Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where did last year go?

Wow, I just looked at this blog and realized I haven’t written anything since that bad experience at the hotel. A Year ago! The good news is I don't get paid by the word. The bad news is I don't get paid at all... Well much has happened since then.

Because of my son, Johnny, going to Kaohsiung American School with different winter holidays and the price of airline tickets skyrocketing, we stayed in Taiwan for the holidays. Christmas was in Taiwan as usual and for a change we celebrated Chinese New Year there also.

I took another bike ride up Ali Shan (Ali Mountain), this time making it to the top. I started the first day with Gary Sampson, an American living in Kaohsiung. He was training for a race so I slowly took him way out of town before I needed a nap and he was then able to race back home. My second and third days were all uphill and I learned that I never wanted to see another mountain again. I took half a day looking for an alternate way home knowing that there were a couple uphill stretches on the way “down” but ended up having to ride to the bottom of the hill where my wife picked me up.

In May we started packing to come back to Arizona “for good” and started exploring ways to best ship everything. Our conclusion was that there was no best way. Too many company moves or military moves kept us move-yourself type people out of the market. As I really only had three pieces of furniture I wanted to keep, we left it all there. Then there was the dilemma of personal stuff. What did we really need? How would we ship it? The post office turned out to be the cheapest as far as shippers, but as we had upgraded our flight to business class we got a greater luggage allowance. We ended up taking five extra bags, and with shifting contents and repacking we ended up only paying for three. Hsien-Ling is a hard bargainer. There is still some stuff I want to bring back but that will have to wait until a vacation.

Back in Bullhead I started back to work, catching up on all the things I had put off over 15 years since I was only here a short time each time. So many things at the house needed to be fixed and we are working through them. New curtains, blinds and valances along with a built-in entertainment center/curio cabinet. New refrigerator, new shower (twice, don’t ask). New canopy cover for the patio. New (used) truck. New gate at the airport which meant fix the backhoe water truck, steel wheel roller and tack-oil sprayer as well as rejuvenate the grader, rubber-tire roller and compressor. The airplane was just finishing up its annual and needed new baffles, it had to be something. No problems with the boat though, we don’t have one… At the storage yard both golf carts and the Ranger needed to be worked on. Slowly I thought I was getting caught up but am now buying out my partner at the airport. Now all the headaches, and debt service, are mine. How special.

Christmas is here and we have a tree and lights on the house. I know, I have had lights on the house for 15 years, but they never worked, we were never here, and they only faced my brother’s house next door. His house wasn’t there when I put them up.

But life is good, with friends and family around, we have work (paying work would be nice) and we have our health, such as it is: getting old is not for wusses. This year we had three friends pass away, one from old age catching up to him, and two at the Reno Air Race. We will miss them terribly. I have another friend in the hospital with bladder cancer and we are hoping for his recovery.

The new year will bring many new adventures and challenges, making life the wonderful event that it is.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Crowne Plaza, Kaohsiung, E Da World

My son John is attending Kaohsiung American and as a parent we were invited to attend AmCham’s (American Chamber of Commerce) first Christmas party in the southern part of the island, Kaohsiung. The site of the gala affair was to be at the Crowne Plaza, Kaohsiung, E Da World, a new hotel boasting a location across from a new luxurious outlet mall, and an amusement park complete with a giant Ferris wheel. The hotel features a pool, of course with a water slide, indoor hot tub with jets, bubbles and the whole nine yards. There is an exercise room with lots of equipment, and a game room for the kids with ping-pong, pool tables and air hockey as well as video games and basketball games.

As a special deal for the evening, rooms were available for those attending the dinner for only NT$3,800/night and included a champagne brunch on Sunday morning. (US$1 = NT$30.6) While it is within commuting distance of our home I convinced my wife that it would be fun and in the Christmas spirit to stay and enjoy the 5 star accommodations.

We arrived early even though we knew that we couldn’t check in until 3 pm. We parked in the parking garage, checked our luggage and hit the pool. The locker room was nice with keyed lockers although no benches to sit on while we got into our suits. The showers and toilets were great, although for a hotel celebrating their grand opening there seemed to already be mold along the lower parts of the wall in the dressing room area. Not to worry. The first thing we were told was that the hot water system was not working. The hot water spas were luke-warm but the pool was only cool. Not to worry it was a sunny day. The spas could have been a little warmer to be comfortable, but not to worry, it was not unbearable.
After the pool we checked out the game room. Johnny challenged me to air hockey which I usually win. In 15 minutes I was trounced 22 to 8. Later when he was playing his mother we found out why: every time
His mother scored they both got a point and every time he scored, he got a point and his mother lost one. Not to worry, we hadn’t bet any money.

Time to check in found us discovering that the price was not $3,800 but was $4,200, and there was no champagne brunch, only a breakfast. Now we are starting to worry. We found our room on the sixth floor facing on the outside, the mall across the street and a beautiful view of the giant Ferris wheel. On the inside was an atrium like area seven stories high. While architecturally interesting, it was only large enough to echo and amplify all the sounds in the hallway. Supposedly this was normally an $11,000/night room.

The room had two large king sized beds, a TV, refrigerator, bathtub and separate shower. There was even a small balcony we could access though it wasn’t big enough for a chair. Internet access was available but for a price: $80 for an hour, $300 for a day, and another option. It is strange that I have stayed in $700/night rooms with free hook-ups.

We dressed for dinner, billed as a black tie affair, with black tie optional. Lucky for me since after being here almost fifteen years I had never even worn my suits so had taken them back to the States. All I could find was a beige sport coat. Yes, I know it is not summer, but as it turned out I was somewhere in the middle of the attire gradient. We got our picture taken as a part of the accommodations and given a picture in a key chain. This was a come-on to buy additional pictures which they produced with varying backgrounds like the Ferris wheel or fireworks, etc.

The dinner was on the eighth floor. We exited the elevator at the doorway to the hall but had to take a circuitous route, outside, to get to another entry door. We found our table at the back of the room and sat with the parents of one of Johnny’s classmates. Also sitting with us for awhile was Carlo and his wife and their son who is in third grade at KAS. Carlo flies 737s for China Airline and we had a great conversation until they switched tables to accommodate a party of six, all teachers.

The dinner itself was pretty plain. While on costing NT$750 it was pretty plain. It was all Chinese food, of course, but according to the Taiwanese at our table, including my wife, it must have been made by a foreign chef because it did not have a true Chinese flavor. The teachers at our table were from Hawaii, Colorado, Oklahoma, I didn’t hear where else, so we had some good conversations. Two had ordered vegetarian meals that they wouldn’t eat. The mushrooms might have been the best part of the meal except the doctor has me off mushrooms at the moment. Personally I thought the pumpkin pie was the highlight of the meal.

After dinner we went back to our room and after a little TV decided to go to sleep. Our neighbors had a different idea. Thus began the night from hell. We turned out the lights at about 11:00 and the neighboring room partied on. We could hear them clearly, talking about the travel agent among other things, and laughing very loudly. To say the walls were paper thin would be an understatement. They were more like sounding boards amplifying the sound. At 12:30 there was no sign of abatement so we Hsien-Ling called the front desk to complain. They said they would take care of it. At 1 am, I called. Again they said they would take care of it. At 1:30 I called and asked to talk to the manager. I told him that if he didn’t take care of it we were checking out. By 1:45 the noise abated. Then we got a call from the manager asking if all was quiet. All but the phone ringing, this could probably be heard by all 8 of the adjoining rooms… I don’t know what time I finally got to sleep but it wasn’t right away.

In the morning we got up. Collected out pictures and went to breakfast. The free breakfast was at the Heat and Chill restaurant and the wait was about one hour. After about 20 minutes they suggested we go upstairs to another restaurant. We did and were in within 5 minutes. Breakfast buffet was mostly Chinese and good enough for anyone to find something they liked.

After breakfast Johnny and I went exploring. We went through the mall to the amusement park. Since it cost $700 per person and we had to check out by noon we decided to come back another day. We later found out that many of the rides were not working yet, a good choice on our part.

On checking out we negotiated with the staff and the manager (the same one who had responded to our complaint at midnight) to no avail. Would we stay there again? Not in this lifetime. Would we recommend it to others? Certainly not to anyone we didn’t hate.

The hotel itself looks beautiful. It is however, similar to a Hollywood set: beautiful on its face with nothing behind it to back it up. Systems didn’t work, meals were merely adequate, services were lacking. Taiwanese seem to be able to copy well what they see, but they only see very superficially. They don’t see what is inside: insulation inside the walls, service that goes with the room, quality of the food they put on the table. If this is an indication of the quality of the finest hotels in Taiwan it will be a long time before they attract high dollar tourists from first world countries.