Pune Travel – Day One (travel day)

It’s lengthy.  You’ve been warned.  And to think, you get the edited version!

Once on the flight from Tokyo I was struck by the absolutely ridiculous music that was being played in the plane.  I don’t remember if other planes do this at this point because my brain has been corrupted by these two most recent flights both doing it.  Over the in-cabin speaker system was “music” that sometimes sounded like horrible 80s MIDI WAV files – super cheesy renditions of songs I am not familiar with.  Then, when they weren’t playing those MIDI tunes, they had what could have been music stolen from “It’s a Small World” where the artist was rocking the Glockenspiel as the only instrument.  Wow.  This is great.  Could I just listen to the dull sounds of the engines or something instead?

After a while I began to realize that the online seat selection tool was not particularly accurate regarding how full the plane would be.  Well, maybe it’s not an accuracy thing, but there were a lot of people that hadn’t checked in or something, so they hadn’t been assigned seats.  Looking at the online check-in I had expected lots and lots of empty seats.  Wrong.  There were some – the guy a couple rows up (Mr Wandering-Eyes) was sitting in the middle aisle and had no one next to him.  This was my plan for the next flight, but I’m beginning to think that’s not actually going to happen.  Crap.

Mr Wandering-Eyes got that moniker because every time any of the female flight attendants would walk by, he’d lean out into the aisle to check her out.  They were wearing these nice floral-print, Asian-style dresses that fit properly.  Amusingly, though, the men were in these drab green suits that were really poorly fit – the jackets were too big, the pants really boring.

It was interesting to find that the overhead bins were being stuffed full of just-under-the-size-limit carry-on luggage.  Instead people were carrying very reasonable amounts of luggage and quickly stowing it before taking their seats.  In fact, boarding was really simple because everyone was so organized.  Ah, Japanese culture.

So we’re pushing back from the gate and taxiing to the runway.  The chief steward comes on, first speaks in Malaysian, then English, and then hands the mic to a woman to do the Japanese bit.  This is when I learn the flight time – 6 hours 55 minutes. The flight info I had never actually spelled out the flight times and I hadn’t bothered to work out all the time zones to do that math myself.  This is going to be a long flight.

They begin the safety video – no live demonstration here – and it’s the friendliest, most laid-back and smiling safety video ever made. The lady speaking is really cool about the whole thing, speaks to two little kids about their seat belts, etc. The part I love the most is when they go back to that family during the life vest part. Dad is on the far aisle seat with Mom next to kid #1 and kid #2 on the near aisle seat. They’ve all got their life vests on and the lady is speaking over the scene about taking care of your own vest before the others. All four of them are sitting calmly in their seats with the biggest smiles on their face, coolly securing kid #1’s vest. HAH!

They start bringing the peanuts around. The bags are sitting in a nice wicker basket and the attendant allows the passenger to take whatever they’d like. I begin eating them and I’m struck by something amazingly stupid. The bag has the word “peanuts” in English on the front, along with a picture of both a shelled and an unshelled peanut. On the back is an ingredient list – no, that’s not the stupid part – that says it has peanuts and oil or something. Right below the ingredient list, though, is the allergy information. “This product may contain peanuts.” It may? Thanks for the heads-up in the tiny print on the back left corner, all that other stuff didn’t do it for me.

Here I start flipping through movies. I didn’t realize I had an on-demand option until much later in the flight so instead I pick up the new Pirates movie about 10 minutes in. Instead of digging around for one of the other movies that I wanted to watch only to find it 20 minutes down, I stuck with Pirates. It was good – I actually enjoyed it. Not any sort of an instant classic, but fun with great special effects. During the movie came a meal. I had… chicken? I don’t quite remember. I know the plate also had cold udon noodles complete with the bottle of sauce and the thin slices of onion. Ah, I really like Japanese food.

After the movie came some uncomfortable sleep. The wine with the meal had helped make me drowsy on top of staying up pretty late the night before. I also remembered the trick I’d found during the New Zealand flight, too – the headrests on some planes will fold up on the sides, effectively allowing you to lock your head in place. I shoved my headphones back into my Zune and put on a recently recommended soundtrack – Transatlanticism from Death Cab. I slept for an unknown period of time until I was awakened by a sudden pain in my knee. I thought it was just a bit of stiffness, so I stretched it out into the aisle a few times. I placed it on the floor and pushed the ball of my foot down – PAIN. LOTS OF PAIN. What in the hell is wrong? Did they hit me with the cart? It hurts to the touch… I massage it a bit, stretch it, etc. What’s going on here? I give up worrying after a while.

At some point I found the on-demand videos and began another movie. I watched most of “The Trip” and it wasn’t too bad. Odd, a bit dry, but good. Very much like Sideways as I had suspected. I wasn’t able to finish it though. As we began to approach Kuala Lumpur they played a 5 minutes advertisement for Malaysia. It was piped over the in-cabin speakers and preempted everyone’s videos. It was a really long song about how wonderful a place it is. Then, after that came a lady talking about how awesome the airport is and then more about Malaysia I guess… I really didn’t pay attention. After all that was said and done, though, my movie suddenly popped back on. Of course I still couldn’t watch it very well because they kept making announcements… and the announcements were really loud in my nice headphones. Eventually I gave up and turned it off… probably only about 5 minutes from when they would have turned it off anyway.

Somewhere along the flight I also saw the end of the X-Men movie. Blah, whatever. Not my thing.

At this point I was really tired of being on the plane. Somewhere along the way we had a second “meal”, this time it was onigiri. Yummmm! It was basically the same one I had in the Narita airport right before I got on the plane – it was one of the complicated ones that has the nori separated from the rice until you open it in the right combination. The filling was salmon (I could read “sake” in hirigana!) for both of the onigiri I ate.

Finally we landed. Finally I found out my knee was really hurting. I couldn’t put my weight on it, so I limped out of the plane and part of the way down the relatively empty concourse. I called Susan to figure out if I was going to die. I let Christine know I was safely on the ground – I figure since I ask her to do the same when she travels that I should return the favor. I realized that I don’t think my or Susan’s family has any idea how to get us on the phone since my Skype number forwards to my cell. I need to fix that information gap.

KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) is supposed to be a really beautiful, awesome airport… but it still felt like an airport. Whats worse is just how dang empty it seemed in the international concourse. First, there were very few people around. Next, almost the only stores available were duty free shops, all selling the same things as every other duty free shop. Finally, after limping around (which eventually soothed my knee) for a while I found the one place that seemed to sell food as a meal as opposed to sweets or gifts or something. Of course I did my whole decision paralysis for a bit – I stood at a distance reading the menu, watching the order placing, the order pickup, etc. I nearly bailed out because I didn’t have anything but Yen for cash and I had no idea what a “RM” would convert to. I walked halfway away before I listened to Susan and Christine admonishing me (as they’ve done lately) for not eating, then I turned around, sucked it up and went for the order. I got a chicken curry dish and a black tea. I paid with my credit card. The girl didn’t know how to do the payment, so she had to get someone else. I still don’t know what a RM converts to, i’m just glad the card wasn’t declined. I got the food, sat, ate, and moved on. No big deal, you big baby.

I laid on the benches near my gate for a while. It was really strange – the gate area had a security checkpoint with scanners, etc, but it wasn’t manned until right before boarding. That meant everyone had to gather outside that checkpoint which was relatively okay because there were a lot of benches. I got there pretty early so for a while I could lay down and stretch out. I did a flaky Skype chat with Susan and Olivia. I napped-ish, but the tea was coursing strong through my body keeping that from going too far. My head hurt. My body ached. I took some naproxin, as that’s all I had for aches. I sat around for a bit until the gate opened up.

Eventually boarding starts, but I can’t understand the lady speaking. I see a crush of people. I decide to remain seated. I’m on the aisle anyway. And I’m quite unlikely to get that big free middle aisle like I was thinking I would, so why rush? I finally go on board to a very full plane.

(From here I slip into a bit of a conversation, rather than the narrative style from above. Sorry, as it might get a little confusing…)

I take my seat. The seat next to me is empty. Really? Is it going to happen? Could it? Oh – this guy wants in. Ok… two seats over. Awesome. Getting close to finished… I might get a little reward. Oh… uh-oh… you want in?Ok. Oh. You want out? Just to move your stuff, ugh, fine. This guy is big. He fills up the width of the seat. Not disgusting big, but full sized. The little TV remote is hard for him to access because of his width. His arm is well over my armrest. WELL OVER. Then there is the guy across the aisle – across the aisle in seat C that I had originally, but noOOOoOO, I gave that up because I was going to have the whole middle to myself. He’s still on the phone. The doors are closed, dude, really? We’re pushing back… he’s still talking. The steward comes over, finally, and asks him to hang up. He still takes a little bit of time and the guy almost has to remind him again. Wow.

The same safety video. Blah, blah. Its getting warm in here. This guy’s elbow is touching me. I cannot, for the love of all things, do anything about my air conditioning. It’s in the middle of the ceiling over the top of this big dude. Even if this dude wasn’t big, you cannot do anything about the a/c.  Not without asking the guy in the middle to do it for you. Whose bright idea was that? I hate being warm on takeoff and landing. Just stay calm… relax… it will cool off soon… it did on the other flight and you were glad for the blanket… stay cool. Ok, we’re up and it’s cooling off. There’s the electronic devices “ding” – headphones in. Minus the Bear now. They stay on for the whole flight, repeating over and over.

Dinner comes – chicken or veg? Chicken. Rice, chicken, some other starch – eaten. A salad with fruit and lettuce – fruit eaten. Yogurt with a tall pitcher of milk on the front – not eaten. Cadbury dairy milk chocolates – 2 of 3 eaten… too sweet. A bit of red wine – doesn’t settle well. Chung the water. Wait for the tray to go away. Turbulence on and off. The cabin crew is ordered to sit at least once. They clear my tray. I pull up my headrest wings, lean back a bit (Mr Full Size is allll the way reclined, placing his elbow lower, toward my ribs…) and try to sleep. My knee hurts. It goes away. I sleep-ish. Lights are dimmed for a while, they are on for a while. Make a decision. Mr Full Size continues to invade my space. I can’t find a position even close to comfortable because I only have a part of my seat.  Maybe I need to take that “C” seat on the way back instead of the gamble on “D”. When is this flight over?

Finally, we’re landing. I drifted to sleep at some point making it a bit quicker and easier. Still not comfortable or pleasant, but it’s ending. Get to the gate, stand up, and wait. And wait. And wait some more. Must have been nearly 10 minutes of waiting. I could feel a mutiny building. What was the hold up? Ah – finally, off the plane. Walk for ages. Still walking. Glad my knee isn’t hurting. Still walking. Finally make to immigration. Line up, wait. The guy never says a word. Looks, stamps, waves me through. On to get my luggage. Ok, here. People pushing, crowding against the belt. No luggage is moving.

Announcement – “technical difficulties” are delaying the delivery of the luggage. Awesome. Send some emails – I’m here, I’m okay. Look at the people. Find the Indian hipster. Take a photo. Oh – luggage is coming finally. Not mine, not mine, not mine, not mine. Is that mine? Yes. Can I get to the belt? Well… if I run to the end, yes. NO! Don’t grab my bag, it’s mine… that’s right, it’s not yours. Got it. Go to customs. Nothing to declare. Walk through without speaking to anyone because I’m waved through by the man in what seems to be a naval uniform. Yes sir. Get to the door, one little dude facing an onslaught of people, taking the little customs declaration slip. How would he see me walk through? Give him my slip, move forward.

Walk outside into the big empty plaza surrounded by people picking up the arriving passengers. Look for my name. Find it – who is attached to it? Oh, that guy. Ok. And you are? Rajesh? Good, you’re the right guy. Into the car. Nice car – SUV, leather. Look around – cans of Dr Pepper in every cup holder of the rear of the car, four in total. “Do you want an energy drink?” Awesome, thanks!

We get to McDonalds – there is a ladder laid across the driveway and the lights are off. It’s something like 1:30am. They are closed. We’re going to the food plaza on the highway. Sure, no problem. Let’s start the film. “Bodyguard” Big opening dance. Big opening fight. Total Bollywood awesomeness. We’re at the food plaza. I stifle my standard bit of panic and dive in behind Rajesh. I pick the dosa place. He’s never eaten there before, but we go for it. I’m going to have mexican dosa. Sit at a table, he wanders off. I start to get sleepy. No mexican dosas right now. Getting the spring roll dosa.

I down the food really fast – I was hungrier than I realized. I apologize for eating so fast. We finish. We go back to the car and to the film. After another dance / fight, I’m toast. I sleep-ish. Traffic is pretty reasonable, but we’re still weaving around and honking, yet I still manage to sleep.

Oh yeah – Rajesh asked why I didn’t bring Susan and Olivia when we were waiting for the car. I explained to him that we were travelling in Japan next month and the money would have been too tight, plus my schedule is so busy, etc. 20 minutes later, going through Mumbai traffic I tell him the story of Susan’s reaction to the Japanese taxi driver – she gripped the seat when he was aggressive about the speed and proximity of the vehicles. We’re in Mumbai barely not touching cars with other cars randomly weaving through cross traffic, horns blaring, high-beams flashing and hands acting as signals / requests / commands. The guy in front of us simply shoves his hand out the window and tells us that he’s coming over whether we like it or not. And coming over is relative – no one is drive in any sort of a lane. I tell him that Susan would be crying in the floor. She isn’t coming over.

We finally get to the hotel. A full check of the vehicle comes next – a dog (really? is he really a bomb dog? I think he’s a “look, we have a dog,” dog.), a mirror under the car, a visual check of all the passenger compartments. We’re free to go in. A x-ray machine, a metal detector. Check in. Super hospitality. Take your bag up? No, thanks. Really, just 5 minutes? No, it’s ok. But you’ve been travelling for so long? No, really, I can handle it.

Into my room. It’s 6 or 7a to my body. Too much messing around on the internet. Eventually off to sleep.

Sorry… that’s really long… 3000 words!

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