Published: October 8th 2006October 8th 2006
The Eye of Sophia
In the middle of Ramadan
“Inch Allah!” The words keep ringing in my ears. “God willing.” This popular phrase, often times heard all throughout the Arab World seems particularily ironic today. On this particular day, God does not seem willing to send me off on a good start!”
After a very busy week, training in Istanbul and absorbing as much (admittedly a little too much) information as possible about my new company, I find myself on my way to my first assignment: Taiwan. Currently flying over India, I feel like every possible thing that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. To start things off, I was greeted with a nice 200 euro excess baggage surcharge at the Singapore Airlines Counter. Needless to say, I desperately tried to argue my way out of it, saying that I was a “preferred star alliance customer” and I had flown over to Istanbul less than a week ago, with the same amount of luggage and had not been told anything… Much to my somewhat relief, the seemingly unwavering Turkish supervisor (with quite a nice moustache, if I may add) agreed to lower the price from 1,500 euros to 200 euros, justifying his absolute need to charge me “something.”
Inside the Blue Mosque
This is absurd! They actually expected me to pay 1,500 euros because the technical weight limit is 20kg and my combined bags, including carry ons, weiged over 56 kgs. To my defense, I had thought that the limit (which incidentally varies from airline to airline - lesson learned) was 50kg, and my checked baggage weight was indeed 48 kg. Note to self (and anyone out there who may find this useful), the weight limit on Singapore Airlines is only 20 kg for checked baggage and 7 kg for carry ons. After an intense display of cross cultural diplomacy and a rather crafty (or so I thought) shift of items from carry ons to checked bags, I found myself signing a 200 dollar bill and consequently heading to the passport control area, somewhat relieved, finger bleeding from getting it cut during the baggage exchange hullabaloo, only 30 minutes from take off!
2nd calamity: Having impatiently waited in line at the passport control, I pull out my American passport to give to the stoic looking Turkish customs officer and before I even hand it over to him, I thought: “oh shit!” I realize that while shifting my stuff in such a
In front of the hotel
In the middle of Sultanameh, the old city
hurry, and checking more items than I had originally anticipated, I put my French Passport in with a checked bag. Now, one would think that an American Passport would suffice to travel to Taiwan…Not when it does not have a Turkish visa, compulsory for American passengers; which means that according to the Turkish Authorities, I had entered illegally. Shit! The thing is, I had used my French Passport when I entered the Country, a week ago, to avoid having to pay the absurdly priced Visa, since for some reason French citizens are exempt from such a tax. So here I am, with about 20 minutes before my plane actually takes off, most of my bags already checked and well on their way to the plane…stuck in customs, trying to explain to this dude (who was becoming increasingly confused, irate and border line angry) that my passport is already in the plane. Not really going anywhere with this. As I realize the futility of this conversation, as well as the gravity of the situation, I sprint back to the Singapore Airlines Counter. Of course, no one is there and the check in is officially over. Panic sets in.
Beers in Taskim Square
Met up with Alistair, a long time Istanbul resident and enthusiast
hell am I gonna do? Perhaps not the most calculated move on my part, but a visceral instinct led me to run to the nearest counter (American Airlines) and I began explaining (out of breath and drenched) my predicament to the counter agent. Luckily, he seems to understand me and sympathizes with my situation. Good man. He then calls someone on his radio and relays the information, asking the person to find my passport inside my bag (which I had to meticulously describe) and to bring it all the way back here. 20 minutes go by and still no word. I’m pacing around a 10 feet radius, going absolutely mad! Then, by a stroke of God (“inch Alla” indeed), a glowing smile peeks out from behind the counter handing me the elusive maroon colored passport and asking me to follow her right to the gate, thereby bypassing various administrative hurdles along the way.
After yet again a brisk and sweaty run across the Istanbul airport, I finally get to my gate, eagerly awaited by the cheerful Singapore Airline crew. I an officially THAT guy, you know the last guy onboard that everyone has been waiting for to take off,
walking to my seat. Of course, my seat is literally all the way at the back of the plane, row 59. Talk about the walk of shame!
And we’re off….Officially crossing over the Bosphorus to the Asian side, an overwhelming feeling of adventure sets in…No turning back now. I finally begin to relax, take full advantage of the perennial hot towel, scrupulously dispensed by the attentive crew and close my eyes immediately…All this stressful running around, no wonder why I’m out so quickly! About an hour later, as I browse through the copious selection of 80 (literally 80) movies on demand, I really start kicking back, indulging in a couple of glasses of wine and a rather scrumptious (by airline standard) pan seared fish fillet with seasonal vegetables….Slowly putting the 200 euro incident behind me, I start envisioning my new life, thinking hard and anticipating all the aspects of this incredible adventure that lies ahead.
Dubai International airport - I officially hate this place. As we land in Dubai (for a layover), we are instructed to leave the plane so that the cleaning crew can do their thing and prepare the plane for the new passengers. Halfway through
the line on my way to yet another passport and hand luggage control, I realize I forgot my Ipod in the front pocket of my seat. Surprisingly, I didn’t really freak out this time. I guess by that point, I had reached my stress quota for the day. I figure the crew would see it and would either give it to the Cabin Manager or would notify me as soon as I got back on the plane. “Inch Alla!” So I go ahead through passport and baggage control and calmly start explaining my newest conundrum to the nearest agent. I think I now hold a special place on the Singapore Airline Watch list. Initially hesitating, he finally allows me to retrace my steps to the plane where I meet a very nice man who assures me that he will personally take a look and come right back. 10 agonizing minutes later, the man comes back shaking his head from side to side, clearly indicating a failed outcome. Now, this is ridiculous! I’m thinking, there is NO WAY this can be happening. Not after what I had already gone through in Istanbul, not now…not today, not on the day when I’m
about too begin the most daunting chapter of my life. I’m freaking out. Complete despair and utter frustration. I beg this nice guy to please ask everyone: cleaning personnel, cabin crew, passengers, hell even the fucking pilot! “I’m sorry sir, we looked everywhere and asked everyone…we cannot find your iPod anywhere on the plane.”
So here I am, flying over the Bay of Bengal, 4 hours away from Singapore, sitting next to a fat bald and loud (snoring) Turkish man whose clearly spilling into my seat and hugging all the leg space. Incidentally, I have an uncanny suspicion that he actually stole my fucking iPod! I mean, come on, who else could have taken it??? The gate agent assured me that he checked (physically) the cleaning crew and asked everyone on the Istanbul-Dubai team. It has to be him. Plus, he seemed overly concerned about my dilemma and has been extremely talkative and exceedingly sympathizing since…Strange, considering that he had not said a word to me before. I don’t’ know. What the hell do I do? Wait till he’s fully out and check his bags? Hmmmmm??? (I’ll let you know)
Strangely enough, this episode, and largely speaking this whole day/night, flying over so many countries, passing a number of time zones and getting lost in time and space has really made me think hard. I mean, here I am, completely clueless as to what’s about to come… I’m about 8 hours away from landing to my new home for the next 6 months or so….A place that feels so foreign, strange and mystical yet exotic and enticing all at once. And all I can think about is my stupid iPod! Admittedly, it really sucks having to listen to the crappy on demand “chart toppers” with these flimsy complementary foam headphones. And yeah, it blows that I just lost my brand new (literally less than a month) latest, 350 dollar iPod, incidentally right before a 15 hour + trip across the largest continent! But the thing is, I can’t and honestly don’t let it get to me too much. I really have to start focusing on the stuff that really matters here. Not to say that music does not matter, far from it… But I just think that if I let incidents like this take the best of me, I stand no chance in Taiwan! There’s too many things to be grateful for, especially at this stage, so Ipod or no Ipod, I say fuck it. I’ll make my own entertainment (“inch Allah”)
On a more positive note, I just spent an amazing week in Istanbul. Unfortunately, I was too busy at work to really go out and enjoy the city as much as I would have liked to but I did get a good feel for it. I have to say, that in my opinion this is undoubtedly one of the greatest cities in the world—such an intense and interesting mix of cultures. A true crossroads of civilizations filled with so many vivid sights, sounds and smells. Incredible food and friendly people, such a rich history and as a result, some of the most scenic monument I have ever seen. It was especially interesting being there during Ramadan. These pictures do not nearly do it justice, but unfortunately, it’s all I got…