Wednesday, June 1, 2011

So that's what flying through half the world's time zones feels like...

Hey everyone! I'm going to keep up a blog while I'm working for the summer in Cambodia, so feel free to check in for updates and pictures of my life in Phnom Penh.

Katerina, Dimitri, Sean, Steve, and Sonia were nice enough to see me off at Logan on Sunday. I was late for the flight, so I only had a few seconds to say goodbye, but it was so cool to have my close Bostonian friends see me off for the first of four flights. I also got to see Arielle, in a whirlwind breakfast/last suitcase drop off. I'm really looking forward to this experience, but I also know I can't wait to see them again in August.

So first flight. I took JetBlue from Boston to JFK, and absolutely loved it! This was my first time flying with them, and I was super impressed. Usually when I'm doing a Boston to NYC flight, the attendant will get on the intercom and give the "Due to the short duration of this flight..." speech regarding why I can't get a soda and some pretzels. Not JetBlue! The attendant was super fast, going around not once but twice with snack selections. Awesome :). Plus, the woman at the check-in desk was joking with me about my trip, and the pilot and flight attendants actually looked like they wanted to be at work. I think I'm going to use JetBlue for all of my trips to VA from now on.

Next came six hours in JFK, which included getting lost on their monorail. Twice. I switched to Delta, where they informed me that my luggage was 13lbs overweight, and I would therefore incur a charge. I didn't think this was a problem; usually it's what, $30, $50 at most? Try $150. FOR 13 LBS. That's not even a small child! That's my bookbag on a con law class day! Moral of the story, check the weight limits and penalties before flying.

The next leg of the trip was from JFK to San Francisco. This one was BY FAR the worst of the flights, mostly because I got to spend the next 6 hours on the plane from hell. (Actually, 6 and a half; we had to sit on the runway for 30 minutes waiting for other planes to take off. They kept turning the air on and off. It really was exactly like the 30 Rock episode, complete with my stomach growling for turkey wraps.) What made it even worse was the family sitting behind me; there were two young girls, who by the end of the flight we all knew were named Cecilia and Sophie based on the number of times the mother gave them ridiculous compliments ("Sophie, you did a great job buckling your seat belt!", "Cecilia, I'm so proud that when I said to name animals that start with the letter B, you were clever enough to think of a bear!"), which contrasted starkly with the multiple times she snapped at them, whining that they were being unreasonable ("Believe me, I want your Jungle Book DVD to start working too! I never get some piece and quiet! Cecilia, stop kicking the seat! Sit down. SIT DOWN.") Cecilia kicked my seat for the entire flight. Just think about that for a minute. The. Entire. Flight.

Their dad was across the aisle, and it was startling to hear the way the mom talked to him. At one point he asked if she had any snacks in her bag, and she venomously shot back that she couldn't get any time to herself. If he asked what time it was, she would snap that she wasn't a clock. It was if all the sugary sweetness she used on the kids was spent, and the only things left for him were terse, sarcastic comments and disgusted sighs whenever he tried to start a conversation.

We finally pulled into SFO, and I raced out of the airplane, eager to relax during my hour layover before I boarded my longest flight from San Francisco to Taipei. At this point, I was switching from Delta to China Airlines. When I arrived at security and handed over my e-ticket and passport, the officer informed me that China Airlines wanted an actual ticket, not the e-pass provided by the Delta kiosk back in JFK. I ran to their ticket counter, where a long line of passengers snaking up and down the roped rows waited while 5 agents called each passenger forward so that they could weigh our carry-ons. Having been burned with my checked luggage earlier in the day, I began pulling out heavy items like my laptop and hiding them in my giant purse so my bookbag would make weight (they weren't weighing purses). I passed with flying (ha!) colors.

The repeat check-in cost me my entire hour (I was the last person in the line), so by the time I made it through security and got to the gate they were already boarding 1st class. I got onto the plane, and instantly had a flashback to my first international flight from Washington to London in 1999. I think this was the same plane. There was a projector at the front of my section that played No Strings Attached, and then two kid action movies. I slept through all of them. This was a much quieter flight, which I appreciated. The China Airlines flight attendants were super strict; the guy beside me wanted to lift the window shade and look out for a bit, but because they try to simulate nighttime during long flights, the flight attendant told him immediately to shut it (this happened 3 different times). For dinner I had a chicken-esque thing on top of rice wrapped in foil. For breakfast, I got to choose between eggs and sausage and Chinese soup and noodles. I took the former on this flight, and went with the noodles on my last leg to Cambodia.

I ended up talking to an elderly man sitting beside me during the last 2 hours of the flight. He was from Vietnam, now living in Dallas, TX. He came to the US in the 70's and originally lived in Philadelphia. When he talked about Philly, his nose wrinkled and a look of disgust came over his face. He said he was definitely happier in Texas. I asked him if he was visiting his family, and he said that he received a call from his relatives saying that his mother was dying and that he needed to fly home immediately. He said in such a matter-of-fact manner, it startled me. I told him I was sorry, and he just shrugged and said that as people get older this is what happens.

I got off at Taipei, and again only had about an hour to make it through security and on to my gate. I had a terrible headache that started during the last 30 minutes of my flight, and was looking for a store selling Advil (or the Taiwanese equivalent) but couldn't find one anywhere. Instead, I found myself passing multiple high-end stores. It would have been easier for me to get a Gucci purse or Prada shoes than for me to find some over-the-counter medication. I settled for a water fountain that talked to me (I'm not sure what it said, but it sounded super happy) as I filled up my plastic travel bottle, thinking that hydration would stop the unbearable throbbing.

At this point in the journey, I looked like the Swamp Thing's hygienically-challenged little sister. I was actually going to do a photo of myself as I made it through each part of the trip, but as a public service to society those shots were abandoned. Let's just say that I tried dry shampoo for the first time, and got to feel first-hand why it didn't catch on as a toiletry sensation. I had dark circles under my eyes, and was covered in a thick layer of human cough/sniffles/sneezes accumulated through 3 flights of recirculated air. When I sat down next to other passengers waiting to board the flight to Phnom Penh, I think I saw several of them recoil in fear. I contemplated embracing my new role completely by bursting into "The Music of the Night" from Phantom, but the headache stopped my musical ambitions.

I stumbled onto the last plane, which was pretty empty. This was welcome news, especially since the last two flights were booked to the top. I moved to my own row, and whimpered to the flight attendant that I needed some medicine for my headache. She said it was against China Airlines policy to give medication  without a doctor's note. I was too tired to fight, so I just collapsed across my three seats, trying to sleep.

It was at this point that I noticed my legs. I recalled that they had felt funny after the last flight, but I had just written it off as a result of sitting still for 13 hours. When I glanced down at my ankles, I realized that they had swollen to the size of softballs. My calves were HUGE, and my feet were spilling out over the sides of my shoes. The skin looked shiny and tight, like water balloons about to burst. I wouldn't realize the full extent of what was happening until I got to the hotel.

I made it through customs at the Phnom Penh airport, where I encountered my only rude person so far. The guy checking my passport shouted for me to go, because apparently I didn't understand when he was finished checking my papers. I walked over to pick up my luggage, and was startled to see armed guards everywhere. I know that they're part of the security checkpoint, but it was still a rough welcoming committee.

A representative from the hotel came to pick me up. He had my name on a sheet of paper, so it was really easy to find him. He grabbed my luggage, and took me straight to the hotel. On the way, I had my first exposure to Cambodian traffic (more on that later). I entered the hotel, where they had mango juice waiting on me. I filled out some paperwork, went up to my room, and gratefully fell asleep for 12 hours.

End of Day 1.


  1. Well that CERTAINLY ranks as one of the worst commutes to a job EVER! I'm so glad you're capturing it for all of us, and I can't wait to hear about (and see) more. I hope your feet do/did not explode on day two - seriously concerned about that right now.

  2. The feet! SWEET JESUS THE FEET!

    That's the only thing I can think of now. Grats on arrival.