Pack Things, Spread Wings: A Travel Poem

January 20, 2020 § Leave a comment

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Discount fares
Facebook shares
Pack things
Spread wings
Airport ride
Park outside
Find the gate
Don’t be late
Boarding flight
Squeeze in tight
Stow your bag
In-flight mag
Upright seat
Smelly feet
Coke or tea?
Gotta pee
Watch a show
Comfy? No
Check map
Take nap
City near
Landing gear
Disembark
Outside dark
Stand in queues
Foreign news
Shoulder cramp
Passport stamp
Time change
Feel strange
Suitcase  gone
Carry on

[photo: Full Airport 01,” by Chris Murphy, used under a Creative Commons license]

In-Flightisms

July 8, 2019 § 3 Comments

 

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Here’s one more installment of travel “isms”—created words and terms to help travelers talk the talk . . this time while they fly the flight. And if you’d like to get caught up on my past entries, check out Expatisms, Airportisms, and Pre-Tripisms.

passenger of imminent domain
This is the person directly in front of you on a plane who, upon sitting down, immediately pushes his seat back as far as it will possibly go. Intuiting that something must be hindering it, he tries to force it back farther, again and again. There. Must. Be. Something. Keeping. The. Seat. From. Reclining completely flat (possibly your knees). Finally, leaving the seat fully back, he leans forward to watch a movie.

chipillow
The bag of snacks that you bring from home that bloats up once you reach higher altitudes. With care, it can be used to rest your head on, due to the fact that it’s in the same food group as the neck croissant.

single-entré seating
The rows in the far back of the plane where you no longer get a choice between the brazed beef medallions over a wild-rice pilaf and the broiled fish and mashed potatoes. You get the fish.

cartnering
This is the act of hovering next to the food cart as it’s making its way down the aisle. Timing a trip to the bathroom with the distribution of meals is truly an art form, and it is best done passive-aggressively (such as by wearing a smile while dancing from one foot to the other).

silent gotcha port
The “SGP” is the small screw hole on the seat armrest that looks as if it must be the place where you plug in your earphones.

Queen Ramona’s veil
The dark mesh curtain that separates business class from coach. Its main purpose is to protect those in the front of the plane from projectiles thrown by the riotous mob behind, who are known to catapult dinner rolls at each other using slingshots fashioned from their airline-provided sleep masks and who sometimes divide into teams for prolonged games of ultimate Frisbee. In small planes, the curtain, only a few inches across and resting next to the cabin wall, is known as Queen Romana’s Veilette. Its purpose is purely psycho-social.

The term “Queen Ramona’s Veil” comes from the name commonly used for the wood-and-iron gate employed by the overly paranoid and little-known British Queen Ramona II to separate her highness from the filthy hordes sometimes present in the steerage portion of her royal sailing ship. Mention of the barrier is made in the English dirge “The Death of Queen Ramona at the Hands of the Filthy Hordes.”

FASL
Flight Attendant Sign Language. Includes such specialized hand maneuvers as indicating the exits by extending the arms to the side, palms forward, pointing with two fingers, Boy Scout style, and mimicking the pulling of life-vest inflation cords using the crook of the thumb and first finger with the other fingers fanned out, subliminally showing that everything will be “OK.”

seatemic
(pronounced see-uh-tehm-ic) Your connecting flight is delayed and you have no time to spare so when it lands you run as fast as you can (and by “as fast as you can” I mean a combination of running, jogging, speed walking, walking, stopping, and wheezing) across the airport and arrive at your gate just as they’re closing the door and you speed down the gangway and board the plane and force your carryon into something close to an available slot and find your seat and quickly strap in so the plane can take off. . . . Now all you can do is sit still, sweating, with your heart racing and your veins coursing with adrenaline. Your body is in a fight-or-flight response but something tells you this is a different kind of flight. If you are suffering from these symptoms, you are seatemic.

no-watch list
Movies that are not allowed to be shown in-flight. The list includes Red Eye, AirborneNon-Stop, FlightplanSnakes on a Plane, Quarantine 2: Terminal, and Plane of the Living Dead. And, yeah, some of these shouldn’t be shown on the ground, either.

post-ping che-klatches
The sound of seatbelt buckles popping open the instant the plane stops at the gate and passengers hear the OK-now-you-can-get-up tone. This allows those in window seats to immediately grab their carryons, put them where they were just sitting, and wait, hunching under the overhead bins.

[photo: “Plane Toy on Blue Sky,” by Marco Verch, used under a Creative Commons license]

Crossing Cultures in Stealth Mode

May 16, 2019 § Leave a comment

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Have you ever been overseas and wished that you could just blend in—going unnoticed, attracting no stares?

Sometimes, that’s hard to do:

But other times, you’re in a place where you look as if you could fit in. For instance, that could be me in England, where my ancestors are from. I have the genetic foundation for looking like a Brit, but it’s the extra things—the add ons, so to speak—that are harder to manage.

Below is an interesting video featuring Jonna Mendez, the CIA’s former chief of disguise. In it, she says that her goal in the agency was to help people disappear in plain sight. “You want to be the person,” she explains, “that gets on the elevator and then gets off, and nobody really remembers that you were even there.”

But a physical disguise can only go so far. Especially, it seems, for those of us from the States. According to Mendez, “Americans are oblivious to what it is that reveals them to a foreign crowd, or a foreign intelligence service, when they’re out in public.” She then goes on to point out how we use silverware differently than Europeans do (they cut their meat and eat with their forks staying in the left hand, while we switch our forks to the right hand to put food in our mouths), how we hold cigarettes differently (they put their smokes between the thumb and first finger, while we put it between our first two fingers), and even how we stand (Europeans tend to stand with their weight evenly balanced between their feet, while we put most of our weight on one foot or the other).

Of course, clothes can be a giveaway, too. If you’re an American in Europe and don’t want to be a target for those who prey on tourists, she suggests, you could wear clothes that you’ve bought from a local store or put a local pack of cigarettes in your pocket.

Ladies, if you want to blend in in France, here are seven clothing non-nons from Marie-Anne Lecoeur, author of How to Be Chic and Elegant. I must say, I love her accent, especially as she describes tip number two, “No plunging necklines.” I’m pretty sure she says you don’t want to wear a top where “a lot of your bust is explosed.” How appropriate.

Lecoeur is something of a fashionista. American travel guru, Mark Wolters, is nothing of the sort (something he is eager to point out in this next video). But he does have apparel tips for Americans traveling in Europe, aimed mostly at the male population over 35.

Of course, this all requires that you don’t blow your cover by opening your mouth and saying something.

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Once, in London, I was taking a ride on a red double-decker bus and saw two women, fellow visitors also enjoying the sights. Wanting to strike up a conversation with some fellow Americans, I asked, “Where are ya’ll from?”

“Well,” one answered. “Now we know where you’re from. We’re Canadians.”

I can’t even blend in with the tourists.

[photos: “Moth in Stealth Mode,” by feck_aRt_post, used under a Creative Commons license; “Double-Decker Bus,” by Kevin Oliver, used under a Creative Commons license]

Barnga: A Card Game for Culture-Stress Show and Tell [—at A Life Overseas]

February 2, 2019 § Leave a comment

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I’ve reworked my original Barnga post from six years ago and put it online at A Life Overseas. Head on over there to read all of it. Here’s how it begins:

Have you ever wanted to show, not just tell, people what culture stress is like? Have you ever wanted them to experience it a bit without them having to travel overseas?

Have you ever heard about Barnga?

Barnga is a simulation game created by Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan in 1980, while working for USAID in Gbarnga, Liberia. . . .

[photo: “Shuffle,” by Melissa Emma’s Photography, used under a Creative Commons license]

Places and Destinations: What Do You Know?

January 6, 2019 § Leave a comment

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I don’t read travel magazines much. I just don’t seem to fit into their target demographic. I like to dream, but I can’t afford to visit most of their “Bucket List Destinations for this year!” No, the the magazines I normally browse are less apt to showcase the five best restaurants in Paris than they are to feature the latest 2-for-$5 meals at McDonald’s.

But travel mags can be more than just catalogues for vacation ideas. They can also be educational. Take, for instance, Afar, which teaches that you don’t actually need a bucket list. In fact, its writers tell us why you should take your list and tear it up and throw it out.

An even better learning experience can be found in Afar‘s online quizzes. Covering desserts to UNESCO sites, here are ten mini exams to test your global knowledge. Even if you don’t learn something new, they’ll help you find out what you don’t know. And after you get your results (just click “Skip This Step” at the end), Afar will give suggestions on articles you can read to brush up more on each topic. Isn’t that nice of them?

  1. Are You a Geography Nerd? Prove It.
  2. Can You Match These Holidays to Their Home Countries?
  3. Can You Match These Sister Cities?
  4. How Well Do You Know Your World Capitals?
  5. How Well Do You Know These Desserts from around the World?
  6. How Well Do You Know Food around the World?
  7. How Well Do You Know UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
  8. Test Your Knowledge of Independence Days around the World
  9. Test Your Knowledge of World Architecture
  10. Match the Metro to the City

[photo: “Look Well to This Day,” by Anne J, used under a Creative Commons license]

Flying First Class minus That Pesky Flying Thing

July 8, 2018 § 4 Comments

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If first-class flying is beyond the reach of your bank account, Tokyo has a solution. All you need to do is contact First Airlines and book a virtual flight to Paris, Rome, New York, or Hawaii. Your trip will include authentic first-class seats from the Airbus 310 and 340; service provided by airline crew members in training who will lead you through announcements, demonstrations, and in-flight sales; engine sounds; a four-course chef-prepared meal; and a tour of your destination using a VR headset. According to CNN Travel, the cost is around $56 for a 2-hour first-class “flight.”

Real intercontinental travel usually lasts more than a couple of hours, though, so you’ll want to complete your adventure at Tokyo’s First Cabin Tsukiji. The deluxe pod hotel features small (tiny?) rooms fashioned after “premium,” “first,” and “business” class airline amenities. There’s also a “premium economy class cabin,” where the pods are stacked two high. From what I can tell, costs are about $40 plus.

A more pricey option would be to make a reservation for Air Hollywood’s Pan Am Experience in Los Angeles. It’s a five-course meal served in an “exact replica” of a Pan Am Boeing 747. A pair of tickets run from $475 to $875, but good luck making that purchase, as July’s only offering is already sold out.

Why Not DIY?

Alright, I know what you’re thinking—We don’t live in Japan or LA! (unless, of course, you actually do live in Japan or LA). Well, I’m here to help. Back in 2013, I wrote a post that will set you up with some in-flight snacks, in-flight magazines, and an in-flight soundtrack. But that was pretty bare-bones. Now it’s time for an upgrade.

To create your own first-class-cabin experience, first, you’ll want to head over to ebay to purchase some used airline seats, just waiting to be bolted to your living-room floor. Or, for a bigger selection, and a bigger price tag, visit SkyArt for aircraft seats, fuselage panels, and emergency-exit doors. And if you’d like some airline trolleys (the kind that deliver your meals inflight) drop by SkyCart, where prices start at $1,500.

Next, you’ll need some in-flight blankets. According to Travel + Leisure, “Airlines Are Sick of First Class Passengers Stealing Blankets,” so don’t be doing that. Instead, visit the Westin Store online to purchase their $37 “Heavenly In-Flight Blanket,” created exclusively for Delta. For a couple of dollars more, go to the United Shop and get a Saks Fifth Avenue lap throw, used in United’s Polaris business class. United also sells duvets, amenity kits, and soap bearing their custom “United Landing scent.” For cheaper fare, Made in China offers coach-style airline blankets—for the rest of us. They’re as low as $1.30 apiece, but you’ll need to gather up a lot of friends, since you’ll need to buy at least 1,000. The same kind of bulk pricing can be found for eye masks and disposable slippers at EverythingBranded, and for amenity kits at Global Sources.

Let’s see, what are we still missing? Oh yes, in-flight meals to stock your trolleys. I thought I’d found the answer when I heard about Air Food One, where you can subscribe to a service that delivers to your door business-class-style food for about $12 meal. The menu comes from LSG Sky Chefs, who provide food for Lufthansa Airlines. I thought I’d found the answer, but, alas, no. Air Food One was only available in Germany and it’s no longer delivering meals. Ditto for Air New Zeland’s pop-up restaurant: only in London and only last year. So when it comes to food, you’ll just have to pop a frozen meal into the microwave. Or . . . you could pretend your flight is headed to outer space and treat yourself to some freeze-dried ice cream and fruit from Astronaut Foods.

So that about wraps it up, except for the buying, gathering, and assembling. If you’d like to skip all that, there is an alternative. But you’ll have to move to Austin (unless, of course, you already live in Austin), where you can purchase a home, built by a pilot, with its own in-flight media room. The walls and overhead bins are from a Boeing Qantas 767, and the seats come from a Delta L-1011 first-class cabin. The windows even have video monitors simulating flight scenes. Current asking price for the property is $2,689,600.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Regardless of how you set up your  first-class cabin, you’ll need some kind of curtain to draw a line between you and the rest of the world in coach. Might I suggest this or maybe even this?

(Francesca Street, “Fly from Tokyo to Paris without Leaving the Ground,” CNN Travel, February 20, 2018; Audrey Ference, “Austin Home Features Airplane Cabin-Themed Media Room Made from Real Airplane Parts,” realtor.com, April 11, 2018)

[photo: “Lufthansa First Class-Cabin,” by TravelingOtter, used under a Creative Commons license]

Short Fiction at High Altitudes

January 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

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“Is Wi-Fi the existential threat that will finally kill the inflight magazine?” That’s the question Mark Tjhung asked this past July in Forbes. His answer is No, in part because his answer has to be No: He’s editor of Silkroad, the inflight magazine for the Hong Kong airline Cathay Dragon. But he also explains that he believes in the future of inflight magazines, if they “keep up and raise their standards.” And he writes, “Ironically, rather than being the death knell of the inflight magazine brand, the online revolution in the media landscape may present its greatest opportunity.”

Part of Silkroad‘s raising of its standards, as Tjhung points out in the article, is the inclusion of a “Short Story Anthology.” Last summer, they invited authors to send them short pieces of fiction, with the result being a collection of four stories, each set in a different Asian country, written specifically for Silkroad readers. The anthology includes works from David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas; Lijia Zhang, a Chinese author who writes in English for international publications; Nuri Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective; and Manu Joseph, author of Serious Men. Each story is accompanied by an author interview.

A Forgettable Story,” by Mitchell, is something of a Japan-based combination of Groundhog Day and an inside-out 50 First Dates, told by an airline passenger to his seatmate. In describing himself, he says,

Where am I from? Tricky question. ‘From my mother’? I had a peripatetic childhood, so I’ve got more passports than Jason Bourne. All legal, I hasten to add. Even the matter of where I live now gets a bit . . . complicated. You know those wandering poet-monks in feudal China and Japan who used to say the road was their home, and the grass was their pillow? You could say I’m a contemporary reboot of them. ‘My spiritual home is the transit lounge.’ I should get that printed on a T-shirt. Don’t think I’m romanticising this way of life: I’m not. I envy what I guess you have. Friends, a partner maybe, a job, or at least a role, a family to be a part of – even if they drive you crazy now and then. Belongingness is underrated, especially by the young.

Zhang’s “Permission” tells the story of Lin, a young man who has moved from rural China to study in one of the country’s most-prestigious universities. There he is faced with the conflict between Chinese and Western values, as well as his own conflicting emotions concerning a nurse who shows him attention.

In “Geek Girl and the Digital Planet,” Vittachi writes about an expat in Hong Kong who infiltrates the world around her by hacking into the scores of wi-fi and bluetooth signals available in her apartment. On fiction’s ability to inspire travel, Vittachi says, “The best way to visit somewhere is to read a novel about it – and then buy an airline ticket.”

And “The Fight,” by Joseph, is about a family vacation in India. But rather than focusing on the beauty of Goa, the husband and wife are preoccupied with arguments and frustration. “‘Everybody fights,” the father tells his seven-year-old daughter. “They go to beautiful places to fight.” About the inspiration for his story, Joseph writes,

I like the joy of vacations, especially time spent with the children, but the most interesting thing is the pressure on the adults to pretend they are having a good time. I am sure most people do have fun but many other things go on during family vacations—tension between adults that’s often continuation of old feuds.

Kudos to Silkroad for broadening its repertoire to include fiction. What a great way to introduce readers to the subtle nuances and intricacies of travel and destinations. As Vittachi says in his interview, “I think inflight magazines are a great place for fiction. Fiction transports you in a delightful manner—exactly like a good plane journey!”

If you’d like to read more from international inflight magazines—without getting on a plane—go to my recently updated list of over 100 offered online.

(Mark Tjhung, “No, the Inflight Magazine Isn’t Dead,” Forbes, July 20, 2017; “The Silkroad Short Story Anthology,” Discovery, July 3, 2017)

[photo: “DSC01783,” by Anthony Pujol, used under a Creative Commons license]

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