Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Long and the Short

Friday, October 31, 2008

We were up early so we could get to the Phnom Penh airport by 8:15, two hours before take-off. Check-in was quick and painless and we had a lot of time to kill before boarding started around 9:30. We took off on time and landed a bit early, arriving in Singapore just before 1 o’clock. Jon and his family were about six rows ahead of us so we couldn’t see couldn’t see the children. On the other hand, they traveled well so we didn’t hear them, either.

As a group, we were the last ones out of the jetway and stayed together until we had to go through immigration and they had to start out for their new gate and snacks for The Boys. [We had been served lunch on the plane but nothing which would have appealed to the kids] So it was off to Burger King for them as we made our way to Baggage Claim and the rest of the bureaucratic dance. We arrived at the Marriott around 1:45.

Once the bags had been delivered to the room, we headed to "our" Starbucks for a drink and an e-mail session. The drinks were refreshing and the e-mail was dull. Back in the room, MA rested while D repacked the luggage so we would be ready in the morning. We were still tired from all of the walking we did in Cambodia and decided to have an early dinner at the hotel.
The trip, the journal and the blog are almost over.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And so begins The Longest Day.

We stayed in this morning, skipping our last chance to visit the Paragon Starbucks. We almost expected a phone call from the staff inquiring about our health. We did the last minute toiletry packing and were ready to go around 10. The Front Desk called when we didn’t show up at 9:30, the time we had estimated we would check out. Our plane was scheduled for a 1:10 departure and we weren’t in any hurry. By 10:30, we were checked out and in the maxi-cab, a minivan large enough to hold all of our luggage. The Vanderbilts were returning to Newport. Or Newark.

The only day got off depressing note, though. When we turned on the cell phone, there was a text message from MA’s sister alerting her to the death of her next oldest sibling. It was not unexpected; she had been battling cancer for five years and recently began a rapid deterioration which brought a great deal of pain and suffering. Her children were with her, apparently, and two brothers-in-law had come to visit as well. We were saddened but also a bit relieved for her that the pain was over.

The trip home continued apace. When we got to the Singapore airport, we found our way to the EVA counter where we were redirected to the Business Class check-in area. We were able to sit comfortably while someone else schlepped our bags to be tagged. [It didn’t appear that the bags were actually weighed, but we were allowed three bags per person of 70 pounds and the staff didn’t seem too concerned about our motley assortment of five mismatched pieces.] After receiving our boarding passes and Lounge passes for both legs of the journey, we went through passport control and turned in our departure cards at the same time our passports were stamped.

We followed the directions we had been given and found the Business Class lounge. It was almost deserted and was very quiet after our week with The Boys. We got pastries and coffee/tea before checking our e-mail on the EVA computers. We thought we might have gotten a message from Jon or Emily, but the only message was from MA’s sister saying she had texted us the news about her sister. We had some Singapore dollars left over [how did that happen?], so D went shopping. He returned to the lounge with the latest Jeffrey Archer novel and $61 USD from exchanging the SGD.

Soon thereafter it was time to board the plane. As we sat in the boarding area, MA was paged to confirm her wheelchair for Taipei and Newark. She didn’t need it in Singapore because there were no steps and no long walks. We were first to board and settled in. The plane was an Airbus with multiple seat positions available including most-flat for sleeping. The flight crew was great and the ride mostly smooth although there was some rock-and-roll.

We arrived in Taipei around 5:45 after flying 4-1/2 hours. By the time we deplaned, it was almost 5:55 and our next flight was set to leave at 7 o’clock. We were met by a succession of wheel chair pushers [let’s call the "wheelies"] who raced to the Lounge where we really had only about 20 minutes to relax before starting for the next gate. The wheelie was there right on time and we retraced our steps [okay, no steps, just elevators] and then descended one more level [and one more elevator] to the boarding area. We were whisked right through and, again, were first to board. We were grateful for the very short layover, especially after last year’s eight hours in Narita. If not for the wheelie, we never would have had time to visit the Lounge; in fact, we probably would not have found it. Taipei’s airport is very large and there was a lot of walking involved in getting from the plane to the terminal proper.

This part of the trip is supposed to take 14 hours, about the same time as the flight from Tokyo/Narita to Atlanta last year. We pulled back just after 7, pretty much on time. One of the advantages of the flight this year is that there is a 12 hour difference between Cambodia & Singapore and the East coast. There is no need to reset our watches [except for the date function]. Still, it will be almost 9:00 p.m. when we touch down in Newark. By the time we get our bags; clear Customs and Immigration; recheck the bags and find our way to the Sheraton [at EVA’s expense], it will be after 10 p.m. Luckily, Daylight Savings Time ends tonight, so we get an extra hour of sleep. We will still be up early to catch our flight from Newark to West Palm, but every extra minute helps.

In deference to Jon, there has been no mention of food so far, but he knows from his travels that when you fly long distances over large bodies of water, you tend to eat your way from point to point. Today was no exception. Of course, we snacked in Singapore before boarding, but that was really our breakfast. Then there was the lunch served as soon as we were at cruising altitude. There were drinks for the asking all the way to Taipei. Even before we departed for Newark, there were drinks in Business Class. Then there was another four-course meal. There will be more food before we descend over the Garden State, a breakfast of sorts for the biorhythmically challenged. Continental should feed us, too, since we are taking off at 9:00 in the morning. This travel business is even more fattening than cruising. At least on shipboard and field trips we walked a lot; here, there is nowhere to go.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The longest day was followed by the shortest night. We had little enough time to sleep, even with the extra hour, but we both slept badly. Maybe it was the stress of travelling or of being almost home. We were up at six and checked out by seven. The airport shuttle took us right to the Continental entrance in Newark’s Terminal C, so we got our boarding passes and went to Starbucks [where else?] for scones and drinks. We got to our gate just as first Class boarding was ending and walked right onto the plane. The flight was uneventful and we landed exactly on time.

Since the folks in the front of the plane were allowed to deplane first, we were among the earliest arrivals at the baggage carousel. We waited for our bags and Dominique, our driver, to appear. We decided that if only one showed up, we hoped it was the luggage. Of course, Dominique found us easily, but he had a sign with our names in case we forgot what he looked like or vice versa. On the other hand, the suitcases never raced around the magic belt. When all the luggage had been claimed and the belt was no longer moving, one of the employees told us to go to the Baggage Claim office. As soon as D walked in, he saw all five of the bags lined up and waiting for him. The bags were loaded on a cart, Dominique drove like the wind and we were home, sweet home.


We love the smell of exhaust fumes in the tuk-tuk.

Sunshine is directly proportional to heat and humidity.

Corollary: clouds are our friends.

There is nothing like an ice-cold towel on a hot day.

Coca Cola is the drink of the gods.

It will be a while before we eat rice or noodles.

Private tours are the way to see a country and its people.

Being the only foreigner in a restaurant is a good thing.

There are seven more Mr. Otas stacked inside the one we met.

Water is really the giver of life; our most interesting tours involved cities on rivers.

Buddha loves me, this I know. Little ones to him are fed, first the feet and then the head.

Caiden looks just like the smiling Buddha.

D’s wall of masks may, just may, finally be complete.

Or maybe not.

Being in the U.S. means no more bottled water in the hotel room.

Unpacking is never as much fun as packing.

Dirty laundry multiplies in a locked suitcase.

The places with the most beautiful sights have some of the worst poverty.

A full answering machine is the only way to stop political phone calls.

Every country except the US has some version of the tuk-tuk.

On the other hand, there was the Gremlin.

Dorothy Gale was right. There’s no place like home, Toto.