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Around the World in 11 Days, Leg 2

December 13, 2015

Route: Seattle to Singapore
Flights: 2
Stop: Seoul
Airline: Korean Air
Air miles: 8088
Time Zones (inclusive): 11

I don’t talk much when I fly. Because I travel so often on one airline, Delta, I’m almost always sitting with other very frequent fliers, either in first class or in an exit row. The latter usually provide more leg room and, until 24 hours before departure, are only available to passengers with at least silver medallion status. We just don’t have much to say to each other. Most of the chatter is of the “this one time I was trying to get from Austin to Allentown, and of course there was a delay,” etc etc. I am tired of these war stories because there’s usually an implication that the airline is so much dumber than the person telling the story, and while the airlines are far from perfect, especially when it comes to customer service, they really do know what they’re doing when it comes to scheduling, weather, and other logistical parts of flying. I am quite glad they put safety first, and that crews have rules regarding how long they can fly in a day, because I don’t want them taking chances when the consequences are so high. I also have a hard time hearing about how tough these road warriors have it when they’re sipping on their second free gin and tonic in a cushy first class seat they didn’t pay for. I’m not alone–most of us just enjoy our drinks while looking at email on our phones or making a last call to a client, assistant, or spouse before takeoff.

I never noticed how little I talk while flying until this week, when a cold and a fairly packed teaching schedule (I’ll amass 13 teaching days and 8 travel days between November 8 and December 13) left me with almost no voice on Thursday. I realized I’d need to minimize conversations until Monday’s workshop here in Singapore–and that’s when it dawned on me that I would have almost no reason to talk during that time. I would eat meals by myself, travel by myself, sit on two planes for about 18.5 hours, then spend today in my hotel room here. I would have to talk only to servers, agents at airports and hotels, and flight attendants. None of these conversations would involve more than a few words. Today my throat feels pretty good, and my voice, while still a bit hoarse, is better. I hope it can hold out until Friday–four workshops in the next five days will provide a real test.

All this time saying so little to other people means that internal dialogs take over. I debate whether I should have alcohol and caffeine on these long flights. All the travel web sites say they make it harder to sleep, and they dehydrate, which is a real problem because airplane air is really dry compared to most climates (it’s so humid here in Singapore that even walking slowly outside made me sweat in less than 20 minutes on a cloudy day). On these flights I opted for Korean beer (not great, but the only other choice Korean Air offered was Bud), and a glass of wine, and a coffee and a tea. (This was over two long flights.) I debate meal choices–should I have the Korean option, since I like it and I’m going to spend two weeks there in May? Or should I have the more familiar chicken and noodles? I go for the latter–sitting among so many Koreans on both flights, and still new to the cuisine, I would feel like a real poser if I’d gone for the bibimbap. I debate how to spend my time: read for work, read for fun, watch movies and TV, listen to podcasts, etc etc. I ended up doing most of these–again, lots of time to try lots of things–and even played some Bejeweled while waiting to take off in Seoul. I was happy with myself that I finished One Second Ahead, about cultivating mindfulness at work. I watched three movies (Bridge of Spies, Match (resisting Patrick Stewart is futile) and American Ultra; I liked them in that order) and two Big Bang Theory and two How I Met Your Mother episodes. I switched to podcasts (mainly On Being and Effectively Wild, both of which I strongly recommend) when my eyes tired. Reading and watching so much can give me headaches, and my eyes are where I feel the lack of moisture in the cabin. Of course I slept, too, off and on.

The flights were easy. It was my first time on Korean Air, and they are top-notch. Not as glamorous as Singapore Air or even Cathay Pacific, but the food was great, the cabins clean and comfortable, there were plenty of media choices, and the attendants were friendly and professional. I am starting to learn Korean, and they tolerated my practicing “hello” and “thank you” and “fish, please” with my gravelly voice and rookie pronunciation. With less than an hour’s layover in Seoul, I was nervous that my bag would not make it. The travel sites all say to pack extra clothes, just in case, and I did that this time, moving non-essential stuff out of my computer bag to make room. I thought my odds were pretty good when the gate agent at Sea-Tac put a “short connection” tag on my bag, and sure enough, it was there to meet me in Singapore.

I forget how far south Singapore is; it lies just a single degree above the equator. Here’s one way to describe the distance: the flight from Seoul was over six hours, and yet we crossed just one time zone. But the destination is well worth the journey. From the mints waiting for you as passport control reviews your paperwork, to the warm weather, safe conditions, prevalence of English, and wonderful food options, I regret only that I’m here for such a short time, and that, because my workshop site and hotel are out by the airport, I won’t get to walk the city. I think this is my seventh time coming here, so I expect to have another chance on another trip.

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