11 January 2009

The Long Journey Home

Thirty hours is a long time to travel, and I was not looking forward to the return trip to Singapore. I was happy to be heading back after a fantastic three weeks in the US, but even when I held on to the prospect of getting the upgrade (I didn’t), I was still less than excited for the trip. I am a big believer in the journey, as much as the destination, but I have done this trip enough to know it is something you just grit your teeth and get through.

So, I didn’t think much when my day started (a bit late) at 5.00 am in Dallas (7.00 pm in Singapore) on Saturday, January 3. The flight to Chicago is on United Express, with tiny seats only made worse by my neighbor’s inability to fit completely in her seat. But, the flight was over in less than two hours, and even the 25 degree weather I endured while walking across the outside bridge to the jetway (it was in the 50s in Dallas and the 80s in Singapore, so I had already packed my coat) was tolerable.

But, that’s when the trouble started. I wasn’t far enough up on the upgrade list and was relegated to the back of the plane (well, to Economy Plus, which does offer more legroom). Before we could taxi away from the gate, however, a passenger suffered an apparent heart event, as the flight attendant quickly grabbed the AED and ran to the back. Soon, Chicago paramedics were on board. Thankfully, the man retained consciousness and was able to communicate to his attendants as he was removed from the airplane. We were delayed from departing for more than an hour, but it was nice to know he was apparently okay and in good hands.

The flight from Chicago to Hong Kong goes almost directly over the North Pole and then down over Siberia, Mongolia, and China. It is discouraging when you look at the inflight map and see that you are already over Siberia but still have more than six hours to go! We finally touched down around 6.30 pm Hong Kong time (same as Singapore), so I had been up for nearly a day and traveling for about 22 hours. Little did I know that I was only halfway home.

The Singapore flight was delayed more than two hours, rescheduled for a 10.30 departure. So, I relaxed for several hours in the lounge, falling in and out of sleep (I have a hard time sleeping on planes). Finally, time to board. About 50 of us got on the plane before we were asked to disembark, as an engine test was required before we could take off. This apparently had occurred in San Francisco, the plane’s origination point. We all got off, and they ran the test, which took about ten minutes. Then everyone got on the plane, and we headed out. After a stop-and-go taxi of an hour, the captain came on the loudspeaker and told us we had to return to the gate, as the problem had not been solved. So, back to the gate! It took a while, as we had taxi’d to the apparent farthest point on the tarmac from our gate. Once we got back, the captain said that we would need to stay on the plane while the maintenance team identified the problem and fixed it. This would allow us to more quickly depart once the repairs were completed. But, after another couple of hours, the ground crew determined that the problem was more substantial than previously thought, and the flight was canceled. That meant everybody off, through Immigration, to baggage claim, through Customs and to the airport hotel. This at nearly 4.00 am! I will admit that the process was pretty efficient, once we walked the 15 minutes to Immigration (the shuttle train had not started running for the day). I was in my hotel room by 5.30 and asleep by 6.00 am. After six hours of rest, I was back to the departure gates, where United put me on a Cathay Pacific flight back to Singapore, departing at 2.20 pm. I would get back to Singapore about 6.00 pm and to my house at 7.00, 48 hours after I woke up in Dallas.

I was not looking forward to 30 hours of travel, as my original itinerary called for. Forty-eight was nearly a killer. It was nice to get horizontal for six hours, but I would rather avoid this type of experience again.

07 January 2009

Christmas in America

I was lucky to spend three weeks back in the US visiting colleagues, friends, and family. It was a fantastic time! I made it to Dallas, Austin, Lake Brownwood State Park for an good old friend's wedding, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Santa Fe for my annual Hearts Game (Webb lost), back to Amarillo and then back to Dallas. Along the way, I saw friends from high school, college, and post-college days. I went to a Cowboy game and bought two pairs of cowboy boots (I have no idea when I will wear them in Singapore). I hung out in the Driskill Hotel in Austin, the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon, and all kinds of places in between. I enjoyed weather from sunny 70 degrees to snowy (and blowy) 25 degrees, sometimes within just a day or two of each other (in the same place!). I listed to a ton of great Texas music. And I got to eat good ol' American food: cheese fries at Snuffer's in Dallas AND Southlake, CFS at Porch in Dallas, Babe's in Roanoke, and the Stockyards Cafe in Amarillo, burgers at Hut's in Austin, Coyote Bluff, Wendy's and Sonic in Amarillo (don't laugh - we don't have those over here) and Del's in Tucumcari, biscuits and gravy at the Wagon Wheel in Goldthwaite, Lucky's and Original Market Diner in Dallas, and Alex's house (with my homemade gravy) in Amarillo, pizza at Louie's and Fireside Pies in Dallas and Luigi's in Amarillo, steaks at Bull Ring in Santa Fe and (my favorite) Bob's in Dallas, and - of course - Mexican food! Mi Cocina in Southlake, Abuelo's and Leal's in Amarillo, tamales on the Square and Los Potrillos in Santa Fe. No wonder I gained 10 pounds!

Of course, the best thing about being back was seeing my family. I spent time with them in Amarillo, and we wen to spend some time with my cousins in Albuquerque before making our first visit to Aunt Beverly's gravesite since her death in September. She is interred with Uncle Bill in the beautiful setting of Santa Fe National Cemetery.

It was a great three weeks.

06 January 2009

Weddings, Singapore-style

Singapore is a multi-cultured town (city, state, nation?). And I have been lucky enough to experience two distinct cultural events recently – a Chinese and an Indian wedding.

Chinese weddings are complex, multi-layered affairs. I won’t go into all the events that take place in conjunction with a Chinese wedding – just know that there are all kinds of rituals and ceremonies that involve various friends and family at different times. One of the most significant is the wedding dinner, which includes invitations for extended family, friends, and colleagues. These are extravagant affairs that include eight-course dinners in a traditional Chinese style and are sometimes held a year after the actual wedding.

I was invited to the wedding dinner of a work colleague, and I was excited to attend. The invitation noted twice that it was not polite to be late, so I made a mental note to “NOT be late”. This was directly opposed to all the advice my native Singaporean friends gave me – it will all start late, they said. I showed up on time anyways, greeting my colleagues there, and went to my table.

Which was just me. I sat at a round eight-person table and watched the same slide show over and over, narrated by a single Chinese pop song (I later found out it was Korean) on repeat mode. It wasn’t until another colleague joined me 20 minutes after 7.30 pm (the start time) that I had someone to talk to. Good thing the single-song soundtrack kept me company.

A few other in-the-know friends came in before 8.30, when the bride made her entrance (an hour late). The bride was beautiful, of course, dressed in white (you can see her in the back of the picture above). She and her groom made her way down front (we were in a hotel ballroom with probably 40 tables for eight laid out). That was the signal to start serving food (I will remind you that it was 8.30 and I had not eaten since lunch).

And the food was wonderful. We had several courses of delicious Chinese dishes, including prawns, pork, chicken, and fish. I have attended a few such dinners here (mainly in business situations), and I always enjoy them.

Once settled, the bride (after a stunning wardrobe change!) and groom made it through the crowd to greet everyone, with their parents in tow. It was a very nice gesture to complement the superb meal. But, the dinner appeared to go on and on, so I left before the last course, as it was approaching 11.00 pm on a Sunday night.

Two weeks later, I had the good fortune to attend another wedding celebration, that of one of my Sabre colleagues at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple (loyal readers will recall this is the ending point for the Thaipusam khavadi procession I described last January). She is a Chinese Singaporean, marrying an Indian Singaporean, and I attended the Indian ritual (she also had a Christian ceremony in a church). This was fascinating. It started at 10.00 on a Sunday morning, and there were three distinct ceremonies – one for him, one for her, and one for the two of them. I was afraid the ceremony would be outside in the humid morning, but we were upstairs in air conditioned comfort. And we had seats. Some of the other 3,000 (!) who were invited (most from the groom’s side, although not that many attended) stood the entire time.

It was hard to tell what was going on, since all of it was in Tamil (an Indian dialect) and was accompanied by relentless drumming by the trio sitting up front. Once the separate ceremonies concluded, a man went on stage with a microphone to explain what had occurred and what was going to happen. He first gave his lengthy speech in Tamil, and by the time he started in English, the bride and her entourage were making their way down the aisle for the final ceremony, which was the cue for the drummers. I didn’t hear a word of the explanation.

The bride looked beautiful! And with her husband, they made a handsome couple. There were several other rituals in the ceremony, including a curious game where the bride and groom plunge their hands into a pot and fight over a ring and conch shell (I still don’t quite understand). At the end, the bride and groom received us all on stage in a twist on the receiving line. A delicious vegetarian Indian meal ended the day.

Two down, one to go. I will have to see if I can find my way to a Malay wedding, which are supposed to be beautiful events, as well.

Mötley Crüe

I like live music, which usually means cover bands in bars and restaurants here (Filipinos are notoriously good musicians, and I have found several bands that produce great cover versions of classic songs). I had not gone to an “actual” concert, however, during my time in Singapore. But, when I saw that Mötley Crüe was to make their first appearance in Southeast Asia, I had to go! The Crüe is one of my favorite rock bands (from my formative days listening to glam metal), and I couldn’t wait.

And they didn’t disappoint. After a creditable local opening band, Vince, Mick, Nikki, and Tommy came out with a vengeance. The venue was the amphitheatre at Fort Canning Park, just down River Valley Road from me (interestingly, the last time I was there was for my company’s annual Kick Off dinner in January 2008; the gala dinner was held right where the stage was!). The crowd was pretty big (for an ‘80s metal band, even the iconic Crüe), and very boisterous! A good part of the crowd appeared to be rockers from Malaysia, who had made the trip down for the show. There were even a good many from my generation and older. The band’s appeal is timeless, I suppose.

Vince has lost a bit of his voice, although the band was never about his singing. Mick Mars is still the average guitarist I have always thought him. But, the band’s stage presence has not waned, anchored by Nikki Sixx on bass and the best rock drummer in the world, Tommy Lee. Tommy has not missed a beat (pun intended), and his solos are still great (not the full-blown 360-degree flip in his drum cage, a la 1990, but still awesome for the smaller stage). It was a great time.

My photos aren’t that great, as I only had my phone camera, so I have posted a couple from the internet, courtesy of PokeChild.com.

For you Crüe fans, here is the playlist. Most of the good stuff – I had no complaints.

Kick Start My Heart
Shout at the Devil
Saints of Los Angeles
Guitar solo – Voodoo Chile
Live Wire
Sick Love Song
Louder Than Hell
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Same Ol’ Situation
Primal Scream
Red Hot
Looks That Kill
Girls Girls Girls
Dr. Feelgood
Home Sweet Home (encore)