NYC Trip – Notes from Singapore, Germany and from over the Atlantic Ocean!

7:57PM Singapore Time, Changi Airport.

Touched down about 45 minutes ago. I have spent all of the time till now simply roaming about this airport. If I was impressed with Mumbai’s international airport this morning, I have been blown away by Changi airport… This place is more swanky than the Leela back in Mumbai! And the place is ENORMOUS! Hey – there are plenty of Indians here, come to think of it. Not just at the boarding terminals where flights for India are leaving, but just all over! And there are many employees at the airport who look like they’re of Indian origin – don’t we spread our ilk all over!

One experience I’m never going to forget is take-off. The plane looks rather cumbersome on the ground, feels almost unsteady as the pilot aligns the beast on the runway. But once he revs up the engines for the final sprint down the runway, you can feel raw power coursing its way through every part of the plane. Then, without warning, the plane surges forward, with an acceleration you’d never imagine those tiny wheels and spindly legs were capable of. In no time, your surroundings are but an incoherent blur zipping past. Finally, THE moment arrives! This is a feeling you can only experience, not describe in words. There is a feeling of mild disorientation, and the ground outside you slips below like a stone. Landmarks, massive on the ground, shrink before your eyes into miniatures, then blips, then bare pinpoints, and then, as the plane surges into the clouds, all land disappears from view. At that point, you lean back into your plush, cushioned seat, close your eyes, and marvel at man’s wonderous conquest of the skies. To think that only one hundred years ago was the first awkward, barely successful flight attempted, only able to travel a few feet.

Figures displayed on television screens within the plane are mind-boggling: We are cruising at 936 kmph, at 11887 metres above sea level, and the temperature outside is -55 degrees C. The last bit of information makes you whip your head towards the window, expecting some sort of arctic conditions, but all that greets you is a bright blue azure, sunny, glorious sky, with thick, creamy white clouds *below* you. -55, eh? Wow!

8:53 Singapore Time, Changi Airport.

Have finally found a place where I can connect my TP to an AC power outlet! I was really scared about running out of power before I arrived at Armonk. People around here have amazing machines! I have seen the cutest 12″ Apple Powerbook in the cubicle beside me! There is also a guy right behind me with an even smaller X series ThinkPad! Besides the X series guy is another one doing all his computing from a PDA! How cool is *that*! Of course, typing in as much as I am would be a huge pain with that PDA! But this is gadget heaven! I have only one grouse – why doesn’t Changi offer free wireless Internet access? I mean, they have SO many free internet terminals around, so why not extend that to Wi-fi too? They could probably regulate transfer either by limiting the bandwidth, or the time, or the volume of data transferred.

I just wrote an email to Rohini and Ameya – the two of them are probably just a few miles away! Can I see their home if I look out of these enourmous glass walls? The thought is thrilling! Singapore City is spread out like a vast carpet of dazzling lights in front of me now, stretching right to the horizon, left and right. The sight is simply grand!

Jet lag hasn’t hit me too hard yet – It’s already past 9:00 here, and it’s only 7:30 PM back in Mumbai! Still, not too bad. It’s when I get to Armonk will the whole thing make a big difference, I guess.

I’ve observed that Asians typically travel with more luggage than people from the west. There are fewer Westerners here with trolleys. Some are travelling with little more than a handbag! I’d be one of the lightest travellers here, if it wasn’t for this goddamn poster! Pallavi, I’m NEVER doing a poster again, do you hear me?! There are a few passers-by, and more notably security, giving me startled, even alarmed looks. No wonder – this looks like an oversized bazooka or a rocket launcher!

9:08 Singapore time, Changi Airport.

Just back from a round of this afore-mentioned device-heaven. Some conclusions: TPs are surprisingly popular. Sony and Toshiba need to do some serious design re-think and stop appearing so boxy. And finally, there is no sexier laptop than a Powerbook. Period. That is my next major purchase, however long I have to wait. I have also become instantly unpopular here over the last 2 minutes, since I have been peeking over everyone’s shoulders looking at their laptops. Unfortunately very few people understand what Pallavi calls my “device-prem”! They just think I’m bring a #@%ing nosy-parker.

9:33 PM Singapore Time, Changi Airport.

Sheesh! People are losing things all the time! And misplaced passports seem to be in vogue. Every time there’s an announcement like that, it makes me halt whatever I’m doing and look into my pouch, just to check if I’ve got everything. I wonder how the owner can even tell from the announcements that his/her passport has been lost/found – the accent is so terrible! Additionally, what if the accent of the person at the PA system is fine, but the owner’s is not? What if the name of the passport owner is especially difficult to pronounce? What if it come out all wrong? Just a couple of minutes ago, a Russian passport was found. I’m sure the name that the PA system blared out is NOT the way it’s pronounced. If it is, my sympathies with the Russian.

One issue which keeps bothering me is whether or not my suitcase has been transferred properly from SQ421 to SQ26. While there are posters and airport employees all over Changi assuring me that I do not need to collect my bag, and that it’ll be automatically put into the hold of the connecting flight, I’d like to do it myself, physically, thank you very much. Too much automation leaves me nervous.

There is a greater percentage of obese people among Westerners than Asians. Far more. No doubt about that one.

Hurray! I’ve just touched a Powerbook! Nice Aussie owning it – lucky Aussie, I may add! What fascinates me is that the screen is incredibly thin! I have never seen anything as thin as that before. Not even on the T series TPs. The Powerbook is heavier than a comparable T, but hey – with that size, no one’s complaining! And the wonderful, aqua-enriched splendour of MacOS X!

OK – I’m leaving now: Got to freshen up a bit, go back to gate E4, check out if I can check in (hehehe!) , and maybe see a bit more of Changi. Will probably pen a few more words when I’m bored stiff during the next flight. 23 hours!

7:21 AM German Time, Frankfurt Airport.

Last few minutes at Changi – absolute shock, followed by consternation, then pure rage! My flight to New York is going via Europe after all – via Frankfurt! GRR! Why am I being subjected to this hop-around-the-world routine? I have a thing or two to say to Travel when I return! Well, we *retraced* our steps last afternoon, flying over China, skirting the Himalayas, then over Ukraine, lots of countries from Eastern Europe, before landing at Frankfurt. Singapore airlines did a wonderful job of Indian Vegetarian meals. I won’t feel Foriegn Cuisine Shock until after I arrive at Armonk. Well, only about 14 hours more.

Frankfurt is quintessentially German – everything and everone here works with clockwork precision. The decor is severe, even spartan. The entire airport is painted a dour brown outside. There’s a simple sign that says “Frankfurt Main”. And, in keeping with the Germans’ national obsession with automobiles, there are all sorts of weird, special-purpose vehicles scurrying across the tarmac in front of me, from my vantage point here in the waiting lounge. Changi, in contrast, was Asia in all its vibrancy. Malaysia and Singapore do a wonderful job of portaying themselves as the true face of Asia. On my way back, I’m going to capture as much of Changi as possible on film.

No one seems to mind if you take photographs here. I guess no one did at Changi either, it’s just that I played safe then. Bad choice – there is SO much more to photograph at Changi. Hey – here, after I took a few photos, the shutterbug seems to have bitten everyone here! Well, off to click-work again, then.

Everywhere I go – Changi or Frankfurt, there are Indians working on laptops. Well, at this moment, I’m one too, but then I doubt everyone else is penning down wonderful descriptions of their trips the way I am. Surely not everyone has my enthusiasm, my ebullience, my talent, my imagination, my vocabulary, my persistence, err… my bloated ego.

1:03 PM German Time, Somewhere on the Atlantic ocean.

Good morning/afternoon/evening, ladies and gentlemen! This report from Rahul Gaitonde comes to you from about 12 kilometers above the Atlantic ocean, at 1000kmph. Since the last post, I have taken some marvellous photographs of Frankfurt airport, and stunning shots of the sky from the window of the plane. I just hope I don’t run out of memory before I’ve had a chance to upload these photos.

This second leg of the second part of my flight – from Frankfurt to New York – has been as free as the first part was cramped. I have the entire three seats to myself – as do a lot of people around here. There don’t seem to be too many passengers on this enormous Boeing 747-400. I have had the misfortune of being seated in line with the wing. Also, my window is badly scratched, as if by some irritated, airborne cat. So, to get half-decent shots of the sky, I have to 1.) contort my body into positions I never thought I was capable of, to place the camera just so, and 2.) fiddle about with all sorts of settings to focus as little on the scratches as possible. Of course, to get pure sky, I have to aim through the window behind me. In this process, the poor East Asian couple behind me have been startled a dozen times by the appearance of what must have looked to them like a disembodied pair of hands gripping a camera, busily making its way between the window seat and the aircraft wall, positioning themselves awkwardly, and clicking a photo blind, before disappearing into the seat in front as suddenly as the had appeared. The first time, the woman let out a terrified whimper. Now it’s an annoyed grunt.

I’m adjusting well to the time lag, I think. I’ve had a longish nap for the past 3 hours. If it’s about 1PM in Germay, it’s 5:00 AM in New York. So I’m an early riser there. Outside, it’s been early morning since we took off from Germany. The local time has been more or less stagnant. Logical, but disconcerting nevertheless.

Kids can be so cute. I was waiting in the lounge at Frankfurt; an American family with three young daughters (probably between 3 and 7) in front of me. The youngest was the most active of them all, jumping about, playing, screaming and in general making everyone laugh at her antics. At one point, she declared, grandly, “Mamma, Mamma, I’ve just made a… made a story up!”
“Well, what’s it called?”
“Melody in the Land of the Sea World!!”
:-) Land of the Sea World indeed!