“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller (Please note that it took me about 10 minutes to find this quote because I had to figure out how to turn Google back to English instead of Chinese…)
And, I have arrived. Back in the motherland, as one of my former roommates would call it. Slept some, had my first dan bing of the break (didn’t take a picture of this one, but hopefully will of one later.) Overall, they were relatively smooth flights. Slept for three quarters of the long one, woke up to watch Despicable Me, only to have us land a quarter of the way into it…Well timed, United, well timed.
However, the most entertaining aspect of this beginning of the adventures came even before I left the United States. I woke up around 8:45 Monday morning to finish packing (and miracle of miracles, it all fit–I now claim the title “Master Packer”), and opened an email reminding me to check-in online. Awesome. Skip long lines, yes please. I began the check-in process, only to encounter a screen informing me that my “duration of stay exceeds the allowable limit in this country. Please contact an agent at the following phone number.”
(Note of explanation: tourists in Taiwan are only allowed to stay in the country up to 30 days without a visa. This posed a problem for me, because my Christmas break goes for about 2 months and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of a visa. So how can I stay in Taiwan longer? Well, fly to Thailand in between to visit my brother, of course. Once I leave the country and reenter Taiwan later, I receive my 30 non-visa days over again. However, because I booked my Thailand tickets with a different airline, United thought that I was indeed staying for two months.)
Seriously? United, don’t you realize that I know I can’t stay for more than 30 days? What do you think I am, an ignorant tourist? Call to United underway. They tell me I still can’t check in on-line and will have to do it at the airport.
Okay, fine, no big deal. The gal said I needed all my documentation. What documentation? I decided to call United back to see what papers they would want to see.
“Hello, how can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m flying to Taipei tomorrow morning and have a question about checking in.” Explain dilemma.
“Do you have a visa?” the airline agent asks.
“No, but I have a departure ticket to Chiang Mai on Jan. 11th.”
“But ma’am, you’re still staying in the country for more than 30 days.”
“Yes, according to United’s flight records, I am, but I’m really not, because I’m flying to Chiang Mai,” I tried to convince her.
“Yes ma’am, I understand that…let me look up something on Chiang Mai.”
“Thailand also has a 30 day non-visa allowance,” I informed her.
“Yes, which means you’re still overstaying your thirty days.”
Seriously? Do they not know math?
“But the 21st and the 11st of January are less than 30 days,” I try to reason with her.
“You fly to Taipei on the 21st,” she begins, trying to clarify, “and then on the 11th of January you fly to Chiang Mai…”
“Which is in a different country,” I interject, “which means that I get my 30 days over again when I reenter Taiwan on the 18th.”
Moment of pause. I could almost tangibly feel the light bulb come on across the telephone line.
“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry, I apologize,” she stammered. “For some reason I thought that Taipei was in Thailand…” Her murmured apologies trailed off. I couldn’t help but laugh. Don’t worry lady, it’s not the first time something like that’s happened. So, now that we’re on the same page, what do I need? An e-receipt will be fine. Awesome.
The airport did give me some trouble, but I got through. Ironically enough, when I got to immigration in Taiwan, they could have cared less whether or not I already had a departure ticket. I still don’t know why United cared so much.
Part of me is still incredulous that an airline agent so easily confused Taiwan and Thailand. I mean, yes, they sound similar, but when it’s your job to know cities and flight destinations, don’t you have to know those things? I guess there’s no geography course for airline agents yet.