Warning: No Poker Content
Sorry the updates have been a little sparse lately but I’ve been on the road and haven’t had much time to do updates.
I flew out of Gib last Wed afternoon. I arrived at Gatwick and checked into the Gatwick Hilton in the South Terminal. Not a bad hotel if you have to stay near the airport. You don’t even leave the terminal which makes it very easy to catch an early flight.
Fortunately I actually checked my travel arrangements because I assumed that a long-haul flight like the one I was about to embark on would leave from Heathrow. The flight was 10am and I was already planning how early I had to leave to make Heathrow in morning rush hour. What tipped me off was when checking the terminal number all my reservation said was North Terminal. Since I was unaware that LHR had a North and South terminal I checked the Emirates website and found they had no flights leaving LHR at 10am. Strange. So I re-checked my confirmation and discovered that I was actually leaving from Gatwick. Sweet. I could just roll out of bed and walk to the terminal.
I had heard good things about Emirates and since the big three options for going to Hyderabad are Lufthansa non-stop (connecting in Frankfurt), BA with transfers in either Mumbai or Delhi, and Emirates transferring in Dubai, I can’t be too picky.
Before pushing off, one of the crew members came over and introduced himself as Omar and said that he had noted that I had signed up for their frequent flyer program. He welcomed me and told me if there was anything he could do to please let him know. Already this is starting off better than the surly attitude of BA flight attendants who think it’s a privilege just to fly on their crappy airline. In case you haven’t noticed (from this post or previous posts), I think BA ranks in the top 3 worst airlines I’ve ever flown.
Fortunately, I was in a four seat row and with only two of us seated in the row. I kept watching the minutes tick away until we pushed off praying that some jackhole wouldn’t show up at the last minute and try to hijack the open spots. I don’t know why it is but if there’s a seat open next to you, as soon as you start to get excited some idiot will come pinballing down the aisle a minute before they shut the doors and sit down next to you all sweaty and out of breath.
I could see some of the other less than fortunate passengers fidgeting around like they wanted to make a move so I scooted over one spot so as not to leave two empty spots next to each other thus upping the social pressure as they would have to ask someone to move if a couple wanted to snap up the empty spots. As luck would have it, nobody boarded late, nobody tried to jack my seats, and I was able to lift the armrest and lay out a little bit on the flight. Yes, a small victory but I take them where I can get them when flying economy class.
One of the coolest features on Emirates is that they have cameras mounted on the front and bottom of the airplane and you can watch â€“ in real time â€“ what’s straight ahead of you and what is beneath you. Granted, it’s not going to keep you glued to the screen for hours on end but watching the pilot land the aircraft as you watch the approach just as he’s seeing it is pretty cool.
The flight path took us over Turkey and then down the Iraq/Iran border towards the Persian Gulf. I kept watching how close were to places you normally only hear about on the news and considered how totally screwed I would be should the plane need an emergency landing anywhere around here.
Random Observation: None of the flight crew on the plane looked like they were from Dubai. One gal spoke pretty solid Americanized English, another was definitely English, and the rest were East Asian.
I had about a two hour layover in Dubai so I exchanged some pounds for dirham and picked up some refreshments in one of the little airport shops.
Continuing my journey we headed to Hyderabad. With no exaggeration, I was the only white guy on the plane. I just found it somewhat amusing.
Arriving at HYD I cleared immigration and then had to stand in another line to pass customs where they re-check your checked luggage on an x-ray machine. While standing in line several idiots decided to jump the queue and move right up to the front. The airport security guy saw this and barked at them in Hindi in a tone that said he wasn’t f’ing around. I was standing slightly behind and to the left of him and the security guy’s eyes were red and bulging like he had been on a three day coke bender. Seriously, this is one of those dudes you know is going to put the smack down on you if he ever gets the chance to take you into a backroom. He scared the shit out of me and I wasn’t even the one in trouble.
The two boneheads got the clue and removed their stuff from the x-ray conveyer belt and returned to the back of the line. Then, as a complete surprise to me, the security dude half-turns to me and motions that I go next even though there were a few people ahead of me. I wasn’t going to argue.
In baggage claim I couldn’t help but notice that the average number of bags per person was about four to one. And these aren’t dainty little bags. These are cardboard boxes wrapped in a three inch layer of tape and requiring two people to lift. What the hell all these people are doing with so much luggage is still a mystery to me. I moved from Los Angeles to Gibraltar carrying much less.
I pushed my way out of the arrivals terminal and was met by a man with a sign saying “William Rini.” We jumped into his car and he took me to the hotel where I checked in. By the time I got to my room, freshened up a bit (brushed my teeth and splashed some water on my face), it was about 7am.
I slept in Friday and did a bunch a work and caught up on emails. I didn’t even think about food until about 2am Sat morning. The hotel claims to have three restaurants which is good because you have a wide array of choices; Indian, Indian, or Indian. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Indian but I’m not exactly a fiend for it either. Last trip here I dropped 10 lbs because I just got tired of Indian every damned meal and rather than force myself I just skipped eating. Come on, would it kill them to have fried eggs or even fresh fruits for breakfast in a hotel that caters to international guests?
The 24 hour diner was the only thing open and despite the promise of international cuisine, all they had was an Indian buffet. I was seated and as I went to the buffet line one of the over-friendly staff directed me to food items he thought I should try. First on his list was some sort of soup that was made up of bones. Yes, bones! Not itty-bitty bones but big-ass bones sticking up out of the goo. The bones were sawed in half and judging by the length of each bone they didn’t come from any sort of bird. I’m figuring lamb or goat but that’s a total guess.
He poured a bowl of it for me and as he extended the bowl in my direction I just looked at it and then back and him and said “I’m not trying that.” I mean, the damn bowl looked like a pencil holder with bones sticking out of it. He tried to convince me that it was a local speciality and that I should at least try it. Yeah, right.
Listen, I’ll try a lot of food. And judging by my girth, me and food are no strangers. Hell, I’ve eaten crap that I didn’t even know what it was off street vendors in Thailand even though I just saw them wash their cooking utensils with a hose in the gutter. But sometimes you just have to say, “I’m not eating that.”
So after not eating for well over 24 hours I was eventually treated with a hearty meal of rice, bread, and water.
I got up a bit earlier on Saturday and hired a driver for the day. I had him take me to a few shopping malls just so I could get out and walk around.
I slipped into a Pizza Hut. Oh, man, a pepperoni pizza was making my mouth water. Hey, where’s the damned pepperoni? All these pizzas are veggie.
Sunday was pretty uneventful though Monday I read about an overpass running right near the hotel that collapsed. While newsworthy by itself the part that makes it really interesting was the fact that this overpass was supposed to be terrorist/blast proof. What brought it down? Rain.
So in my short working relationship with Hyderabad, they bombed the main mosque right after my first visit, in Aug of this year four bombs went off in crowded areas and killed 50 people, and now rain causes the collapse of a blast proof overpass and kills another 20.
India certainly takes some getting used to. Unfortunately both of my hotel stays could have been turned into bad Saturday Night Live skits. And when you go from hotel to work, work to hotel, hotel to work everyday those maddening moments can really grate on your nerves.
Take, for instance, the breakfast I had the other morning. I had a driver picking me up at 9:30am. It’s about 9:10 so I just want to get in and out of the buffet with maybe a pastry and something to munch on. I grab my food, sit down at the table, and one of the waiters comes over and asks if I would like some pancakes (not the kind you think, they have something they call a pancake but isn’t). I tell him, no and that I’m just grabbing something quick to eat. Then he asks me if I want an egg. “No, I’m actually in a hurry. I have a car picking me up in 15 min,” I respond. Then he asks me if I want any butter. Now, what I was going to put butter on I don’t have a freaking clue but he offered me butter. Again, I tell him that I’m 100% fine. Then he asks if I want some coffee. Again I tell him that I’m good and that all I want to do is eat what’s on my plate and get going because I’m running late. Then he asks me if I would like some juice. By this point I’m like WTF?!?! Is this guy on commission?
Now Bangkok, which is where I hopped a flight to after work on Friday, is a perfect example how you can have similar circumstances but have an entirely different result. Like India, Thailand is an emerging country and Bangkok is a hot, humid, overcrowded mess much like Hyderabad. The difference is that I love Bangkok.
My hotel of choice, The President Solitaire, defines what hotel service should be like. Meals in the hotel restaurant are excellent with a wide range of local and international dishes. The staff is courteous to a fault and would never think of insisting you try a dish. They are professionals as good as any in the best US or European restaurant you’ve ever eaten in.
On Saturday I went to the Chatuchak market with a friend. It’s a massive shopping area only open on the weekends. No, really, it’s massive. It’s just rows and rows of booths set up by local vendors where you can buy anything from a fifteen foot tall Buddha statue for your home to pickled duck necks. But you can haggle and bargain for anything so half the fun is the whole negotiation bit.
Sunday I decide to do just go shop and hang out on Sukhumvit. I start walking down Soi 11 towards the main road and it starts to sprinkle. No problem. A few more steps and it starts to rain. Okay, I’ll duck under a awning and hope it passes quickly. No such luck. It just got worse and worse. The streets started flooding over onto the sidewalks and into some of the businesses. At that point I just braved it across the street to some little hotel restaurant where I had breakfast and wanted for it to stop.
When it cleared up a bit I continued down to Sukhumvit. Only problem is that I’m wearing some leather sandals that have no heel. So every few steps my foot is sliding right out of my sandal. I end up making it all the way down the street and then buy a new pair of sandals.
That evening some people I know had helped me arrange a little birthday gathering (my birthday had been Friday). So we agreed to meet up at Gulliver’s at 6pm; this little sports pub over on Soi 5. I got there a little early and found a seat at the bar well positioned so I could see people coming in. It wasn’t packed but it was far from empty so that was no small feat.
Now, as savvy as I am about BKK, I assumed the “entertainment” mostly stayed in the entertainment districts until much, much later in the evenings. I was wrong because I wasn’t seated more than five minutes and an attractive lady named Natalie introduced herself. I think it took me all of two seconds to figure out that she was about 28 or 29 years old which made her too old to work the entertainment districts so she had found herself a new home. She was quite attractive but when you’re meeting people for a party it’s usually not a great idea to have them walk in and see you chatting up a bar girl. I told her I was expecting friends and so was unable to talk with her.
A few minutes later the bartender comes over and says she has a friend who would like to meet me. Since I had seen the bartender talking to this one particular girl I knew exactly who it was and politely explained my whole meeting friends thing. Undeterred, a few minutes later this girl came over and introduced herself as Pim. Pim was very attractive and I would guess about 24. We chatted a bit and I told her my whole friends story but I don’t think she was buying it. Eventually she got bored with the fact I wasn’t making a huge effort to engage her in conversation and she told me she had to go meet some people and left the bar.
Thankfully before being propositioned again, one of the people I was meeting came up to me and said everybody was in the other room (which I had not even seen) and so I joined them there. It was a good group of folks and we had a pretty good night just chatting and drinking.
Monday I got an email asking me what I was up to. I was sitting around trying to decide what to do so they suggested we grab some sushi over in Chit Lom at Center World shopping center. Great. Hopped on the BTS train and we had a great lunch. Really excellent food.
After eating my friend suggested we take a walk down some of the side streets. She asked what I paid for a massage up on Sukhumvit. I told her about 300 baht (about $8 USD) an hour. We wind our way down some streets and find a few massage shops offering massages for 130 baht an hour. What the hell, a two hour foot massage sounds good right about now so we both got massages and I walked out of there my very happy feet.
After taking the train back to Sukhumvit I had dinner and then went down to this bar I had been to about three years ago. I had met this American guy there as well as the bartender and even went out with them on her off nights to hit up other bars in the area. Alas, she wasn’t there. So I sat down had a drink and watched as they paraded elephants up and down the street trying to sell tourists a bag of some sort of food so the feed the elephants.
I started chatting with the bartender there and asked if she knew the previous bartender. She said, of course, but she works at the bar inside now (there’s an inside and outside bar there). Really? Wow! Yes, but she’s not working tonight. My luck, right? So her friend calls her up and she describes me a bit. She’s drawing a blank so her friend hands the phone to me and I tell her “Tequila shots and that night you took Jerry and me over to that bar your friend works in. I told you I was going to bring you over a good bottle of tequila instead of that crap you guys serve.” Ahhhh, now she remembers. So she says she’s working Tuesday and I tell her I’ll be in to say hi.
I had planned on seeing some sights on Tuesday during the day but once people overheard me mention tequila shots on the phone, well, we started doing some at the bar and I wasn’t quite feeling in the mood to hustle my ass all over BKK on trains and taxis.
Of course Tuesday evening is somewhat a repeat of Monday evening except I get to see my long lost friend. Man did we drink a lot of tequila. In fact, we drank so much tequila that the girl who had called up my friend (and later became one of the main instigators of the tequila-thon) came in with a bag full of fried crickets and I munched down on some with her. They’re actually nowhere near as bad as they sound. You might even say that they’re kind of tasty.
Whatever your last day is in Thailand it’s always the saddest day of your life. You can never spend enough time there. I’ve previously compared BKK to Las Vegas with more edge but one of the major differences between BKK and LV is that when you’re leaving Vegas you’ve probably spent (or lost) more money than you intended to so you’re somewhat secretly happy that the trip is concluding. LV is expensive and it’s hard for people to party that hard for any extended length of time before they drain their wallet. BKK is exactly the opposite. Everything is so cheap that you could party forever there. You haven’t even hit the ATM up yet and your trip is over.
You see the sadness in the BKK airport. People are moping around having one last meal in one of the airport restaurants. In the back of your mind you’re praying for some catastrophe to strand you in BKK for another night. But no catastrophe comes and you board the plane and sit down in your seat silently going over how much fun you’ve just had and when you might be able to make it back out to Thailand.
Fortunately, a friend had driven me to the airport so we hung out and chatted at Starbucks which kept my mind off how much it sucks to leave.
I flew back into Hyderabad around 10pm at night. My flight to Dubai leaves at 10am in the morning. I had quite a choice to make. I could try to find a hotel in Hyderabad or wait it out for 12 hours in the airport. Before I had even left for BKK I had made the decision to just wait it out. Too many Hyderabad horror stories of dodgy rooms and the whole hassle of dealing the taxi scam artists made it seem like the sane choice.
I crammed through two books and then at 7:30 checked in and was allowed into the waiting area where I promptly paid up the 450 rupees for access to the VIP area. I was able to half nod off and got some food in me which helped a bit.
Flying back through Dubai I had a chance to eat there and found a . . . Dairy Queen!
Back on a plane and after a good long nap I was in London. Checked into the Gatwick Sofitel and crashed out like a rock again.
Up at 4:30am and caught a plane back to Gib where I dropped off my stuff at my apartment and went into the office.