AWAKE FOR 31 hours might be an equally dramatic title for this distracted blog but it wouldn’t be accurate, I caught snatches of sleep here and there throughout the maze. But, just before I forget it, the biggest differences between points of origin and destination that I immediately noted: everything is back to the correct side, meaning you are always on the right side of the road, and look left before right while crossing said road; children can sell cigarettes, that’s probably the craziest thing, and you’re not asked for ID when you buy alcohol and cancer sticks. Those struck me, but as usual they’re non sequitur and I’m getting ahead of myself.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and you never get something for nothing. In return for a ridiculously cheap airplane ticket, you get aggravation and annoyance that ages you twice the normal rate. I don’t know if that’s OK with you, you may probably be stressproof or young as a babe, and these don’t matter to you, but eventually it did to me, and I’m one of the (maybe the) cheapest persons I know.
Only a few things trump getting the juiciest bargain, and I just learned this recently : quality and uninterrupted rest, and the muck of insufferable boredom. Because I’m an inconsistent traveller and haven’t adhered to any frequent flyer program, and because the budget pie often results in a sliver-thin slice for jetsetting, any chance to get flight bargains is grabbed in nanoseconds with no hesitation. And the bargain I beheld online was too good to be true: for roughly the price of a business-class ticket (which I’ve never purchased), I could have two, countem two coach tickets, literally unbelievable! Today however, I humbly stand before you to say it’s a price paid in both coin and aggravation. Again, I get ahead of myself.
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SuperBisor was taking us to the airport, and that definitely was one less thorn on our sides. Checking in and waiting for the flight in Wellington was understandably the easiest and non-defining part of the trip: we were still fresh and excited to travel.
I didn’t realize that any laptops needed to be taken out of their bags and because we had two (esposa hermosa was bequeathing one to a younger bro), we held up the long line behind us on the metal detector conveyor while extracting said laptops from their sheaths. That was the awkward highlight of our first leg.
Auckland however was an entirely different kettle of fish as regards stress. To begin with, the City of Sails was the gateway outside NZ, and therefore the airlines strongly encouraged (hint words for required) its passengers to show up at least 90 minutes before the scheduled departure time (earlier than domestic boardings), which was nearly impossible since we were arriving from Wellington barely one hour and forty minutes before the next leg.
That means between claiming our luggage, checking it and ourselves in, finding the boarding gate in the cavernous mall-cum-airport (seems that all airports look like malls nowadays), clearing immigration (as a guest worker like me, you want to look financially capable enough to leave and sane enough to be welcomed back, both excruciatingly difficult for me) and avoiding at boarding the aura of a drug mule, terrorist or conscript for white slavery, we had an eternity of 10 minutes. How’s that for an instant prescription to prematurely gray your hair?
The Auckland connecting flight experience was like an unedited 30 minutes of The Amazing Race, and despite a fortuitous delay that stymied airline staff and frustrated passengers, we were still one of the last passengers to board. Bags to chuck, boarding passes to read, jam into pockets, fish out again and jam into pockets again, corridors to lose ourselves in, horizontal escalators to hesitate using, and eventually overtaking, and finally repeating the cumbersome voiding-and-swallowing of laptops from and into bags, and we hadn’t even left Enzed yet.
Following was the exact opposite. Eleven hours and change of doing nothing, and if you’ve ever come across Teddy Boy Locsin saying in a long flight, you eventually breathe in everyone else’s farts and exhalations, you knew it was olfactorily not a pleasant experience. The Asian / Pinoy in me could not fathom the pay-as-you-use nature of everything : earphones (Aus$3) to understand the mindless movies airing; bottled water (A$4) just to avoid parched throat and chapped lips; muffins more precious than gold (A$10) just to stanch the flow of hunger juices; and instant noodles (A$5) worth probably 50 times their sari-sari (corner store) levels, just to persuade guts from persisting with their peristaltic movement, these little comforts that we took for granted the shifty-eyed stewardesses sold for a king’s ransom. And did we have any choice? Yes, if we could suspend our physical needs for half a day like yogis, monks and pilgrims do. No, if we were like the rest of the world.
I was glad I insisted on bringing along not just one but two thick volumes to while away the endless hours waiting to land. I finished a 400-page political satire entitled Running Mate by Anonymous (Joe Klein) just as our incomprehensible-sounding pilot (I think they do that on purpose, they don’t really want us to know what’s happening) was preparing our descent, and at least I could start Under The Dome by Stephen King at Changi International, where we would spend the next 8 hours sitting on our fat behinds.
To be fair, as airport malls go, Singapore’s was among the world’s best, not that I’d seen many (only HK and Sydney and oh, Melbourne), but it was literally a mall, as in there were stores and stores that stretched forever, a level above for conferences and meetings, esoteric (to me) store names like Longchamp, Dunhill and Longines, and endless corner monitors that extolled hermetically-sealed Singapore tourist spots. It was a self-contained traveler’s idyll that you didn’t even need to venture out of.
But even the most interesting mallworld had its limits, and by the end of the first hour, esposa and I were all walked out, jetlagged and staggering around like zombies. There was no choice but to improvise, and the nearest bench served as our temporary domiciles, bed, side table, reading lamp and all. It didn’t matter that scores and scores of fellow wayfarers (with earlier flights) passed us by and sniffed at our temporary vagrancy. We had made our (makeshift) bed, we had eight hours to lie in it, too.
So compared to both the previous leg and interminable wait, the last phase of our travel saga was a breeze : three hours between the Lion City and Manila, city of our birth. It didn’t matter so much anymore that everything we asked for (food and small comforts) was for sale, it likewise didn’t matter it was a smaller plane (an Airbus I think) more sensitive to turbulence and changes in the weather. Nearly everyone on board was a brown brother or sister and I counted myself lucky that seatmates in front of, behind me and at my sides were nearly catatonic with fatigue, hunger or boredom. I had already started on Stephen King.
After all the brainfreeze inducing trips and waits, the best surprise of the journey was at NAIA. If you can believe it, it took us all of five minutes to wait for and sort our generic luggage from the carousel, a hearbeat in time; immigration practically waved us through ( I felt like a VIP, rather than the anonymous OFW proletariat that was ready to be bullied by apparatchiks), customs didn’t even look at our baggage declaration, and the airport taxi driver didn’t even ask for a TIP! It sounds naive, but the feel-good, no-drama treatment we received from border patrol made up for everything else.
I’m not going to double back and sugar coat / edit all the silliness we endured, all in the name of pinching pennies and scrimping on comfort. We got what we asked for, and we have learned from or experience. Between waking up in Wellington and hitting the mattress back home, more or less 36 hours had passed. For good or ill, this was what we bargained for, literally. Would you do it? Would we do it again?
Yes we are, honestly. Deduct a few hours waiting time, and we are going through the exact same itinerary returning to the salt mines in Windy Welly.
Thanks for reading !