Sunday, 11 May 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Ready, Jet, Go!

Over the past two days I got the sense that perhaps India didn't want me to leave. It started with the flight yesterday from Varanasi to Delhi. We were delayed because lots of dignitaries were flying into Varanasi in private jets for the up and coming elections. They'd also "increased" security due to this or was it due to the Bollywood actors that also arrived. This meant putting your bags through lots of X-ray machines even though the man sat at the screen wasn't even looking at it, a female officer copping a feel of my chest and feeling violated in general. I mean really?! I'm the last person that can hide anything there. I'd probably topple over to boot. Despite leaving almost an hour late we only landed about 30 minutes later than scheduled.

For some strange reason I felt like I'd just flown an international flight and I was exhausted. Plans to go visit some last minute sights uncharacteristically fell through as I opted for the air conditioning of the hotel and watched a mouse run through their restaurant. Probably unsurprisingly, as a result of this, I found enough energy to head out into a thunderstorm to find somewhere to eat.

Another crappy night of sleep, not helped by my excitement of googling all things Japan and challenging myself to pack a silk blend bed set into my backpack with everything else yet maintain the pack's dimensions, means I am once again running on fumes. I decided to get up earlier than my already-early-alarm and head to Delhi International airport early via the Metro and the Airport Express. It should have taken me 45 minutes with all my connections/wait times for trains.... Should have.

A problem arose as I tried to exit the station at the airport using my token. Access denied. Try again. Access denied. Try again. Access denied. Hmmmm, this isn't supposed to happen. I went over to the customer service desk to sort it out.

"You should have got off at the previous stop, you don't have access for this stop".

Excuse me?

Now why would I have wanted to get off at the wrong stop given that A) I asked for a ticket to the Airport and B) I had paid the 150 rupees fare for it, not the lesser amount for  the previous station?! Thankfully I also had my receipt so I handed that over. I'm not sure why, but this didn't seem to help my cause. At least not for another 15 minutes and 7, yes 7, phone calls anyway. By about minute 10 my exhausted patience was wearing thin. I had proof of payment, the token had obviously been set for the wrong station by the guy at New Delhi station, who had been playing on his smartphone at the time. Then for some unknown reason she tried to give me my money back? Huh? I don't need my money back, I just want to be able to exit this gate and check in for my flight. It didn't make sense. I tried to smile as once again I tried to explain what it was I had done prior to arriving here and what I was now trying to achieve, that I didn't need my money back and was perfectly happy to have paid the amount to get here so would be incredibly grateful if she or someone with the ability to could just open the gate and let me through. Then she started trying to serve the person behind me who had lost his token. My smile was now non-existent and imagine my delight when she asked if I knew this other person.

Eventually someone somewhere told her, possibly telepathically, that I didn't pose any threat, that I was a law-abiding transit rider and I was allowed to pass. I felt that I really needed to find some enlightenment.

Trying to get into the airport through the front door was as much fun. However, this person had a really big gun so I'm pretty sure I faked eye twinkling along with my fake smile. I had been unable to check in online the previous evening and so all I had was a PDF with my itinerary and various numbers. It had been all I'd needed everywhere else. This was apparently a problem because he couldn't find my name as it was on my passport. I am pretty sure I silently screamed. Eventually I managed to convince him that I was the same person on the itinerary as on my passport despite the fact that the itinerary didn't contain my middle name (everything else of course matched).

20 minutes of my life I will never get back soon became an hour. Checking in was painfully slow and there had only been about 10 of us in the queue with 6 agents. "Is this your luggage" I was asked of the suitcase that had been already weighed and tagged belonging to the previous customer the same agent had just checked in. Fake smile time. Am I imagining all this as part of some sleep deprived dream? She offered to check my luggage through to Tokyo. Excellent, sounds like a fantastic idea. Then she changed her mind on my behalf. Fake smile. I managed to convince her that I didn't need to spend over 4 hrs in Bangkok airport with a bag that I didn't need anything from. I also took the opportunity to ask for a window seat with quite the winning fake smile, if one was available. Done! Great. Things are looking up.

Then came security. Let's just say they're thorough if nothing else. I know, I know, this is a good thing, air travel of course should be safe. But it was one of those classic "too many chiefs and not enough Indians" moments. Lots of officials standing around doing nothing leading you to wonder why they're there and of course as a result everyone takes forever to be screened by the few people that are working. Some passengers had to take everything out of all their carry on. Then it would be rescanned. More questions about an elephant ornament to the woman in front of me who looked like she plotted apple pie recipes rather than how to bring a Nation to its knees. The person in front of me had to take out all his electronics for separate scanning, yet when I started to do that with my plethora of gadgetry I was told not to bother. Some people got to take in litre bottles of water yet others had to throw out 50 ml bottles of hand sanitizer. It didn't really weigh up. I didn't have to unpack everything but because the people in front did you still had to wait in line. There was the usual frisking, then if you see lucky you got to grab your items without further questioning and move onto Duty Free. I burst into a fit of the giggles, this had to be the most surreal and bizarre departures from a country I have ever endured. I am glad I left earlier than planned for the airport!

It was as if someone somewhere knew I needed to catch a break. Tucked away in a corner was a sight for sore eyes.... A Starbucks. I was saved! A soy (!) latte and toasted veggie dairy-free sandwich for breakfast later I felt somewhat human enough to do a spot of shopping. I picked up some "green tea chai" as a gift for my Tokyo host and then splurged on some Ray Ban sunnies, masala chai and a blinged out elephant ornament for myself, all for a tidy price. It's the most I've ever spent in Duty Free! I just hoped security weren't going to hunt me down to interrogate me about the latter.

By now it was time to head to the gate for my flight. I guess a positive in all this is that the time certainly passed quickly and I was on my way to Japan. I reminded myself of that once again when I reached my supposed window seat which was not a window seat and again every time the Brit sat in that seat stuck his elbows into me, touched me with his sweaty foot, belched after his beer, read over my shoulder before trying to sleep on it and threw his trash on the floor. I did hope Bangkok was his final stop.

The Jet Airways flight to Bangkok had a lot of turbulence and no personal TV for flight map viewing. This didn't make me a happy camper on both scores. I tried to look out of the window to be greeted with cloud as we twisted and turned. So much for planes flying in straight-ish lines! I felt like I was on a Grand Prix course at times as I envisioned a Boeing 737 flying a hairpin turn. When my meal arrived the rice was a bright orange neon colour and practically radioactive looking. It wasn't hard to give it a wide berth, I'd lost my appetite way before then.

Thankfully, we landed early in Bangkok. It took me no time to clear security and get a new boarding card for my Thai Airways flight. I spent more time hunting down the Starbucks, which I knew existed from my last visit to Bangkok airport in 2013 but seemed to have problems locating. My Starbucks radar must have been on the blink.

And so now I sit and twiddle my thumbs for almost 4 hours but at least I'm on solid ground with another shot of caffeine to at least help me make it to my gate. It's time to say konnichiwa to Tokyo!

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