Everyone move to Orem so you can vote for Chris Cannon, the congressman whose office is single-handedly responsible for saving my trip!! I spoke with them on Tuesday evening, they called the passport office (the one in San Francisco) and poked them with a sharp stick to get them moving. I hope it hurt. When I called on Wednesday afternoon to get the status, the passports were completed and ready to be mailed. This was the first progress that had been made on the passports in all of my days of calling.
Cannon's office called me on Wednesday to tell me that they were being mailed, and again on Thursday morning to tell me they would arrive at 10:30 via Fedex. Which, remarkably, they did - all four of them. What? Four passports? Are four of us going on the trip? No, silly, for some reason Ryan, mine, Darcey's and Zack's passports got expedited, which I can only assume someone in San Francisco thinks is a sign of going "above and beyond." Brad's and Noah's, naturally, are still in limbo somewhere. Hopefully they'll get here before they leave for their missions.
So yesterday I spent my day polishing off the laundry, packing for myself and Darcey, and grocery shopping. I wrote several pages of information to help the various relatives that are watching my kids, which Ryan said was too long for anyone to actually read. He said it is going to be like the scene in "Night at the Museum," where the security guard doesn't read the instructions until the giant dinosaur comes to life and is chasing him - I wonder what event will be the metaphorical "giant dinosaur" that will cause them to read the instructions!
I've wondered how specific to be. For example, no one I know can pack as much into the dishwasher as I can. I am tempted to take pictures of the full dishwasher, to show what the best way is to arrange the plates, bowls, small and large cups, and various pots and pans. And then I am reminded about how crazy that would seem, inflicting that level of micromanagement on something as minor as dishwasher arrangement. After all, what do I care if the dishes don't get totally clean, or they have to do more than one load? I'm not suffering here, and I doubt they would "suffer" either.
I do have a history of offending people via micromanagement. One time we had a couple over for dinner, and we were all in the kitchen finishing the cooking, when the husband asked what he could do to help. I gave him a cutting board, a knife, and a pile of strawberries and asked him to cut off the stems and then cut them in half for a fruit salad. He got the tops cut off just fine, but when I looked, I saw him balancing the strawberry on the pointy end on the cutting board, and attempting to slice it from top to bottom. Well, that's just ridiculous, why not turn it over so it can rest on the flat end and make cutting that much easier, and less dangerous? However, when I showed him the "better" (read: "right") way to cut the strawberry, he snapped at me, "Why don't you just do it then??" Whoops, that's not what I meant to happen. Fortunately, the guy turned out to be a lying, cheating thief who left his wife and toddler after deciding to be an actor in Hollywood. Which indescretions mean that I don't have to take anything he said and use it to examine my own behavior.
Ryan's parents came in about 1pm today, and we started the tour of the house and all of it's defects, as well as a tour of the kids and their defects. The kids' defects are known already, and it is a measure of the love of grandparents that they've agreed to watch the kids anyways. What they didn't know they were signing up for was the dryer that started working only on one setting (and of course not the one I use regularly), which needs to limp along until my dad comes on the 8th and can fix it. And then this morning, as if it was a going-away present from the house to us, the swamp cooler started making a clicking noise. Brad likened it unto a telegraph sending morse code messages. What message would my swamp cooler be sending? "The British are coming! The British are coming! And the St. Georgians, too!" I would say that maybe my dad could fix that, too, but my guess is that the clicking will be so annoying that my in-laws will call someone to fix it tomorrow. (Can I throw in that both the dryer and the swamp cooler had about $300 worth of work done to each of them in the last 3 months? That just doesn't seem fair.)
I've decided that the next time I travel, I'm going to put off packing until the last possible minute. The problem with packing yesterday is that I spent all day today thinking of things that I just have to have, which I won't touch again until I unpack it 11 days from now, back at home. Like the spiral notebook and pen, in case I need to jot down thoughts and the laptop isn't nearby. Or the ipod adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter of a car - what are the chances I will be in a car when my ipod batteries run out? Especially considering that I have Tim's AA-battery powered backup and 16 batteries for it. But I had too much time on my hands, and too much room in my backpack, so in it went.
When Bob dropped us off at the airport at 6:45, we found out that the flight was delayed an hour, and wouldn't be leaving until 10:15, leaving us 3 whole hours to kill in the airport. It was Douglas Adams that said "No one ever invented the phrase, 'As pretty as an airport.'" I'd add that there's no such thing as "As entertaining as an airport." Not that they don't try, there's some shopping and some restaurants, if you don't mind paying enough for your Big Mac as you do for a semester's tuition. Ryan and I kind of forgot to eat dinner before we left, so he ate a plain bagel in the car and I grabbed the box of animal cookies for the car, but that does not make a meal.
I have a really hard time deciding where to eat in the airport, because you are passing all of your options well before you get to the gate, and there's no way of knowing if a better option is up the hall, except for schlepping all your stuff up there. And I am not one to let a potentially better option pass by just because I don't want to walk a quarter mile through the airport, especially when the chances of getting better food than Cinnabon or Burger King is close to none. We actually got lucky by persevering today - we had passed a Burger King, Sbarro, TCBY, Cinnabon, some kind of grill, and a coffee shop, and that seemed to be representative of all of our choices. But I left Ryan sitting at our gate to keep searching for the best possible place to eat, and I scored - there was a California Pizza Kitchen just past our gate. I think the best part about spending time in foreign airports is that all of their hackneyed fast food chains will be completely new and unique for us - I won't have to say, "No, I don't want to eat at Konichi-wa's again - we just ate there last week! And I can't stand their chicken nuggets."
Darcey so far has spent the entire time at the airport sleeping. Is that so she can wake up the minute the plane takes off? And cry until the passengers revolt and the pilot turns the plane around, like every father has threatened his children he'd do if they didn't stop whining. And we'd never leave Salt Lake City, I'll be doomed to never leave the country until my children are adults and world-travelers themselves and I'm too old and broken to sit on a plane that long. When I left home at age 18 and drove from Maryland to California, my mom predicted I would leave the house, circle Baltimore for three hours, and then come home. So this isn't the first time I've almost not gotten where I wanted to go.
They've started boarding the plane, which means that the entire population of our plane is now standing, crowded around the boarding area as if the plane will leave without them. Brian Regan mocks the situation by saying "Push and shove, people, push and shove! This is the last flight out of Vietnam!" We better go join the crowd, or they might give our seat away!
Flight Update #1 - Darcey was a perfect angel - slept for the first half and then ate and laid nicely in her car seat for the second half. The plane had several empty seats so the flight attendant arranged for her to have her own seat with Ryan and me. We landed in LAX and instantly I knew that this second, longer leg of our trip was not going to be so easy. First we had to hike down to the Tom Bradley International Airport, which seems to be geared towards making passengers feel like they are already in a third world country, all without having to leave Los Angeles. The terminal is a wreck, apparently they are remodeling it, but if you can picture the abandoned terminal in the movie, The Terminal, you get the idea.
The security line seemed long to me, winding back and forth several times. And then Ryan showed me the rest of the line - it crossed an aisle, then went down a windy hallway so you couldn't actually see the end, kind of like a ride at Disneyland. And to continue with the similarities, the line was long, the hallway ended up feeding into a second back-and-forth thing, and the ride at the end wasn't worth the wait. There was a railing against the wall at one point in the line, and apparently it is tradition to put your half-full water bottles on the railing instead of, I don't know, finding a trash can or something quaint like that. Maybe it's part of the new terminal decor.
The smell in the terminal reminded me of a subway in D.C. or New York. Damp and musty with poor air circulation, with the smell of sweaty bodies and urine. And near the security checkpoint, they added the dirty sneaker smell, plus a bonus today, somebody let one rip in the narrowest, most congested part of the hallway in line. Disgusting. I didn't want to breathe at all. (In contrast, I'm typing this in the airport in Taiwan, and it is just about as clean as an airport can be.) The departure gate looked like the hallways at UVSC outside of the testing center, with students camped out on the floor, lining the hallways, taking a few more minutes to cram before a test. The floor was covered with travelers, and the only space left for us to sit was in front of an emergency door. This was the first time that being on the airplane had to be more comfortable than waiting at the gate.
The flight was completely packed, not a single empty seat on the plane. I knew that when we checked in, and felt lucky that the gate worker could change our seats so we could sit together. When we got on the plane, a bonus! We were sitting at the bulkhead, with just a wall in front of us, so no people reclining their seats into my lap. And, double bonus! We were assigned seats F and G in a row of four seats. Well, as it turns out, seats D and E in our row were bassinet seats (a bassinet can be attached to special bolts in the wall for the baby to sleep in), so the flight attendant asked the man in seat E to switch with us. Another flight attendant came to check our boarding passes and told the man he needed to move back to his assigned seat. This culminated in a fairly heated discussion between the man and three flight attendants, all of whom were standing over us and none of whom were speaking English. The man was standing up for us, trying to get us to have the better seat. The bummer came when the owner of seat D was a mother traveling alone with a baby, who had been assigned the bassinet seat. So the squad of flight attendants (or would they be a flock?) the flock of flight attendants moved the man sitting between two babies to a window seat across the aisle, leaving an empty seat next to me (which the other mom instantly appropriated). Then yet another flight attendant (how many do they need on this flight?!) told the man he had to move back to his seat, again. None of this was this poor guy's fault, he wasn't the one trying to get an upgrade or anything. So Ryan and I made a huge mistake - we were nice. When the man came back after having moved like 5 times, Ryan said, "Why don't we let him sit on the aisle and you can sit next to the other baby?" It made sense, in a way, and the guy was grateful - I think Ryan really didn't want to be stuck next to some other nursing mom, but it was a really nice gesture. And since no good deed goes unpunished, I paid for this niceness for the next 13 hours.
As it turns out, a flight attendant (I don't know if it was one of the original flock, they might have recruited someone from another flight to deal with such a difficult case) asked a couple who happened to be sitting in another bassinet seat if they would be willing to trade. They had a aisle and a middle seat, but since we now occupied two middle seats, they said no. Which I don't really blame them for, but I'm ticked because we blew that. I ended up holding Darcey in the borrowed Baby Bjorn carrier the entire time. I also didn't know the size of the bassinet. After we took off someone connected it, and it was so big that it went halfway into my leg area, which as you can imagine, is less than luxurious to begin with. So for the entire flight, I couldn't cross my legs, or reach anything at my feet. Once it was installed, I couldn't pick up my tv screen, which was on a swivel arm down by my feet. So I spent 13 hours with someone else leaning over me to tend to her baby with her elbows in my face and no matter how far over into Ryan's seat I leaned, her arm kept brushing mine. And I had long since abandoned any claim to the armrest. I found that my trips to the bathroom were my favorite part of the flight, just because of how much space there was in there to move without anyone touching me.
(Ryan was particularly insulted by the couple who wouldn't trade seats with us, they spent the entire flight turning around in their seat to stare at us. It was kind of creepy, actually. And Ryan also said that the mom next to me look disturbed when I started crying during a particularly emotional part of Harry Potter.)
The best part was that Darcey slept amazingly well the entire time, and only whimpered a little to let me know she was awake and hungry. The third leg of our trip was actually enjoyable - we not only had the bassinet seat for her to lay in, but we had the entire row to ourselves, and the leg space between us and the wall was fairly generous. Darcey slept and when she was awake, she was content to lay in the bassinet quietly. Ryan and I watched "Blades of Glory," the ice skating movie with Will Farrell and Napoleon Dynamite, and I watched "Premonition" with Sandra Bullock. The 4 hour flight passed pretty quickly, and we got to KL at about 1:30ish in the afternoon.
My first thought at seeing the Malaysian landscape was how green it was, and how flat. There are palm trees everywhere, palm oil being a big export here, and the ground is just flat, flat, flat. It is green like Maryland, which I love, but in MD, the trees growing alongside of the road were so tall and lush that it blocks out everything around it. Even on the freeway, you feel like you're driving through a forest. For some reason, the trees here don't feel the same. Maybe it's their height, or maybe Maryland has more hills, I'm not sure what, but it's not quite the same feeling. Still, green is beautiful, and I love seeing so many green trees.
Our driver came and picked us up at the entrance to the airport. Ryan thought he'd feel all special having someone holding a sign with his name on it, but sadly, his was just one in a hundred, lining the entrance way. Apparently, few people here drive themselves anywhere, taking a cab is the preferred means of transportation. And after one trip in a car in this town, I can see why. People here drive like maniacs. There was one short stretch of road that literally did not have any lanes painted on it, and Eric, our driver, just kind of wandered back and forth across the wide street. In the 45-minute drive, he used his turn signal a total of one time, and trust me, that was not the only turn he made. The road leading to our hotel was a one-way, single lane street, lined with parked cars on both sides so that we barely had room to squeeze past, but that didn't stop him from driving faster than the 5 miles per hour that would have felt safe, and other cars would just dart out in front of us from connecting streets. Ryan and I both spent a lot of time thinking, "Brake, Brake, BRAKE!!!" but of course, we didn't say it out loud. I think we were too busy praying.
We are staying at the Royale Bintang (Bintang means "star") hotel - it is fairly upscale, beautiful lobby, pianist in the corner playing Frank Sinatra songs, a nice room with a king size bed and a view of some shopping malls, houses, a tall building, and a hill, all surrounded by green, green trees. It's rained both mornings we've been here, so at 7 a.m. the sky is gray and misty, but somehow still beautiful. I'm excited to get to know this place.