As I sit in the Starbucks here at the Changi International Airport in Singapore, I find myself at a rare lack of words. As if my brain cannot quite wrap itself around the reality of what just happened. Flying from Portland, Maine US (PWM) to Detroit, Michigan US to Tokyo, Japan to Singapore, Singapore to Denpasar and Bali, Indonesia, 40+ hours of travel time including layovers.
When I took the TMBA gig and planned out my first travel adventure destination to be Bali, I finally got around (at the age of 31) to getting a passport. I hadn’t travelled internationally, except by car to Canada, and honestly a Mainer in Canada is like a New Jerseyian (Jerseyite?) in New York in terms of logistics.
Fortunately I’ve done a fair amount of domestic travel and flights (though my first of those was not until I was 25) so I’m not totally lost in the mechanics of travel.
International travel, that’s a whole different story.
Yet, somehow it isn’t.
While I soared through the air with the greatest of ease, I tried to jot down in my handy dandy travel notebook a few impressions and observations of my first international travel experience.
I step out of my shell in unfamiliar situations – Put me in a room where I have a bunch of acquaintances and I will find my closest friends and take up residence at the nearest corner booth. Put me in a security checkpoint line and I will find myself explaining to someone how to connect through Narita International like I do this weekly. I think that this will make for amazing stories of people I meet along the way and possibly make me a likely mark for drug mulery.
Being nice gets you places in every place – I committed the ultimate rookie travel mistake. It wasn’t even a rookie INTERNATIONAL travel mistake. It was a general rookie travel mistake.
Chatting up my new friend in line in security I threw my laptop in one bin and my track jacket, silver watch, iPod/Kindle pack, and clear plastic liquids bag in another. After tossing my bags on the conveyor, verifying my passport and boarding info and stepping through the detector an angry agent shouted something in Japanese at the woman behind the belt. “Is this your bag” she asked. This is the last thing you want to be asked in a security checkpoint.
Long story short (but not nearly as exciting (if you want the exciting but longer accounts of stories like this, make sure to sign-up for my Writing on the Webb inbox tales)) there was an issue with a water bottle. Chatting up the agent, being patient and kind, and admitting I made an idiot mistake cleared me through security without further incident.
On that note…
Don’t be an idiot – Sure, coming straight off a plane through the jet-plank-hallway thing to security should pretty clearly imply I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything devious. But rules are rules, even if they are dumb rules. Travel to places that they can deport (or extradite or whatever the heck it is) your ass, trying to adhere to their customs and guidelines tends to yield the least pain and suffering for all parties.
Sure, it took me nearly 45 minutes to stumble through immigration and customs in Singapore. But at least I didn’t get the “Sir, you are going to have to come with us” that the screaming yelling Canadian guy got (uh oh, am I gonna have to rethink my “I’m a Canadian, don’t be feisty with me” confrontation game plan?!)
Flying overhead at 30K feet, the world is pretty much all the same – Sure, there are some structural and aesthetic differences. Off the Northern West Coast the Pacific Ocean is a huge sheet of ice, in Tokyo there are fire rigs burning off something in the ports, flying in to Singapore the inter-island roads and highways are lit up like a PacMan path. Yet even with these differences, there are striking similarities like sports stadiums in every major city and agricultural patches of parks and fields.
Yet it is so very different – If Maine isn’t the whitest state in the United States it has got to be in the top 3. If that is the case in Maine it is the OPPOSITE here. If I’ve encountered more than 20 obviously Caucasian people I’d say I was lying.
Suddenly it is like that four-square Sesame Street game, One of These Things is Not Like The Others. To me, everything else is different. But to everyone else the only thing different is me.
Internet service is a luxury for most places not a staple – Honestly, I am Save Drafting this post every 4th sentence. *save* After I wrote the draft in Live Writer. And continued it on my iPod after my computer died. The free wireless here at Changi is shotty at best, though it is free which is bounds beyond Narita and Detroit. My 13 hour flight to Tokyo and my 6 hour flight to Singapore definitely didn’t have wireless either. I had to find those random things to do that DIDN’T involve a connection. Like riding the walkway team back and forth twice in the Detroit airport tunnel. And read. Books. On my Kindle.
Airplane food and service aren’t the devil – I was warned all around “Ugh, airplane food is terrible” and that I would be constantly waiting and frustrated. Either I had the travel trip that was the exception to this rule or I have way lower expectations than most people. Airplane food is not a five-course meal, so I was near floored when I received 3 hot meals and a lunch sandwich from Detroit to Singapore. And the worst behaved flight crew? PWM to Detroit. Stateside. Granted, it was 8 AM, I can be cranky that time of day too.
International travel is simply awesome – This is the concept that leaves me at a loss for words. I keep playing the Louis CK rant on Conan over and over in my head instead, he does a much better job of grasping the reality of the situation.
…did you fly through the air? Incredibly? Like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight? YOU’RE FLYING. It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “OH MY GOD! WOW!” You’re flying. You’re sitting in a chair…in. the. sky.
Frankly I am rather humbled at the situation. Seriously humbled.
40 hours ago I was sitting in my parents living room packing my backpack and saying goodbyes. Now I am sitting in an airport that has a POOL ON THE ROOF on the other side of the planet. Can you even stop to imagine for just a moment how awesome that is.
Not even awesome like “Totally awesome, man” but awesome like AWE-SOME…it should FILL YOU WITH AWE each and every time you get on an airplane.
Even more when it is an international flight.
I love being so humbled and awed by these experiences – Sure, I worry sometimes that my enthusiasm and excitement for this trip wears on the nerves of cultured and experienced international travelers. My email to Dan, Ian & David upon preparing to leave included the subject line: OH MY GOD MY PLANE TAKES OFF IN 4 HOURS!!! (Yes, with that many exclamation marks)
I hope that I never lose this sense of wonder at the novelty and strange comfort of international travel. I know it could (probably will) eventually happen.
But I hope it isn’t for a really really REALLY long time.
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