannot be cultivated and grows only in the wild, so they are a local fruit to this area, and an expensive one at that given that you won’t find a huckleberry farm anytime soon here or anywhere. The stereotype is true: bears who roam the forests in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming stuff their mouths with these berries when they encounter them. It’s comical that there are some truths to childhood fairy tales.

They are difficult to find fresh unless you literally pick them during hikes, but so far, we’ve seen so many signs for huckleberry pie and huckleberry milkshakes. I can’t wait to finally try this fruit from children stories in real life right here in Montana where it’s native.

Joys of traveling

An article I recently read about traveling said that one quick way to know whether a person in any country traveling is American is how much s/he smiles. I guess if that really is the giveaway, then I must be extremely American because I do this a lot when traveling, especially when I don’t understand what’s going on when I am slightly lost in translation. I realize that for a lot of people, this is extremely frustrating and grates on their nerves because it’s never a good feeling to feel like you are either not in control or not understanding what’s happening around you. But for me, this is actually a part of travel that invigorates me and almost feeds me, making me crave more and more of this slight chaos. I actually like being surprised, not always knowing what’s going on, and eventually figuring out what’s being unveiled in front of me. With my elementary Mandarin, it’s been exciting for me to speak in Mandarin to someone, to then have them respond to me in Taiwanese, and have the I’m-speaking-Mandarin-to-you and you’re-speaking-Taiwanese-back-to-me experience continue. Based on context and extremely slight and subtle language similarities, I’d make out what was being said, and the conversation would continue. And every time something like this would happen, I’d become even more excited and wishing this type of exchange would happen more.

So then when I get back to the U.S., the language part of life suddenly becomes boring again because here, we’re speaking English, and here, because we’re ignorant, racist, and xenophobic assholes, we prefer to speak English and get annoyed when people around us do not. And I speak English fluently, and I rather be around people who don’t because I tend to learn more around them than people here, and I get surprised more often, and that’s what helps make life interesting and riveting.

Taiwanese pineapple cake – an experience

I still remember the first time I ever ate a Taiwanese pineapple cake. I was at my friend’s house one evening watching old movies during my college days, and her mom came into the living room and presented a box of beautiful, individually wrapped pineapple cakes. A family friend had recently come back from Taiwan and gave her this box as a gift from her travels. The orange boxes were like mini 3D castles, and once you undid the origami-like paper box, a single wrapped pineapple cake was inside, waiting to be consumed. I undid the box, then the wrapping, to reveal a perfect, light golden rectangular cake. I bit into it, and the inside was a faint orange-yellow color, sweet and chewy, with a hint of tanginess. And the pastry on the outside was buttery, rich, and flaky. I ate it in about four delicious bites. I felt a bit greedy and was tempted to ask for another one, but I resisted and allowed the taste to linger in my mouth.

I’d never had an Asian dessert like that before. And the next time I went into an Asian supermarket, I looked to see if I could find a similar one. The markets I visited in Boston did have them, but they barely had any pineapple in them, and the flavor and texture was so inferior. It was like having the cheapest possible version of the luxurious bites I had that night at my friend’s house, and I was repeatedly disappointed.

So this trip, I made a list of the four brands to look out for, and I ended up buying three of them. Sunny Hills and Chia Te were Saturday morning destinations for us, and Sunny Hills was so fancy that they invited us in at opening time for a whole, free complimentary cake, with a lovely little cup of oolong tea. Chia Tea was a bit more on the stingy side, as they didn’t even allow us a half-bite sample. But I bought them anyway. And I loved both for different reasons. The Sunny Hills cake had the deepest and richest pineapple flavor, but the Chia Te cake had a smoother and richer texture. Pineapple cakes in Taiwan have yet to be replicated elsewhere — in my heart or in my mouth.

Fragrant tea

I can’t quite remember when my love for tea began. I’ve always enjoyed the matchas and senchas of Japan, the oolongs of China and Taiwan, and the Assam and Darjeeling of India, but I think the real “wow” moment came when my former boyfriend’s parents gave me a very generous and high quality vacuum-sealed pack of Dong Ding oolong tea from Taiwan. They had their own pack and steeped some for me to try, and before I drank it, they told me to take a good, long whiff of it. I did, and it completely blew me away. I smelled it again and again in awe. Never before had I smelled a tea that fragrant in my life. The Longjing oolongs of China, while famous, didn’t hold a candle to this dong ding (or tung ting) oolong tea. It’s hard to describe what it smells like, but it’s extremely fresh smelling, with a hint of sweetness and a slight roasted flavor. It also has a gorgeous golden color when steeped properly and not for too long. In that moment years ago, with my small view of the world, I decided Taiwan must produce the best oolong teas in the world. And one day, I was going to Taiwan to buy more of this special tea.

During this trip, I’ve already been exposed to multiple teas grown in the Nantou, Chiayi, and even Taipei areas of Taiwan. Maokong Mountain, which is the mountain we visited via a gondola today, produces multiple types of tea leaves and is studded with tea plantations all over it. When you reach the top via gondola, the entire area is decked out with tea houses and even shops selling special Baozhong green tea ice cream and Maokong black tea ice cream, or even tie kuan yin flavored ice cream. We went to a restaurant that served tea oil noodles and tea leaf fried rice. It’s like a tea haven up there.

Japan and India are famous for their teas. Even China is. But Taiwan needs to be on the “best tea” list, too.

Stranded on Cijin Island

We spent the day yesterday exploring Kaohsiung and decided to go out to Cijin (or Qijin) Island to explore Kaohsiung’s land of water, sand, and shells. We rented a small motorized golf-like cart for two hours and sped around on the buggy roads. We even took it off the designated roads against the rules and drove through the street markets with it, buying mango smoothies and more mango smoothies. The time finally came to go back to the city, and lo and behold, there were no cabs to be seen anywhere. We tried requesting an Uber, and none would come all the way out to Cijin after multiple timed out requests. Then, we tried calling our hotel to ask them to get a cab to come out to get us, but they told us that would take time, and we’d be charged for the cab’s journey out to get us and back into the city. We kept looking at the streets futilely, and no cabs.

Finally, we decided to ask a random person for help. I walked into the nearest hole-in-the-wall restaurant, where I told the men working there that I needed a cab to go back into Kaohsiung and asked what they’d suggest. I said I tried looking but couldn’t find them anywhere. One of the workers went into his drawer to see if they had a business card of someone who could drive us, but he couldn’t find it. Then another man said he might have a friend who would be able to help. And then out of nowhere, someone he knows drove his scooter up to the front of the restaurant, and he asked this guy if he could help search the streets looking for a cab driver to bring me back to Kaohsiung. The man dutifully and without hesitation agreed and said he’d be right back, and he scoots away. The man in the restaurant said there are usually cabs on Cijin, but because it’s prime dinner time, all the cabbies must be eating dinner.

I called Chris to come from across the street and told him that we’d get a cab to come soon. And in less than 10 minutes, a new guy I don’t recognize came back on a scooter and asked me if I’m the one who needs the cab. I was so confused at this point because this guy wasn’t the same man who originally went to look for a cab for us. And finally, a cab drove up to the front of the restaurant, and we got into his car. He pulled down his window and spoke a bit to the original guy who asked his friend to look for a cab for us. I thanked the restaurant worker and we drive off.

And even this cab driver was also so kind and considerate. We told him he wanted to go to a certain night market. He knew what it was, but he asked me if I checked the opening days, as it might be one of the off days. I said we were sure it would be open, but he said many stalls may be closed, and not many people would be there. In the end, he was right: many stalls were closed and it was practically just us there wandering through the aisles. But it was a fun experience to be stranded and try to get help from the locals. They were so quick to volunteer different ways to help us and strategized amongst themselves to see who knew who, and a few times reassured me that I’d get home safely. Taiwanese people are the best.