So here I am back again in my familiar home away from home, an Executive First pod on a Boeing 777 aboard Air Canada flight #1 on my way from Toronto to Tokyo, the first leg of my latest adventure, a week and a half in Asia for the King's Cup Scrabble tournament in Bangkok.
It's been more hectic than usual getting ready for this trip, as it's only three weeks since my trip to Europe, not quite enough time to get all of my affairs back in order at home. I had my preflight checklist complete at 1:00 A.M. last night, and got to spend a couple of hours with the boys doing normal Sunday morning things, making and eating breakfast, then playing video games in pyjamas.
The drive to the airport was uneventful, but then I discovered at check-in that I'd left my Aeroplan membership card on my bedside table. Oops. No problems checking in or getting into the Maple Leaf Lounge, but I was warned that I would likely not be able to persuade any Star Alliance partners of Air Canada that I was entitled to anything, so no lounge access in Bangkok or Tokyo. After a few minutes of pointless self-kicking, I decided to call Kristen and ask her for help. She took a photo of my card, posted it to our household server, from whence I was able to print a large facsimile at the business centre in the lounge. Phew.
I'd been too wound up to eat much at home, but forced myself to have some of the delicious cheese tortellini Alfredo in the lounge, as I knew I'd need something in my stomach before my first glass of champagne (Drappier, again) in my pod.
Our polar flight at 36,000 feet is supposed to take us over Inuvik, Alaska and far eastern Russia. So far, it's been extremely turbulent, with the flight attendants popping up whenever there's a brief lull to run snacks and drinks to us, and apologize for the delayed meal service.
I looked up Air Canada's in-flight on-demand video choices for this month before I left, researched them in IMDb and made a shortlist of possibilities to watch. Right now it's "Brooklyn's Finest" (Richard Gere, Don Cheadle), chosen as something I can leave on in the background while I work, might have a few good scenes; and it doesn't disappoint, though the number and identity of characters who survive until the very end surprise me.
I had to listen to it on my iPod earbuds for the first fifteen minutes though, as I destroyed two of the disposable foam covers for the Sennheiser Noiseguard headphones trying to attach them. Note to self: next time, don't clip fingernails short the night before departure.
Lunch is here, "kaiseki-style": about a dozen cold and warm dishes, mostly seafood-based, all involving an intricate degree of preparation and elegant presentation. Followed by a cheese plate and ice cream, yum.
It's 16:00 EDT now, which is 05:00 tomorrow morning in Japan or 3:00 A.M. in Bangkok. They've closed the shades and turned down the lighting, to give passengers who need to sleep a chance to try to get some over the Arctic. I've put on Sex and the City (1, not 2), in an effort to get my brain to shut down and go to sleep in self-defence.
Sun 13 Jun 2010 18:44:40 EDT
It's still quite turbulent, and amusingly the map says we're over Thunder Bay, which is several hours the other side of possible, despite the ferocious headwinds. Then again, the flight info says we've flown 6833 of our 10,388 miles, and the "location indicator" says we're 220 miles north of Fort Yukon. The next time the seatbelt light goes off, I'll go take a look out the bathroom window.
I took a few brief naps during the movie, but my brain keep reeling in horror in between, and I'm going to give the video a little break and catch up on my email instead.
The in-flight entertainment system has a new feature: in addition to telling you how many hours and minutes into the movie you are, it tells you how much longer the flight will be. Six and a half hours, sigh.
Sun 13 Jun 2010 22:33:14 EDT
I must have fallen asleep while watching Brokeback Mountain, because I woke up with a curious desire not to go fishing. Went to the bathroom and looked out the window just in time to see some spectacular scenery between Ajan and Magadan on the Russian east coast: wrinkled snowcapped mountains turning abruptly into nearly tropical turquoise seas.
I asked the flight attendant for instant ramen, which seems to have leapt onto travel menus everywhere in the last couple of years. I expected it to come in its container but no, she put it into a proper-looking bowl and served it on a tablecloth. Terribly posh. :)
Mon 14 Jun 2010 00:38:18 EDT
Only an hour and a bit left. I've now entered the mentally numb state I expect to exist in for the next few days, where I'm not sure what night and day are, my cognitive faculties are somewhat impaired, and I slow down because I keep having to double-check my reasoning.
I've watched From Paris With Love, directed by Luc Besson and directed by John Travolta, and enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I must watch it again on a larger screen when I'm more awake.
No, that's not right. It's not that I'm not awake. I don't think I could fall asleep now, though I might give it one more try. It's more like not all of my brain is awake. I feel like an albatross, soaring across the skies with half my brain asleep. Note to self: should probably edit out this paragraph.
This has me thinking about how different the experience of sleep deprivation has been over the course of my life. As a parent now, I imagine I was like any other infant at first, born without a knowledge of day and night, happy to sleep only when I had no more presssing needs. I remember being Jamie's age and having the same kinds of nightmares that he's having, unable to wake myself up from them, and being exhausted in the morning. When I hit university, going without sleep was fun and a badge of honour; it seemed like we could all go two days without sleep and catch up from it with a single good night's sleep. When Jamie was born, the sleep deprivation was not a positive thing any more, because it wasn't by choice, and we weren't ever getting those catch-up nights. And now I'm finally, likely briefly, in a position where I could probably get decent sleep many nights, but here I am sabotaging it with jet travel. When will I learn?
Breakfast was a very nice croissant, whipped butter, jam (which I could not eat), a bowl of fresh fruit (ditto, but I nibbled on the pineapple, eschewing the berries), Japanese-style congee (with nameko), and a variety of seafood nibblies* on the side.
They just came by offering customs and immigration forms; I don't need to fill any out, as I'm only in Japan in transit for two hours.
Mon 14 Jun 2010 20:57:05 EDT
The two hours in Japan were a little showcase of Japanese efficiency. Our flight arrived on time, I disembarked, and saw right away a man holding a sign with my name and connecting flight number, in a small group with others looking for travellers with tight connections. He was prepared to explain in English how exactly to make my connection as efficiently as possible; he seemed only mildly relieved that I asked him to do so in Japanese. Then it was down the escalator and straight through connecting passenger carry-on baggage security (ahead of me was a Quebecois with a suitcase full of duty-free maple syrup bound for Seoul, who looked like he was on his way to talking the liquid contraband through, though when I left he was having to write down his destination to overcome the language barrier), another escalator straight to the Thai Air connecting passenger desk for a boarding pass and then a third escalator to the ANA lounge. The receptionist smiled at the page-sized printed photo of my Aeroplan card that Kristen sent me, and welcomed me.
All that took me just half an hour, leaving me an hour to eat sushi (didn't feel like soba this time), catch up on an accumulated half day's worth of email before returning to the gate to board the flight. Thanks to the recent civil unrest in Bangkok (and despite the USD $10,000 top prize in the upcoming King's Cup tournament), the flight was 2/3 empty, so I was able to stretch out across a row of seats. The aircraft was another B777-300ER, with AC power and on-demand video at each seat. After a pretty good chicken pineapple yellow curry, I tried to stay awake through Men Who Stare At Goats, a hilarious film based on the true story of U.S. military efforts in the late 20th century to develop soldiers with psychic powers, starring George Clooney as a self-proclaimed Jedi warrior. I fell asleep listening to it, then watched most of it again toward the end of the six-hour flight.
We arrived 25 minutes early, and the bag that I had checked in at Toronto 22 hours earlier was priority tagged and the first out onto the carousel. I got to where Ravee Joradol was supposed to meet me and had time to check my email, update my facebook status, and send out email making sure Ravee was on the way to get me before he caught up with me.
He took me to the Reno Hotel, an inexpensive hotel next to the playing venue, where it turns out I'll only be staying one night (the only Internet access is on PCs in the lobby). I dropped off my things, then went out for pad thai with Ravee and Amnuay Ploysangngam at Amnuay's favourite late-night pad thai shop, a post-arrival tradition for the three of us. I didn't think I was hungry (dazed from travel would me a more accurate description), but had no trouble hoovering two plates full. My stomach happily told me I was back in Thailand.
Then I came back to the hotel, I worked online in the lobby for an hour, headed up to my room to take a tepid shower - the coldest water available was room temperature - while I waited for the A/C to reduce the room temperature from 34C (93F) to 20C (68F).
I slept on and off for about six hours, from 2:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. local time (1 P.M. to 7 P.M. back home), and am up now and ready to look for breakfast and see what the day will bring me.
Mon 14 Jun 2010 22:06:27 EDT
Breakfast is included in the THB 1000 nightly rate at the Reno, and consists of a choice of four different set menus: fresh fruit (two pieces each of papaya and pineapple), tea/coffee and in my case chicken and pork congee rather than eggs or sausages. The congee was recommended by Karen Richards and Olga Visser, who were checking their email in the lobby as I passed through, and waiting for confirmation of their guess that I wouldn't stay more than one night in a hotel room with no Internet access.
The congee, like any good Thai dish, takes several seconds to unfold its main flavours in my mouth, followed by occasional surprises as a spoonful hits one of the secret ingredients lurking within. Roughly chronology, it's a hot, hearty chicken soup, with rice, salty, with an extra richness from caramelized pork fat, something from the allium family, a crunch as I bite into a tiny piece of something green and oniony, maybe a bit garlicky, a finely diced leafy herb with a bit of a tang, and that heat's not just temperature, there's capsaicin here, and flavours from the chile that provided it, the chicken is chewy but only by comparison with the rice, it gives a little initial resistance to the teeth and then melts away, there's a bit of the allium bulb, and all too soon it's over, and I'm left with a chile chicken aftertaste. Pretty good, all told. I should probably have sweetened the tea I drank with it, to compliment it better.
MBK mall opens in about half an hour, so I'll see if I can either brave the morning heat outside for that long, or find a place that's open early. My plan for a first day of acclimitization is to go shop for an hour, transfer to a different hotel, go out for lunch with Amnuay, then for a Thai massage and then somewhere with air conditioning and WiFi.