Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vacationblog: Getting There

It's been ages since I've been on a long enough vacation that prompts introspection and enough observation to put to paper, so to speak.  This vacation I'm on now--2.5 weeks, overseas travel, stamps in my passport, and great, great friends--is a dream vacation that has been in the making for over 4 years. I have never worked at a job that allowed me to take off more than a week at a time, nor have I made enough/saved enough money to enjoy myself doing so but now that I have saved all my airline miles and money, it's happened.

I have wanted to go to Australia for a long, long time.  It's been on my top 10 for as long as I have had the desire to travel.  But a trip in that part of the world is not complete without a visit to Singapore, the country of the beginning of my formation as an adult, as a traveler, and as an international citizen of the world and all it has to offer. Also my oldest and dearest friend's family lives here and I have made a habit of freeloading off them with impunity when she's in town.

So off I went. It was over 24 hours of travel, it felt like.  But it was worth it since my mileage points basically made this jetsetting vacation free for me.  Here's something interesting about mileage with United.  It requires more mileage to fly economy on United than it does to fly business or first class on any of their partner airlines.  That's how I ended up flying business class on Air Canada.  You can tell I'm not used to it--I awkwardly ask the lady at the gate if I'm jumping the queue when she calls for first or business class passengers to start boarding. She looks at my ticket with surprise and says that of course I can board--I'm business class.  Every solicitous offer of every beverage, snack and amenity is met with surprise on my end and sort of a flustered, "Uhm.. okay, yes please!"  I get the feeling that my fellow business class riders can sense my n00b-ness at this.  They stalk imperiously down the ramp as soon as "priority boarding" is called and with the ease that is natural to people who are used to such luxuries will merely jerk their head to the side if they don't want something and then complain about the lack of slippers (whereas I feel obligated to say yes to everything; after all, who knows when the next time I'll have this opportunity is.)

What I also find interesting is that while domestic travel in business class is nice, INTERNATIONAL travel in business class is better.  The pillowcases are silkier.  The snacks are nicer. Everything is even more neat and orderly and even more amenities are offered--slippers, the travel case, a bottle of water, all of it!  My flight attendants each leg (from Toronto to Vancouver, then from Vancouver to Narita) were both male and insanely attentive but the latter leg's attendant kept calling me, "My Lady" which either is a quaint honorific from a bygone age or mildly creepy.  Either way, I was well supplied with alcohol and camomile tea so no complaints from me.  Something else that blew me away was that all of the flight attendants spoke English, French and Japanese.  HONORIFIC JAPANESE.  I was floored.  Apparently the "speaking English louder and louder at someone who clearly doesn't speak it" method employed by United is not a tactic used by other airline carriers (burn).

Let's talk about business class food, shall we?  First of all, real silverware.  Second of all, several courses.  Third of all--that shit is something I would easily pay for in New York.  Fancy shaved cucumber wrapped around microgreens, salad dressing imported from Andalucia, beef tenderloin that is actually tender, Swiss chocolates and real whipped cream with warm cake.  And let's not forget the WARM FRESH BAKED COOKIES served with gelato.  I will probably gain 5 pounds from airplane food if nothing else, especially since they kept asking if I wanted more cookies (the answer was, "Uhm... YES PLEASE.")

Arriving at Narita was unexpectedly saddening.  It's been many years since I lived there and I haven't returned, not even once.  Not for lack of trying--the one time I came close to going there was that pesky tsunami and the nuclear leakage was somewhat close to where I would be spending a majority of my time, so that was out.  All of my time I lived there came flooding back, but I appreciated it with new eyes that only a long time away could give me.  I realized that my fascination with the country and its people has not dissipated, merely dampened while I was living there and watched with sort of a weird motherly love how quintissentially Japanese its airport workers are.  I wandered the airport with a desperate sort of longing that was felt so acutely that I had vague desperate notions about coming back soon (seems unlikely). I consoled myself with buying omiyage for my friend that I'd be staying with in Singapore--the famous Tokyo banana, but now in a banana caramel custard flavor, and DYED TO LOOK LIKE GIRAFFES.  Damn those Japanese and their fabulous omiyage.

Getting back on the plane, I braced myself for disappointment since this last leg was riding on United Economy.  However when they closed the airplane doors both seats next to me were empty.  With joy I realized that while I wouldn't have my down quilt, eye mask and water served to me in fine crystal (how quickly we adjust to the life of luxury!  This explains all of the Debtor Anonymous meeting available to people on vacation at St. Barth's!) that I would be able to stretch out and get some more sleep.  The rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, save for my missing the dinner service (meh), getting up to get more water and the flight attendant--unsolitcited--admonished me to not sleep so much.  Singaporeans, so bossy.

By the time we rolled up to Changi, I was pretty tired and kind of anxious to not make my dear friend wait so long, but I had plenty of time to wait in the immigration line and look around.  They really have upgraded the place.  The art, the space, the openness of it all bespoke a kind of understated opulence that can only be Singaporean.  It's been ages since I've had to wait in the immigration line; I had a green card when I lived here during high school.  It looks like they upgraded the immigration check out line for residents and green card holders to merely swipe their passports and scan their thumbprints.  Lucky.  I had the great fortune of witnessing a very typical looking ?Singaporean/?Chinese girl make a mild fuss and promptly get whisked away by military grade beret-clad security to an unknown location.  Don't mess with immigration, people.

I have never been happier to see my friend, her face pinched with the uncertainty that comes with actually having to wait for someone in the airport (again, something from a bygone age, it feels) and watch it unfurl into a look of delighted recognition.  We were whisked away into her waiting car and while I drowsed on our way home, she detailed the next few days' adventures...

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