I experienced a jarring feeling when Y and I landed in Houston and even more so when we walked through the Cleveland International Airport this past Sunday. The feeling was rooted in the fact that that I already missed Taiwan. The feeling itself was the realization that the States aren’t all that great–especially the Great State of Ohio. I had a similar recognition when I returned to the States after a year in the UK reading for my MA in Science Fiction Studies. However, the feeling wasn’t as strong, because there are many similarities between the UK and the US that cannot be elided. Taiwan’s differences with the US, including its speed and agile pace of life, technological innovation, and deliciously healthy food, make me more curious about other career opportunities abroad.
Working at Y’s Parent’s House
Before Y and I left Taiwan, I had a few opportunities to show off my handiness to her folks. I had already got her father’s computer working and cleaned up the computer desk area at the front of the house. Other chores that needed to be taken care of included a row of sagging wooden ceiling tiles on the third floor, a loose sliding glass window above Y’s room on the second floor, and replacing fluorescent lights on the first floor 12′ above the ground with a short wooden folding ladder.
I chose to take care of the ceiling tiles first. After a little experimentation and Y and her father taking turns helping support the tiles, I hammered nailed into the edge of the tiles to bring them back in contact with a ceiling joist. It wasn’t the prettiest repair because the tiles are made of a fragile wood fiber composite and they easily cracked under the pressure of being pulled back into place. I would have liked to pull them out and replace them properly with their tongue-and-groove, but they were affixed with glue or nails against the wall above the moulding.
The next repair was necessitated after new telephone wires were installed in the house. Since the walls are solid concrete, the wires had to be run along the wall. For Y’s room on the second floor, they ran the wires into her room through the sliding window above her door. Unfortunately, they did not take the time to notch the window frame to allow the wire into the room while also making the window capable of closing. Luckily, Y’s Dad had a bush cutting saw, which I used to notch, a little at a time until I had just enough clearance to reinstall the window on its slide while allowing the wire to enter the room.
The last repair involved replacing some florescent lights on the first floor. Each floor of the house has vaulted ceilings with the first and second having the most height. The first light was at the front of the house above where they park their Camry inside. That particular light wasn’t turning on occasionally. I tried replacing the light and then the condenser, but it wasn’t turning on every time it had power. Then, I wiggled the connector on the right side and realized that it wasn’t making proper contact with the tube. It was an older light assembly, so I told Ba that he should get an electrician to replace it. My repair will unfortunately be temporary. Next, I needed to replace one florescent tube in the living room at the back of the house. This was scarier to do, because that room does not have a dropped ceiling as the front of the house does. This meant that I had to go up 12′ into the air to replace that light. Having Y steady the wooden ladder, I went up and switched out that tube, which resulted in a much brighter room!
Packing Our Suitcases
Two days before we left, I took charge of packing our luggage, because I wanted Y to spend extra time with her folks. We had four checked bags and two carry-on bags. In the checked bags, we managed to bring over 200 lbs of stuff back with us, which included books, research photocopies, and foodstuff that we can’t find in the States. Y’s folks told her that my packing efficiency impressed them!
Flying Back to the States
Before we left the States, Y and I had cashed in all of my air miles and some of hers for the privilege of flying first/business class on our three flights from Taiwan to Cleveland, Ohio. We were waitlisted on those flights until 24 hours before each flight. We were upgraded on the first two flights to Business class.
On the Taiwan to Japan’s Narita International Airport, we flew on the top deck of a United Boeing 747. This was the best Business class experience that I have ever had. Since the upper deck is a smaller space, the flight attendants gave us much more attention than you get in the larger business class section on other airliners. Y was a little intimidated by the attention, but it was nice having my glass of wine from the Rhone refilled automagically. Also, Andre Agassi also flew on our plane, but he was in the lower deck’s first class section.He had been playing a match in Taipei while we were also in Taiwan. We had seen him on television playing against professionals and teaching younger Taiwanese players how to improve their game. He even took the role of ball runner for them!
On the long Continental flight from Narita to Houston, Texas, we flew in the middle of the business class section of a Boeing 777 airliner. This was a good experience, too. The flight staff were very friendly and looked after us very well. However, I looked back to coach whenever I would get up, and I thought about how unfair it is that all air travel cannot rate the same level of service and respect as you get in business class. Y and I flew to Taiwan on coach, and it was a completely different experience. I always try to be friendly with flight attendants, because I know they have a rough job and it can be advantageous for me to make a friend on a flight. On the way to Taiwan, one flight attendant who I told, “This meal was the best, thank you!,” said back to me, “Thank you for saying that. Most people never say thank you for anything, especially Americans.” So, I can’t blame all of the problems of coach air travel on airlines and attendants. From what I have observed and based on what that attendant told me, it has a lot to do with how passengers act. Air travel is extremely stressful and uncomfortable for coach passengers, but I think we all should be nice to those folks who serve us. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it may just make that person’s day a little brighter. Additionally, they may return the favor to you.
Y’s and my business class luck ran out when we got to Houston. We were flying on a 737, which only has 4 first class seats, and its upgrade seats were already taken. I tried talking to a Continental agent in the Elite line after going through customs, but she rudely said that my ticket doesn’t say Elite (as my earlier tickets did), so she wouldn’t help me. She walked away to talk to the people standing in line behind me. I suppose most airlines have a “what have you done for me lately” attitude, but I think this particular agent went out of her way to be a bitch. I learned from a more friendly gate agent that the seats on that flight had already been filled. Safely back in coach where apparently the earlier agent felt our kind should stay, we had an uneventful and sleepy ride back to Ohio. We gathered our bags from baggage claim, and Dave was soon there to give us a ride back to Kent.