Friday, December 10, 2010

Starts Just Like Work

It still hasn't sunk in that I'm going on an exotic adventure, because for me a vacation starts just like going to work: packing suitcases and getting on an airplane. There are some differences, though. At work I have to be prepared for the arctic and Florida with the same suitcase. This time I only have to pack for three cities, and I know in advance what they will be and what weather to expect, so this should be a snap. But I get to a point where I keep opening and closing the drawers and closets without packing anything. I have a new cultural constraint. I need clothes for thirty to forty degree weather without showing too much skin. I envision long cotton skirts, loose cotton blouses, and those colorful pajama-like outfits the Pakistani women wear. No matter how many times I open and close my closet, I continue not to own these things. I have long black pants, form-fitting work-out clothing, t-shirts, a bit of beach wear, sweaters, and a wide variety of winter clothing. I pack two pairs of long black work pants for the build, a few t-shirts, and a couple of white, short-sleeved, poly-cotton shirts (with tabs for epaulettes). I simply plan to buy more appropriate clothing when I get there.

I use my work packing list to help decide the non-clothing items to take, adding an extra memory card for the camera, an electrical adapter for the various chargers, anti-malarial and severe diarrhea medicine (prescribed by the travel centre that gave me all my inoculations), and a guidebook to Cambodia. I leave my laptop, headset and manuals behind. I'm really not going to work as usual.

I get a ride to the airport late in the evening as the first snow of the year starts to fall. Big flakes swish through the streetlight beams. I hope the airport snowploughs and deicing stations are warmed up and ready to go. I just have a sweatshirt and a light jacket, not wanting to haul anything else through Cambodian heat. I would be woefully unprepared if we had to do an evac on the runway here. No, Aviatrix, you are not going to work. You can stop thinking about these things. Stop thinking about emergency preparedness? Never!

The group leader is taking care of crazy overprepared, anyway. He has us all at the airport something like four hours before the flight. It's a group booking, so the check-in kiosk rejects me, but the girl at the counter has no trouble issuing me a boarding pass and then after I pass through security it's easy to find the large group milling around our gate. Someone hands out the t-shirts and work gloves we've been warned to leave room for in our carry-ons, and we board the flight only about 15 minutes later than scheduled. It's a Boeing 777 if I remember correctly. Despite the size of the aircraft and the number of people who must be on board, the Captain includes a shout-out of our group, going to build houses in Cambodia, in his welcome announcement. I still don't get that I'm doing anything out of the ordinary.

The seatbelts have built-in airbags, but there is no indication on the safety card how they work. I'm already in a foreign country, as English is the second language on the aircraft placards. There's a fancy in-flight entertainment system built into the back of the seat in front of me, with movies in English, Chinese and probably some other languages, too. We're supposed to stay up until at least ten p.m. Cambodian time and then sleep or rest for the rest of the flight, in order to get over jet lag as quickly as possible. Once I've chatted to my neighbours and read enough my dollar thrift-store paperback that I can't concentrate, I turn on the IFE to watch a Hollywood movie. Not being aware that Inception is a mindfuck (sorry, is there a corresponding term without the profanity?) movie, I watch half an hour or so and think my inability to understand exactly what is going on reflects extreme fatigue on my part, rather than deliberate and nested misleading on the part of the filmmaker. I give up and fall asleep about 8:30 p.m. Cambodian time, which is well into dawn back home. I sleep for about four hours and then wake up and watch the rest of the movie. It doesn't get less confusing through inserting a nap break, during which I had actual dreams which may or may not be fully separated from the movie itself, in my head. Also it's normal to have cuts in movie that drop you into new action, so to turn around and say that should be a cue you recognize as a sign of dreaming is pretty mean.

I'm like a nervous airline passenger, in that I imagine that every change in engine sound could be something irregular, except that I'm not nervous about it, aware of other things it is much more likely to be, and confident enough in the ability of a trained triple-seven crew to handle whatever happens. It's really just a way of alleviating boredom. Back to the entertainment system. There's an undernose camera view showing strips of alto cumulus clouds far far below us. I normally fly beneath them. Whether it's an artifact of the camera lens or the altitude I'm not sure, but the picture ahead on the horizon shows the curve of the Earth.

Another movie, this one is called Salt and stars Angelina Jolie as a sexy spy. The opening is copied straight out of a James Bond movie, and is even less believable here, because face it, given Angelina Jolie, waterboarding isn't going to be the evil bad guys' first choice of torture, and James Bond was at least shown to be in terrible physical condition after his ordeal. Angelina turns out to be a Russian sleeper agent, trained since childhood, now working for the CIA. That's interesting, because the denouement has to have her betray her own people, be killed by the Americans, or win, therefore making the American side lose. Any would be unusual for a Hollywood action movie. I never got to see which, because they turned off the IFE in preparation for landing before the end of the highway chase scene. My guess is that she betrayed her own people, presented as her being won over to the superiority of the American way of life, and everyone goes back to trusting her happy happy. I asked one of the other passengers if they had seen the end of the movie, and they had, but didn't remember anything useful about it. I gather it's mostly just a movie about Angelina Jolie and car chases.

As we descend into Hong Kong, a peculiar smell filters into the airplane through the pressurization system, and although the cockpit announcement called it a sunny day, it looks like fog. The air quality is that terrible. It's even worse than Los Angeles. There are mountains out there somewhere, but I just see a few vague shapes. I wouldn't want to land here visually.


coreydotcom said...


Anonymous said...

I think I've been reading your blog for too long, because I also think about emergency preparedness when I get on a plane. And though I'm not usually a nervous passenger, there were a couple moments during my last round of flights that did kind of scare me, including a rather unsteady-feeling visual approach into Chicago Midway, and a landing with a slight tailwind where the airplane floated for what felt like quite a long way down the runway before the wheels finally hit the ground. I do like to listen for changes in engine noise, mostly as a sort of "are we there yet?" signal. Engines speeding up means the flight is far enough along to have burned enough fuel to climb to a higher flight level. And engines slowing down generally means it'll be landing soon.

John Lennerton said...

What Coreydotcom said. Times two.

Jim said...

Women! "I'm flying halfway across the world to a faraway country to bang houses and a school together, in the middle of a jungle. What to wear, hmmmmmm???"

I guess this is one of the reasons us males find women so damn attractive. Albeit sometimes infuriating.

Aviatrix said...

Jim! It's a real problem. It has to cover all the required bits, which for women are more numerous in Cambodia, provide some mosquito and sun protection, let allow me to function in 40 degree heat. What would you pack? Jeans and black t-shirts?

(That makes it sound like going to Cambodia makes women grow extra breasts, but I think you can figure it out).