When I was a little kid, I had this great book, “Fortunately“, by Remy Charlip. (A crazy name, but that’s not the point.) It involves a kid going to a party, but a variety of alternatingly good and bad things happen to complicate his travels. Amazon was kind enough to include some of the example text, saving me some typing, and I remember a bit more of it on my own:
Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute.
Fortunately, there was a haystack below him.
Unfortunately, there a pitchfork in the haystack.
Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork.
Unfortunately, he missed the haystack.
<it continues in this vein>
Ultimately [Spoiler Alert], Ned gets to the party. Hopefully, I will be as lucky, for at the moment I am unexpectedly spending the night in Hong Kong. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. (Thanks for playing along.)
Fortunately, I was scheduled to fly to Chiang Mai on Wednesday the 28th at about 9:10, and had my 2nd round of vaccinations scheduled in Manhattan for Tuesday the 27th.
Unfortunately, a major blizzard was bearing down on the area for Monday night through Tuesday. It might not affect my flight out on Wednesday night, but it would sure affect my vaccination plans.
Fortunately, I was able to reschedule the vaccinations for Monday at 1:45 — a bit closer to the blizzard time than I was comfortable with, but it should be Ok. I took the train into the city a bit early, replenished my store of travel food from Whole Foods (Cliff Bars and Epic Bars), had some Whole Foods sushi, reminded myself of how much money I was going to be saving in Chiang Mai by not shopping at Whole Foods, and then went to my appointment. The travel health center was shutting down early due to the blizzard — my doctor had heard that her train service to Connecticut was going to be canceled after a certain hour, and everyone was wrapping things up to head out, but my cycle went well. Two shots later (the second Hep-A/B shot and the second Japanese Encephalitis), I was on my way back to Grand Central with my fingers crossed that there’d be space on the trains.
By the way, Manhattan looks great in a snow storm.
Unfortunately, the next train was really crowded.
Fortunately, I was early enough to get a seat. The ride was uneventful and pretty, and the walk home from the train was the same. While I had some mild worry about the oncoming blizzard affecting my flight out, we were all really excited about it. Brandon had bought emergency candles! We had lots of food and beer, our iDevices were charged, and we were ready.
Unfortunately, the blizzard missed us. It’s main area of effect drifted about 30 miles east of its predicted path, and hit Boston area pretty hard, but we only got 7-8 inches and the next day was spent rather disappointedly looking out the window and wondering where the disaster was. See yesterday’s post for a picture scenic snow out the window from a few days earlier after a normal snowfall — it looked exactly the same. Wah wah waaaaahhhhh.
Fortunately, this meant my travel was secure. Wednesday morning was spent hanging out with family (until most of them left), then chatting with Brandon and watching Lucy (Scarlett Johansson; arguably suspect premise, but a lot of fun) until he left to tutor, and then Sallie very kindly drove me to the train station — the weather was actually fairly nice, but still cold for my super-light Thailand clothes — and I hugged her and the girls goodbye, and I was off.
Got to say, it felt weird and cool to have finally properly launched. Everything up to this point had been traveling to known quantities — friends and family in mostly known and familiar places. Now, I was properly cut adrift and on the road. There was a little burst of anxiety, quickly handled, and then it just felt good. It’s something that I’ve always liked about traveling, when you’re in new places on your own and you have nothing except yourself; you’re a bit of bark floating on a river, not really connected to anything around you and just going where the current takes you. I guess for a guy whose life goals require being about 70% hermit, it’s a kind of optimized hermit state. Surrounded by people but not of them, alone in agreeable (hopefully) places.
I got to Grand Central and took my usual route to the subway to JFK, arriving just as the subway train did.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong subway train and I boarded it.
Fortunately, it followed the same route as the right train for most of the way, and I was able to get off at a shared station and the right train arrived almost immediately. I continued on to JFK, rode the AirTrain to Terminal 7, and found the Cathay Pacific business class section. I’d purchased the business class ticket with frequent flyer miles that had been building from my credit card over the last several years (I’d stopped using them up, because I’ve been flying Virgin America almost everywhere since they were founded, because they’re awesome), so I can probably do about 6 of these fancy flights before I run out of miles and have to pay crazy cash or fly in steerage. Anyway, Cathay Pacific had gotten my Known Traveler Number from my American Airlines info, and I was rejoicing that I was going to get at least 1 use out of it this year, and not have to unpack and repack my bags at the TSA.
Unfortunately, the Cathay Pacific / British Airways / Etc group doesn’t use the Known Traveler Number for anything. The business class TSA line was blessedly short, but I still had to unpack and repack my bags. Sigh.
Fortunately, Terminal 7 is pleasant and warm.
Unfortunately, it’s too warm. Most of New York overheats its buildings in the winter, and they were clearly doing it here. I ended up picking some beach-and-surf themed restaurant for dinner solely because it had better air circulation, and then discovered it was a Sammy Hagar restaurant — although “eatery” is probably a better term. The sandwich I ordered was pretty much exactly what I was expecting it to be, and I ended up feeling slightly bloated and uncomfortable going into my 90 minute wait for boarding. A wait that turned into closer to 3 hours, because the flight out was delayed.
Fortunately, my business class ticket got my access to the British Airways lounge where I could wait in more comfort.
Unfortunately, I discovered that the lounge had a great selection of complimentary food and drinks (and its own restaurant, if those weren’t sufficient). I could have saved the cash and the bloating, if I’d realized it. Also: the men’s bathroom was like a sauna. Jeez, New York, come on.
Fortunately, although my flight was delayed, I’m a patient guy. We eventually boarded, the overhead compartments — one to a business class seat — were incredibly spacious and my giant trekking pack was swallowed by mine, and the seats were amazing. They’re these cubbies, like tiny offices with seats that recline flat into beds, and they angle away from each other so that you barely notice your neighbor across the aisle. SeatGuru has a map of the plane — I was in 17K — and it also has user-submitted photos of various seats, but it’s hard to tell which photos are for which seats, so here are a few of my own:
The travel wombs were great, the food was great, the section wasn’t crowded, and the whole thing was nearly perfect.
Unfortunately, there was no WiFi. I’m still shaking from the trauma of having no e-mail, no Twitter, no WordPress to write all of this on, no backgammon with online friends, absolutely nothing to do except read, meditate, and watch the TiVoed shows downloaded onto my iPad. It was nigh unendurable.
Fortunately, this absolutely qualified as a Nice Place to Sit and Read, and I was able to finish that Modesitt book that I mentioned a couple of posts ago, Heritage of Cyador. I’d been busy, and had gotten away from it since my last flight. Now, I had plenty of time on the 21 hour trip from New York to Hong Kong, and I finished it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t wild about it. It was long, and there was a lot of lengthy exposition about how the things the hero was seeing laid out. Modesitt is a little inclined to describe things to death in ways that in no way advance the plot or have any bearing on the actions of the character. Sometimes, it paints a nice picture and it works. In this case, it just draaaaaaaged. And I talked previously about how he can be a formulaic from one book to the next; this was no exception. It did have some pleasant touches, in its engaging characters and a young romance, but I saw the book’s endgame coming way in advance and it grew a bit tedious waiting for it. So nice place to read, not great reading done there.
Fortunately, after that I read Neil Gaiman’s curated collection of short stories, Unnatural Creatures. A bunch of stories by different authors, and they’re quite good; my Kindle app tells me I’m 18% through it, but I’ll recommend it already. Entirely pleasant reading. 🙂
On top of the reading and watching, I’d scheduled myself to try to sleep at what would be about 8pm Chiang Mai time, after our stopover at Vancouver. And I had herbal muscle relaxants, homeopathic jet lag remedies, a cool acupressure trick to get your body’s biorhythms synced up with the target time zone (I used a variation of it when I traveled to Nepal years ago, and was the only one in our trekking group with no jet lag, and Roger gave me a refresher course when I was in Bozeman), and melatonin, and they were all in play and I was ready. I flattened the seat into a bed, put in the ear plugs and put on the blinders, pulled up the bankie, and went out like a light.
Unfortunately, I then woke up like a light a couple of hours later. Tried to go back to sleep, meditated, maybe drifted a bit, maybe possibly got 4 hours, more likely 3, and that was that. I’ve never been able to sleep on planes, and this turns out to be the best I can do.
Fortunately, I’m pretty durable on little sleep, so I’m not feeling too badly right now. And flattening the seat into a bed made me realize that it was perfect for doing situps and pushups and stretches, so I got a little exercise in a couple of times on that flight. When we arrived in Hong Kong, I was in good shape for the final leg.
Unfortunately, we got in way late, thanks to the New York departure delay and a further delay in Vancouver. I arrived in Hong Kong about an hour after my connecting flight to Chiang Mai had departed. So I and about 60 other people who needed to get to various places were slowly processed by the Cathay Pacific folks, more slowly than I saw any possible reason to be. We were grouped off into final destination zones, and then my Bangkok/ChiangMai group of about a dozen folks were walked down nearly the entire length of the airport to a Thai Airlines desk for transfers. (Denver flashbacks!)
Fortunately, this whole hallway had two lanes of pedwalks, one right after the other.
Unfortunately, most of the time, both lanes were going in the same direction. You want to go the other way? Hoof it, round eye, we’re not here to cater to your lazy western ass.
Fortunately, sometimes, the left one went the other way. Why? How the hell would I know? I thought Confucianism valued consistency, but there may have been a translation error because this seemed to be Confusionism instead. I don’t ask questions in places that have reeducation camps, so I’ll probably never know.
Unfortunately, our impromptu tour guide never once used the pedwalk. She led our group beside it the whole way, walking briskly in what seemed to be a heavy winter coat despite it being warm inside, leading fools who insisted on following her blindly dragging all of their luggage and never once taking the pedwalk either.
Fortunately, I was not such a fool. Every time the pedwalk went our way, me and my 45 pound backpack rode it. One other guy did too, but he was behind me and I could swear he didn’t do it every time. Don’t ask me why not; this is a day of manifold mysteries.
It took a while, but we finally got to the Thai desk, and then we waited while our group was slowly processed in 2s and 3s. For us Chiang Mai folks, this was apparently going to involve being put on a flight to Bangkok, and then a connecting flight to Chiang Mai. I wasn’t worried; when you’re retired and have no fixed commitments, extra legs of your journey are really just curious events and blog-fodder. Nothing worth stressing over.
Unfortunately, I was nearly one of the last people processed, and my group of two was told that they were out of available early seats but would put us on standby; if standby didn’t work, we’d be on a flight that would get us into Bangkok at around 8:30pm, and I shudder to think what time we’d arrive in Chiang Mai.
Fortunately, it occurred to me to ask, “Is there a direct flight to Chiang Mai available tomorrow, like the one I was supposed to catch today? I could do that.” Winter coat lady perked right up, agreed that they could just put me up in a hotel overnight, called the Cathay Pacific folks, found that there was one tomorrow afternoon (not in the morning, but good enough), and she walked me 20 feet away and got me booked there.
Unfortunately, they only booked the flight there. They told me that to get the hotel voucher — and I kid you not — I had to walk all the way back down the endless corridor to the Cathay Pacific desk roughly where we’d started our trek, and those folks could give me the hotel voucher. I don’t even understand how any of that walkabout made sense.
Fortunately, NOW the pedwalks worked in my favor. Plus, I snagged a luggage cart and didn’t have to wear the backpack most of the way. I rolled my way back, found the desk in question, those folks gave me a hotel voucher to the Airport Regal Hotel just outside the arrivals area, and a ton of meal vouchers, and I was set. One of those meal vouchers was for an airport restaurant, because it was before noon and my hotel room wouldn’t be ready, so yay them being extra considerate!
Unfortunately, the voucher was only for HK$75, about US$9.67.
Fortunately, I found a place in the airport with cheap noodles, ’cause Asia! I ordered noodles and water (because I was a bit overheated traipsing around with that backpack and really wanted a cheap cold drink).
Unfortunately, the water was hot. Guys, really? But… why? You served me a glass of hot water. Who does that? Wingwah, you’re reading this blog…. explain this please!
Fortunately, the noodles were good, and when I was done I headed off to the hotel, just a short walk away.
Unfortunately, I got lost twice.
Fortunately, only a little lost, quickly fixed. BTW, you know those areas at airports and hotels where cabs line up to take turns picking up customers?
The hotel was nice, the hotel staff were nice, and the room, which I’d expected to be a minimalist low grade box where I could just relax and read and ignore the world until the next day turned out to be really quite nice.
Also cool: the long, curving, hotel corridors made me feel like I was walking down a carpeted space ship from a 60s scifi movie.
So, a far better experience here than I was anticipating.
Unfortunately, I badly want a shower and have no idea which of these is the shampoo. No, really.
I’m pretty sure that it’s not “Body Lotion” — I don’t know what that is, but it’s clearly body and not head. So my money is on either “Shower Gel” or “Wash and Rinse”. I’m going to pick “Wash and Rinse”, and hope for the best.
Fortunately, that’s where I am now. Showered, meditated, blogged, and about to head down to use one of these meal vouchers because it’s dinner time and I’m starving. Knock on wood, I’ll be in Chiang Mai tomorrow evening. Next post when I can.