“I Should Have Ordered The Wine!” – The saga of the trip to Vietnam

After spending around 30 hours in the airline system, I think my favorite thing about the airport is going through security. I think the ticketholder’s behavior through airport security paints a pretty good picture of who they are as a person. The weathered traveler is alert, sharp, aware of the surroundings and impact on other travelers, moving at a pace that says “I have shit to do, and  so does everyone else in this line”. This person has everything ready – easily removable shoes, laptop pulled out, all loose items in the pockets already in one hand – by the time they get to the scanner, and they move through with mechanical efficiency. It’s an art and a science. To see someone flawlessly execute the security line shuffle is beautiful.

The other end of the spectrum is, I can only imagine, the man I had the pleasure of sitting next to on the flight from Chicago to LA.

Before we get to that story, though, I must include an enormous thank you to my parents, my sister Sara, and my friend Caroline for accompanying me to O’Hare. After an uneventful 4 hour drive and a stop at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place, I was through the security line and waiting at my gate for the plane a good two hours before boarding was to start. Not too shabby, by my time standards.

I was two hours early. The plane was a half hour late. Not a huge deal to most. When I boarded, I happily assumed my middle seat. The man to my left (we’ll call him Lefty) was one of the aforementioned efficient travelers. The best kind of traveler. I could tell by looking at him. Lefty was asleep before I even boarded. He ended up ordering the $11 Artisanal Cheese Platter. This guy was a pro who wasn’t going to let 32,000 feet of altitude get in the way of him enjoying some cheese. For a fleeting minute, I thought (as many an airplane traveler has probably though) that maybe the seat to my right would remain empty. HA. How far from the truth I was.

By the time Righty arrived, I was already deep into Wild (courtesy of Hannahleah). He took his seat, apologizing four or five times for his tardiness (Remember this. It will become ironic later). He then started quizzing me on the book, which was a little annoying but understandable. I politely obliged him with answers that showed him attention but also, or so I thought, showed that I was more interested in reading then explaining the plot line. You know the type of answer. You’ve been there before. He then asked if I was from Los Angeles, to which I proudly replied that I was from Ohio. That was probably a mistake.

It was after this answer that I got to hear my first of four songs from Righty. His father, he explained to me, was a songwriter who wrote a song about Ohio once. He gladly sang it for me. I didn’t even have to ask! After discovering the in-flight music selections, he then sang me three songs that he was disappointed they didn’t include in the in-flight music selections. Then Righty couldn’t figure out how to use the in-flight music selection and was aghast when the stewardess didn’t know how to use it (“They train us on safety, sir, not on listening to music.”). Then he didn’t know if you had to use headphones. Then he couldn’t find the headphone jack after the stewardess, bless her, didn’t charge him for headphones. When he finally got the music playing, he started air conducting and snapping to the music. Then he fell asleep. It was quite the sequence of events.

Weather delayed the plane about an hour an half, part of which took place before departure and part of which took place in the air. Upon arrival at LAX, Righty was livid. A list of selected quotes (with my reactions/thoughts in parentheses):

– “They said it was delayed because of weather. Do you see any weather that would cause delays?” (“I don’t know,” replied I. “It could have been in the air, or in Los Angeles before we got here. It was a long flight. I don’t know how it all works.”)

– “We are now an hour and a half late, which I consider unacceptably late.” (Chicago to LA in five hours is too long?)

– “I’m never flying Virgin Airlines again!” (I’m sure they’ll be sad to see you go.)

So that flight was interesting. All in all, Righty wasn’t a bad guy. He just wanted to chat, and I didn’t. In the inescapable absurdities of air travel that provide endless fodder for standup comedy routines, Righty’s presence was a welcomed part of the experience.

Arriving in LA so late unfortunately cancelled the wonderfully detailed plans Uje put together for me, so I resorted to watching Jake and Amir videos and eating Panda Express. Believe it or not, LAX is a pretty boring place between 10PM and 1:45AM, which is when I promptly boarded China Airlines’s mansion of a plane for the twelve hour and forty minute flight to Taiwan.

I’ll tell you what. If you are ever flying and China Airlines is an option, let me be the first to say that you should take that flight. They know how to fly. Reason 1) We boarded nearly 300 travelers at 1:45AM and took off early. They weren’t messing around. I had a lovely aisle seat this time, next to a newlywed couple heading to Indonesia for their honeymoon (“We hear they have great diving!”). Reason 2) We got two meals. Both were okay, but both, unbeknownst to me but beknownst (can you believe that unbeknownst is a word and beknownst isn’t? I’m using it in lexicographical protest) to my diver friends Reason 3) included free wine. Why did I get water?! I should have ordered the wine! Reason 4) Excellent movie choices. I watched three Wes Anderson films. Color me cultured. Reason 5) The plane landed only one minute after it was supposed to on a nearly thirteen hour flight.

Another great reason to fly China Airlines is the prospect of connecting through Taiwan Taoyuan Airport.

Their clocks were all Rolexes.

Insert Flava Flav joke here.
Insert Flava Flav joke here.

Not a Burger King, McDonalds, or even swanky airport bars where yopros and college kids (I can call them that because I’m an alumnus) can tweet pictures of their overpriced appletinis in sight. No, this place had shops. And I’m talking shops. Electronic gadgets, high end watches, and liquor I only hear about in rap songs filled the shelves of these stores, all for the weary traveler looking to drop a couple Gs before they get home and have to pay taxes on them.

Maybe a $392 bottle of single malt scotch is the way to go.
Maybe a $392 bottle of single malt scotch is the way to go.
No, I'm on vacation. The $962 bottle of Dalmore 25-year-old is more suitable.
No, I’m on vacation. The $962 bottle of Dalmore 25-year-old is more suitable.
Maybe a $1927 bottle of Hennessy? Yeah, I think that's the right way to spend the rest of my budget.
Maybe a $1927 bottle of Hennessy? Yeah, I think that’s the right way to spend the rest of my budget.

The flight from Taiwan to Hanoi was uneventful. The food moved in more of a traditional Asian direction.

I had the fish and noodles.
I had the fish and noodles.

They still had free wine, (I didn’t order it! Who am I?!) and the plane was smaller, but all in all things on the three hour flight were normal. Free meals and movies on a four hour flight make it hard to complain. We landed in Hanoi around 10:30AM local time.

The trip from start to finish took around 30 hours. I type this from my hotel bed in good spirits, with a belly full of pho, a cacophony of motorbike and city bus honking as a soundtrack, and year of adventure ahead of me. And, according to the fortune I got in my Panda Express cookie, that’s a good thing.

From my Panda Express fortune cookie, my last American meal for a while
From my Panda Express fortune cookie, my last American meal for a while

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