Friday, March 29, 2013

Travelogue: Day 1 - Bangkok airport friends

Competition on flight!

I didn’t catch much sleep because they didn’t switch off all the lights - usually on overnight flights they do. We had a very smooth landing - hardly felt a bump as the wheels hit the tarmac. Even before the flight came to a complete halt, people were out of their seats and queued up to exit the flight. It was the same while boarding the flight as well; I always wonder what’s the hurry? Even if you got into the flight first, the flight isn’t going to leave immediately and you are anyway going to have your seat. I guess sometimes for the most trivial of things we try to act as if we are ahead of the competition - first in the plane, first out of the plane, first to take luggage and what not.

When we stepped off the flight the same air host wished us with a smile, “Swadee Khrab.” The airline literally packed the bus so that they didn’t have to do another trip between the flight and the airport – it felt just like Chennai! But once inside the airport we could see the difference; the floor was shiny and there was an old lady cleaning the floor with a machine (it was 3:30am local time). We four took our own sweet time after entering the airport; we took snaps, had a good laugh, used the restroom and finally walked to the immigration counter.

Airport drama

Thailand has the concept of visa on arrival for Indian citizens; but we had taken our visa in India itself; there was a good crowd queued up for doing the visa on arrival formalities. We bypassed that queue and headed straight to immigration where there was no one except the officers. They looked at our passport, gave us a second glance, took a snap of us using a bionic eye camera, stapled a card on our passport, scribbled something on the visa and let us through - let 3 of us through.

Truth be told, there is no way a person would easily accept that the person in the photo was him; if you look at it for 5 minutes you will find a resemblance. The lady called a couple of her colleagues and the three of them together stared at him. He tried explaining the reason and they listened to him in the way that children listen to an interesting bedtime story. The officers were content with his narration.  Though we three were away from the counter, it seemed like our expert and the officers were exchanging jokes, smiling and laughing heartily. Since there were no other passengers, I guess my friend provided them with some relief in their boring routine night. And our expert was also happy - whether it was the hangover effect or something else I don't know!

Around 3:50am we went down the escalator to the arrivals area; the airport seemed dead - very few people moving around. We had asked our hotel to send for a cab pickup at 5am; 1 hour to kill in a deserted airport - and everyone was short of sleep.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Travelogue: Day 0.5 On the flight

We tried hard to convince our friend to use a wheelchair but he declined; if anyone from your group is on a wheelchair, the group would get automatic priority everywhere!
The airlines had rules about dimensions, weight of the cabin baggage and fluids that could be carried but they never checked it. 

Immigration counter was a breeze - they quizzed us on our return date and destination. After immigration check was the security check where cabin baggage is screened. On the way was the Matrix company stall - they were selling SIM cards that can be used internationally. Handy to have but pretty expensive - local SIMs are cheaper.

We had an hour to go for boarding. Quite a combination we were - one friend with twisted ankle, one had picked up a slight cold and one was feeling feverish with throat pain. One of the best medicines to overcome cold is alcohol; and we had an expert in our midst (from this point on, those of you who know the 4 people might try to identify which person is doing what - but just remember that appearances can deceive!)

So the expert picked a couple of tiny bottles in the duty free - foreign alcohol is cheap in the airport. For those of you not into liquor, do stroll around the duty free shop - you’ll find some fascinating bottles in unique shapes and sizes. The expert was tempted to drink it on the spot but there was a notice which said that we can’t have liquor in Indian soil. The intellectuals in our group tried to decipher the size of the bottle - the label said “5cl"; none of us knew what it meant but Google did; cl = centiliter; 1 cl = 10 ml. So we had two 50ml bottles.

The flight had capacity for about 150 people and it was fairly full. The smart looking air host welcomed us saying “Swadee Khrab.” I asked him to slow down to pick up the syllables. That’s the Thai phrase for welcoming or wishing someone. As the flight took off we could see Chennai in lights below - it looked like a mine with plenty of gold deposits shining. The minute we were technically off Indian soil, our expert emptied the tiny bottles!

Thai letters are interesting to learn - especially since we don’t have exact equivalents in the English language. The use of vowels is just like Hindi. I did learn a few letters in the airport and tried to apply my knowledge in reading the emergency instruction card! An airplane is quite an engineering marvel. Sometime before our travel, we discussed a very relevant topic - what if the flight crashed; how would we survive? One friend told us that based on the documentaries he had seen, the safest place in a plane is at the back - the place where the blackbox (flight data recorder) resides. But the 4 of us were pretty much in the middle of the  flight since we didn’t opt for seat selection. AirAsia is a budget airline; so if you want to pick a seat beforehand then you have to pay extra. Even if you want to drink water, you have to buy it on the plane. There is no music or entertainment system.

Though we started late (close to midnight), the flight reached within time - a 3.5 hour journey. For our sprained ankle friend, this was his first time outside Indian soil.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Travelogue: Day 0

Instead of the WakeUp we’ll have a few travelogue editions...

Welcome back!

It feels bad and sad when you return from abroad and see the following behavior: a very well educated youngster with a well-to-do life, sitting in a vehicle driven by someone else, eating something and casually throwing out the plastic wrappers on the street as the vehicle moves. Why not wait for a dustbin?

Journey begins

We were a group of four friends; one had an auspicious start to his first foreign trip when he sprained his ankle while picking up dinner. After seeing the doc, we checked-in and while filling up the immigration form, his pain worsened. We needed to get the ointment and painkiller that the doc had prescribed but the pharmacy was outside the check-in area.

I tried stepping out but security said that I couldn’t since I had already checked-in. This was strange - perhaps they feared that someone will check-in, exit the airport, hand over the boarding pass to a 2nd person and that person would walk into the airport. Whatever it was, they said that I couldn’t go out unless I got an airline person to sign on a register - something like the airline taking responsibility for the person leaving.

So I headed to the AirAsia check-in counter. The lady managing the queue told me to talk to her manager since she didn't have authority. I tried to catch his attention but couldn’t. So the lady went over to talk to him but he refused flat. I tried to explain the situation but he didn’t even listen to me. “You can’t go out,” he kept repeating and nodding his head sideways in the most impolite manner. He was a middle aged man with a permanent frown on his face, half bald with unkempt white hair at the back and spectacles; typical look of a school principal who will not listen to anything.

I was angry at his bluntness and asked, “Do you have a first aid kit?”
“No. We don’t have.”

I was amazed. He was part of a big airline company and here he was saying that they didn’t even have a first-aid kit. I went back to the security lady who kept repeating her side of the story.

“Where is the airport manager?” I asked and she pointed me in a direction on the other side of the check-in area.

When I reached there I found that to see the manager you have to cross another security post which leads you to the outside. This security also didn’t allow me out and they also said there is no first aid kit. An international airline and a so-called international airport without a first-aid kit - wow!

Another airport staff told me to talk to the airline since they were obligated to help - he was the first person willing to listen. I went back to the airline lady and asked if there was any other superior. She pointed to the principal’s boss who was passing by. When I started narrating the incident the first thing he asked with concern in his voice was, “Where is the passenger? Does he need help with a wheelchair?”

He immediately told the lady to sign the security register for me to go to the pharmacy. So after a 15 minute ordeal and meeting 5 people, I finally got the medicine and ointment.

How easy it is for one person to ruin the name of a company!

And I wondered that if someone was desperately in need of help, how much they would have to struggle to get attention.