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Day 1A – In The Beginning (An Airport Omen)

March 4, 2010

Dateline:  Tuesday, March 2 thru early morning March 4, 2010

After months of starts and stops, I finally left LAX at 2pm bound for Taipei.  After a couple hour layover, I made my way to Bangkok.  Arrival time:  1 a.m. Thursday morning local time.  A travel day is tough, especially when that day is two days long.

As with every trip I’ve ever taken, I was up all night before departure doing all the little things a more anal person would have done days before.  Buying travel insurance.  Setting up this project.  Finding stored gear.  Writing e-mails.  Copying documents.

Bottom line is that, at the airport and in flight, I was delirious out of my gourd.  It’s all a haze of fade-ins and fade-outs and half memories.  In that spirit, here are some of the more interesting ones:

• I am a super detective.  Allow me to explain.  At the gate next to mine, an El Al flight was leaving for Tel Aviv.  As I watched the plane prepare for departure, I noticed that one of the airport workers watching the plane was surprisingly young and attractive.  This does not make me a super detective; this just confirms that I am a man.

This photo is better if you are a super detective. Super detectives can see at least three beautiful women here.

As I stood there, fascinated by the intricacies of airport procedure, a few more people gathered around her to chat.  These men and women were also surprisingly young, attractive, and fit.  Then I noticed the clothes.  The first girl wore Gucci-like sunglasses.  One guy was wearing designer jeans.  Overall, their clothes were more fitted and stylish than the normal, baggy, coverall stuff airport workers wear.  That’s when it hit me:  they’re extra security provided by the Israeli government and they’re probably young Israelis doing their requisite military stint.  This was no ordinary observation.  This was the observation of refined investigator.  I am a super detective.

• When you’re old, you don’t give a damn.  This Chinese grandpa across from me at the airport shamelessly lifted his leg off of his seat and repeatedly unleashed 5 second nuclear farts — while making eye contact with me.  He didn’t even flinch when the seats around him cleared.  I sat in wonder at the power of the aged…

The box seems small until you learn that it is filled only with bacon.

• If you’ve ever been at the airport as a Philippine Airlines flight is leaving, you’ll have noticed that nearly every Filipino in that PAL check-in line is dragging two, large, rope-wrapped boxes behind them instead of luggage.  That’s because of a Filipino custom called pasalubong which basically means you have to buy every one of your relatives a gift when you travel.  Since about 95% of Filipinos are devout Catholics, that adds up to a lot of relatives.  You can’t buy every relative a gift without maxing out the baggage weight limit (50 pounds permitted, plus an unspoken extra five pounds).  That max also doesn’t fit well in any normal-sized luggage.  Thus, the two boxes.  The rope is wrapped around to make the boxes easier to drag.

On this trip, I’m bringing some of my friends and my dad’s friends some stuff from the U.S.  I didn’t want to bring an extra bag just to abandon it.  The stuff wouldn’t find in my backpack.  So, my dad prepped a little box, and wrapped it in string.  And that’s when I found myself at the airport, with a bite-sized pasalubong box doing my own mini-reenactment of a time-honored tradition.  Guess your heritage goes with you, no matter where you go.

• As I entered the Taipei terminal to catch the second half of my flight, I came across a Taiwanese airport security checkpoint.  I hesitated and almost pulled my laptop out of my bag and nearly took off my shoes.  I was just tired enough that I said, “F*** it.   I’ll play the stupid American and make them make me.”  I put my bag on the x-ray machine and marched through the metal detector.  The guard immediately stopped me.  He motioned for me to remove my baseball cap.  “Crap,” I thought to myself.  “Guess I can’t get away with everything.”  As I pulled it off and started to walk back through the metal detector to put the hat through the x-ray machine, the guard waved me through.  Apparently, he just wanted to make sure I had a head.

Taiwan reminded me what it’s like to feel human at the airport and just how dehumanizing U.S. airport security is.  There, you have to do an elaborate dance of shuffling in and out of your shoes, pulling laptops and clear plastic bags out of your bag, shrugging in and out of sweaters and coats. You’re scrutinized and poked and prodded along like cattle for sale at the county fair.  Only thing missing is if the TSA forced you to open your mouth and so it could look at your teeth. Would you be surprised if it soon came to that?  (Admit it; you’re a little disturbed that you didn’t flinch when you said, “No.”)

• Did you know booze is free in business class?  I do because I got upgraded from economy to business class for the Taipei to Bangkok leg.  The airline put someone else in my seat and the only spot left was upstairs with the bourgeoisie.  Movin’ on up!  I took this as a good omen.

• Between LA and Taipei I met Winai, a Thai-American recovering from double foot surgery.  He was flying to Thailand to pay a surprise visit to his mother.  His high school age daughter would join him in a week.  He was very friendly and I suggested we hang out while I was in Bangkok.  Even though he’s on crutches, he offered to take me around town on his motorscooter.  He’s Muslim and when I mentioned I’d never been in a mosque, he offered to take me.  With a little luck, I’ll meet up with Winai in the next week.  We shared a cab out of the airport to save a little cash.  When I dropped him off at his place, he literally yelled up to his mom from outside the family house.  When she came down to let him in, she looked way sleepy and not at all surprised.

• The cab driver couldn’t find my hotel and I couldn’t learn fluent Thai on the cab ride to help him out.  I didn’t get in until 3:30 a.m.  I quickly hand washed some clothes, set them out to dry, then crawled into bed without even taking the obligatory “after-flight” shower.

A new friend and good omens all around.  Tomorrow looks to be a good day.

____________________

Stupid Travel Tip of the Day: Make sure your airline puts someone in your seat so you can get upgraded to business class.

Not As Stupid Travel Tip: Thai immigration and customs is very easy.  I made the mistake of reading the Thai embassy website which informs you that if you want a tourist visa you’ll have to jump through a couple of hoops.  Something like mailing in two passport pictures, a bank statement, and/or a copy of a booked round trip ticket.  I stressed out a bit wondering if Thai immigration was going to give me a hard time for not having a round trip ticket out of the country (currently, I’m scheduled to return to the U.S. from Taipei in July).  I was not stressed enough, however, to actually send the docs in to the Thai embassy.  I figured I’d just charm my way in at the airport border.  Turns out I’m an idiot.  Thai immigration didn’t ask about my return trip.  Didn’t look for my bank statement.  Didn’t ask for two passport pictures.  Hell, the customs lady didn’t even bother to make eye contact with me.  Grab, flip, type, stamp, fold, staple, flip, hand me my passport with visa.  So, don’t stress about Thai immigration unless you want to be stupid.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Shining permalink
    March 5, 2010 1:55 pm

    Merv: I’m liking the blog-that’s-not-a-blog so far, it definitely has your voice. You know what my one and only suggestion is: more food pics! Safe journey, S.

    • March 6, 2010 3:01 pm

      More food pics are in the works. More pics in general are also in the works. Again, we’re still working out the kinks.

  2. Philosoraptor permalink
    March 5, 2010 2:53 pm

    Except for business class booze, I see no mention of food. But since I like booze, maybe your “not-a-blog” should have booze in it too. See how fun it is? My comment is only four sentences long and all ready I’ve mentioned booze four times.

    It’s decided then. More booze. (Five times)

  3. Erica permalink
    March 5, 2010 6:28 pm

    Hey Superdetective,

    Glad you’re finally out of the US, by that I mean, I’m glad you’ve started your overseas adventure. =)

    We miss you here. Today is Nola’s birthday. She’s the big ONE. Tomorrow we’re having her party. Kathy and Susan are driving up for it. It will be interesting to see if she can get this present opening thing figured out.

    Critique of your “project” – more pics, like the bullet points, and don’t forget to follow up with story lines you start (e.g. if you end up meeting up with Winai again.

    Cheers!
    e

    • March 6, 2010 3:05 pm

      One is the new 6 months.

      More pics are in the works. We were going to try to work in video, but then I’d have to pay for wordpress. I’m willing to shell out some cash to use my own domain, whenever I figure out what that would be. I’m less excited about plopping down $60 (i.e. a day and a half of SE Asia living) on video.

  4. Nate permalink
    March 5, 2010 6:52 pm

    Congrats on getting underway. I’m looking forward to being jealous of you.

  5. Michelle permalink
    March 23, 2010 8:28 am

    so jealous, mervyn! I’m reading this at work. yes, that pesky little thing called work…just until i win the lottery. I’ll keep you posted. I’ve only read about 2 posts, but your writing is hilarious. Take care and keep writing!

    • March 23, 2010 10:25 am

      Thanks. I appreciate the encouragement. Let me know if you have any suggestions on how the site can improve.

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