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Around the World in 11 Days, Leg 3

December 15, 2015

Route: Singapore to Hyderabad
Flights: 1
Stop: none
Airline: Silk Air
Air Miles: 2057
Time Zones (inclusive): 3

When I started traveling internationally in 2006, my second stop was in Singapore, where I experienced what many claim is the world’s best airport. When I arrived at Changi again last night, I saw a poster celebrating its 500th award as the world’s best. The distinguishing marks I’ve seen include short passport control lines, suffusive lighting, and lots of low ceilings and carpeting. Most airports are harsh and cacophonous, but Changi calms and quiets. It has corners lined with lounge chairs that are perfect for passengers stuck with long layovers. It even has a free movie theater. It has lots and lots of shopping–which some call Singapore’s national sport–but not more than lots of other airports. In many international airports, you survive long lines at passport control, only to go straight into a second queue for security. Changi instead moves the security line to the gate, so you get into the terminal faster, and share a line only with the other passengers on your flight. Schiphol in Amsterdam does this more often, too; it used to take forever to go from gate to gate there, even though you were just connecting, because they had a single point to get passports checked.

I cleared security at my gate and sat down near a TV; though it was not blaring, say, CNN, like plenty of US airports do (because people aren’t tense enough about flying, so they need the adrenaline boost from BREAKING NEWS!), it still drew my eye because it was airing Wheel of Fortune! Not a Singaporean version of the franchise, but “America’s Game Show” (it said so right there on the spinning wheel) with Pat and Vanna. After the show finished came an ad for a huge New Year’s Eve party at one of Singapore’s massive new casino/resort sites. The show would include seven hours of live music, featuring a lot of local acts, then the headliner: “international sensation” Adam Lambert! And as if these two “What the …?” moments weren’t enough, the next show topped them both: “A Minute to Win It,” which I think I had heard of, but have never watched, hosted by … Apolo Anton Ohno! Seeing this terrific athlete now emceeing a weird game show, and seeing him while sitting in the Singapore airport, completed my twilight zone trifecta. Maybe I was just tired from teaching.

I flew to Hyderabad on Silk Air, a no-frills cousin to Singapore Air, which is to international airlines what Changi is to airports. This is my fourth time in India, and there are two primary cautions when you’re an American flying into here: getting secure transportation and not getting sick from the water. Each time I’ve come I’ve had my hotel send someone to pick me up–this is nothing special, as all the big hotels have drivers and labelled cars at the airport.

The best thing about India is the people; I’ve met fantastic people every time I’ve come. Last night I started chatting with my driver as we headed to the Westin. He was pretty reserved, but answered all my questions. We talked about our kids (he has three between the ages of 11 and 15), and then I asked him how long he’d lived in Hyderabad. He’d moved there when he was 11, the year his mother died. He’d already lost his father at 3, so his village, about 200 kilometers from Hyderabad, basically told him they could not afford to raise him themselves, but made arrangements for him to take a steam(!) train–this was the mid-1980s–to Hyderabad and to live in a hotel. The hotel put him to work but told him he was too young to get paid. When he was 14 he started earning 5 rupees a day. Today that is about 7.5 cents, so back then maybe it was 15 cents a day? Years later he took his kids back to the village, so they could see his roots. They were unimpressed. Because he’d left so young, no one recognized him until he mentioned his mother’s name. His daughter works really hard at school, but he worries that his boys don’t care enough. He tells them he wishes he’d been able to go to school (he learned English from watching and rewatching movies). They remain unimpressed. The conversation was a pleasant diversion from the chaos of driving in India.

My flight was much less interesting than either its start or finish. I slept the whole 4.5 hours. It probably was from the teaching.

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