Monday, June 27, 2011

Rolling East: Traveling in a Wheelchair

International Symbol for Disabled Person

This is a bit of a departure from my usual posts because it doesn’t speak directly about some aspect of life in Taiwan. I recently traveled to the US for an opportunity to attend a conference and catch up with some friends and relatives. Most of my traveling is done in a wheelchair. Oh, I can walk, but airports present a bit of a problem for disabled people. There are often long distances that must be covered, long lines (like at customs), or movements between gates, especially between domestic and international gates that must be traversed in ridiculously short periods of time. I can walk, but I’m afraid it looks a lot more like the “Zombie Shuffle” than walking, and running is completely out of the question.
Fortunately, most airlines provide wheelchair service to disabled passengers. They coordinate with the airports to transfer you between gates and airlines, to the luggage carousel, through customs and immigration, even out to the curb to the taxi stand. Wheelchair passengers are the first ones boarded and the last ones off. One real benefit is that the “Wheelchair Operators” are knowledgeable about the airport; transfer procedures and security processes and can just take you through the process without any hassle.

There is one drawback to wheelchair travel…security. Wheelchairs, for obvious reasons, can’t pass through metal detectors. For me to get out of the chair and try to walk through is a extremely difficult, so in every instance I was required to endure the dreaded TSA Pat Down Procedure.

I’m fairly pragmatic, I don’t like the intrusion into my personal space, I don’t like the erosion of my rights, but I really hate missing my flights, so I’m willing to endure it, if it will keep old women and babies with bombs off of planes. I’m not so sure about the effectiveness of this system, though, because we are so careful to avoid profiling and looking like we’re picking on people, that I’m afraid the ones who are the real threats are just getting on planes, flying around, and laughing at us.

Part of the Dreaded TSA Pat Down
 The TSA agents that I encountered were professional, polite and thorough. They explained the entire process, asked me if I wanted a private screening and then told me exactly what they were going to do just before they did it. Actually, I was impressed, with the care with which they violated me. I even had the thought that they probably didn’t want to do the pat down anymore that I wanted them to do it. As with anything professionalism varies from person to person. Maybe I was lucky and encountered only agents with a high degree of professionalism, in any case, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

I have to tell you after watching the videos and reading the reports I expected it to be horribly humiliating and dehumanizing but, really, it wasn’t. What was horribly humiliating and dehumanizing was high school PE class: Guys standing around snapping guys with towels and yukking it up about each other’s shortcomings, THAT was humiliating and dehumanizing. But throughout the entire pat down process, in three airports, I didn’t even see one rolled up towel and there were no snickers or nicknames.

I still think the whole thing is an intrusion on people’s rights and privacy. I still think the policy needs to be changed to be more realistic, but for the guys on the line who do the pat downs, when it’s handled professionally like it was with me, I appreciate their willingness to endure a lot more pat downs than I will have to endure. I travel occasionally; they have to do that every day.

But it didn’t stop at the US, when arriving in China, on the way to Taiwan; I had to go through the exact same process I did in the US. The only difference was that a young woman gave this old man the TSA Pat Down. My emotions in that situation were somewhat different.

In all other ways traveling in a wheelchair is a comfortable and less stressful way for disabled people to travel.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Cultural Unawareness:  The Wheels of Bureaucracy Turn Slowly
Random Asianess:  The Rest Stop

Photo Credit:  Pat Down procedure:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Random Asianess: Eating Snake

Enjoying the Night Market Atmosphere
Last time I wrote about our trip to Huaxi Night Market in Taipei. This week I wanted to write about the “Snake Alley” Restaurants. In the past there had been a number of them but as of this last month there are only two snake restaurants still serving snake in at Huaxi Night Market.

Recently, two friends and I went to “Snake Alley” to try out this food. Things have changed there quite a bit. The restaurants no longer do “snake shows.” The snake shows showed a number of things. They would feed the snakes mice and rats. They would handle the snakes and finally, they skinned the snakes, alive. As I’ve said these are no longer done. There have been a number of complaints to the government by animal rights activists on behalf of the snakes. The government no longer allows the snakes to be mistreated.

Those restaurants no longer allow you to photograph the snakes or the people. In fact, at one of the two restaurants the owner was so hostile toward foreigners and photography that he didn’t want us to come to his restaurant. We were greeted with a refusal to speak to us and some pretty severe looks. The other restaurant welcomed us but still insisted that we take no photos of the snakes or the rats.

We tried three types of snake meals. We ordered snake soup. Snake soup is served with a cup of blood. They also gave us cups of snake venom, snake wine, snake oil and snake reproductive parts. The snake sellers believe that snake has many medicinal purposes. The man told us that snake oil is good for your throat and sinuses, joints, overall vitality and just about everything else. In the US they used to call people selling cure-alls “Snake Oil Salesmen,” one can only assume that this is why.

Snake is also considered to be an aphrodisiac. The problem with this is that the fried snake that I had was cooked with so much garlic that I smelled like garlic for a couple of days. This is not exactly romantic. So the question for the ages is this: Can the aphrodisiac properties of snake over come the turn-off properties of smelling like garlic for multiple days.

Snake Soup

The snake soup was a thin broth containing two small pieces of snake. It was served with the blood, venom, oil, snake wine, reproductive parts and two small capsules of medicinal snake oil. As a meal goes it wasn’t much.

Fried Snake

I wanted to try something different. I was interested in the snake meat. I wanted to know what it tasted like. You know the old saw, “It tastes like Chicken.” Well, that’s sort of accurate. It is a lightly flavored meat, with roughly the consistency of chicken. It was actually a bit tougher. The snake was served with some green vegetable and a spicy (And extremely garlicky) sauce. I enjoyed the taste; in fact, I thought it was very good.

Snake Skin

We also tried snakeskin. It was served in a sauce similar to the sauce used for the fried snake. But the difference was that it was very chewy. It reminded me a great deal of the taste and consistency of squid. It was also heavily garlicked.

A Very Young Ma Ying Jiu (right) and His Cook
There was one other interesting thing about this particular restaurant. In it they have a picture of a very young Ma Ying Jiu (Taiwan’s president) with his arm around a guy in an apron. We asked the owner what the story was behind the photo and he told us that the man was a cook who had gone on from cooking in this restaurant, to be Ma Ying Jiu’s private cook. I can only assume that President Jiu is a huge fan of garlic.

Other posts you might be interested in:

Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  A Traditional Restaurant
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:   Japanese Barbecue
Taiwan Travelogue:  The Traditional Market