A few shots from last night’s Ladies 8-ball tournament at Goodies Restaurant at Smiling Hill. Only 7 players this week. Melvie won for the second time.
A few shots from last night’s Ladies 8-ball tournament at Goodies Restaurant at Smiling Hill. Only 7 players this week. Melvie won for the second time.
The travel was brutal. The time in North Carolina with my daughter and granddaughter was great. The break was welcome. But it will be some time before I make that halfway-around-the-world trip again.
My return trip to Batam was not nearly as fraught with difficulties as the trip to the U.S., but it was long – and continuous. There were five flights/airports, two taxis, one ferry, about 12 hours of waiting in airports, and about 28 hours in the air.
I am still amazed that they can keep a huge airplane in flight for 15 hours over the Pacific Ocean. The plane (an Airbus 380, which is an impressive aircraft) was full, mostly with Chinese and Chinese-Americans. Since I can’t sleep on a plane, I managed to watch most of the interesting (to me) movies that were available on the in-seat entertainment system, trying mostly unsuccessfully to doze off from time to time.
I did manage to find power outlets and Wi-Fi at the airports but was unable to post anything on my Facebook or blog pages in China. They were apparently blocked.
In Guangzhov, as we were going through immigration, I ran into the young woman who had screwed up my U.S. connections on my flight over (as a result of missing the flight and having to endure a one-day delay at a ratty hotel). She recognized me and was pleasant, even though I threw a fit when they made me stay over 24 hours. When I told her of her mistake, she offered a weak apology. It didn’t really matter to me at that point but I wanted to let her know so she would do a better job next time around for someone else.
I did encounter a small problem in Guangzhov, where China Southern Airways officials did not want to let me on the plane because I did not have a ticket to leave Singapore. After explaining several times that I lived in Batam, across the straight from Singapore, that I would be taking a ferry to Batam, that I started my trip in Singapore and, therefore, wouldn’t have a return ticket, and that I worked in Batam (showed them my work permit), they finally relented. I had to sign a waiver.
Then, when I arrived in Batam, the immigration officer asked for something I did not have. Apparently, I received a small piece of paper when I left that was supposed to allow me back on the island. Some notes were made and I was allowed to enter.
Everyone at Smiling Hill was happy to see Mr. Ken was back and the girls all loved their t-shirts. But I ran out. Had hoped to have a couple to give a couple of lady friends but we have more staff than before so all the shirts were spoken for.
When I returned, however, my apartment looked like it had been reclaimed by management. All my stuff was hidden away in cupboards and everything was pristine clean. And my cat was nowhere to be found. It was apparent that the apartment had been commandeered for use by guests, which I found later to be the case.
The cat, being take care of by Siti, one of the Goodies waitresses, had been moved to the home of Yuli and Sarijan a few days earlier. Yuli is the bar manager and Sarijan, her husband, is our jack-of-all-trades guy at Smiling Hill. They live in a small building behind the offices. Siti and Yuli brought the cat back and he seemed pretty blase about my return (that changed after everyone left).
I was determined to stay up late Saturday in an effort to speed my jet lag recovery, and even hoped to head downtown for some pool, but the batteries went dark about 7:30. I awoke about 3 a.m. and ended up doing my laps in the pool about 5:30 before anyone arrived at Goodies. Last night (Sunday), I managed to stay awake until 9:30 and got most of a night’s sleep.
So it’s back to work with a renewed sense of purpose, and a different perspective on what is “home.”
And thanks again to my daughter Kim and her husband, Danny, for having me in their home for two weeks. It was a lot of fun.
Last day in Asheville. All packed up (except for Batam gifts) and ready for my four flights
and taxi/ferry journey. Not looking forward to the trip as most of it will be in a middle seat. Imagine, 5 hours in the middle seat crossing the U.S. and then 16 hours in the middle seat crossing the Pacific Ocean. My aisle seatmate is not going to like me asking him/her to let me out every hour or so.
I’m flying from Asheville on US Airways, which means multiple baggage fees, then Delta (more baggage fees) and finally on China
Southern from LA to Guangzhou, China, to Singapore. My first flight leaves Asheville at 9:30 am EST and I arrive in Singapore about 40 hours later (losing a day in transit, as well). Hopefully, hopefully, there will not be overnight delays like I encountered on the trip here. If everything goes well, I should be in Batam on Saturday afternoon, May 11.
Mostly, my stay in Asheville has been house-bound, enjoyable downtown, and recovering
from jet lag. Stayed awake all night the day I arrived but sleep has been better each day. We have gone out a few times, as described in previous posts, and sunday we went to the house of some of my daughter’s friends tfor a Cinco de Mayo party. We had also planned to go to a downtown festival but the weather has been mostly rainy and the event was cancelled.
The party was at Shawna and James’ house in town. Plenty of great Mexican food, beer and margaritas. There were maybe 20 guests, kind of a Seattle-like grunge crowd. Several musicians, guiters, lots of tattoos and some jamming after eating.
Yesterday, Danny, Kim and I went for barbeque at 12 Bones downtown. Excellent pulled pork, corn bread, collard greens, smoked potato salad and sweet tea. Last night, while Kim and Danny were off practicing with their band for a performance Saturday night, Lena and I went through my Indonesian photos. Today, my last day here, I will pick up my Batam gifts and we plan to go out to dinner tonight.
The holiday is about over and I’m looking forward to returning to my new home.
More news from North Carolina, where it is wet and chilly:
One of the food sensations not available in Indonesia (but can be found at most Interstate exits in the U.S.) is the interesting fare at Waffle House. Sunday morning, I suggested we have breakfast there instead of at home, so off we went to first pick up Lena at her friend’s house and then find an Interstate exit. Lena couldn’t be woken so we (Jim, Danny and I) headed for the Awful Waffle.
I decided on the “sampler” breakfast, the All-Star, with a waffle, bacon, eggs, raisin toast and grits (instead of hash browns scattered and smothered). Awfulsome!
Saturday, I did a little shopping on my own. Borrowed a car and hoped I wouldn’t get lost. New Adidas Superstars, shorts, a specail gift for my hosts, and some computer comparison shopping. Looks like I’ll wait until I return to Batam to replace the stolen laptop. More expensive here.
After Sunday breakfast, Lena (granddaughter) had a recital at her music school (Asheville Music School). About 15 kids gave recitals in front of family and friends. Kinda cute. Little kids singing and playing instruments (guitar, piano, violin, cello, saxaphone). Mostly it was bad karaoke but fun. Lena sang Skinny Love and played guiter. Thought I did a video but now have to figure out how to download it if i did indeed film it right.
It’s cold here. At least it’s cold for someone who has spent the past 15 months in constant 85 degree weather. Otherwise, pretty quiet.
My daughter has been trying to entertain me, asking what I want to do. All I say is I’m here to visit with her and my granddaughter. Still, she’s trying to make sure I complete my “bucket list” of things to do and eat during my stay. Right now, she’s fixated on my yearning for pastrami and swiss on rye.
We did go out for barbeque at Creekside Cafe the other night, one of my food requests, but the ribs were a little dry. Will try again before leaving. On the drive up here from Atlanta, I fulfilled another food target, stopping for a Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger. It was a disappointment.
In Atlanta, I had some problems with car rentals, as my booking was cancelled due to my airline delays. They wanted almost twice the amount I had booked online, so I decided to just rent a car (from budget) to get me to North Carolina. You have to pay a penalty for not bringing the car back to where you rented it, so it came to $380. I brought it back two days late and thought there would be a daily fee. Instead, I was slapped with an additional $170 per day, without an explanation. I was told to call someone and will follow up, but basically I got shafted. Budget will hear from me.
Barely made it in time for the poker game in Atlanta. Had to find a hotel once I left the
airport and stopped at one outside the perimeter. Called Billy to pick me up and we went to a clubhouse they rent for special games, where a barbeque was already underway. Hot dogs and hamburgers, good comraderie, lots of laughs, and I even might have made a few bucks.
On the way to Asheville the next morning, I stopped off at my friend Elizabeth’s home in
north Georgia. Her husband, a good friend, died last year at age 53 and I wanted to visit her to talk. I stayed the night and we talked until 4 in the morning (she needed to vent with me about Eric), which is why I was late returning the car the next day (didn’t get up until about 11 a.m., the first real sleep I had had since leaving Batam.
I’ve been just hanging around the house since then, did some shopping at Walmart before turning the rental in, as well as made a trip to the bank to take care of the PIN problem I had with one of my bank cards. Once again, Wells Fargo did a nice job of customer service.
My second night here, we went to a billiards hall downtown (City Billiards), where they were supposed to have a 9-ball tournament – except they didn’t have enough players. So, after thoroughly beating my invisible opponent for about an hour, we went to a nearby pub, Beer Garden, where we met a couple of Kim’s friends.
Yesterday, we went to a discount shoe store and a discount clothing store (Dillards). I should be fully
restocked now. A second suitcase I bought at Walmart is nearly full. (I will be 2 Bags and a Pack again on my return trip, with the resulting baggage fees they charge here.)
One of my tasks here is to find gifts for staff back in Batam. I’ve decided on t-shirts that say “I love (heart with U.S. flag inside it) USA. I’m ordering 20 shirts from a friend of Kim’s. I’ve learned that it’s best to bring everyone back the same gift, so all the waitresses and office staff will get some U.S. propaganda (but they’ll love the shirts). This is not a cheap proposition but they all treat me so well and I enjoy bringing them something from my trips. They kind of expect it now.
Tomorrow (Sunday), there is a festival downtown coinciding with Cinco de Mayo, so we’re going to join the crowds. And I still want to look at laptops, with the possibility of buying one here instead of in Batam. They may actually be cheaper here and the selections will be greater. Have to replace the one that was stolen from me but may not have enough room even with my expanded luggage to bring two laptops back with me.
I’ve decided to fly back to Atlanta Thursday rather than rent a car again. The airfare went
down by $100 since the last time I checked and is less than a car rental would be (with the drop-off fee they charge). US Airways will charge me for both checked bags, however, and might charge me for my carry-on. I’m hoping that Delta doesn’t charge me again for bags in Atlanta. I paid no baggage fees coming here, as the international carriers are far more lenient regarding bags. I wonder how they can make ends meet while the U.S. airlines need the baggage revenue to stay afloat (sarcasm). At any rate, I’m not looking forward to the 40-hour trip and hope I don’t encounter problems again.
I do miss my people back in Batam.
It was a long journey, much longer than it was supposed to be, but I finally made it to Atlanta.
I know I previously posted about how I don’t really have a “home” anymore but it’s hard to describe how I felt when I arrived in Los Angeles Friday. Or was it Saturday? What time was it? I’m so confused.
Anyway, when I walked the long walk from the plane to the immigration lines, I could feel something lifting me up, something driving away all the fatigue and headaches of an overly long journey. I was almost giddy, Even in my mental numbness, I opened up to the immigration officer, a perfect stranger.
“How are you doing?” I asked. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the U.S.” We carried on a short conversation. “Been gone 19 months,” I offered without being asked. “Oh, in Indonesia,” he replied.
It was one of those moments when you want to start chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” I didn’t, but I wanted to. Probably had a huge smile on my face. The fatigue was gone, if only for a moment, but I was refreshed.
There is nothing like that feeling. It soon went away, as my last post described.
Awoke from my wooden bench about 4:30 am when the Delta terminal started to come alive. People were already checking in. I had my boarding pass so I entered the gate area and found a McDonald’s, where I ordered pancakes and sausage and coffee. At the gate, I found free Wi-Fi and sent the previous post, and then we were boarding.
It’s quite different watching Americans board a plane, especially now with the limits on carry-ons that resulted from the charging of checked bag fees. The boarding was orderly but driven by constant reminders by airline staff about allowable in-cabin baggage, which often didn’t sit well with passengers. It was so different to see a plane full of bules instead of Asians.
The plane ride was quiet and I reflected a bit on my journey and my upcoming visit. I had finally made the last airplane-related leg of my journey. Only tasks left were to hopefully retrieve my luggage in Atlanta and rent a car. And I also needed to find a hotel room since the one I booked, and paid for, was for the previous night. The fun had not ended, as I was soon to learn.
The Atlanta airport seemed familiar, yet strange. I have walked its corridors dozens of times, but still there were things I didn’t remember. I figured out quickly, however, where my bag might be once I arrived at the baggage claim area.
The baggage services area is located at the far end of the carousel area on the south concourse. There, five employees were talking with one another when I asked the question I had been contemplating on the four-hour ride across America. “Do you have my bag?”
One of the stafferes disappeared behind a door, reappearing a minute later with my lost suitcase. A good start to the day. Next it was off to the rental car area. The news was not so good there.
My reservation had been cancelled, of course. It was going to cost me a lot more now to rent a car for my stay. Double as much. I first went to Advantage, where my reservation had been made. Then to another rental company. then to another. Then, totally frustrated by the sticker price, I went to Budget. there price was the same, so I decided to just rent a car to get to Asheville, turning it in at the airport the day after I arrived. I would figure out later what I would use for transportation in Asheville and how I would get back to Atlanta May 9 for the trip back to the other side of the world.
It was a strange feeling driving a car for the first time in 19 months, but somehow I managed to get to I-85 on the north end of Atlanta. Unable to find the hotel where I had booked a room for the previous night (and already paid for that room), I finally stopped at the Garden Plaza Hotel on Peachtree Industrial Road. The room rate seemed fair so I checked in, calling Bill to pick me up as soon as I got into the room. It was already about 5 and the party was to start at 6:30.
At this point, my eyes were shot, having enduring three days of travel with maybe 10-12 hours of sleep total. But my energy level was high. Bill arrived and we headed off to the clubhouse, which had been rented for the evening for ”the guys.” It was a great night of food, laughs, harrassment and poker, with me constantly nodding off to sleep while the game went on, and someone at the table asking if I was alright and wanted to call it quits. “I’m fine. Just resting my eyes while you play.” Interestingly, I managed to win often, even in my stupor, until we called it quits sometime about 1 a.m. Billy got me back to my hotel safely. My head hurts this morning.
It all started innocently enough Thursday morning. Sarijan had volunteered to take me to the ferry terminal at 7 a.m. And we just made it in time for the 7:30 ferry. I bought the ticket the day before. The ferry over to Singapore was uneventful, as was the taxi ride to Changi airport. I arrived too early but I wanted to ensure I had an aisle seat for my bad leg.
The first leg of my trip would take me to Guangzhov, China, or at
least it was supposed to take me to Guangzhou, China. Thunderstorms over Guangzhou forced the flight to divert to Hai Kou, about an hour from Guangzhov. I should have read the writing on the wall then but I figured this would only be a blip on the screen. We sat in the airplane for about 45 minutes and then we moved into an empty terminal check-in area, all 100 or so of us. To keep us occupied, the airline, China Southern, brought out some sort of instant, flavored rice stuff in a container, which you add hot water to eat. There was also some tea and warm soda provided. I just had some tea, figuring we wouldn’t be long. I did have a four-hour layover in Guangzhov and a short delay would not jeopardize my connecting flight to Los Angeles.
On the plane, I met a group of seven young people from Singapore
who were a band that was on its way to do a tour in China. They spoke English. The group’s name is Micappalla; they sing acappela rock and roll. I kidded them that maybe they should sing for the passengers while we waited, and sure enough, they did. If you’re interested, check them out at facebook.com/micappella.
We sat in that terminal past the time for my connecting flight. I knew I was screwed.
Finally, they boarded us back on the plane, we sat for awhile and finally took off for Guangzhov. By now, I’m an hour late for my connecting flight. I had already alerted my friends in Atlanta that I would not make the poker game the next night.
And it just got better in Guangzhov. After passing through Customs, those of us with connecting flights were sent to the “Transfer Desk,” an ominous-sounding name but just a counter where several young people were trying to rebook about 12 of us. When it was my turn, I was told I would be booked on China Southern’s next flight to LA, at 9:30 the next evening. Since my connecting flight to Atlanta was also affected by the delay, I made sure that was changed, as well. I was assured it was. They put us up at a hotel and would buy you breakfast and lunch the next day. Trouble is, I had not yet had dinner and had eaten very little all day. By now, it was at least 2 a.m., and we waited another hour for our ride to the hotel.
Turns out we didn’t need to hurry, as the hotel, the name escapes me, was about as bad as you can imagine. The first clue was the stench. The stains on the carpets and the ripped wallpaper were next. The fact the hotel did not have a restaurant had me worried about food. It was too late for anything to be open (about 4 a.m. when I finally registered). The door of my room was ajar when I entered and I wasn’t too sure it was secure. The bathroom shower was open so that the water drenched the toilet as much as the person taking a shower. The bathroom sink did not drain. There was wireless but my laptop soon ran out of power and I discovered I didn’t have the right kind of wall plug for China.
They did have a lot of food in the lobby, cookies and crackers and sodas and juices, so I grabbed a package of cookies and two China Cokes and tried to make the best of it. Fortunately, I carry a flask so had a couple of drinks and went to bed. But as I laid there, I felt unsafe and double locked the door. I may have managed four hours sleep.
When I woke and showered, I decided to walk the neighborhood, looking for a bank to get some cash so that I could eat a real meal. The hotel sits in the middle of an industrial area, with lots of open shops making furniture, metal products, construction equipment and motor parts. I finally found a bank ATM – but it would not accept my bank card. Two restaurants refused to take my credit card. So it was back to the room to finish off the cookies and watch Chinese TV.
I still had seven hours before they would bring us back to the airport.
Finally, I figured it would be better to wait at the airport, which was new and huge, then to stay at the flea bag hotel, and had them drive me over about 11 a.m. Then I spent the next 10 hours wandering around the Baiyurport Airport, looking in all the upscale shop windows, having meals at two of the many restaurants, and doing a lot of people watching. The Guangzhov airport is gleaming new, a huge three-story hangar-type sturcture. The top floor was for departures, the second for arrivals and I don’t know what the bottom floor was for.
The arrivals floor had most of the shops and restaurants and was where I spent much of the day, feeling like Tom Hanks in that movie where he lives in an airport. There was also a money exchanger available but they did not exchange Indonesian rupiah, which was the only cash I had. Fortunately, there were ATMs and these accepted my card. There were no power outlets, however, to recharge my laptop.
I did enjoy a good lunch at an upscale restaurant that also had a large
wine sales operation. The KingLong Restaurant was very busy and had an extensive Chinese menu. I opted for a beef-flavored noodle soup they were advertising out front, and a Chinese Pearl River beer. (They didn’t have Diet Coke.)
I was brought a huge bowl of soup with thin, spaghetti-like noodles and a few bits of mystery meat. It was quite good. The meal cost just $4.50, which was quite surprising, given how nice the place looked inside and the fact it was in an airport. Of course, they provided me with chopsticks to eat my soup. (OK, there was a small plastic Chinese spoon, too, but you had to eat the noodles with the chopsticks, an interesting experience.)
Several hours later, I ate again, at a Japanese restaurant this time – barbeque pork, cabbage and rice,and a Quindon beer, but it wasn’t nearly as good.
Finally, it was time to check my bag (through to Atlanta, I thought) and begin my wait in the departure area. This was a very long terminal with endless duty free shops on both sides of a moving walkway. At the end, there were flights going to Sydney, Bangkok, Paris and Los Angeles.
At this point, I’d like to say that nice airplanes does not a good airline make. China Southern’s fleet consists of Airbus aircraft, smaller 319s for the Singapore-Guangzhov route and 380s for the run to the States. They are very nice planes, although the space for passengers is not great. The crews are very accommodating.
However, if you send your customers to a dirty, nasty hotel, it doesn’t matter how new orclean your planes are. And if you don’t make sure your customers are rebooked correctly, you certainly are asking for trouble. That’s why I’m still in LA.
The flight over the Pacific was 12 ½ hours. Not too bad, and my seat was good, if cramped. The airline, however, does not serve alcohol, other than beer and wine. And they only had a few bottles of wine for about 350 passengers. Yup, the flight was very full. Each seat did have a TV, with movies, music, games and such, and the beer and wine was free, as were the meals. The 380 is a marvelous plane in flight, and we had as smooth a takeoff and landing as I’ve experience. But then things went from bad to worse.
Customs was very backed up, with several lines stretching more than 100 meters each. After about an hour of this, I finally made it to an agent, who looked at my passport and waved me through without an x-ray scan. I thought things were finally on the right track.
My checked bag had to then be rechecked, which I did, and watched it whiz away on the belt. I wonder where it is now.
Then I had to walk about a quarter mile to terminal 3, where Delta was, to get my ticket for the trip to Atlanta in a couple of hours. Except I couldn’t find anything on the self-service kiosk. I was told to get in the special services line, where I waited for more than an hour. Then the fun began – again.
I was told that I did not have a reservation. Apparently, the girl in Guangzhov either lied or did something wrong. I would have to go back to the international terminal to have China Southern rebook me for the next day, but I was going to miss my flight and would have to stay overnight.
What about my bag, I asked? I had handed it over to them, with a “send to Atlanta” tag on it. The agent could not find it. He tried for an hour, frequently wandering away to make calls or whatever, and even going to the tarmac to try to find it. No bag anywhere, and no record of it. All the gifts I had bought were in it, as well as my clothes. I said I needed it if I was going to stay overnight. And I still hadn’t rebooked my flight, and it was nearing midnight. And, again, no dinner.
The guy helping me, Sal, probably didn’t have the brightest bulb in the room, but he was trying, and I was getting more frustrated and loud by the minute. He finally introduced me to his supervisor, who said they would rebook my for the 6:30 a.m. flight in the morning, and that her “guess” was that my bag was already on its way to Atlanta. So I would have to hope she was right, and if not, when it showed up they would bring it to me in Asheville. I will believe that when I see it.
I did mange to get to a McDonalds just before it closed and here I sit in an empty terminal typing this out, but with no wireless to send it. I have gotten off the floor, however, as I found a bunch of unsecured handicapped wheel chairs. So I’m sitting next to the only live wall socket I could find while I type this out. Three other people have taken my cue and are also sitting in wheelchairs. Only five more hours before I get on the next plane. Hope my car reservation will still be good in Atlanta.
UPDATE: It was chilly in the check-in area where I was typing so I decided to see if any other parts of this part of the terminal were open. Found the bagge claim area and saw a few bags against the wall. When I went to see if one was mine, a man came over to ask what I was doing. I told him and he went to another area to see if my bag was there. It wasn’t but he was told by another man that my bag has already been sent to Atlanta. I should know tomorrow. And it’s much warmer in the baggage claim area. I have a 6:30 a.m. flight and it’s past 1. Maybe I can get a couple of hours sleep. Haven’t had but about 5-6 in the last two days. And the laptop is now fully charged.
MORNING UPDATE: Slept on a wooden bench in the empty baggage claim area. Maybe 3 hours. Now at departure gate and have free wireless. Should get into Atlanta about 2:30 p.m.