Going home

Most people look at the movie options, but Bag Lady is a map addict for her inflight entertainment, not that she actually finds flying entertaining. She is a nervous flyer – every bump and lump brings the possibility of a huge storm ahead that even a few gins can’t really assuage.

But, the maps provide detail of an unknown world out there, or 40,000 feet down there. Where exactly is Cox’s Bazaar and why is it important enough to be flagged shortly after leaving Bangkok, even though it looks as if it somewhere over the Bay of Bengal. Chittagong, fair enough, but Cox’s Bazaar? Yangon, or Rangoon as it should be called, is flagged, but no mention of Scott’s Bazaar – believe me when I say that it was just about the highlight of Rangoon on a wet Sunday a few months ago. If I was an airline mapper, I’d emphasise Scott’s Bazaar rather than Rangoon. Rangoon did not cut Bag Lady’s mustard.

And the Nicobar Islands, the Ten Degree Channel and the Andaman Sea all sound so exotic when compared to Hayling Island and the English Channel. But I expect Hayling Island may sound exotic if you live in the Nicobars. If you meet any Nicobarians, let’s not disillusion them about Hayling or Canvey Islands. Bag Lady wonders whether Port Blair was named for Tony?

And some music playing too. Rubbish headphones, but too rocky to dive into my bag to get out the Bose NR luxury listening. Barbra Streisand, Encore, very Streisand, and I am loving it, especially ‘At The Ballet’. Bag Lady has always loved ‘A Chorus Line’. Plus Regina Spektor, really pleased to listen to this one and I shall be buying as soon as I get home, if I get home, as it is bumpy and the imagination is running into overdrive. About 15 months ago, someone in Hua Hin was explaining the nuances of the 787 Dreamliner and how it is designed to overcome turbulence, how great it is: not this one. Bumpety bump. Seat belt signs are on, about fifteen minutes too late in my view. 2106 miles to go. Will this one match the storm between Hong Kong and Saigon 15 months ago, the one where overhead lockers flew open and lighter weight items like jackets and plastic carrier bags escaped, reminding Bag Lady of the scene from Speilberg’s Poltergeist where the nursery toys flew around?

Approaching India always gives Bag Lady a glow. It is a favourite place and is the next trip in three weeks time. But this bounce bounce approach over the Bay of Bengal is not giving the glow. At least there is still some gin, almost 7pm at transit destination and therefore a respectable time for gin. Reverse time travel going on here as we left Bangkok at 8pm. Plus a bit of very unacceptable sexism before takeoff – an Omani national, male, did not want to sit next between two western women, one of whom was yours truly. Seething with rage does not begin to explain it. But, I don’t actually want to sit next to such a mysogynistic pig at any point in my life so I was pleased that he swapped seats with a younger chap from Oman, who seems not to be offended by females. But he did say that he was sitting here because the other man did not want to sit next to women. Dark frigging ages. Bag Lady is quite a feisty old bird, but I suppose this moment was salutory in that it has reminded her that her independence and definition is not acceptable to some, or many. Pity the women in Oman, and elsewhere, who have to put up with this subordination. What must the other woman, much younger, have thought of this dark ages throwback passenger?

And we get to India, and the turbulence subsides. I bloody love India, even if I have never heard of Vishakhapatnam, just 56km away. Mother India. Mother India calms the path.

And Bag Lady wonders whether her two bunches of pink orchids and some tropical greenery, bought earlier at Gourmet Market, will survive the journey in their makeshift cardboard packaging, upcycled from a discarded cardboard box from Boots The Chemist at Exchange Tower?

And if the pot of raw Thai honey will have leaked? And how about the specially packaged green veggies and mushrooms from Gourmet Market at EM Quartier? The veggies and mushrooms really deserve to make the journey unscathed as the grocery manager treated their packaging as if the contents were the finest Scotch smoked salmon, rather than 55 bahts worth of veggies. About £1.30. I just hope that a branch of Tesco or Waitrose goes out of their way in return for a foreigner wanting some turnips or potatoes.

And I see Hubli on the map and wonder if it the same Hubli that we travelled through to reach Hampi almost two years ago? I think it must be. It was the place we didn’t get breakfast after an early start at stupid o’clock.

And later, the senior cabin officer, an Omani national, said it is not unusual for Omanis (male) not to want to sit next to western females. He most definitely did not condone it. I guess it is life and reality there. It makes me so grateful that I do not have to live in such a society. And I would never do so.

It’s time for a snooze before the race from one aircraft to another at Muscat, then another sleepier seven hours to Heathrow. Zzzzzz.

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Bag Lady travels to Bangkok

The journey here is a bit tough on the old body, but the sun and heat definitely help the bones feel better, escaping from a London November. 

Mainly, it is pool and sunshine time, but a few months since the last visit and a difference in the seasons here means that the sun’s at a different angle and now disappears from the pool at 3.30pm instead of 5pm. Drat; but why should it not have changed here too? The angle has changed markedly in London since September – we may not share a tropical climate in London, but we do share the northern hemisphere. Everything has gone south as we head towards December. My body felt like it was heading south and this is the perfect pick up. Bag lady does not grumble. 

It is a treat and a joy to cross the side street from the hotel and have a beer in the evening, sitting outside too. The bar is beginning to feel like my local. When in Thailand, have a Chang beer.  Oh, I really could live in this sort of weather. 

A gentle trip this morning to the Chatuchak weekend market was productive for a replacement power adaptor – mine mocks me from London. And some little shiny embossed plastic zipped pouches that look as if the should have cost more than 20 baht apiece. That’s just less than 50 pence in sterling. Bag Lady is a quality control freak so tested the zip on each pre-purchase. Excellent too. Holiday fantasy brain thinks that there could be a microbusiness opportunity in importing these and selling them on……

The realisation that Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin starred Dim Sum restaurant, has its Thai outpost in the nearby shopping mall is an inducement to spend an evening or two carbing out on the fish and vegetarian options there.  The queue in Hong Kong two years ago really was too long a wait. 

And the Food Court there looks amazing. We noticed it on the visit here three months ago and were astonished at how cheap the prices seemed, particularly when compared to the likes of Food Republic at the Siam Center or the food court in the basement of the Siam Paragon Mall. I have read subsequently that the owner of the mall in which Pier 21 is situated, Terminal 21, does not charge rent to the food businesses in return for cheap prices which, in turn, encourages footfall into the mall. Now, this man would make a fortune from importing the little plastic pouches into the UK………

Terminal 21 is actually a bit of a hoot. Its theme is that of a fantasy airport terminal, only very light security checking though as you enter the mall, no requirement to take off your shoes or belt. Each floor represents a destination – San Francisco, Istanbul, Rome, Tokyo, London, Paris and the Caribbean. On the London floor, people were queuing to get their photograph taken next to an MDF painted guardsman. It’s all a bit strange, but it actually works. 

Bangkok, last summer, written during the Qatar Airways flights, reminiscing about the posher days of air travel in the 1960s & 1970s

This was written in August 2015 onboard a Qatar Airways duo of flights, shortly after a bomb had killed some worshippers at a shrine in Bangkok, as we were heading there for what was another fabulous Thai holiday. The next one is just weeks away…..

Well, it’s got travel in the title and that what’s happening now. I am reminded of 1976, a summer holiday trip as a sixteen year old to America for its Bicentennial and my dad, fairly well travelled by that time, saying that he never imagined as a child in the 1930s/1940s that he would ever travel on an aircraft. I think he said it during that fight, also confessing to his earlier fears of leaving his seat during a flight in case it upset the balance of the aircraft and threw it into freefall spin.

This was an escape from the great drought of 1976 and should have been  a flight to Toronto which got diverted to Detroit or somewhere nearby because the Canadian air traffic controllers were refusing to speak English in the lead up to the Montreal Olympics, and international  flights were all diverted into USA airports. We travelled under police escort in coaches to Toronto (only for us then to double back on ourselves as we were heading to Ohio for 4 July Bicentennial celebrations). I have always been a fan of protest, quite liking that the air traffic controllers were using the summer Olympics to protest – a bit of a fail though as I think they still have to land those iron birds in English.

Oh now, it’s the third flight of the year east. I live in East London and like being east so much that travel plans usually head in that direction too. Why change what is good?

The event of travel has changed so much. It really was a big deal then. In the 1960s, as a child, I would get a new outfit for a flight to the USA. So would my mum – I have a recollection of her at Heathrow, back in the day when it was called London Airport, in a dress and matching coat, looking not unlike Jackie Kennedy (before she was Onassis). There was a large silver purple stoned brooch which set off the orange and purple striped dress (I still have the brooch). So, looking like we were dressed as guests at a wedding, we would get onto our Pan Am, TWA or Aer Lingus flights. 

The Aer Lingus flights stopped off in Shannon, famous back in the day for its duty free hall, huge blocks of Kerrygold cheese and smoked bacon. I expect it did a line in alcohol too, but I have no recollection (and probably had no idea what alcohol was then – gasp; who can believe that?). I recall a Pan Am flight where mum asked for an orange juice for me and they said that orange juice was reserved for vodka-orange cocktails. Glad they went bust, payback for denying me a juice. I think they gave me 5 cigarettes with my inflight meal though – I mean, I was about seven or eight. It wasn’t a special children’s meal, just the regular meal which came with five fags for everyone.

So, back to now. You travel in comfy clothes, you do not dress up, you pray unsuccessfully to the upgrade gods as you queue to check in, unless you are checking into that once a year Christmas treat flight that you have cashed in all your air miles for plus paid a top up fortune to travel club class, and go through the ordeal of mad security overkill airports, seeking an hour or two of escape in an airport lounge with a bit of gin and some olives, assaulted by shopping opportunities that tempt you to give up your hard earned for a premium brand handbag at 20% discount. You have been at work all day before you get to the airport, doing your holiday notes for your colleagues, keeping your fingers crossed that there is not a work crisis that day as your fuzzy brain didn’t get to bed until at least 2.30am the evening before as you packed and went round the house switching off various appliances that you think will otherwise spontaneously combust, hoping the Piccadilly Line will not fail you, sending last minute texts to neighbours in the hope that they will keep a better eye on the house than the emergency service linked burglar alarm can do.

And then, you step onto the aircraft, entering the world of well groomed and shiny aircrew, finding the bijou space which will be yours for the next 6, 8 or 12 hours. Depending upon the quality of the airline you have got your deal on, you may get a copy of Hello Magazine or a hot towel before takeoff or a boiled sweetie. Perhaps a glass of champagne or some Armagnac after dinner. Or not.

And, 16 hours later, after a short stop in Doha, you’ll be there, the City of Smiles, Bangkok, just a few days after the city was rocked by a major bomb blast. As ever, we are thrilled and privileged to arrive here.

Friday 12 August 2016

In a surreal twist, having delayed posting this by almost a year, yesterday and today there have been more bombs, causing death and injury in Thailand. My thoughts are with the affected. The country’s tourist economy will be rocked still further. A real catastrophe in a country where tourism supports a significant percentage of the population and their families.
I am still looking forward to five days in Thailand in the next few weeks. Others will be put off though.