Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for January 2006

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
31
Jan 06
Tue

Oooh. Ahhh.

Just had to post again for the sake of it. I’m much too thrilled about this internet-in-the-sky concept. I just realised I am going to have to get some sleep, just to try out this bed thing.

Tick one more thing off the “must do before I die” list

To my surprise, this aircraft has been fitted out with an internet connection. So I am fulfilling a goal to post to Hear Ye! from over 10km in the air. Getting quite a geeky kick out of being able to IM friends while airborne! But that’s not the “thing to do before I die” that this post is really about.

Singapore Airlines has an internet checkin feature where you get to select what seat you want up to 48 hours before flying. So I logged on a couple days ago to snatch my customary window seat for the Singapore-Sydney overnight flight home, when I realise that the schematic which shows the seat layout is a business class schematic (3 sets of 2 seats per row) and I’ve been already allocated 23H. I scanned through economy class and discovered that it was full up, and came to the gleeful realisation that I was the beneficiary of the overbooking practices of airlines – that is, they ran out of seats so they bumped me up to business class. Makes sense – the first few days of Chinese New Year have passed and people are returning home after having visited their families in Asia, so the flights back to Sydney are packed during this time. I had an aisle seat, and there were no other free slots, but as if that mattered – I was flying business class!

I love planes and flying long-haul flights (that, and liking the humid South-east Asian weather are two of my idiosyncracies most people baulk at), so when departure day arrives, I’m all excited. Finally, I get to travel in business class which I haven’t done since I was about 8 and back then they didn’t have fully reclining beds. Furthermore, I get to use for the first time my newly acquired Gold Krisflyer status (20kg extra luggage, fast check-in in the Gold queue, luggage is unloaded first from the plane so wait times at the baggage carousel are minimised, access to Star Alliance lounges and I get to board the plane first to avoid the rush for overhead luggage).

I arrive at KLIA check-in with only a 20kg backpack (it only holds so much stuff) and the lady tells me that there is another passenger bound for Sydney with a 14kg suitcase which he hasn’t been able to check-in because he was already way over his limit. “Would you mind checking-in his luggage on your allowance, sir?” she asks. Of course I don’t mind – everytime my mum goes back to Singapore we run into the same problem so it’s nice to be able to return the favour. She completes the check-in process and hands me my boarding pass, which I see in shock, is printed on an economy class template.

“Sorry, I should have mentioned this before, but could I get a window seat?”
“Hmm… sorry, this is a very full flight, I can’t move you.”
“Oh,” I stammer, “that’s um… okay. Could I check what class the seat is in?”

She gives me a funny look, and after a bit of tapping on the computer says, “it’s in economy class. It’s a 747, so it’s a bigger plane. You’re on the upper deck where economy class starts in row 22.”

I look at her in disbelief – since when did the upper deck of a 747 have economy class seats? I am shattered, and feel somewhat depressed on the first KL-Singapore flight.

I drop by the Star Alliance lounge when I get to Singapore airport, but it’s nothing special. By the time I arrive at the gate, a huge queue has already formed leading to the metal detectors and security checkpoint. I’m moping at this point, and when the gate staff inspect my boarding pass and say, “One moment sir, we are going to have to pull you aside for a moment,” all I could think was, “What now?!” Was I on some Interpol watchlist? Were they going to take me into a room and strip search me?

I’m standing off to the side for a few minutes when one of the staff bounds up to me and says with a smile, “Here’s your new boarding pass with a new seat!” With a start, I realise it’s for seat 3F, handwritten on a Raffles Class boarding pass. That really made my day. But wait, there’s more…

When I board the plane, a stewardess leads me to my seat. She leads me to the left, then down the aisle towards the nose of the plane. Ten seconds later, I realise I am walking in First Class.

First. Fucking. Class. It has to be a mistake. Any moment now the stewardess is going to realise it and turn me around. But no, she ushers me into a seat that’s bigger than my apartment’s sofa. That’s it, any moment now, someone is going to arrive and demand to know what I’m doing in their seat. But no, the aircraft doors are shut and I am still sitting in the first class cabin with three other passengers who actually look like they belong there. Any moment now, the stewardess is going to denounce my boarding pass is a forgery and declare I am an imposter. But no, she instead offers me a beverage. The plane takes off.

Since I was a kid I’ve always dreamed of flying in first, so much so that I put it on the “things to do before I die” (another idiosyncracy). Because the costs for travelling in anything but economy are outrageously obscene, I figured I had to win the lottery or rob a bank or similar to be able to fulfil it. So now I’m like a kid in the candy store. Here are some observations about first class so far… since I’ll probably never be flying it again in my life:

  • The stewardesses they use here are leading and chief ones (green and red sarong kebayas).
  • When they need to explain something to you, they kneel on the floor so they are looking up at you rather than the other way around.
  • They ask before pushback what beverage you want to be served after take-off.
  • You get to choose when you want to eat and when to be waken up from the bed.
  • Personal service – being addressed by name by the attendants.
  • The meal menu is pretty cool. I’ll see if I can sneak one out.
  • Toilets are roughly the same as economy class ones, but with a few more amenities.
  • Profit margins on first class must be huge. On an overbooked flight, out of 12 seats, only 4 are occupied (and only 2 are paying customers, the other one is SIA staff).
  • Laptop power port. I think business class has them as well.
  • Dolby surround active noise cancelling headphones – they pretty much block out 90% of the sounds from the four jet engines.
  • Stationery set, reclining chair/bed, large video screen for movies, etc. Mental!
  • The cabin lights are switched on in the morning only when everyone has awoken.
  • Sleeping in the bed is similar to sleeping in a train couchette compartment – gentle rocking. A proper bed is naturally more comfortable (perhaps in the new A380s?).
  • Meals are freshly prepared and come on a tablecloth. Can mix and match meals and request as much food and drink as you want.
  • Offered newspapers and magazines to read.
  • Despite this, First Class is so not worth the money people pay for it. But what luxury goods and services ever are?

I am so excited I can’t sleep. I wonder if they bumped me all the way up because I helped the guy out at check-in? That’s the only reason I can think of upgrading me instead of pushing a business class passenger up…

Homeward bound

It’s all over! The last flight to Sydney awaits…

A huuuuge thanks to Eric and Dave! They graciously hosted me, repeatedly came to my rescue (especially linguistically speaking… I really feel like the only monolingual person on the face of this planet currently) and generally showed me a really fun time during my stays in HK and KL respectively. Many thanks also to Jen, Viv and Justin for taking me around. And of course, thanks to my wonderful parents for funding this second sojourn (don’t worry, starting work soon, the sponging off you wil soon stop!).

The last time I tried to write a post on the plane I got sidetracked by the inflight movies, so I guess the full “report” will have to wait till I get home.

Typing this from the lounge thing they have at this airport for frequent flyers… it’s a novel experience for me, but I must say it’s underwhelmingly un-special. Showers are pretty handy I guess, and there’s a free drinks fridge. But otherwise, bleh.

27
Jan 06
Fri

VIII


And Happy Chinese New Year, too!

24
Jan 06
Tue
22
Jan 06
Sun
20
Jan 06
Fri

Cities over the last 365 days

Following on from a meme featuring on this site and this site, here’s a list of cities and towns I’ve passed through over the last year. Unfortunately, the remainder of 2006 will be significantly less itinerant.

Beijing, China*
Harbin, China
Singapore*
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia*
Genting Highlands, Malaysia††
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Luang Prabang, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Hanoi, Vietnam
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Hué, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Phnom Penh, Vietnam
Siem Reap, Vietnam
Bangkok, Thailand
Dubai, UAE
Vienna, Austria††
Prague, Czech Republic
Bratislava, Slovakia
Budapest, Hungary
Sighisoara, Romania
Bucharest, Romania
Sofia, Bulgaria*
Athens, Greece
Mykonos, Greece
Thessalonica, Greece††
Washington, DC
New York, NY
Boston, MA
Cambridge, MA††
Montréal, Canada
Québec City, Canada
Toronto, Canada
Niagara Falls, Canada††
Chicago, IL
San Francisco, CA*
Las Vegas, NV*
Grand Canyon, AZ
Vancouver, Canada*
Whistler, Canada
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Brussels, Belgium
Venice, Italy
Florence, Italy
Pisa, Italy††
Rome, Italy
Naples, Italy††
Pompei, Italy††
Hong Kong, China
Macau, China††
Shenzhen, China††

All places had overnight visits, unless marked with ††.
* Multiple entries, non-consecutive days.
†† Daytrip only.

Airplane movies

Once again Singapore Airlines’ flights have been the nicest to fly on… on the Rome-Singapore flight last week I plodded through Transporter 2, Fantastic Four, Lord of War and The Constant Gardener.

Transporter 2 was fun. Fantastic Four was definitely missable.

I really, really liked Lord of War, definitely recommend watching it when it gets released in the cinemas. It takes a very interesting look into the world of arms-trading, told in an easy-to-watch style which at the same time pulls no punches. The Constant Gardener had a different tone to Lord of War – slower, more serious – but sort of felt the same in that they both delve into the issue that is Africa (an issue that has been quite prominent over the last year), specifically its problems with war and poverty. I’d also recommend this movie.

19
Jan 06
Thu

HKG

Had an absolute blast in HK!! Will try and do a writeup on the plane tomorrow.

12
Jan 06
Thu

Gelato

Although I complained about prices in the last post, there is one staple that hasn’t changed in price – ice cream! If you look in the right places, you can pay as little as €1.25 and get three large scoops of excellent ice cream. You can’t even buy one scoop in Sydney for that price.

Caught up with Harold for dinner yesterday who’s on his way up with Tal to Venice. Leaving tomorrow for HK where I can finally dispense with this damn heavy winter jacket. Should hit Gold level on my KrisFlyer account then too! :) Extra 20kg luggage allowance!

9
Jan 06
Mon

Expenses

I just have to say that Rome is horrendously expensive compared to when I was here five years ago. That’s what conversion to the Euro does, I suppose… makes everything 60% more expensive for an Aussie. Ouch.

3
Jan 06
Tue

Two thousand and six

Happy New Year and welcome to 2006! Looking back, a lot of stuff happened in 2005… 2006 is going to be very different, but still exciting!

The trip is going well, although I am suffering from a dramatic sunlight deficiency. Every single day, except for two in Arizona, has been completely overcast, if not raining as well. Contrast this to the 44 degree Sydney bushfire weather. Winter in the northern hemisphere sucks. Quick roundup follows (not many photos sorry, I’m a bit lazy when it comes to posting them!).

Vegas
We took a break from the glitz of Vegas and took a roadtrip to Arizona to check out the Grand Canyon and stopping at the Hoover Dam along the way (which sits across the Nevada-Arizona state border). Warmish weather, beautiful landscapes, good music and a reliable GPS unit made the 11 hour journey a great roadtrip.

The Canyon is much more impressive and larger in real life than appears in photos. The Colorado River winds through the bottom of a canyon comprising many different layers of bedrock, the lowest of which are dated in excess of a billion years old. When the sun peeps over the canyon wall during sunrise, its light strikes certain layers, vibrantly lighting them up in various hues of vermillion and orange and throwing long, sharp shadows across the canyon floor and walls.

Back in Vegas, we saw a performance by David Copperfield, who is pretty much the greatest illusionist alive (if not ever). An absolutely amazing show, the man is a genuine genius. I find it amusing how people try to deconstruct and figure out the trick behind each illusion after the show. Apparently it takes about two years to plan and design each illusion. Trying to figure out how a person at the very top of his trade has done his tricks in the hour after a show would be analogous to attempting to reconstruct the maths behind one of Einstein’s papers after reading only its conclusion. Some of his tricks were: the prediction of lottery numbers chosen by the audience (where the prediction was in a locked box on an audio tape and on a scrap of paper), making a car appear on stage out of nothing and most impressively, “teleporting” to an island in the Philippines (shown via a live video feed). As a presenter, Copperfield is smooooth. I’m pretty sure he could have had any girl in the audience that night, taken or not. One girl would have gone ahead and touched a scorpion after he told her to, had he not stopped her at the last minute…

Random observation:
– We bought a bag of Pork Rinds with an expiry date of December 3005 (packaged December 2005).

Vancouver
True to its reputation, when we arrived in Vancouver it was raining. Despite the weather, it’s easy to see why Vancouver is consistently rated as one of the world’s most livable cities and why it attracts such large quantities of migrants. (Vancouver has a huge Asian population – more than a whopping 30%!) It’s bordered by a decent harbour one one side, and mountains and forests on the other. North Vancouver residents live virtually at the foot of several ski fields. Being in British Columbia, it also lies at the doorstep of a wide variety of ecologies. Lots of outdoor activities here! And it has the added bonus of not being as cold as other Canadian provinces.

Christmas night saw people coming in from Singapore, Paris, Milwaukee, Dallas and of course Sydney. Someone drew up a large 30-person Secret Santa list beforehand, and when the time came to distribute them from around the Christmas tree, it was great fun. I scored a baseball cap and a set of poker chips that I wanted, and finally learnt how to play Texas Hold-em from Wai Ken, who plays poker professionally. I was then soundly trounced in a game with Gerald, Shelley and Wai Ken. There was also mahjong upstairs, snooker downstairs, and the well-used hottub out the back.


Wah Kit, Steven, Rebecca, Brian: Watching the opening of presents

On Boxing Day, the Soos held a lunch at their penthouse with some very schmick views of Vancouver. Then we went for a walk in the woods during the afternoon, trying to visit a Salmon hatchery along the way only to find it had closed five minutes before we had arrived. During the evening, Brian, Steven and I hung out at Gerald’s very nice apartment for the night (heated bathroom floor tiles!). I came third out of seven in poker – getting better, but I should know better than to go “all in” in a head-to-head with a pro!


View from North Vancouver


The Cole family (minus Gerald and Shelley)


Whistler slopes

Random observations:
– North Americans do not understand “How are you going?” or “How’s it going?” as a way of asking “How are you?” (“How are you doing?” on the other hand, is perfectly comprehendable.) It’s interesting noting that the French ça va literally means, “It’s going?”
– Lasik only costs a couple hundred dollars per eye here. That makes it cheaper for Australians to fly to Vancouver to get Lasik done than doing it back home!

Amsterdam
It was actually snowing fairly heavily when we arrived in Amsterdam. There was snow everywhere on the streets. Very pretty to look at, but not very nice to walk through with luggage. I took a wrong turn coming out of the train station so we ended up walking way further than we should have to the hotel. It wasn’t so bad for me as I was lugging my backpack, but my poor parents had to drag their trolley-bags through a thick layer of footpath snow.

Amsterdam is nice enough, but nothing amazing. Maybe it’s because its character is so well known that I was jaded before I even got there. I mean there’s what you expect: tonnes of canals and bridges, the smell of pot wafting out of the ubiquitous coffeeshops, the obligatory red light district visit with women strutting their stuff behind windows underneath UV lights, the long queue into Anne Frank Huis, and Rembrandt’s famous The Night Watch at the excellent Rijksmuseum (the painting is reproduced in a 3D sculpture at Rembrandtplein, so tourists can stand alongside a metal statue of Captain Frans Banning Cocq). The Indonesian food is good here, and I think the Rice Table (rijstaffel) is a Dutch thing which is sort of like a large smorgasboard of Indonesian dishes. Some Indonesian restaurants in Sydney should “import” this idea.

New Year’s Eve fireworks were okay, but the display in Sydney undoubtedly was better (as seen on CNN!). The Dutch also have a habit of tossing really noisy firecrackers and sparklers out onto footpaths – right into the path of passers-by. Pretty annoying.

Random observation:
– Pay TV shows that Australia is only known in this part of the world for fireworks, bushfires and Kerry Packer. (Kerry Packer died?!)

Brussels
I really like Brussels. It has character. Its narrow cobblestone streets are sometimes not easy to navigate, but at least there aren’t bicycles zooming around like in Amsterdam. The grand place is impressive. One major tourist photo spot is the Manneken Pis, a famous (but tiny) statue/fountain of a little boy taking a piss. The Belgians cutely dress him in different outfits throughout the year. While Manneken Pis is swarming with tourists, the little known Jeanneken Pis is hidden down the side of a dead-end alley a few hundred metres away. This shows a little girl in a not-so-elegant squatting pose pissing into a pool. Unfortunately, the water was turned off and the statue was behind a locked grille when I visited. I managed to get a photo through the grille, but felt like a pervert doing it.

The food is brilliant. Steaming bowls of moules et frites (mussels and chips, which surprisingly go together quite well), gauffres (thick Belgian waffles, smothered in whipped cream, syrup and whatever else you want on them), and of course, chocolat. Pralines and truffles. I bought over 3 kilos of the stuff today. They also have a lot of good beer here, but I wouldn’t know anything about that :P.

Random observation:
– Although Belgium is roughly split into a Dutch speaking and French speaking populace, its capital is officially bilingual. Most people also speak English too (and I’m sure some do German as well). Nothing like a city full of trilinguals to make you feel really inadequate.



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