London –> New Delhi –> Bangkok –> Nan –> Chiang Mai

12 – 28 – 09

I’ll admit it: I am a huge fan of Air India.  I flew Air India to France in 2007, and so far this trip has only added to my fond memories.  The chaos is delightful: there are people bags stuffed with too-many duty-free goods into too-small compartments, children running up and down the aisles, and women nursing babies as overly-polite flight attendants plead for order—all during take-off.  On a flight where people are still talking on cell-phones when we take to the air and the entire body of passengers leaps from their seats as soon as we hit the ground, such trivialities as seat backs and tray tables and iPods in the “on” position disappear from the flight attendants’ collective radar screens.  As security in the U.S. and U.K. becomes more absurd and Orwellian, it’s a nice reminder that we could all be a lot less uptight and planes would still probably not drop from the sky.

Oh, and the food is delicious.  They actually know what “vegan” means, and English isn’t even their first language.

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12 – 29- 09

I was really excited to see New Delhi from the air, if for no reason other than that India gets talked about a lot in class.  You can never really see people from the air when you’re landing in the west; there are always a lot of buildings and cars, but all the cities’ residents are inevitably hidden away inside them.  There are people here.  Everywhere.

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Pre-landing announcement: “We are now walking through the cabin spraying aerosol freshener.  Please understand that these are completely safe for humans.”

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Welcome back to the Third World!  One of my chief memories of Uganda is how everything seemed like it was being made up on the fly—even things done a million times a day a few hundred days a year.  On debarking from our plane, we had to find our own way from the tarmac to the terminal, where we were met by a mass of people who may or may not have been airline employees shouting city names at us.  I guess I was supposed to follow the one shouting “Bangkok,” but I didn’t, which led to a morass of redundant security checks and a host of totally incompatible directions from various airport officials.

Getting out of Delhi was even crazier than I could have possibly imagined.  It took four hours to get from plane to plane—and they arrived and left from the same gate in a ten gate terminal.  A nice little taste of the infamous “license raj.”  I just have to keep reminding myself that there’s some logic to it all, I just don’t know it.

– – – – –

Global cities are really weird.  I’ve flown 7,000 miles but—at night, and from the air—it doesn’t look like I’ve left London (or even Portland, for that matter).  It’s convenient but disconcerting that everything is always in English.  I wonder if someday all our airport signs will be first in Chinese and we will have to look hard to find something in our native tongue?

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12 – 30 – 09

My third-class train ride from Bangkok to Den Chai was everything I could hope for… from a third-class train ride in a third-world country.  There were chickens in the rafters, screaming kids, vendors selling unidentifiable hunks of meat, and at least twice as many people crammed into my car as there were seats (no, really, train travel is apparently free if you’re Thai).

The downside of this world-broadening experience was that, after twenty-four hours straight of traveling, I had at least another ten hours to go while awake.  Sleep is not an option when you are alternating between standing precariously amongst a chatting extended family and sitting with an elderly Thai woman three-fourths on your lap, all the while terrified of missing your stop (they don’t really announce the stations, and there are no signs.  I guess you just have to know.)

The upside, though, was that I was awake at sunrise.  It was really cool to see rice paddies, palm trees, and pagodas rising out of the morning mist.  This trip feels straight out of a story book; with Jackie waiting for me at the end, it really is idyllic.

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Being in Thailand, I am immediately reminded why so many Westerners love life in developing third world: you get to feel special.  I chose a great day to show up in Nan: it was sport’s day at Jackie’s school, which appeared mostly to involve a lot of boys running around while the female “cheerleaders” danced in the center of the field.  I hope these pictures don’t get my blog labeled as child pornography or something like that.

Within five minutes of my arrival, I was called over to the podium to give out medals and invited up to the platform where the director of the school was sitting.

Ferrang is roughly the equivalent of mzungu. Little kids scamper up, say “hi”, maybe come in for a high five or fist pump, and run away giggling to tell their friends.  People find strange excuses to grab my arm, and everything I do is cause for nervous laughter.  All this attention, and I don’t even have to do anything interesting.

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No rest for the weary.  Jackie and I took the night bus shortly after the end of sport’s day (which concluded, rather comically, with a lengthy and rousing speech by the school’s director, all while 600 kids stood fidgeting with just a few interminable minutes between them and winter vacation).  After two days without sleep, I was not excited about the prospect of a new mode of third-world transportation.

Fortunately, though, in Thailand, buses come replete with reclining seats, free snacks, and an attendant.  And, of course, it was freezing, following the standard maxim of hot developing countries: if you have AC, use it, whether or not it’s hot out.

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