Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great American Adventure: Part One

The Longest Haul Ever

"Coffee, tea, orange juice, Miss?" The steward politely proffers. 

"Coffee please. Thanks." I smile as he places it on the food tray in front of me.  

It takes a full minute for me to process that I don't really want that bloody coffee. Or the tuna club sandwich he had been passing around 10 minutes before. I don't want the caffeine boost, nor am I hungry for more food. 

It's just because I was eating ice cream that he'd been passing around 5 minutes earlier, and coffee seemed a better match than the mineral water I'd asked for 4 minutes and 50 seconds ago, and he said he'd be back with the drinks cart soon, then I guess I got a little excited with my options. 

Perhaps I should start from the beginning. 

I'm on a plane, if you couldn't already tell. I'm on a plane that will (assuming it doesn't crash, because I have a morbid imagination about such things), take me in six hours from KLIA to Narita airport in Tokyo, where after about a two-hour transit, I'll depart on a nine hour flight to LAX.

And then once I've landed, assuming two hours are used to clear US Customs (where again, I'm morbidly imagining to be manhandled into a dark interrogation room where they ask me WHERE ARE U HIDING THE BOMB/DRUGS), I'll have another six hours to kill before my next domestic flight to Washington, which also includes an hour long stopover at Charlotte. 

It's going to be a looooong 36 hours. The longest time I've ever spent travelling in my life. 

And I'm doing it all solo. Because the rest of the family left 4 days ahead so they could make it for my brother's convocation. But with my finals only having finished last friday (which is why I haven't had any time to write), this was the first flight to LAX I could get, so I'm missing the convocation altogether and am going to be picked up by the family at around 9am at the Washington airport after my series of exhausting long haul flights, and am expected to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited to spend the rest of the day touring city monuments. 

Which I will be, but in a blurry, jetlagged sort of way. 

Ah who am I kidding. It's the freaking US of A! With all the American culture we embrace, who wouldn't be excited beyond words to see Hollywood and Beverly Hills and New York and the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas??

Oh yes, we're headed to all those places, though not in that order because the itinerary was daddy's job. The key point is, we're going to be there for only a week and a half, and I honestly have no idea how he has planned for us to do the most express tour of America the world has ever seen. 

But that's excitement for another day. Right now, I still have to slog through these damn flights. 

So anyway, I've decided to document my consecutive flight experiences, because I want to preserve the memories, and also because I have nothing else to do. 

Let's get started! 

KLIA to Narita Airport (6 hours 45 minutes)

For a first timer travelling alone, I was much more relaxed about it than I thought I was going to be. After checking in, I had around 40 minutes to kill before the boarding gate opened. And I strolled literally the whole airport before finding a secluded area with leather sofas, with only one other person there. I happily settled in and whatsapped some friends until I had to go, then I just went through the typical airport procedures, got on the correct flight (another morbid fear) and well here I am. 

I've been pretty blessed so far. I got an aisle seat, and my window neighbour is a forty-something lady who just wanted to do stuff on her laptop for her business meeting in Tokyo. Which is perfect, because I wanted to sit with someone not smelly, sick, chatty, or who would encroach my personal space. I also didn't wanna sit to a good looking guy that would make me feel flustered, or a good looking girl that would make me feel intimidated. 

Okay. The plane took off at 10.50am, Malaysian time. I kept occupied by reading the newspaper and watching half of Broken City before lunch. I couldn't really enjoy the movie because it involved a lot of dark scenes and mumbled conversation, and the screen and headphones provided weren't exactly equipped for those. 

And then lunch. It was a choice of either fish and rice or beef and potatoes. It was pretty much a no brainer and I asked for fish and rice, because I always opt for safe choices with airline food, but I got the last one, and the elderly man sitting across my aisle didn't take beef, so again it was a no-brainer to give up my choice. 

The beef wasn't bad. But I only ate half the main course because it also came with a bread roll, shrimp salad and cha soba which I ate first, and they were actually pretty good. Guess I've been flying AirAsia for far too long. 

After lunch, I watched What's Your Number, a typical Anna Faris chick flick that I've actually already seen twice but I wanted to see Chris Evans half-naked again. Then I read a few chapters of my book before my eyes felt too strained (slept only 4 hours last night), so I decided to close my eyes and try to nap. 

But I'd only gotten to relax for about 15 mins before an air steward tapped me on my shoulder asking me if I wanted a sandwich, which I groggily accepted. 

So we're back here again. And while I was typing this out, we've crossed into Japan airspace. We'll be landing soon, and the air stewardess has just told me to switch off my phone. 

So far, so good. Still holding strong, and hoping that my next flight neighbour will be this ideal too. 

Transit at Narita Airport (1 hour 45 minutes)

I've befriended the old man that was sitting across the aisle, when we walked to the transit gate together. He's off to California for his granddaughter's 10th birthday. I asked him what he got her, and he said he's just going to give her a big angpau. 

My kind of grandparent. Seemed really nice.

I lost him at the security check though, because he was (understandably) really slow, and I didn't wanna wait around, so I went ahead. 

Found a power socket at a secluded spot, so am sitting here charging my phone while waiting for the gate to open. Ate less than half my tuna sandwich, because I was hungry, but the sandwich wasn't good and I'll probably gonna be served food again in 2 hours. 

I suppose I'll tell my family and friends I'm still alive now. 


Well the wifi doesn't work and I'm not getting any phone service. So I guess I just have to telepathically tell them I'm safe. 

I'm actually a little tired already. I think it's because I've been sitting beside a wall of windows for an hour and it's night time outside, so it's making me a little mellow. 

Thought of reading my book, but my bag is organised in some precise Tetris format to fit all my things, and it's just too much work to mess it up for 20 minutes of reading time, so write I shall. 

If anyone's curious, I'm carrying a medium Longchamp bag, the same one everyone including your grandmother and your maid has. I've been using it for at least 3 years, because I'm the type that uses the same bag everywhere I go and never bother replacing it. I prefer splurging on shoes. 

So what's in my bag?

Big things include an A4 file, a 600 page book, a Polaroid camera, a cardigan, a new pack of Simple face wipes (25 pieces, makes it bulky), and my charger attached to my US adaptor. 

I can't finish listing the small things because my bag is a huge black hole, but it includes 3 Revlon lip butters, 1 Dior lipgloss, lip balm, face powder, facial tissue, wet tissue, earphones, money pouch, etc etc. 

Which fills my bag to near its full capacity. Which makes it pretty heavy, but holds everything I would dream of needing for the all the long haul flights. 

Narita Airport to LAX (9 hours 25 minutes)

Well I'm back in my aisle seat, now next to a blonde American a few years older than me, and I'm pretty sure she'll ignore me the whole flight unless she needs to pee. My elderly friend is still across me and we did friendly banter for a bit. 

But behind him is this REALLY adorable scruffy-looking guy. I mean which girl doesn't love stubble on a good looking man? Ok it makes kissing unpleasant, but all I'm doing is looking at the guy. Wouldn't even consider flirting with my current 'aunty' look (glasses, loose top, jeans, crocs - but not the signature crocs design; those are DISGUSTING), because there's zero point in looking cute when travelling for 36 hours. 

Dinner was much less pleasant than lunch earlier. They ran out of fish again, so they gave me the beef dish, which looked pretty unappetising. So I asked if anything else was available, and they ave me the vegetarian option, which I happily accepted. 

Turns out their idea of vegetarian food is to toss some mushrooms, carrots, and cabbage in an onion caramelisation and throw it on a bed of rice. It was also almost 10pm Malaysian time and I didn't have any appetite. So I just ate some soba (which wasn't as nice as the earlier cha soba) and as much of the caramelisation I could take without throwing up. And that was dinner. 

I watched Chicago, with more than half of it being when the lights had went out, which made things pretty strenuous for my eyes (which I'm trying to let heal since torturing them for the past few exam weeks). But it was worth the squinting; the movie was freaking amazing!

Yes, it's a movie about murderers that get away scot-free and about fame and deceit, but it's also I think the best damn musical-turned-movie I've ever seen. So much sequins and jazz and glamour! Even though I've seen that part of the movie on youtube a dozen times, I still was grinning like an idiot and wanting to scream out loud when the Cell Block Tango scene came on. 

It's 11.35pm Malaysian time. Im pretty tired, considering I've been squinting at a small tv screen for the past hour amidst complete darkness. And I'm doing it again with my iPhone now. 

I guess I'll give it a rest. More of the same tomorrow!


Bloody hell. I can't sleep. It's been an hour, but my brain refuses to rest and my eyes don't really wanna stay closed. It's absolutely ridiculous. I can fall asleep during a 30 min car ride, but can't sleep after (at this point) 9 flight hours, non-inclusive of the 2 hour layover. 

I'm considering reading my book, but the reading light is so bright I'd wake up five other people. So it's listen to music on your headphones time! My eyes aren't in good enough shape to catch another movie, which is such a shame. 

I'm surprisingly ok with the space I'm given though. Somehow I'm short enough to be able to put both feet on the seat and curl up into the fetal position, so it doesn't feel too uncomfortable. Yay Asian size!


It's the last hour of the flight now. I had a restless 3 hour nap where I repeatedly woke up and kept tossing and turning around. Well, as much as one can in an airplane seat. Finally felt too claustrophobic and went to the toilet just so I could get a good stretch. 

Mini updates: Made friends with a steward who also served the earlier flight to Narita. Found out the cute guy was Japanese and promptly lost interest. And I was right about the American ignoring my existence unless she needs to use the toilet, which suits me just fine. 

Ok here's the thing. They served us lunch, practically 6 hours after they served us dinner. Typically even my dinner and breakfast has at least a 12 hour gap. How is anyone expected to have any form of appetite on these flights?

Took the chicken and potatoes meal, and the gravy tasted suspiciously like the same one I earlier had with the vegetarian option. Finished the chicken, ate the salad with sesame dressing, and ditched everything else. Food on the flight to LAX vastly dipped in quality compared to the one to Narita, even though it was the exact same plane. 

Also, I have no idea how to fill in these damned immigration forms that were just handed out. I've never had to fill in one of these myself before, because usually my dad fills his in first and hands it over for the rest to blindly copy. 

On top of that, the US immigration form requires so much bloody information, of which I do not have. Like my address while staying there and a phone number I'm reachable at. Since I don't know any of our hotel addresses, I just filled in all my brother's info, even though I'm not even headed to his place. 

Am in the midst of concocting my story should I be hauled for questioning by Imigration personnel. My excuse will be that my dad is picking me up from the Washington airport, and that's practically almost all I know about the whole trip. But they are free to call my brother's number and he'll explain everything. Yes it's boring and uncreative, but I'm sleep-deprived and it's probably a good idea to just tell the truth. 

It's now 4.45am Malaysian time, but 1.45pm in LA. The sky outside is super bright and sunny, and I can certainly feel and almost see the question marks coming from my body clock. 

LAX (8 hours to next flight)

First impression: the Tom Bradley international terminal, is pretty much the exact same rundown state as Malaysia's own LCCT, which was a letdown. The immigration personnel however looked like movie characters. There were the really good looking fit types, to the huge potbellied mustachioed types, and everything in between. 

But the magical feeling died off soon after I realised I would literally have to wait for an hour to clear immigrations. Each person took anywhere from 5-15 minutes to clear, and it was so exhausting to see the queue going nowhere fast. 

My line had 2 personnel, and I was gunning for the one that looked like a cousin of Bruce Willis, because it wouldn't be that bad to be manhandled by him if my landing card was rejected; but instead I got the Asian lookalike that turned out to be Mexican. He was really nice though. Asked me more about what I studied than why I was going to the US. 

Then after 15 minutes of brisk walking three terminals away to check in for my next flight (which took 30 minutes and the inefficiency was not unlike typical AirAsia ground staff), it was back again to Tom Bradley to kill some time in the Relax Lounge. As of now, I've been travelling for over a day, with less than 3 hours of sleep. 


Wifi! Finally! Oh Internet how I've missed you sorely, lets never part again. 

Do not regret paying USD10 per hour to chill at the Relax Lounge just for the wifi access. Light refreshments are available, so I had a pastry, a muffin, and a coffee, which are supposed to tide me over for about 15 hours until I land in Washington, because its an overnight flight so I won't be getting any food. I'm hoping to finally get some sorely needed shut-eye on the plane, because I feel beyond exhausted now.


I have never been in a cubicle that lets people outside see exactly what you are doing. The doors have an inch-wide gap on each side, and are 20 inches off the floor. So when I walked in, I wasn't expecting to be able to see a woman stand up from the toilet bowl with her panties at mid-thigh. Talk about culture shock!

Seriously, what the hell? I get the need for security when you're on every terrorist's hit list, but not installing proper toilet doors for foreign tourists at your international airport terminals? How's that supposed to help you when women can't pee in peace?


Americans in LAX: a first impression. 

1. Are either unfriendly or extremely racist. I felt immediately invisible while there. There was zero smiles or nods or any form of acknowledgement. 

When an American lady sat next to me on the airport shuttle, and by chance her eye caught mine, and I smiled and said hi because that's what anyone would do, but she just started talking to her friend while facing me, as if I didn't exist!

Even the TSA staff that had earlier been joking around with other passengers, looked like they'd just sucked on a lemon when I handed them my passport. 


In Malaysia, everyone checks in for their flight 2 hours early, and is at the boarding gate within minutes when it opens. If you're late, it's your own damn fault and you should feel ashamed and try your best to convince airport staff to let you jump queue, all the while being apologetic and embarrassed. 

But as for Americans! The TSA Security Check line was ridiculously long, and I know this because so many Americans were complaining about it, and it took over 30 minutes to clear the security check before the boarding gates. During those 30 minutes, at least 20 Americans complained to the staff that they were going to miss their flights and they neede to be let through. 

And they were immediately let through! No apologies about being late, no feelings of embarrassment, just flashing their boarding passes and saying they couldn't afford to queue up. 

The Malaysian in me couldn't take it! Cutting queues is a HUGE no-no, and I don't think anyone keeps quiet when more than 1 person jumps a long queue. It was as if they didn't need to bother coming early, because they could conveniently use that excuse to get ahead in line!

3. Ok something positive. The airport announcements are really personable and actually involve humour. I'm so used to robotic, droning voices that this is a real pleasant change. 

Overall, America has not been the most welcoming country. But I suppose I can't really use grumpy people in airports as fair comparison. 

BONUS: 1 hour flight delay!

US Airways is notorious for delays. I've heard the horror stories. But I still wasn't prepared to realise I might miss my connecting flight to Washington and have to spend another few hours in the airport. 

While thinking about how screwed I was, I was befriended by my fellow screwed passenger sitting beside me outside the boarding gate. He was a close to middle-aged American, and was nice enough to offer to check the availability of other flights. Chit-chatted for a bit, dude turned out to be a fun conversationalist, which helped improve my general impression towards Americans. 

Public service announcement here: just one person being friendly and caring can literally turn someone's crappy/inadequate feelings into positive/happy thoughts. It's really true! So don't skimp on love for thy neighbour!

LAX to Charlotte, North Carolina (4 hours 20 minutes)

Nice dude was a first class passenger, so after the plane was finally ready for takeoff we separated, and I had renewed faith in the kindness of Americans. 

Which would turn out to be extremely short-lived.

I had a centre seat, between a big American woman and a tall Middle Eastern. Both encroached into my personal space and refused to let me near the armrests, and the woman was sick and had horrible breath. 

But the worst part was the Turkish/Armenian guy! He had no sense of personal boundaries whatever, so his leg was literally stretched across my floorspace and under the seat in front of me. Even when I bumped against him, he refused to move at all! 

It would mark one of my most uncomfortable flights ever. The lights were off the whole flight because we were expected to sleep through it. I was out for 2 hours out of sheer exhaustion, but when I woke up, the woman was snoring and again both arm rests were taken, and it was just such an unpleasant and I was so uncomfortable I started counting the minutes to disembark. 

Then there was the pressing worry of missing my connection. We were scheduled to land at 7.10am, and my connection departs at 7.29am. I had to run, there was no doubt, but chances were extremely high that I might miss it if the slightest delay occurs. 

So anyway, when the aircraft landed and the captain called for those who had connecting flights to head out first, Middle Eastern guy was literally pressing against me, trying to force me out into an already crowded aisle, the bloody pisser. Nothing sexual; if there was lower body contact I would've yelled at him, but it was extremely uncomfortable and even another American lady saw and told him to just be patient and quit pushing. 

Guess for every asshole a nice person also has to exist to balance things out. 

So the second I'm outside the aircraft, I start running. Took me about 5 minutes to get to the end of the other terminal, and thankfully was able to make the flight. Within minutes of getting on, the flight departed. Praise God!

 Charlotte to Washington Dallas (1 hour 15 minutes)

Finally. Finally finally finally I'm on the last stretch! The relief of not missing this flight is beyond words, even though I know there is no way my check-in baggage could've made it on the plane, which means more waiting at the next airport. 

I'm seated in the centre of 2 middle-aged, bespectacled, dressed-for-work men. They take up the armrests too, but I'm not bothered since I want to write, and they don't have a leg shoved up against me. 

I like to imagine they're in some sort of pissing contest to out-business the other, because they were both intently reading the paper when I arrived.

First point goes to Left Guy, because he's wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt, which is far more businesslike than Right Guy whose wearing a red short-sleeved shirt. Both wearing trousers and leather shoes, so no fault there. 

Second point goes to Red Guy though, because he took a black coffee while Blue Guy took one with cream. Red Guy was also handed the third point because Blue Guy took a banana out of his overhead baggage and ate it after coffee. 

Blue Guy evens it out with the fourth point by reading sheaves of paper with post-it notes and account details all over, while Red Guy has just finished his newspaper and is taking a siesta. 

I'll get back to you on further developments as they occur. 

...I'm aware of how extremely weird I am, but I do play such imaginary games with myself on a regular basis. Please don't judge me. 

My exhaustion now is near equal to that during the exam weeks, but I think I'll be able to pull through a day of sightseeing later, simply because I'm freaking excited to see USA beyond their freaking crappy airports and freaking annoying passengers. Even when I'm walking outside I feel the motions of being on a plane. 

The pissing contest win goes to Blue Guy! He's looking at slide printouts with the headings "Proposals" and "Strategy", while Red Guy has only been reading the Sports section. 

So anyway, the flight lands, and I'm finally done with airports and planes! 


Definitely, this was not an experience I'll be wishing to relive anytime soon. But it didn't turn out too bad though, because when you travel alone you notice so much more and you get to meet people you never would if you stay completely withing your comfort zone. 

Also, you'd never think it coming from a background of near-idolising American culture, but I would vote MAS and KLIA over US Airways and all the airports combined. I can honestly vouch that our hospitality and airport facilities beat America hands down. And I will no longer be surprised when first world country citizens praise our humble little KLIA. 

You'd also be surprised with the super lax security. My brother and father came to meet me in the baggage claim area, instead of me having to look for them in the arrival hall. My check in baggage did not get onto the flight as expected, but it's ok as we've arranged for it to be sent to the hotel when it arrives. 

My top 5 tips for long haul travelling, based on my personal experience. 

1. Lip balm is your best friend. 

2. Your next best friend is facial wipes, because its much more convenient than having to splash about with your regular face wash. Also, if possible pack a sample of moisturiser. My skin wasn't uncomfortable at all throughout all the flights, which says a lot because I was wearing face powder almost the whole time but didn't break out. 

3. Stay hydrated. Guess this one goes without saying. 

4. Update your playlist and bring your earphones, and/or bring a book. They block out loud conversation and babies crying. Don't even think about relying on in-flight entertainment, because more likely than not there won't be anything to watch. 

5. Be a good neighbour. Don't be a bloody asshole that encroaches someone else's chair space or floor space. 

Also, don't fight it if you're jetlagged with time zone changes. I went through four, and it was a bloody nightmare. Just try to take a quick nap if possible, because it does wonders when you feel like dropping dead. 

That's pretty much all I have to say about the hectic flights. I know it was ridiculously long, but well I was hopelessly bored. 

Thanks for reading! Now I'm off to enjoy the Land of the Free!!

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