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Onward to India

BKK->SIN->BOM
2/2/08

The Tavee owners were running the show this morning. The papasan checked us out and gave me a 100B discount since we had been staying there so long. The mamasan gave me a free water bottle which I dropped 2 minutes later as I got out of the tuk-tuk at the bus stop and it sprayed some innocent bystanders when the tuk-tuk pulled off.

Alex & I waited for the #10 bus for 45 minutes only to discover it was not running and ungracefully caught a cab. I hailed a taxi that quickly stopped curbside and popped the trunk. Alex asked the driver how much. When the driver told him the cost, Alex who felt it was too high didn’t want to get in and started to take my pack out of the trunk. “Alex, go ahead wait for an imaginary bus, I have a plane to catch.” Alex begrudgingly got in. The young Thai taxi driver put on some American pop music to ease the tension and try to make Alex & I like each other again. At the next street light, the driver bought a flower from a street vendor, turned around smiling and handed it to me, “Be happy.” Then once the light turned green, he sped off like a race car driver in order to get us to the airport as fast as he could. I still didn’t like my boyfriend but did love the driver.

Alex & I made it to the space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport, in record time. I’ve become so used to ground transportation I  forgot about all the airport obstacles: lining up to obtain boarding pass, checking bags, passing through immigration, passing through security and lining up to board. Trains and buses are so much easier. Buy a ticket and board. Sometimes no planning is required. Flag down a random bus, board and pay.

Of course, flying is much more comfortable than any variation of bus we have taken thus far. Alex & I were provided reading material as we boarded the plane: Strait Times and Bangkok Post. Traveling makes you feel more connected to the world and made me care more about the current global events of the places I’ve visited over the past few months. I opened the paper and reclined my seat.

2 hours later, we touched down at Singapore Airport. Last time we were here, everything was a blur since we were doing a full on sprint through it to catch the plane to Phuket. This time, we had more than enough time during our 6 hour layover to explore the overwhelming brand new terminal that had just opened. If the Singapore Airport had been the setting for The Terminal, Tom Hanks would have been living in the lap of luxury. There was a gym, a movie theater, free internet kiosks, spas, showers and all kinds of store from convenience stores like 7-11 to the luxury stores of Louis Vuitton. After seeing the terminal, Alex changed his mind about wanting to go into the city. After last time’s visit, I already knew I did not to run through this airport with heart racing in fear of missing a flight.

In the airport, I experienced mild culture shock. This reminded me of meeting Mary, our Canadian friend that traveled with us on our border crossing from Malaysia to Singapore. She had been in South Korea for a year. When she arrived, I remembered her eyes being wide with amazement. After Vietnam and Laos, I thought Bangkok was 1st world at its best. However, Singapore puts Bangkok to shame. I had the same expression as Mary.

In Watsons, they had Victoria Secret lotion and body spray. I realized I have even been living without certain little luxuries. I bought a bottle of what Alex refers to as de-stink-ifier which would be useful during our time in the Indian heat.

I was glad we were only here for 6 hours prior to going to India rather than a few days when I looked at myself in the mirror. Underneath the harsh glare of the florescent lights in the bathroom, I barely recognized myself reminding me of the scene in the The Beach when Richard does the same thing on one of his rice runs. My new haircut was not the only reason I looked different: my skin was tan instead of albino and my face was gaunt the obvious sign other than the scale that I had lost some weight. Compared to the clean-cut Singaporeans and other well-dressed international travelers standing next to me in the ladies lounge, I felt grubby and shabbily dressed. I was ready to board the plane.

Boarding our India-bound flight, I was surprised how orderly everything was. None of the Indians were pushing or shoving. Of course, we are still standing in sterile Singapore. The first thing we were handed were warm wet towels to sanitize our hands prior to eating. To my delight, the flight meal served was Indian: chicken tikka masala. Yum!! There were a lot of inflight movie options to chose from for the 5 and a half hour flight with the majority of them being Bollywood hits.

Upon touchdown in Mumbai at midnight, I braced myself for the madness I was expecting to experience. Everyone filed off the airplane in the same orderly fashion as they boarded, walked calmly through the maze to immigration forming an orderly possibly award-winning queue to get their passports stamped. There was no pushing or shoving at the baggage claim area.

It was surreal how quiet it was as we walked past a slew of people patiently waiting behind the barricades quietly holding signs and patiently waiting inside the airport where we easily spotted our driver holding a placard with our names. The only evidence we were in India was the stamp in my passport. Where was the chaotic India I had read about? Granted it was 1AM. Was it too late for the Indians?

Alex & I followed our driver as he briskly escorted us to our awaiting carriage. There were 4 women waiting in the mini-SUV. Since Alex & I were the last to join the group, we got to ride in the trunk packed in like sardines. Ok, this is more like what I was expecting.

Leaving the airport, I looked back at the building, it looked like an unfinished concrete structure. It was quite the difference from the modern glistening glass structure we arrived to in Bangkok earlier that day. The countless moto-rickshaws and taxis that surrounded the airport all looked uniform and like a swarm of bumble bees with the black bodies and yellow roofs. It looked like we had taken a time machine back to the 1960’s with the old model of cars. Leaving was organized mayhem. Tons of people connecting with their transportation and leaving the airport in a swiftly moving queue of cars.

The roads were pitted with potholes made of tiles with a thick layer of dust and dung. I did not see any painted lines on the road, if there were, I was assumed a drunk guy painted them since there did not appear to be proper lanes the way the cars zigged and zagged along. Rubbish lined the roadway. At first I only saw stray dogs. Where are all the cows? On cue, I spotted 2 in the middle of the road casually chewing as they watched us pass.

The best way to describe our room is shabby chic with an emphasis on shabby that would barely rate 1 star. The door of our hotel room was made from scrap wood that looked out of place considering the floor was covered in marble tile, the ceiling had of ornate ceiling tiles framed with crown molding. The bathroom on the other had was terrifying. To say it did not appear to be hygienic is an understatement. The bathroom looked as though they have not had a proper scrubbing since the British left in 1947.  The grout in between jade green tiles was brown which I highly doubt was the original color. A thick layer of grime framed the floorboards.

The condition of the room didn’t bother me. I was beyond ecstatic to be here. The extremely friendly staff and hassle-free ride from the airport made up for the less than stellar conditions. Considering I was looking pretty shabby myself, perhaps this place was perfect!

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