James had a conference in Hong Kong at the end of September for a few days.
We had known for quite a while that he was going, and debated the same length of time as to whether I should go with him. He just couldn’t see how it would work with the kids starting school and me getting a job…-crick, crick-. Thank goodness for such totally awesome, wonderful, accommodating friends that stepped up and drove my kids to and from school for that whole week in September so I could go to Hong Kong – THANKS SO MUCH! I also have to thank his colleague and ‘End-of-the-hallway’ buddy for convincing him to take me along.
James purchased a ticket so I could meet him in Hong Kong. Meet him. I’ve never in my life flown on my own before. James flew direct on Emirates. I flew a connector through Mumbai on a cheaper flight. As if I wasn’t already nervous enough about making my connection on the way to Hong Kong through a foreign airport in India, but surprise, there was also a Tsunami headed towards Hong Kong. I watched the news. I diligently checked my flight status and everything was still on time. I went to the airport, checked in and boarded my flight without any problems. I had chosen my seat well, I ended up in my 3 seat row with one other person, and they were nice. We chatted on and off until we reached Mumbai. The Mumbai Airport…what can I say. I’m surprised the structure hasn’t collapsed under negligence and disrepair. The people are friendly and helpful, but as we rode the rusted, creaky bus from the plane to the airport I felt like my seat was about to come unhinged with every brake or swerve from the driver. Once we reached the terminal I had no idea where to go, and knowing I had just over an hour to get there my face may have had a look of obvious panic. A staff member quickly rushed to my side and asked if I was flying to Hong Kong and pointed me in the right direction, “just follow this hallway until you see another person dressed like me” and off I ran. When I reached the next guy, all smiles and matter of factly he announces to me “There is a Tsunami headed for Hong Kong. Your flight may not take off. If it does not take off we are not responsible nor will you be reimbursed for your flight. Enjoy your day.” ….Awesome.
I rush to my gate. Which by the way is not obvious. I see a sign that has my gate number on it, but it points to a room with no windows, full of seated coughing, sleeping, sweaty people. It looked more like a doctors office then an airline gate. I found a seat and took another look around. This isn’t right. It was then that I noticed that there must be a gap between the row of seats across from me and the wall above them. On closer inspection I noticed stairs leading down. They lead down to my gate – whew. I had arrived just when we should have begun boarding. No one was moving. No one was even standing. So I parked myself within earshot of the call desk and waited. So glad I ran here…. Waiting. I do NOT want to spend the night in this filthy airport. I start to wonder where the toilet is. I look around and see I sign on the wall in front of me. I hear a flush, and the wall slides away in front of me. Directly behind the thin, sliding door, is a toilet. Curiosity cured. I no longer need to use the toilet. Commotion at the call desk I stand just in case, I hear them whisper to another to announce boarding, I am first in line – YES.
We eventually land in Hong Kong without so much as a hiccup. Well maybe a few bumps, but I’ve been in way worse. Navigating the Hong Kong Airport is a bit easier. I know exactly where I need to go to get a bus and there are many helpful signs reassuring me I am headed in the right direction. The guy at the bus desk is helpful and funny. He happily takes my money and carries my bag to the bus. There are 5 other people on the greyhound size bus. I get a sticker with the name of my hotel on it and put it on my sweater so the driver knows (and I know) where to get off. Everything is so green, and it looking around gives me the impression that it has rained recently. I wonder if I have missed all the excitement of the Tsunami. We reach a light and the bus stops. The driver indicates to me that this is my stop. I grab my bag and look out the window, where am I? He points to an alley way and indicates to me that my hotel is down there. Okay, off I go. Sketchy at first and walk slowly. Once I see it, and my confidence returns I take off towards the Rosedale Hotel.
In the room, I get my bearings, take a few photos and decide to wait to hear from James before wondering off. It’s not too long before James appears and recounts what he has learned from his first day of pre-conference meetings. The Tsunami warning has caused several airlines to cancel all flights to the area until further notice (so glad my cheap airline had my safety in mind). What this means for the conference is that many of the speakers are unable to make it and the schedule would need to be adjusted. The result was James only having conference meetings and presentations from 8-12-ish leaving the afternoons completely open for us to explore together! However, the Tsunami was expected to hit full force that first afternoon and so the majority of business were boarded up for the night and all of the next morning. We joined several other couples from the conference in the restaurant at the top of the hotel for dinner. It was eerily quite on the street as not a car could be seen on the road. The only really indication that anything was happening outside was a few trees that were swaying violently in the wind far below us.
I had a rough idea of places to go see in Hong Kong but wasn’t entirely organized. So our days turned into a schedule of going to the Apple Store (iPhone 5s was just released in Hong Kong), walking away disappointed to the subway, picking a stop on the line, and getting off. In the end, we saw the Walk of Stars, the Hong Kong temple (my first foreign temple experience requiring a translator), Ngong Ping (twice, cause James wanted to run to the top and I didn’t), The Peak and Central (cause that’s where our hotel was). I was also able to have a special lunch with an old friend from high school and see her studio. The weather was humid, and warm. Not entirely different from Dubai except that it actually rained several times.
My return trip brought similar feelings of anxiety as when I had flown over. My return would involve returning to Mumbai and actually leaving the airport to spend the night in hotel. To do this required me to get a 6 month Visa into India. When I look back at that transaction I think I got ripped off in more than one way in that transaction, but whatever. A car came included with the hotel purchase so I thankfully did not need to wait in a long line, and then hike to a taxi waiting somewhere out on the road into the airport (we drove past people carrying their luggage nearly all the way to the main road. Although my heart did have a little palpitation when I wasn’t on their list of pickups for the night. Good thing I had printed out the confirmation…and it was so late at night. Back to the main road. Anyone who has driven in the UAE, or Europe will have some inkling into the fear I experienced for the 10 minutes I was on the ‘main road’. I arrived into India after dark. In fact by this time it was nearly 12:00 midnight. It was dark. There are no lights on the road except the multiple lanes of headlights coming in your direction. I don’t give a specific number because I can’t be sure how many lanes there was actually meant to be. There were no lines on the road. The drivers didn’t seem to have any sense of order as to where they should be in relation to the other cars on the road. We apparently needed to cross this road. So my driver crept…starting…stopping…making progress, cars swerving around us, lights coming towards us, and then we stopped at a gate. Then my driver explains, “they will search the car” – what? Flashlights in my face, I hear the trunk pop open. All of a sudden we are moving again, through the gate. We drive up to the front doors. My driver grabs my luggage out of the trunk and carries it to the security waiting on the front step. They scan my bag. They scan me. I’m thinking this is crazy. I just did this 3 times to get out of the airport. I’m clear so they let me go.
The staff was so friendly, no really they were. After all the searches, and the short, scary drive over, and just being really tired on top of it all, the lady behind the counter was really nice. Really it doesn’t take much people just smile.
Okay back to this hotel, which was really awesome. It was so fancy I can’t believe I was staying there all by myself. Then of course compared to the Rosedale in Hong Kong (which is pretty dang swanky) this place was pretty fancy. The room though…it was hands down the nicest room I have ever been in. In Hong Kong, I could sit against the seat in the window and comfortably rest my feet on the bed. Mumbai, I could have done a workout with 10 other people in that room and we would have been good (maybe not 10, but still lots of room).
Before my flight the next morning I had another opportunity to meet some old friends that we had met when we lived in Edmonton. I was afraid the conversation would be quiet after spending so much time away from each other but it was truly wonderful to catch up with them. I don’t recall much of the trip back to the Mumbai airport, though I did get lost it was relatively uneventful and less traumatising than the night before. The only thing left to endure was the long line up through customs in the Dubai airport.