Friday, August 29, 2008
Days 2-5: LA, Looong Plane Ride, Singapore
Day 2: Waking up the morning of Wednesday, August 27 wasn't something I looked forward to. For one, Jim's parents offered me a nice place to sleep--it was comfortable and the room had Internet (what more could I ask for?!). But the main reason I didn't want to wake up was obvious: who wants to look forward to two plane rides, especially trans-Pacific ones. And especially out of LAX Airport.
LAX has the infamous reputation of being one of America's hell-hole airports. Service there is abysmal; actually, I don't think it existed at all after last year's incident (read: standing hours trying to board a plane to Tokyo with no one notifying any of the passengers that there are actually three lines in one due to a lack of personnel... and, as a result, making the flight by a matter of minutes and having to worry if the luggage made it). I expected much of the same this year, if not worse.
To my surprise, even after arriving later than I wanted to to the airport (but still within the 3-hour time frame suggested for international flights), I whisked through check-in. There were none of the big, never-ending queues I encountered last year. It seemed like a whole new airport. A staff member who saw me immediately pointed me to an online check-in counter. Within 10 minutes, I had my boarding pass, medical emergency contact form, and receipt in hand--not to mention by bag checked in. Unfortunately, I accidentally stuck my luggage tag on my carry-on luggage rather than the checked in bag, so I was praying that the bag would not get lost. If it did, this would cause unknown logistical problems, for by the time the bag would be located and delivered to me in Singapore, I would probably be in Phuket, Thailand, and so on and so forth.
Having made it to the flight terminal, I met a girl who was doing the trans-Siberian journey like I was. Only she was going on it ASAP: her flight was to Tokyo and then to Shanghai, from which she planned on going to Beijing and taking the train all the way to St. Petersburg, with spots in Ulaanbaatar and Moscow, as well as a few other Russian cities. By the time we started talking, I didn't realize that it was time to board. Boarding was swift and efficient. The smile on my face was obvious when I got my free copies of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times to read on the plane ride (courtesy of Northwest Airlines).
From the Financial Times, I gleaned the latest news and was surprised to learn that Russian President Medvedev had decided to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries. Not that I didn't think Russia would do it--I just didn't think it would come so fast. In any case, it was to be expected sooner or later, just perhaps not this abruptly.
Day 3: Upon arrival at Tokyo's Narita Airport, I watched CNN and fell asleep; by the time I woke up, boarding had begun for flight #2: Tokyo to Singapore Changi International Airport. Just as I was boarding the plane, Japanese TV started showing a special documentary on Kim Jong-Il and his many wives. Despite the fact that I didn't understand anything, I was finally able to see what his kidnapped South Korean wife looked like: she was amazingly beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I did not want to board flight #2, which, unlike the first nearly 11-hour-long one, was only about six-and-a-half hours. Oh well, too late, as I had already stepped on the plane. I quickly forgot about the North Korean dictator documentary when I was given another free edition of the Financial Times and a local English language Singapore daily, aplty named Today. It was from these two papers that I found out about the tumultuous protests currently taking place in Seoul and Bangkok, both over citizens' unhappiness over their governments' actions. Normally I would not care much, but I am visiting both cities--and Bangkok fairly soon (in less than a week). Although the protest there is non-violent (at least as far as I know), anything may happen. Let's all hope cooler heads prevail and Thailand will be able to avert another coup.
I soon fell asleep again. Unlike the LAX-Narita (Tokyo) flight, which was full, the plane to Singapore was smaller and only about 60% full. No one sat next to me (woo hoo!), which allowed me to lie down horizontally and fall asleep.
Day 4: Customs at Changi Singapore was a breeze. The airport was amazingly convenient and large, especially for a country of just over 4 million people. Due to a 50% night surcharge levied after midnight on all taxi rides, I decided to wait for an airport shuttle. An hour later and I was checked into my hostel.
Waking up just hours later, I decided to finally explore Singapore. My impressions, in short, are like those of many other people: Singapore is a clean, civilized place. There are four official languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay, although English and Mandarin are by far the most widely spoken. My hostel was located in Little India, which was mainly populated by Tamil people, I assume (based on the fact that Hindi signage was rarely seen, unlike Tamil, which was ubiquitous). Prices weren't bad. A good meal of Thai seafood fried rice, an iced cofee, and a shrimp on a stick thingy cost me S$6 (less than $5 USD). I got lost on the way back to my hostel, which was a blessing: on the long way back I saw many places that I otherwise wanted to see anyway, such as the Parliament Building and the city-state's main thoroughfare, Orchard Street. The city, as a business capital in South-East Asia, was obviously not a poor place: poverty, as well as beggers, was rarely seen. Mobile phones and cars were in abundance. It felt like a Western city, more or less.
Note: I just found out that Ramadan is coming up. I don't know what this means, but I hope food is served in Malaysia at least in some places during the day-time when I will be there in a few weeks. I don't wanna starve (I'm on vacation, dammit!).
Oh well, maybe even if food even served it's not that bad: I'll have no choice but to save money. And what's even better is that my money situation is better than expected: I've only spent $36 in LA and $48 in Singapore total so far (and that includes an up-front prepayment of 2 more nights of accommodation). Nice.
Definitely a nice, smooth start to my trip.