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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Do you know the way to(or out of) Taiyuan?

Eugene Nelson had quite an adventure

SEATAC, Wash. -- As the sun dipped low in the sky last Sunday and his plane began its descent, Eugene Nelson had a sinking feeling that something was wrong.

He'd been in the air for hours, much longer than his business flight from Hong Kong to Taiwan should have taken. Then the airliner flashed a map of his flight's path on a video screen, and it hit him.

Instead of descending toward the island off China's eastern coast, the next stop on the Intel Corp. engineer's itinerary would be the remote city of Taiyuan, an industrial center deep within China.

Similar spellings and pronunciations. But a much different place, as Nelson would soon find out.

"Oh my God, it felt like someone poured a bucket of hot water on me. I realized I was literally 200 miles south of the Mongolian border," Nelson said Wednesday, after a tearful reunion with his wife and three young children at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

How a travel mix-up like this can happen just baffles me. I'm familiar with ticketing, reservations, international travel and even been to Hong Kong. No I'm disputing Mr. Nelson's story of his mistake. Just what was the booking mistake? Airline tickets, paper or electronic use letter codes and have destinations in English. People working in Hong Kong in tourist related jobs are fluent in English. A communication problem doesn't look likely. Maybe Mr. Nelson fell victim to the oldest culprit- Human error.

Talking about travel international and domestic, TFM flew over 400,000 flight miles between 1996-2001. Perhaps over a half million. Much of these travels were to California for my cancer treatments but the wife and I made at least one international trip each year from 1997 to 2000. Some of our destinations included Switzerland, The Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Poland, Austria, Slovakia and The Czech Republic plus London England. In 1999 the wife and I visited Hong Kong for our 10th wedding anniversary.

We had a great time in Hong Kong, but the first time there may have been the most memorable part of the trip. Dear wife and I had reservations at the famous Peninsula Hotel.

After checking in, DW and I were shown to our room by a Chinese staff member of the hotel. I had made my reservation with American Express Travel Services using our Platinum card. If a room upgrade was available, we'd get one. Boy did the wife and I get one.

It was a suite! The size of a small house, with a picture like view of Hong Kong harbor. A foyer, a large living room /dining room, A luxurious bedroom and bath. I'd never seen anything like. Dear wife is from humble rural Philippine origins. Her eyes popped out of her head.

The Peninsula employee says "Madam is the room ok?" Dear wife and I could barely avoid laughing. We still laugh about this experience today.

The second interesting thing to happen that night was when DW and I went to open one of our suitcases, For some reason it didn't open, but after a little force it popped. It wasn't ours! The bag was identical to our own, but I picked up the wrong back without checking the name on it. First and only time I've ever had that happen in all my travels.

Eugene Nelson's story gets even more interesting.

His first night was spent trying to find out where he was and how to get to a hotel, Nelson said during an interview Wednesday at the airport, with his wife, Michelle Chewerda, and the couple's two sons and young daughter looking on.

His first attempts at finding lodgings revealed the problems of the language barrier - Nelson said he ended up at a brothel, and had to "damn near fight my way out."

I can certainly believe Nelson having to fight his way out. Let TFM explain why.

Any of my regular readers knows I'm an Asiaphile. Much of it stems from my marriage, some of it from my travels etc. TFM has followed news in Asia, and I also like many of South Korea's women golfers.

My wife is from Leyte Province in the Philippines. Her family home is in Tacloban, her mother grew up in a rural Leyte town called Alangalang and my father-in-law home place was a remote coastal village on the island of Samar. I've been to all these places.

Leyte and Samar even more so don't see many westerners. Tourists don't come to these parts of the Philippines. Other than Red Beach where MacArthur landed there is little reason to visit. I've been to Red Beach, its some fifteen minutes from my inlaw's home.

When I first visited Tacloban, I noticed how people looked at me. It wasn't like at Subic Bay or Manila. People were staring at me, most particularly young women. One day when out with my wife, a jeepny was filled with female teenage students. As I walked by I got giggled and stared at.

TFM is no Brad Pitt. I even call myself ugly but Dear Wife vehemently disagrees with it. There is one thing I do have. Blue eyes. To many Asian women, a blue eyed male is a big turn on.

Even travel guides tell visitors to Leyte and Samar you'll get stared at. If you're young young, blue eyed, and blonde(I'm not), you'll certainly find yourself the center of attraction.

Now imagine Mr. Nelson in a remote Chinese city, where few westerners go, and in a brothel. It sounds like a bad movie, but its real life. These women probably began to fight over who would get Nelson, and this would be dangerous even for the one who is wanted. Trust me I can just see this happening.

The rest of Mr. Nelson's story is below. It gave me a good chuckle and hope it does for you too.

Hat tip- Outside the Beltway
Open Post- Right Wing Nation, Third World County, TMH's Bacon Bits, Blue Star,

He returned to the small airport in the city of about 1.5 million, but found it was about to close and officials would not let him sleep inside.

Nelson said he might never have found his way if not for a helpful young woman who spoke a bit of English and arranged for friends to loan the obviously distressed American money and give him a safe ride to a hotel.

"She probably saved my fricking life," he said, nearly breaking into sobs.

After using the hotel's rare international dialing capacity to make some calls, Nelson said he spent the next few days attempting to collect a wire transfer of cash and arrange a flight out of Taiyuan.

After nearly endless hours of searching, Nelson said he found a bank that would allow him to draw the cash that American Express had wired him. Then he spent hours figuring out how to get his account information translated into Mandarin so that he could access the money.

In between, Nelson said he faced danger and indignity, injuring his legs and back leaping out of the way of a reckless car and enduring the spit that some Chinese hurled his way.

Back at home, Chewerda was dumping money into her husband's debit account and working with the travel company, which she said was less than helpful at times.

"When I was talking to the guy from American Express, (he said) 'It says right here on my paper that they take American Express right out there at the airport,'" Chewerda said. But if that were the case, she noted, her husband "wouldn't have been there for four days."

"It seems odd, but they'd end every conversation with 'Have a nice day,'" Nelson said.

American Express officials contacted Wednesday by The Associated Press either declined immediate comment or did not return calls seeking comment on Nelson's journey.

After getting his hands on the money the company wired to him, Nelson said he finally had enough cash to begin arranging flights out of Taiyuan.

He met up with his acquaintances again at the airport, repaying their loans and trying to express his thanks, he said.

"Honestly, everyone who helped me, I'll never forget them," Nelson said.

He then hopped a flight, traveling through Beijing to Vancouver, British Columbia, and eventually to Sea-Tac, where he stood clutching his wife and children, mopping his own tears with the bright pink hood of his 16-month-old daughter Josie's cartoon-character sweat shirt.

So how did it feel to be home?

"My God," Nelson said. "Better than I could possibly explain."

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