Taiwan

Well, we survived the flight back from Taiwan, and our humble blog now comes up as the 7th entry if you google “expedia sucks“. Good times!

Taiwan was amazing, and we were very lucky to be able to enjoy the hospitality of my cousin Area Hazard, his wife Vixen and her family. It was fantastic to have some local knowledge, especially since we didn’t speak the language.

We were based in Taichung, which is the third largest city, and is situated somewhere in the middle of Taiwan. We had four action-packed days of night markets, temples, digital watch shopping, fireworks, ancient cities, restaurants and bullet trains. Rather than write any more I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

I thought this sign was quite funny…

…but Moon Tan was not amused.

Above is the Sun Tzu temple in Taichung. Amazing, but whatever happened to “be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness…“?

Fireworks! Cheap, fun and safe (at least, when they don’t fall over and start shooting flaming shrapnel in your direction). Our visit happened to coincide with Chinese New Year, which is the only time that letting off fireworks is legal in Taiwan. We took full advantage.

Taiwan. Highly recommended!

Expedia Sucks

…and we’re crunky enough that we feel a public denouncement is warranted. Moon Tan has already told the story better than I ever could, but here’s another take, for those who want further details.

Travel web site Expedia (no, I’m not going to link to them), has caused us a lot of grief. We used Expedia to book a couple of return flights to Taiwan recently. We’re going in three days, and — but for this kerfuffle — we’re super excited.

Unfortunately, Expedia believes that we will be stranded in Taiwan without a way of getting home. Or at least, its web site and a majority of its customer service representatives do. That is to say-…

Let me back up a bit and tell you how it went down.

About two weeks ago, we got an email from Expedia. The email said this:

Dear Expedia Traveler,

  XXXX Airlines made the following change(s) to your itinerary:

* Cancelled 1 of your flights.

Taipei to Tokyo

Flight Details Thursday, Jan 26, 2012 at XXXX PM Cancelled Flight
XXXX  Airlines Flight Number: XXXX
From: (TPE) Taipei TPE, Taiwan Depart: XXXX PM
To: (NRT) Tokyo Narita, Japan Arrive: XXXX PM
Status: CANCELLED Class: Coach
Equipment: Boeing 747 Jet Seats:

Dictionary.com (admittedly not the most authoritative reference material, but still…) defines “Cancel” as:

  1. to make void; revoke; annul: to cancel a reservation.
  2. to decide or announce that a planned event will not take place; call off: to cancel a meeting.

Seems clear enough. Our flight was cancelled. We needed a new flight. Or so it would seem. So we rang Expedia for the first time.

The customer service operator confirmed that our flight had been cancelled, and said that she needed to call the airline to confirm whether we could be rescheduled onto another flight. Could we call back in 24 hours?

No problem. 24 hours later, we called back to find that no one from Expedia had called China airlines. Could we call back again in a couple of days?

It was at this point that we started to get a bit worried. But what could we do? We waited a couple more days and called back, only to discover that Expedia still hadn’t contacted the airline. The issue, we were told on our third call, was that we had to be on the line when they called the Airline. And they could only call the airline in the evening US time. So, Expedia asked, would we mind calling back at 2:00am Japan time?

We minded. We minded greatly. But we had no other option but to play Expedia’s despicable game. Meanwhile, we were conscious of the fact that time was rapidly running out if we needed to book an alternative flight.

Poor old Moon Tan dutifully got up at 2:00am to make the call. I was too… uh… distressed (alright, lazy) to join her. On this, our fourth call to Expedia, we were informed that actually, the flight hadn’t been cancelled, and we should contact the airline directly to confirm. Expedia also promised to send us an email to confirm.

As of today:

  • The airline’s web site appears to show us booked on the supposedly ‘cancelled’ flight;
  • Expedia’s web site continues to insist that the flight has been cancelled;
  • We haven’t received an email from Expedia confirming that our return flight will be going ahead. Instead, this morning we received an email confirming that our itinerary includes only the flight to Taiwan. No mention of the “cancelled” return flight.

So now we’re on the phone to Expedia again. For the 5th time. At the time of writing we’ve been on hold for 42 minutes. And we’re very very angry.

We really can’t afford to get stuck in Taiwan, because we both have work on the day after we’re supposed to fly home.

The moral of the story? Don’t use Expedia to book flights or hotels. They will cause you nothing but pain.

On the plus side, it’s snowing today in Tokyo. Snow is pretty but cold.

Update: Those bastards have just hung up on us after 45 minutes on hold. If Moon Tan ever gets through to them, she will be giving them a piece of her mind.

Online discount travel agents: a cautionary tale

Once upon a time there was a boy and a girl who lived in a faraway land in a big city called Tokotropolis. The boy and the girl really liked living in Tokotropolis, there were lots of things to see and do and generally things went pretty well for them even though they couldn’t speak Tropoli – the native language. The girl’s name was Moonface and the boy’s name was Eggman. Both Moonface and Eggman worked at the local word factory which wasn’t the best job in the world, but paid the bills so they didn’t mind it too much.

One day, they decided to go and visit some friends of theirs who lived in another far away land called Tawville They planned the trip carefully and put away plenty of golden gzats from their jobs so that they could afford the expensive journey. To get there, they would have to fly on the back of a shiny silver dragon. It costs a lot of gzats to feed dragons so naturally, they knew it would cost them quite a bit.

Moonface and Eggman were very optimistic and were looking forward to going to see their friends who they hadn’t seen in a very long time. One day when they were out walking around Tokopolis they stumbled across a wizened old man selling tickets for the dragon trip to to Tawville – and it was so cheap! Moonface and Eggman were very excited! The old man told them his name was Expedialopoltian (Ex for short). After old Ex had assured them that everything was perfectly legal and above board he took lots of Moonface and Eggman’s hard earned word factory gzats and gave them the tickets. They went home very happy indeed.

One day, they got a message from the old man via flying pterodactyl telling them that unfortunately their return dragon flight had been cancelled. The dragon was going on holidays and wouldn’t be able to get them back to Tokopolis. Naturally, Moonface and Eggman went to see Ex again to find out what was going on. Unfortunately when they went to see him he said that it was nothing to do with him and it was the dragon pilot’s fault. But he promised he would get in touch with the pilot and find out what was happening.

Old Ex whipped out his crystal ball and gazed into it’s depths, his white beard blowing around in the breeze, his blue eyes glinting. Eventually, after leaving Moonface and Eggman standing there for a long time, he sighed and told them that sadly, the pilot could not be reached at this time, but maybe they could come back tomorrow?

So Moonface and Eggman trudged off back home, feeling a little worried that their precious gzats were still with Ex and yet they still had no way of knowing that the dragon would fly them home again!

So they went back the next day and asked the him again. Ex looked into his crystal ball and again, he told them that he could not reach the pilot. The pilot was on a coffee break or something. Again, he told them to come back tomorrow.

So they did. Moonface and Eggman dutifully came bak the next day and asked Ex to contact the dragon pilot. They waited very patiently while he tried and tried to reach him but alas, again he could not be contacted! Ex sensed the growing frustration of the pair. He studied them for a minute and then smacked his palm to his wrinkly old forehead and shouted ‘of course! How could I forget! The dragon pilot is actually part possum and is only awake at night! You need to come back at 2am and then I will definitely be able to contact him and find out if he will fly the dragon for you!’

Now by this stage, Moonface and Eggman were feeling very weary and also wary of the crafty old Ex. He had gotten them back here three times already, but this time he finally had a different answer for them so they sceptically accepted to his terms and disheartedly walked home.

2am came around and Moonface awoke with a start; this was their last chance to make sure the dragon would be available. She tried to rouse Eggman but having no luck she set off alone on a solo quest. When she finally got to his decrepit tent he regarded her solemnly. Something within his gaze seemed to tell her that she had somehow passed the test and that this time, the crystal ball would give up it’s secrets and tell her some good news. And she was right. Kind of.

Ex spoke into the crystal ball at length, leaving Moonface shivering in the dark and the cold of the wee hours. Finally he turned back to her and proclaimed, ‘all is well. The dragon is not going on holiday at all. The dragon flight was never cancelled at all! Oh and the pilot will definitely send you a pterodactyl message within the next 24 hours. I promise’. Now most of my dear readers will have begun to believe that Moonface was not too bright to have believed old Ex so far. And maybe they’re right. By this point, even she was getting fed up with his behaviour. ‘Are you absolutely positive they will send me a message confirming our dragonflight? Do you promise?’ she said desperately. ‘Absolutely’ said Ex, ‘by tomorrow night it will definitely be there’. Reassured, Moonface went home, and didn’t even mind that she had to get up in 3 hours to go to work at the word factory.

Then a day passed, and another and another and still no pterodactyl message! How odd, thought Moonface, Ex was so sure it would come. Then wonderment gave way to disgruntlement, disgruntlement gave way to crankiness and finally crankiness gave way to insane rage.

Moonface couldn’t take it any more. Ex had all their golden gzats. She had no way of knowing if she and Eggman could get the dragon home. Their lovely holiday to visit their friends hung in the balance and it was up to her to save it!

Finally, fed up. Moonface did the only thing left to her. She got the tincan string number from a friend and called the dragon pilot directly. Unfortunately he didn’t speak very good English, mostly Tropoli but 40 minutes later a pterodactyl had delivered all the dragonflight tickets to Moonface and Eggman, including the one they thought had been cancelled. Luckily Ex had lived up to his word in that he had at least passed on all the golden gzats to the dragon pilot so luckily he was still willing to take them on their trip.

Moonface and Eggman have taken some time off from the word factory and are leaving on their trip next week! They’re very much looking forward to it and fully expect to live happily ever after. In the meantime they are telling everyone they know and don’t know that if in their travels they ever meet a crooked looking old man who tells you his name is Expediapoltian – DO NOT TRUST HIM NO MATTER HOW CHEAP HIS DRAGONFLIGHTS ARE. THEY MAY BE CHEAP BUT THEY WILL COST YOU TIME YOU CAN NEVER EVER GET BACK.

Crunky balls nude!

There. That title should get some interesting search traffic to the blog.

Moon Tan and I have been obsessed with “CRUNKY” brand chocolate for a while now. We just think that “crunky” is a hilarious word, and it has replaced both “crunchy” and “cranky” in our everyday vocabulary.

“Crunky” appears to be a corruption of “crunchy”, because the standard form is a block of chocolate with crispy, crunchy pieces (not dissimilar to “Crunch” chocolate in Australia). It’s popular over here, and I have already had to correct one of my students (after I stopped laughing), who said “crunky” when she meant “crunchy”.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I discovered “CRUNKY BALLS” in a 100 yen shop. I stood there giggling like a stoned teenager. Good times. To me, “crunky balls” sounds like an uncomfortable and embarrassing ailment, along the lines of:

“You’ve gotta help me Doc! I’ve got a nasty case of the crunky balls!”

“Hmm. I see. Take three of these, and for heaven’s sake stop scratching them.”

Then, on New Year’s Eve, we found the ultimate: “CRUNKY BALL NUDE”! Only in Japan. Moon Tan and I were initially skeptical, but I can report that Crunky Balls Nude are quite delicious.

New Year

We almost didn’t make it out of the house on New Year’s Eve. I was recovering from a serious bout of gastro, and was taking it pretty easy. Moon Tan and I had started the night by playing a drinking game based on The Office. By 9:00, I was feeling a little queasy, and Moon Tan was exceedingly jolly.

Nonetheless, we did manage to venture out, and we had a blast. We got off the train at Roppongi, and I’ve never seen so many gaijin in one place in Tokyo. Everybody was out and in a good mood. Even the hawkers for the various strip clubs had smiles on their faces for once.

We did shots of tequila at a stall set up on the side of the road, and followed the crowds leading past the Russian Embassy to Zojo-ji Temple, which Google had informed us was as good a place as any in Tokyo to count down to the new year.

The place was absolutely packed, and we found a great spot where we could watch Tokyo Tower (which was lit up for the countdown) with the main temple building in the foreground. At the stroke of 12, everyone let go of balloons, and the whole sky was filled. We didn’t bring cameras, but you can find out what it looked like here and here (more photos here).

After that, we partied on in Roppongi, first at the Hobgoblin Pub, and then at some random dance party we snuck into. Good times!

Coming home via Shin Okubo Station, Moon Tan had a craving for fried potato (as they call French fries over here), so we stopped at a McDonalds. Get this: they were SOLD OUT of fries! Moon Tan wanted to punch the poor kid behind the counter, but somehow I managed to restrain her. What a massive planning fail! How can McDonalds run out of fries??

On New Year’s Day, we recovered.

Today (the 2nd), we took a trip to Asakusa, to visit Senso-ji. The first visit to a temple in the new year is a bit of a thing over here. Suffice to say it was a litte… crowded:

The police were doing an excellent job of crowd control. Literally millions of people visit this temple over the first three days of the new year. We escaped with our lives after managing to get to the altar of the temple, in order to throw our money at the place where everyone thows the money at (for luck?). Afterwards, we ate okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes) and shared a chocobanana. A good start to 2012!