So it begins…
Waking at 3:45 am, I head for the airport in a state of delerium. Due to the last minute nature of my travel (I booked my flight on Saturday and left on a Thurs morning, I was up till 1am on Thurs morning getting ready for said mentioned visit). I must not complain, for I had 24 hours of flight time to catch up on sleep. I fell asleep before wheels were up leaving NYC and was jostled awake by the sound of the landing gear being deployed before landing in SFO. Ah, 5+ hours of make up sleep…and experts say you cannot “catch up”. I disagree.
We left NYC at 6:00am from JFK on United Flight #5 and flew to SFO with touchdown at 9:00am. I had checked my bag through to Bangkok at JFK, so I leisurely strolled over to the book store and picked up some reading material before grabbing a Pete’s coffee for a jolt and then swung by the Stanford/Cal merchandise store and picked up a Cal hat for good luck. You never know when a Bears hat would come in handy (probably very handy in south east asia where its 90 degrees and any eye shade is much welcomed). Boy was it bright yellow! Remind me to wash it and or drag it through the dirt to help break it in.
I borded the plane leaving SFO and was immediately transfixed as I stared at the window with our departure flight path. The plane banked left towards the Pacific then a hard right as we navigated our way north hugging the coast. I flew over the Olympic Club where I think I saw one of my 99 balls lost the year before on that unforgiving course.
We flew over my sister and Brother in Law’s house in ST Francis Woods (I asked the pilot to dip the wings as we passed out of respect..he said no). After a straight shot over the Marina, we continued with incredible closeness to the Golden Gate Bridge, the headlands, the shark infested waters north of the city and all the way up over Oregon and Washington state. Unreal! Beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, and I was treated to this sight as we left the Golden State.
I fell asleep sometime shortly thereafter and awoke as we were hugging the coast, flying over Juneau, then onto the Gulf of Alaska and south of Anchorage. Unbeknownst to me, instead of a direct shot west (as the crow flies), the plane flew north west, hugging the coast all the way up to along Canada, the Aleutians, then south-west along the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk near Siberia. We crossed the international date line and then passed just south of Khabarovsk in Russia and the Sea of Japan.
We ultimatley landed in Beijing after a 11 hour flight from SFO. As we landed, my internal compass and time clock were a bit off. 6 hours from NYC-SFO then another 11 from SFO to Beijing. I was a bit “out of it”, but immediatley came too when I was required to de-board and obtain a “transfer” at the Beijing airport. Let me just say that after a 11 hour flight, trying to obtain access into the airport so I could board another plane out of the airport, seemed challenging (and a bit absurd) at best. I stood at a counter with no less than 5 people sitting behind it talking to each other, but whom had no interest in chatting with me. Finally, after about 30 minutes of waiting patiently to avoid the “ugly american” syndrome (I did interupt two different people and were told to stand in another line – there was only one line and I was the only one in it..so something was lost in translation), a nice woman offered to help. Not sure what prompted her to engage in dialogue with a total stranger as her colleagues were a bit turned off that she broke conversation…but I do thank her for the brilliant help.
She called downstairs to luggage, identified my suitcase and then hand wrote out my ticket on Thai Airlines. I went through customs (without my baggage). I was photographed, given two different sets of stamps, proceeded through security (again without my bag) and having never left the international portion of the airport, was given a mighty fine pat down by a less than shy female security agent and was finally waived through to make my way to the Thai airlines at gate 31! I wondered about my travel bag..but lo and behold I would soon see it out on the tarmac! As I was standing at Gate 31, some strange airline attendant came up and asked if I was Mr. Schaeffer? How he knew I was Jason (well, I was the only anglo on the whole flight..but still)…he then walked me over to the window and asked me if that was in fact my bag down on the tarmac. My mouth fell open as I looked around for cameras. Why was my bag on the ground underneath the airplane and how did this guy know about it and how did he approach me? 8th wonder of the world in my book. I nodded that “yes, that was mine”. He radioed some chappie and that was that!
Side note: the Beijing airport is absolutely gorgeous. The entire ceiling consists of strips of wood that run parallel the length of the cieling. Reminded me of wooden scales on some large mythic creature that had contours and texture. The place was spotless, almost empty at mid day and was slightly antiseptic. The highlight was watching the security guards for customs march single file past the Gucci store and food court. Their smart uniforms and crisp arm movements seemed slightly out of place as contrasted with the the international travelers and high end duty free stores. But I digress.
Finally, I boarded the flight, and immediately fell back into a semi-dream like state with visions of Thailand and HK dancing on the brain. I figured I would have no clothes to wear, but I didnt care. I was going to Thailand!
Luckily, I had been upgraded so my arrival into Bangkok was unlike anything I have experienced. Whisked off the plane, I was placed into a golf cart and driven roughshod through the brightly lit Bangkok airport and then funneled into the VIP/Embassy line at the visa check point station. After a quick stamp into my new passport (old one expired after 10 years of a very very useful life), I was then greeted by another handler who went and collected my luggage while I exchanged a falling dollar for a Baht (1 to 33 if of interest).
After a gracious thankyou and a nice Thai bow, I left my handler and I jumped into the cab and then made my way into the city. Again, due to a rushed plan job, I had flown half way around the world and hadnt made any hotel arrangements! I wasnt too worried…figuring Bangkok had a least one available room for this wayward soul. I rocked up to the Metropolitan (a req from a friend at the Wall Street Journal who was currently working in Bangkok).
They claimed to give me their last available room. After a drink and a bite, sleep…perchance to sleep! I was rocked, a wreck and in need of a good ten hours. I set the Bose alarm and closed the shades and slumbered for an eternity, dipping into darkness and nary an open eye for 9 long lasting hours.
I awoke in Bangkok, Thailand. It was saturday, around 11am and boy was I famished. What would Bangkok have in store for me today? I was about to find out…..