Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Longest Thursday

Last week we had our longest Thursday ever, courtesy of 23 hours of transit combined with a time-zone change that set us back 13 hours. Our first flight leg was on the longest passenger flight in the world, direct from Singapore to Newark. What do you do for almost 18 hours on a plane? Well, we wondered about that, too...

Hour 1: I am already looking at my watch: are we there yet? But of course we’ve only just started, and we’re not even to Ho Chi Minh City yet. A stewardess comes by and hands us regulation slipper-socks, and we dutifully put them on.

Hour 2: We’re in business class, so the steady parade of food has begun. It’s not so much to feed the hungry as to kill time for the bored; a meal can last almost two hours. They bring Indonesia satay, then salad, then would-you-like-duck-beef-lamb-or-laksa. The seafood laksa is the only Singaporean dish, but we pass it up: we can get these for $3 Sing at a hawker centre when we get back. Plus the combination of spicy shrimp sambal sauce, coconut milk, and noodles just about guarantees day-glo orange spots on my shirt, especially if I’m eating on a plane. They “round out” the meal with bread, cheese, and dessert. I’m hoping they don’t feed us again for another 12 hours or so.

Hour 4: The chipper stewardess informs us that duty-free shopping is now open, in case we missed the 1,000 duty-free shops at Changi Airport (one hazard of an airport where all the flights are international).

Hour 5: It’s always tricky to figure out when to sleep to minimize the inevitable jet lag. But we’re getting in to Newark at 5 p.m. EST, so we’ll try to sleep during the early part of the flight and then stay awake for awhile, so we’re sleepy again when we reach our destination.

Hour 10: We wake up to find that we’ve flown over the sea between Korea and Japan and are still continuing northward. Our path is a giant parabola on the map. We’ve crossed the International Date Line. But the trip is starting to wear on us. Tired and cranky, we spend the next hour dissecting whether moving to Singapore was a colossal mistake or a brilliant idea. We had this same discussion many times during our stressful first months in Singapore. As we really should know by now, it’s a pointless debate, impossible to resolve. The truth is, moving to another country is always a bit of both.

Hour 11: Food again. The crew seems in a hurry, which I’m guessing is because we’ll soon be over land (North America!), with a higher chance of turbulence. After dinner, they turn the lights down to encourage us to sleep again. Joey decides to sleep upside-down to get the blood flowing to his head again. The “lay-flat” seats are indeed flat, but they’re at a slight angle, so your feet are usually pointing toward the floor.

Hour 12: We are flying over Juneau, over the Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Park. I am trying to stay awake, so I decide to watch a movie. There are hundreds to choose from, all on-demand, so I start a very funny Australian faux-documentary about children’s dance studios. Movies on these flights are pretty international: aside from the usual US hits, there’s everything from kung fu to Bollywood.

Hour 16: I can’t help it; I keep dropping off to sleep. In Singapore, it’s the wee hours of the morning. But I am excited by the “Hours to Arrival” number on the flight information screen. After all this time, it’s hard to believe we’re just two hours away from Newark.

Hour 17: Newark provides its usual welcome: an hour-long holding pattern before we even get as close as Elizabeth. The pilot explains that they always show up an hour early to Newark, so the gate arrival “almost” always ends up being on time. In his voice we hear the typical Singaporean’s gentle exasperation at the disorder in other countries. Having lived in Singapore for the better part of a year, we’re inclined to agree with him.

Hour 18: We touch down amid the glow of orange street lights and the mist from a freezing fog. At 5 p.m., it is already cold and dark (we are used to a daily 7 p.m. sunset), but we’ve made it. At last we are back on the eastern coast of the US.


jima said...

Enjoy your holiday back! I remember ours as being stressful, hectic, and wonderful. I'm sure you'll have a great holiday getting to see everyone!

Moose said...

Welcome back! Thank you for your card! Have a blessed Christmas!