Monday, June 16, 2008

Getting there - Sunday, June 15 6:30 a.m. - Monday June 16, 10:50 p.m.

Thanks to Win for the 2:30 a.m. wakeup call. I was so deep in sleep that the cheerful chirping of the cell phone’s alarm would most surely have been considered a part of the dream rather than the signal to start getting ready for this incredible journey. And yes, the car service was there 5 minutes before the agreed upon 4 a.m. There were fellow travelers on the Schuykill to the airport, but definitely no traffic jam. Yes, the Philadelphia International Airport was alive and jumping when we pulled up at 4:15 a.m. In fact there was a line to check in at the United Airlines counter. I was not going to give up $2 at the curbside check in for my one bag if there was the chance that I would also be charged the newly imposed luggage fee of $15 per bag . When I got up to the counter I learned that the check in bag fee was only for domestic travel, BUT, my bag weighed 4 lbs above the allowed 50 lbs so it was recommended that I removed something or be assessed a $100.00 fine. Not wishing to dig into my spending money BEFORE getting to the gate I gladly opened my bag and removed the packet of 300 5 x 8 index cards. As I was wondering what else to transfer into my carry on bag, I heard the United representative say – “You are now okay!” and she then affixed the luggage tag. Whew! That was easy.
TSA personnel were extremely pleasant – is it that the real morning people get the morning shift or there has been a super strong dose of “Be nice to the customers” professional development sessions? I was a bit concerned about not being able to get food in the airport and then figuring out how to manage the growling of my stomach that would surely be the outcome of a meal-less 6 hour flight. Mercifully the concession stands start opening about 5 a.m. – well, actually, they are illuminated so all the hungry passengers can start lining up, but the gloves for service and the cash registers come on at 5:30 a.m. My $8.78 breakfast consist of scrambled eggs, freshly done, a raisin bagel and a large bottle of water. No there will be no $3.99 snack bag of nuts for me, to take on the plane. My sole intent is to get on that plane, settle into my middle seat (16 B) and go to sleep for the entire flight. As I wait the few minutes to hear the call for boarding I realize that a telephone conversation will be the only guarantee that the flight will not be missed because I went off to sleep. So the one person who accepts 6 a.m. calls without grumbling shared those few moments with me.
I get the reminder that 6 hours goes very slowing while flying because as tired as I am squeezed into a tiny seat between two persons, being almost upright wrapped in my shawl and the airline provided blanket and still shivering is not the winning recipe for restful sleep. I attempt the crossword puzzle as well as the Suduko puzzles, but the brain is not awake enough to rise to the challenge. Eventually, my neighbor to my left and I strike up a conversation for the rest of the flight. Turns out he is from the Philly area, is an FBI agent wearing a gun (I didn’t know that they just tell perfect strangers that info), who specializes in pedophile cases.
San Francisco’s International Terminal is a duty free mall of high end name brands. I have brunch at a Japanese restaurant filled with people who I think, am hoping, are Japanese. They are all talking at the tables, but there definitely no buzz. The miso soup, grilled squid and pot of green tea are delicious! Satiated I look for the gate, scout out an outlet (not hard to do as unlike most airports, SFO has banks of workspaces, and outlets on every column), plug in my phone and make those Happy Father’s day and other checking in with you calls.
Aboard the plane the pilot informs us that there is a 16 hour time difference between SFO and Tokyo (where I’ll be changing planes) and that we have a ten hour flight ahead of us. On this leg I will cross the International Date Line. I am sitting between a businesswoman from Indonesia who exports exotic fruit to Dubai, UAE and other countries, and a Japanese aviation student returning home after completing his four year program at a university in Washington state. From him I learned that I can listen in on the conversations between the air traffic controllers and the pilots on channel 9 of the entertainment system. I use this leg of the journey to sleep some more, watch The Bucket List, eat two scrumptious specially requested Asian vegetarian meals, and enjoy Barack Obama’s reading of Dreams From My Father. Awesome! I will be listening to it again and again. He was at Columbia College while I was in the School of General Studies. I have to check with my friends to find out who knew him then.
The almost two hour layover in Tokyo’s Narita International Airport goes by pretty quickly. I am not hungry. I find no Cambio’s to purchase Thai baths (approximately 33 bahts to $1.00). I people watch – lots of families travelling. I talk with one African American male, he is returning from vacationing in Germany to finish the last four months of his tour of duty with the US Navy. I see a few black families and some couples.
I am first in line to board the flight for the penultimate leg of this “more than a notion” journey. Wait a minute, in a few days I will have to retrace these steps in order to get back home! This flight is not full – lots of opportunities to spread out and stretch out for better sleep. I realize this after a conversation with my one neighbor in this five seat row. A European American man who worked with FedEx supporting emergency aid to disaster areas all over the world, he and his wife decided to start a relief agency for Asian countries and relocate to northern Thailand. They have been living there for eight years and swears there is no better place to rear a family! I learned about so many interesting places in Thailand and in the neighboring countries that I know now I will have to come back. After more sleep and listening blues on United’s entertainment system (the battery in my mp3 player is all used up), we arrive in Bangkok – I will have to give you the correct name tomorrow. Customs was a breeze, I converted $50.00 to 1,597.50 bahts, picked up my luggage and went to meet the driver from Kantary House – home for the next 2 weeks. I thought I’d crash immediately, but I am really wired now.
What have you been doing while I have been flying more than hall way around the world?


Sage said...

What have I been doing? Living la vida loca -- J/K -- I wish!

Great post -- I felt as though I was there with you -- at the dreaded airport -- btw, I would have gladly ditched a small item from my bag versus paying a $100 fine (good grief!)

...sitting next to Mr. FBI agent! I wonder if he tells everyone that he's an FBI agent as a, "Don't mess with me, I can shoot you," precaution?

...and listening to Obama's memoir. I've got to pick up that book. I've heard more than once that it's really good.

Be safe and I'll check back to hear about more of your adventures. I'm curious about the food in Bangkok, too!

Jennie Joy said...

I downloaded several books to my Zen Vision W (much bigger screen than most Ipods/mp3 players) including both of Obama's books. Dreams from my father is the better of the two, in my opinion.

There is a 7-11 at the corner (can you imagine!) and the restaurant here offers Thai, japanese, chinese, and other foods. I'll explore tomorrow.

david raffington said...

You’re amazing, how is it you were so upbeat and coherent after such a long flight and crossing the International Date Line (IDL)? I once flew to Okinawa and after 19 hours of flight time and crossing the IDL, I remained discombobulated for days. Thanks for such a comprehensive blog

Jennie Joy said...

Hey David -- I wrote because that was the only thing I could do! I was so wired that sleep would not come to me even though I was physically exhausted! My body is just beginning to synchronize itself with this time zone.