Trust us, it’s NOT about the journey, it’s about the destination!

In the ocean of articles and blog posts on how people LOVE travelling, I’m glad you found this one. The past three years have been the busiest years for Matthew and I. Between us, we have booked over 250 flights in the past 36 months (even so, we don’t have the largest amount of air miles among our friends). Here’s why we hate the travelling part of travelling:

1. The getting to airport. No matter who’s paying for the ticket, we always choose the best available rate (because we feel guilty enough about the carbon footprint!). Therefore, we’re punished with stupid-o’clock flight schedule and worst transit scenarios (either too long or cutting it fine). Because of this, we need to wake up or stay awake at weird hours. Matthew is a chronic insomniac to start with, so messing with his sleeping schedule does not help. And I have serious tummy issues when being awake for too long or too early: hunger pangs.

One day, we needed to catch a 6am flight with Lion Air from Jakarta to Singapore. I didn’t know that terminal 2F Soekarno-Hatta airport is not ON for 24 hours. There’s no lounge or food counter open at dawn. After wailing excessively to poor Matthew, who obviously couldn’t do anything, we found a warung inside the terminal. I was surprised that there is such a thing! It’s a typical Indonesian warung: no AC, full of roaches and rats, sells instant pot noodles, and smoking is allowed.

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Cheap airfare gives you sunrise at the airport!

What discomforts Matthew the worst are the physical labours of the transfers: getting luggage down to the apartment lobby, stowing the luggage to the car trunk, getting the luggage out of the car and to the airport trolley, and so on and so forth. My quick answer to this in Indonesia is: bellboy and porter. Sadly, in countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, such service (even in 5-star hotels) is rarely available.

2. Effing around at the airport. You may have read our version of Amazing Race Asia and may understand that we’re not too keen on airports. But what we don’t enjoy specifically is the security screening and why can’t they find a way to make it efficient. Also, online check-in does not make baggage check in quicker. Why? Because there are so many rookie travellers who don’t prepare their documents and money for airport tax (in a few countries in Southeast Asia, you still have to pay this at check-in). Add to this: general people’s stupidity at unlikely hours.

Again, for Matthew it’s the physical challenges that hurt: the ridiculously long walk from drop-off to check-in counter to lounge to gate to the actual plane. Then the temperature of airports, which is mostly very cold, but can be very hot due to laughably outrageous design flaws like the glassy Suvarnabhumi airport. Plus, airport toilets can be appallingly dirty or far or hidden.

3. Boring boarding time. OK, no matter how many books, magazines, and iPod playlists that we bring, boarding time sucks. You can’t really be into something in case you’re called on PA. Um, it happened to me twice: being the last one to board because I was watching a TV show on my laptop.

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On my 27th birthday, alone at Hong Kong Int’l Airport on a 4 hour delay T_T

Provided there’s no flight delays, Matthew claims that waiting during boarding time is no issue for him; he can just sit and do nothing.

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This is Matt, doing nothing. At T3 Soekarno-Hatta airport.

The issue is the physical hassle to be into the gate with the extra security X-ray (are you noticing a recurring theme here?). At Changi airport, you have to take your gadgets out of the bag too. One time I was queuing behind a fit Chinese guy in his 50s that had to take a gizmo out of his bag. The security guards were examining it. Baffled. No idea what the finger-size glassware was. The guy finally said, “It’s for sex okay!”

4. The actual take-off. Nobody likes being seated up straight in a confined space, and buckled up next to strangers. Plus, we’re not allowed to listen to music. Plus, we never know if our neighbours bothered to shower. PLUS, some parents are too stupid not to anticipate what air pressure will do to their baby’s ears. And I have no idea why it’s not mandatory for flight attendants to advise people who fly with children!

Matthew enjoys the fact that it is the most peaceful time on the plane, provided that there’s no baby screaming bloody murder. He does still have the child-like excitement of taking off, even knowing that most plane crashes happen at take-off and landing.

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Taking off from Ngurah Rai airport Bali ^_^

5. Tedious air travel. Remember when you’re a kid and you’re excited to fly? I do feel that still, sometimes. Normally when I’m flying to a new destination or with a new airline. But that excitement wears off as the plane takes off. And of course, when you feel like it’s been forever, you find out that you’re only half way there.

The only two things that made flying feels quick for me are: being stinking drunk, straight from the last club in Bangkok to catch my 6am flight back to Bali (only happened once) and TV show marathon on a fully charged MacBook. By the way, I used portable DVD player to pacify me during traffic jam back when I was working full time in Jakarta.

Me and my best travel companion =)

Matthew occasionally finds it easy to sleep during flight. He thinks it’s the buzzing sound of the engine. But most of the time, it is when the boredom/irritation starts to kick in. One AirAsia flight attendant woke him up just to try and sell their merchandise. That’s annoying. However, fellow passengers are always the culprits of a negative flying experience.

Stupid passengers are worst than turbulence and I have experienced sudden altitude drop! Some of passengers that ever sat next to me are: an old Chinese man sneezing during the entire flight, an Arabian extra large man spraying himself with a cologne every 15 minutes, an Indonesian domestic worker watching my personal in-flight entertainment despite having her own at her own seat, and an Indonesian guy with a 3-year-old boy on his lap that kept kicking my legs while screaming. Also on the list is a disturbingly handsome Brazilian guy that did not ask for my number.

6. Immigration line. A few times is enough times to want to punch an immigration officer in Indonesian airports for inefficiency and lack of respect. Enough said.

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Long lines at immigration check T3 Soekarno-Hatta airport, just because there are only 2 officers out of 6 cubicles

7. Waiting around destination airport for baggage and transfer to hotel. Emotionally, we’re slightly glad that we arrived safely. But there is still a room for a mix-up: baggage claim. I’m happy to report that we’ve never lost our baggage ever. We are also clever enough to have huge stabilo-boss yellow and very gay purple suitcases. They are easy to spot and hard to miss.

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Landed on HK airport, pick up baggage, hop on a train to the main island, hop into a cab to bring me downtown… at zero-hundred hour!

Even though baggage claim is rarely an issue, the transfer to hotel is can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the destination. If you can afford it, I advise you to always get airport transfers service from the hotel you’re staying at. But more often than not, we travel on a budget. So, do master your airport-hotel route and prepare the fare in their currency before you fly. That’s another thing: exchange the money before you travel!

Matthew and I have experienced being stranded in Dubai in the middle of the night just because we didn’t have enough dirham to pay for taxi to get from where we were to our hotel. We walked to the nearest mall to find moneychanger but they needed passport for it (not the photocopy we always carry with us). Of course our real passports are in the safety deposit box, in the hotel!

8. The front office saga. We often travel compliments of the hotel management. But no matter how many stars a hotel has, someone in some department can manage to stuff up our room reservation. And then we have to call up higher management and everybody’s embarrassed. And for the entire stay, we’re known as “that couple that gets the room for free”. Good thing is, we normally build good rapport with our butlers. One of them is Karen at St. Regis Bangkok, who diligently took pictures of us before we went out.

One of the pictures that Karen The Butler took of us in the suite.

And then there’s the awkward silence Matthew and I have when we got to the room. The wait until the bellboy comes with our yellow and purple luggage. More awkward moments? Trying to think whether it’s okay to tip in that country and how much in their currency is appropriate. By the time we finish calculating, the bellboy is already at the door, wishing us a pleasant stay and shutting the door behind him. Then for a split second, we feel guilty. It soon passes.

When it’s all over, we take in the view from our room, marvel at the amenities, flip through the TV channels, unpack, and then shower. Feeling shattered and ready to sleep in yet another foreign bed.

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Our Jakarta residence, when we were not Jakarta residents.
At Ritz-Carlton Pacific Place.

Fugee fun, part 3: Back to Bangkok and beyond

August 28–September 7, 2011

We arrived back in Bangkok that day and headed straight to backpacker heaven. Yep, we’d arranged to stay in the Khao San Road area—where old hippies don’t die, they just start up pad thai noodle shops bars serving younger, hairier hippies. Anyway, the Fortville Guest House (fortvilleguesthouse.khaosanroad.com) would be our stay for the next few days, with a short break to Pattaya, the self-styled “extreme city.” Hmmm.

Fortville served THE best coffee.

But first things first: a same-day, mind-warping trip to the British Consulate via a splashy water taxi to get an emergency travel document (in this case, an emergency passport), all of which was unusually easy (administrative and bureaucratic nightmare stories will resonate with many expat readers). Actually, I have to give full credit where it’s deserved: Rebecca shouldered a lot of the organizational work and much of the stress; she even picked up the forms I’d need for a new passport when finally in Jakarta. Assuming I got there eventually without further deportation issues…

River taxi for the penniless. Only 11 baht per person one way!

Bless her heart, Rebecca also arranged our time there in Khao San, making logical and informed purchasing decisions on everything from new luggage to sun hats. (The latter a challenge for me as I have a big head. No, I mean it literally: my head is huge.) The room, while functional, was a lot better than an airline security office floor, and since that time I’ve started to see a bed to lie on and a working pillow as a God-given reason to count my blessings.

Matt, with the only hat that fit his large head.

We even managed a few nights out in Khao San Road, including Rebecca’s birthday, singing along to a local duo in a packed second-story bar in which I was perhaps the oldest person there (notable favorite: Wonderwall by Oasis).

Khao San's answer to Hard Rock Cafe

In between, and also organized by Rebecca, we managed a trip to Pattaya (“Good Guys Go To Heaven, Bad Guys Go To Pattaya,” or so the T-shirts say). We almost didn’t make it, though. Our driver, arranged by the guesthouse, drove literally at breakneck speed (I have what is medically termed ankylosing spondylitis, or, as we sufferers like to know it, a pain in the neck) and I really did fear for my life—so much so that I complained to him in my best Thai. We ended up at the port for the island of Koh Samet, about an hour from Pattaya. Total travel time: five hours. Still, we saw the X-Men movie prequel.

Hilton Pattaya, NOT where we stayed.

In Pattaya, we managed to fit in all the cultural and intellectual activities on offer and after those 30 minutes were up, we hit the strip bars and go-go joints. Well, when in Rome…

We returned, packed, checked out and headed to the airport. To be honest, my memory of that time is now a little hazy, partly as I was so spooked that I’d somehow get turned away at Jakarta airport, and partly due to lack of sleep. I shouldn’t have worried. We departed Thailand early morning with no fuss and arrived in Jakarta a few hours later.

Needless to say, our arrival was somewhat rushed and hectic. Rather than check in to my serviced apartment, I headed straight to the office where some of my luggage was stored from a previous trip. Along the way, we took some musghot photos for my new passport application, and on arrival, I filled in the form and had it ready for posting. And without pause for breath or thought, I launched straight into a full-fledged magazine proposal that very afternoon.

At the time of writing this, I now have a new passport, ID card, KITAS, work permit, police book and police registration card. I’ve even registered with the embassy. I am the most legal expat in all of Jakarta. Life, at last, is good.

*The Fugees were a band in the 90s who had a brief but shining time in the spotlight with a cover of  “Killing Me Softly,” originally by Roberta Flack. The band name is a contraction of “refugees.”

Cunning trilinguist

I just ordered a cup of coffee in Bahasa Indonesia And this without hand gestures, broken English and confusion on all sides. A small victory of sorts.

When I first got together with Rebecca, learning Indonesian was not (I hate to say) a major priority. She is basically natively fluent in English, albeit with a cute American accent, and a journalist (in both languages) and PR pro. Communication was never an issue.

But having met her family in April and having now moved here, and commanding a staff of 72 Indonesians and one Malayasian, learning the local lingo has become a must. As with Thai, I think it also shows a certain respect for the country one is a guest in.

Bless her little white cotton socks (she does have some), Rebecca did teach me the basics, and while she perhaps thought I didn’t take it seriously, I still remember them. But two lessons down and I am starting to get to grips with conversational Bahasa. Yes, I still talk “like a robot” (she says) since I have to recall each word: sentence construction is not easy for me yet. But hey, it’s two hours of lessons and I can still ask for coffee, tea, and so on.

I feel quite proud of myself. In Thailand, it was three years before I could hold an actual conversation. And that was simply: “Barman, 10 more pints!”

I do remember Thai, and I can still speak it I think. But I do have to simply “turn off” the Thai in my head and switch to a Bahasa head.

*As written in coffee shop outside Bank Mayapada on Forbes Indonesia business… See attached pic! Now onwards into a meeting with some rich people!

Writing this, before Forbes meeting