Month: January 2005

Back to Bangkok

Back to Bangkok

Bangkok

Home Sweet Noisy Home

January 20, 2005. It’s two days before Scott’s birthday, and just like last year, we spent the night before near Boston’s airport, freezing, because we’re not going to schlep winter clothing to southeast Asia. It’s a price you pay. Our flight on the 21st cross the international dateline, making his “special day” somewhat shorter — 12 hours, maybe.

We traveled Boston – Chicago – Tokyo – Bangkok for the start, just missing some stupendous snow in the northeast (a meter of snow, the Bangkok paper reported for Boston). The snow in Chicago we missed by an hour; Boston got slammed two days later. Flying across the world, even in Business class takes about 30 hours, it gets pretty boring. A newcomer on this trip is an Apple iPod, filled with Scott’s favorite music (in fact, all Scott’s music) plus a bunch of “Books on Tape” — a quaint name for library “books” recorded on to CD. We hope to listen to some of the book on long bus rides in our upcoming tours, using Scott’s [then] snazzy new fangled “iPod”.

It was great to be back in Bangkok, our home away from home, where the temperature is running in the high-80sF to mid-90s, humidity is about the same. We’re no strangers to Bangkok; we’ve watched it grow up over the last two decades, so we’re just sort of “checking of the lists” — places we’ve never visited, and we are quickly able to settle into a lifestyle that works: cheap ($1.50) Thai breakfast in the morning (rice soup in a luscious pork broth with diced pork, seasoned with a bit of prik nam plaa (Thai fish sauce infused with the heat of tiny, intensely spicy chilis). We have a week here to get over jet lag, and to arrange several loose ends for the trip that is to follow.

We did something a bit different this visit to BKK; we tried to “settle in to the pace of life” there. Keep in mind, we’ll never move at the pace Bangkok does (we no longer have the stamina…) — we mean to establish a pattern, as if we were living in the place — rather than simply to visit as tourists for the umteenth time. Found a local restaurant where we quickly became “regulars”, followed a fairly regular schedule (which for better or worse ended up with regular evening beer drinking), got up and did it again the next day, with the same sorts of daily variations one would expect at home. Six dollar Thai massage today, dear? Six dollars again? Didn’t we just do that yesterday? “OK, just a foot massage”.

Back Home to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Back Home to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai

One Home-Away-from-Home; it begs the question “Where’s home?”

“Let’s go to Chiang Mai, because it’s boring”

After [getting out of the Maldives on SQ story] escaping from the Maldives and a brief stop in Singapore [link to page], we wound-down our trip with e few days in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. in retrospect, at four days (and a bit like Singapore in this respect) it was neither long enough, nor short enough a visit.We enjoyed it, yet wondered at the end, whether it had been worth the travel hassle.

We had a couple of reasons for visiting Chiang Mai again, I (Scott) think they were the same for both Kathy and I, yet neither of us really articulated them to the other: 1) We thought we’d get together with the people at Heifer we’d worked with in past years — yet despite our intentions, we never actually got around to contacting them. 2) We were (or expected to be — this was planned months ago) stressed out from our travels and we wanted a quiet, known-quantity of a place, somewhere “in the neighborhood”, where we could do nothing if we wanted — and not feel guilty about it., 3) The guest house we returned to (Galare) offered a high speed internet service for about $5/day — and we were very much missing being “connected”.

We did very little in Chiang Mai. If you’re thinking “you went to the cultural capital of Thailand, but you just hung out?”. Yeah. Turns out, the internet connection at the guest house was broken; Scott spent five hours or so getting it working — this was good for free beer, a free night stay, and a free dinner one evening. None expected. Makes you wonder whether there’s a travel living to be made as Guest Geek. In any case, our joint inactivity, and lack of concern about same made us wonder whether we’d unconsciously gone to Chiang Mai because we were missing some notion of home, whether it was “where our stuff was”… or as basic as where we’re registered to vote. From that, we thought: we, home isn’t just “where the heart is”, or “where you hang your hat”.

It’s:

  • Where your stuff is. We acquire things from our lives and our travels, and they need to be somewhere, unless we carry them around with us.
  • Where your friends are. Another ambiguity: we now make friends around the country and the world. Are friends the people you see frequently, the ones you’ve known the longest?
  • Where you know your way around/are comfortable living in — “where you can get around without a map”

The “stuff” part of the equation has probably changed the most for us over the years. When we moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire we rid ourselves of half our belongings. Why hold on to the rest? Our friends are increasing global — both in the sense that they themselves are located in a variety of places, and that for some, they travel and live around the world.

Finally, as we visit and re-visit more places, the world seems smaller and more locales are familiar to us. At the moment, that set of “comfortable” places could include: Boston, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Singapore, San Francisco, Sydney, Vancouver, New Orleans, as well as our hometowns, the Florida Keys, and parts of Michigan. Not surprisingly, we have good friends in most of those places.

Singapore Stopover

Singapore Stopover

Singapore

Wild Times

If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium. Or maybe its Singapore. Both have seafood; probably a larger portion of Singaporeans speak Chinese than French (or Dutch for that matter). But after being delayed a full day in the Maldives, our short trip to Singapore became even shorter.

We had just two full days in Singapore, not counting the day we arrived. We had two special “events” — we met up with Scott’s old colleague, Ken Kan and met his wife Judy finally;) and we visited the Singapore Night Safari.

Ken is… still Ken. Finally stopped working (didn’t need to for the money, a long time ago). Golfs. Drives his wife crazy. Golfs some more. A nice lunch of dim sum close to our hotel, and we resumed our days of leisure in Singapore.

The Night Safari was fun. Basically its a night zoo (in fact, it’s adjacent to the Singapore Zoo), where nocturnal animals are acclimated to the artificial twilight that gives us two-footed-primates a chance to see what goes on at night. We saw leopards, weird pigs, huge bats and flying foxs, deer seldom seen in daytime.
[Next Page — Chiang Mai]
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Maldives Night Flight Plight

Maldives Night Flight Plight

Flying on the World’s Finest

One reason Singapore Airlines is the best in the world.

Air travel, no pun intended, “has its ups and downs”. There was a time when it was a classy thing to do. You dressed for the occasion. You got excellent food, and “First Class” service meant something. It’s not much like that anymore, between airlines trying to run everything the cheapest way, and the myriad hassles introduced in the name of security. More flights get delayed or cancelled, adding to the passenger inconvenience. I don’t know anyone that actually enjoys flying any more. Except maybe Singapore Airlines (“SQ”) passengers.

Our Night Flight Plight

After two weeks in blissful paradise on Filitheyo, we had an unpleasant set of connections to get us to Singapore, our next destination. Our best case scenario for this travel day wasn’t that great: we had a mid-day flight from Male’ to Colombo; pick up the luggage we’d left at Colombo Airport Left Luggage (who needs jackets and long johns in the Maldives?) then spend nine hours hanging out in the not-air-conditioned Colombo airport until our 1:30am Singapore Airlines (frequent flyer) flight to Singapore, arriving 7:30am. But this already undesirable travel day quickly turned into something far worse:

  • We arrived early to the airport — around 11:00am — for a 1:30pm flight, Sri Lankan Airlines 502 from Male’ to Colombo. About two hours flying time.
  • When we arrived, the departure time had already changed to 5:30pm — a four hour delay. We could not check in [image: Resize%20of%20IMG_5303.jpg] yet, “would we please have a seat”. No big deal, we thought — we’ll spend a few more hours here before spending a few less in Colombo. At least it was air-conditioned.
  • Perhaps thirty minutes later they came by and told us our flight had been cancelled. Our theory is there weren’t enough passengers on the flight to make it worthwhile. To Srilankan Airlines’ credit, they quickly rebooked us on the next available Colombo flight (which was late in the evening), and sent the 15 westerners on the flight to a local (budget) island resort, room & (terrible) meals included. Still it was more than they had to do, and more than the Asians on the flight were offered (tacky, that). Most people were booked on the midnite Sri Lankan flight to Colombo, but because we had a 1:35am connection, they put us on an earlier Malaysian Air flight. We spent the afternoon at our budget resort in relative comfort (it was better than Colombo airport). However..
  • We returned to the airport at 8:30pm. The replacement flight had been delayed! We would have to wait four more hours in the airport for our flight, and we would no longer make our connection to Singapore. We would get into Colombo airport at 3am, and have to clear customs, find a hotel, etc.

The Plot Thickens

We had no burning desire to return to, or through, Colombo — except for the fact that we’d left a bag of stuff at the airport’s “Left Luggage”, so we wouldn’t have to carry it through the Maldives and back. Because of this complication, we ended up in the SriLankan Airlines (“UL”) Operations office to try to sort out our ticketing/flight conundrum.

We’d come from Colombo (“originated” in airline parlance) and our tickets reflected a round-trip to Colombo-Male’-Colombo. As far as UL was concerned, their sole responsibility was to get us back to Colombo and to accommodate us until they did. That we held additional tickets onward — not their problem. This is a hard-line view — but it is the legal limit of their responsibility — part of what airlines call “Conditions of Carriage”. They really didn’t care that we had an onward flight to Singapore. Sri Lankan just wanted the problem to go away. They weren’t rude, quite the opposite — they were just at the limit of their flexibility. Fortunately, Singapore Airlines did care, and went out of its way to delight a customer. I’ve seen this repeatedly over my years flying with them.

SQ to the Rescue (ReSQue?)

While I was getting nowhere with Sri Lankan Airlines, Kathy went over to the Singapore Airlines Ops office, about a fifteen-second walk from SriLankan’s. Her initial concern was to find out if Singapore Airlines would be willing to honor our ticket the following day – we’d been told the tickets were totally non-changeable. She wandered into the SQ office unanncounced, and blurted out her problem to the half-dozen people working there – the cancelled flight, missed connection, the non-revenue ticket. Immediately, the Duty Manager, Mohamed Shahid, took the tickets and started looking for a way to address the problem. The following two hours were like a magical fairy tale where everything works out perfectly. He said it would be no problem rebooking the flight for the following day. But perhaps, he suggested, he could just change the tickets to fly Male’ to Singapore non-stop on Singapore Airlines – without bothering flying to Colombo. (We hadn’t booked this itinerary due to FF ticket restrictions) It was a wonderful option – but there was the small issue of the left luggage in Colombo Airport that needed to be fetched. So Mohamed set out to address this problem as well – remember, none of this was SQ’s fault, and we were flying on a free ticket.

It wasn’t an easy task to accomplish — one needed the receipt to collect the bag; the storage fees had to be paid; it had to be checked by customs; it was locked; and it had to meet up with us sometime in the future.

Any of these would seem a possible “show-stopper”. Here’s what Mr. Shahid did:

  • Called a colleague in Colombo and got him to find out what it would take to release the bag
  • Wrote a letter in Scott’s name, authorizing release of the bag to SQ
  • Faxed the letter, along with the combination-lock code, the Left Luggage receipt, and inspection authorization, to a colleague at Colombo airport
  • Accepted payment from us for the bag in Sri Lankan currency (remember, we’re in the Maldives at this point)
  • Arranged for the bag to be sent as air-freight to Singapore that same night – it actually arrived there before we did.

Each step along the way, Mr. Shahid would come out of the office and give us an update. We never got that “I wonder what’s going on” feeling which is all too common when events like this happen. Within 90 minutes, all our problems were solved – we’d be heading directly to Singapore the following evening, and would meet up with our bag on arrival. He even tried to get us the same seat assignments, and apologized when they weren’t available.

All that remained was a place to spend the night – Mr. Shahid came through again, scoring for us the last room at the onsite airport hotel (and the only place outside of resort hotels that is allowed to serve liquor), and prepared a “distressed traveller” voucher for us (which gave us a lower rate). He then called the hotel for a shuttle, and took us to the shuttle pick-up location. We had potent, and well deserved, drinks at the hotel bar, to cap off an amazing day.

Amazing.

Think of your recent airline experiences. Can you even imagine something like this happening? Too bad SQ doesn’t have US domestic flights. But they’ll be our choice to Asia from now on.

Epilog

We spent the entire day at the hotel — following our usual resort routine — sleep, eat, drink, swim… until 9pm once again rolled around. Got to the airport in plenty of time. Mr. Shahid was in the check-in area, smiling. Our flight was on time and the treatment on-board was excellent — it always is. Shahid came on the plane, wished us well and saw us off. We hope to see him again.