Friday, July 24, 2015
I finished my last board meeting at the office last night and got home tired and hungry. I knew the week would be a long one, so most of my packing was done the previous weekend. Oddly enough, I haven’t been too nervous about this trip. Thailand and Cambodia will be much less gear intensive than the ill-fated Peruvian adventure last year. For that trip, we were packing camping gear and items we thought we would need for a 4-day Inca Trail hike. That kept me in a constant state of panic (Do I need one hiking stick or two? Is my camera gear going to be too heavy? Did I pack enough warm clothing? and so on and so on). Even the Galapagos trip required us to get new snorkeling gear. For this trip, I just needed clothes, and I got all those bought over the past two weekends. I have joked that I have more linen and khaki than Meryl Streep when she packed up to go film “Out of Africa.” Greg had dutifully packed all the clothes I set aside. He is a ninja packer. When I pack a suitcase, it looks like my office: crap spread everywhere willy-nilly. When Greg, the clothes and the suitcase meet, the results are a thing of beauty: everything is rolled up neatly, and each thing has a special place. The point of all this? My gear was packed, and we had nothing to do last night but hang out and put aside the last minute items. We began to get excited. Those familiar butterflies in my stomach finally started flying. I sometimes ask myself why I travel. It makes me nervous. The flights are a pain. Doing a month’s worth of work in two weeks so I can leave for the trip is always hectic, and finding the 1,000 emails when I get back is a gut-punch. Why do it? It’s the adventure! In spite of the difficulties, I love it! It recharges my soul.
Anyway, off we go!
Our day started early today when the alarm clock blared at 5:30 AM. Our Action Limo driver was right on time at 7:00 AM, and we were at the airport before 8:00. As usual, we were the Prontosaurus family, and we had our tickets and were at the gate before 8:30. Our flight wasn’t scheduled for takeoff until 10:30 so we went to Ruby’s and had a thoroughly nasty, big American breakfast. When we returned to the gate, a large group of Korean veterans were there. Some were on canes, others had walkers. They were headed to Seoul. It’s a trip they make periodically at the invitation of a Korean church. One of the old gentlemen told Greg that they were all treated reverentially by the Korean people. It was great to see all the old guys having an adventure together. My father is a Korean war vet, though he never went to Korea. He tells the story like this: when his training was finished, his group was mustered and asked if any of them had served in a post office. Violating the age-old rule that you don’t volunteer, Dad raised his hand. His brother had been the postmaster back in Arkansas. Dad spent the rest of his Korean War effort in a post office in Germany. He thinks he made a good call when he raised his hand that day. I agree.
Our flight boarded efficiently and left on time. The flight attendants on Korean Air are beautiful and statuesque. Their hair is pulled back into perfectly lacquered buns. The service, even back in lowly coach where we are, was top-notch. They had Genene’s heart the moment they handed out slippers. She tossed her shoes into the corner and began to indulge. Their first meal was the highlight for me. They served bibimbap, the traditional Korean rice bowl dish.
None of us had eaten it before, and they brought us a card that described the exact steps for mixing it up.
It was delicious. The lovely ladies came around with snacks quite often and refilled the water glasses regularly. It’s a far cry from United. We flew United to Quito back in March, and every one of their flight attendants disappeared after takeoff and only reappeared at landing. Anyway, back to Korean Air. Their second meal was much less impressive. I think they elected to wow us right out of the box with the bibimbap, but the next meal was the same old rubber chicken that you get on every airplane and at every AWBD conference luncheon. Their movie selection was not the best. I watched the Ben Stiller movie “While We’re Young.” I thought it was a bit of a mess. It could have been so much better. The flight duration was 14+ hours, so we had a lot of time to read, play our iPads, nap, and just hang out. I injured my back a few months ago, and I was afraid the prolonged sitting might be a problem but I made it fine. Toward the end, I was feeling pretty restless, but “no pain, no gain.”
Saturday, July 25, 2015
We arrived in Seoul at 3:00 PM on Saturday, having spent most of our Saturday in transit. We crossed the dateline somewhere over the Pacific. The Seoul airport was very easy to navigate, although we were annoyed at having to go through screening and bag x-rays again, and they made us toss our valuable water supply. We were at the gate for Bangkok with 90 minutes to spare. We were starved and Greg found some little French-style hot sandwiches that hit the spot. We bought more water bottles and got to be annoyed a second time when the Korean Air personnel made us toss them before boarding the Bangkok flight. There was no reason for that, other than the fact that they didn’t want the trash in the airplane. The flight from Seoul to Bangkok was about six hours, and we were all just thrashed. I fell asleep sitting straight up. Genene looked like a zombie. Greg did his usual handsome man trick of sleeping with his mouth open. I call it “catching flies.”
Our little world traveler can pass out anywhere. She used to take up a lot less room on the airplane when she slept. Now, as she gets comfortable, grown-up sized flailing legs come across the armrests.
We touched down in Bangkok at around 10:00 PM. Immigration was easy. The man in the booth didn’t ask any of us a single question and he never even seemed to look up. By the time we got through, our bags were riding around the carousel waiting for us to retrieve them. We wrestled them onto the ground, and we were off! When I get my bags, I always feel like Secretariat at the start of a race when the gate comes up and the bell rings. It always feels so good to be free of the confining space of the aircraft, and it’s a relief to know that all our bags made it. I started hauling butt across the airport with my head on a swivel, looking for the man who would be holding up a placard with our names on it. The receiving area was long and narrow, and we had to run the usual gamut of cab drivers and hawkers looking for fresh meat. I spotted our man, Ken (not his Thai name), and we were relieved to follow him dutifully to the parking garage and into our private transport vehicle.
Although we were exhausted, we were still excited to have finally arrived in Bangkok. Continent No. Five is knocked off the bucket list for Genene and me, while Greg has completed all seven! Not everyone gets the elusive Antarctica, but Greg served on an icebreaker during his years in the Coast Guard and got to romp around with emperor penguins on the ice. Genene and I are a little envious that he has got that one on us because we are unlikely to put that notch in our belts for a while. We may try to knock off Australia next year so we will only be one behind, but I’m ahead of myself.
The drive to our hotel took about 45 minutes and looked like any drive through city traffic, with the exception of the Thai signage. Ken taught us how to say hello. We already knew that one, having learned it many years ago from the kind owner of Lemongrass restaurant in Houston. For Ken’s sake, we acted as if he was giving us a good lesson and dutifully repeated our sawadee kha (what we women say) and sawadee krap (what Greg says).
We drove through the heart of the vibrant city at night. We passed the statue of the four faced white elephant, and Ken explained that white elephants really existed. He explained that they had very pink skin and light eyes, so I think he is talking about an albino. He told us that they were considered sacred and must be presented to the king and queen. It is considered good luck for the king and queen to have one and bad luck for any villager to keep one. They are quite costly to maintain. Thus we have the background for the expression “white elephant gift.”
We got to our hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at about 11 PM on Saturday night. A mere 28 hours had elapsed between when we left our home in Bellaire and our arrival at the hotel. We were bushed. Ken will meet us tomorrow afternoon, so we can sleep in and try to get on Thai time.
For now, I will leave you with the view from our balcony.
I can’t wait to have my first Thai curry in Thailand. Genene is ready for pad Thai noodles. Greg is happy any time he can find a cold beer. Tomorrow, we will ride the longtail boats and get a feel for the city. Until then….