Monday, August 22, 2005

Jakarta Travel

Traveling in style. Emmerson in her fancy airplane bed somewhere over the Pacific.

We figured our travel time, door to door from Freeport, Illinois to Jakarta, Indonesia, was about 43 hours. There once was a time when I rather enjoyed long journeys especially if it involved airline travel; food, read, movie, sleep - repeat. Not a bad way to spend a day or two. But this was back in the footloose and baby free days. Emmerson is 6 months old today. She is quite a good traveler and has flown maybe 15 some odd times but the potential is always there for a mid-air major blow out. Air travel is particularly difficult with a little one. It’s not like you’re in a theater or restaurant and can step outside and go for a calming walk at 23,000 feet. Once airborne all you can do is hope for the best. I have become that disheveled looking guy clunking his way down the aisle laden with various unruly overflowing carry-ons, wet wipes bulging from the shirt pocket, blanket over the shoulder, spare binkies clipped here and there, a Mr. Banannaman dangling precariously from a diaper bag side pocket and one, wild-eyed, sleep-deprived, drooling baby that everyone desperately hopes does not sit anywhere near their seat. Needless to say my fondness for long distance travel has changed some.

We disembarked or is it embarked (does anyone ever accurately complete those arrival/departure cards? I fill them out differently every time and have never been questioned by immigration) from Chicago and just to mix things up a bit left from Midway, O'Hare's lesser known little sister. That leg of the trip was much less eventful than our first time we left from Chicago for Jakarta a few years back when we drove through one of the worst thunderstorms I have ever witnessed. It included torrential rain and intermittent periods of hale that had cars scurrying for any overhead protection they could find. Our luggage was on the roof rack and thus we began our epic journey with several dripping wet bags. I’m sure the baggage checkers loved rummaging through that mess. This time around the weather was fine. We arrived in LAX around 5 p.m. and hunkered down for an 8 hour layover. LAX is quite the scene. It is one of the worst international terminals I have experienced; rather ironic since it is a primary point of entry for visitors to the US. One might think the city of LA would construct a showcase airport, designed to energize and excite expectant visitors and see off those leaving with a heartfelt, good ole American “Y’all come back now, you hear?” or at least a Hollywoodesque "See you at the Movies" or "Keep Reaching for the Stars". Instead the message one gets is “don’t bother me and while you’re at it go home” which is maybe the sentiment many in California have these days…. I liken the international part of LAX to a cattle yard except a bit more depressing. Everyone mills around the huge central area looking befuddled, anxious and a bit scared. Various surly airline "cowboys" herd the passengers into the correct (sometimes) "corral" where they wait for their fate to be determined:

Traveler: “Hi, we would like bulkhead seats and our bags to be checked through to our final destination if possible.”
Airline Person: “You need to pass your bags through security before you get your boarding pass – see that line over there with 5000 people in it, you need to go there and have your bags checked, then you can come back here and check in.”
Traveler: “But I have already waited an hour in this check-in-line to get my boarding pass and check in our luggage!”
Airline Person: “Didn’t you see that sign over there at the entrance to the check-in-lines concerning baggage security?”
Traveler: “Oh you mean the sign that the construction guys digging up the floor have hung their jackets over?”
Airline Person: “Yes that’s the one. Have a nice day.”

Throw in various LA oddballs, dramatic Latin goodbyes, security guys with machine guns, peddlers, people sleeping in corners here and there and it makes for a pretty interesting scene, unless you are in the midst of it with a small child - then it is rather tedious.

Fortunately my brother Eric and his family live in the area and met us for dinner and a visit. Emmerson was wired out of her gourd. It was well into her sleeping time but so much was going on that she did not know what to do. She was wide eyed and appendage flapping the entire time. My two nieces, Erica and Ashley, loved Emmerson in this mode and kept her occupied. Xiamara, my sister in law from El Salvador, and Alicia commiserated over the difficulties of living overseas and saying goodbye to family. Eric fulfilled his elderly brother duties and made fun of me for what I was to experience in the next day or so.

My brothers family at LAX with one very wired baby.

The flight from LA to Taipei was not full so everyone was able to spread out and we had two empty seats beside us in the middle bulkhead section. Emmerson slept in a wall mounted bassinet for most of that leg of the journey. In the a.m. of that flight an elderly Vietnamese women came and sat beside us and became Emmerson’s surrogate grandma. She held Emmerson for a bit and then gave us all sorts of advice on how to keep her happy. She also informed us that we should give Emmerson lots of water or she would not grow hair. Emmerson is still pretty bald so I hooked her up to a water bottle as soon as we arrived home. The rest of the trip was without incident and we took some video footage of Emmerson in the various airports.

Making friends

Chang Kai Chek International in Taipei is a rather strait forward, no frills type of airport. They pleasantly warn visitors via various signs that the death penalty awaits those involved in drug trafficking in Taiwan – and have a nice day. Kuala Lumpur airport is quite modern, very clean and nice to hang out in. That you are in a Moslem country is evidenced by; the high number of women sporting black, head to toe burqas along with really expensive designer sun glasses and high fashion shoes; the conveniently placed prayer rooms; and the outrageous price of beer. Not only the women were shrouded this time around in KL, but the entire city was covered in a mysterious fog. It just so happened that our arrival coincided with a curious environmental situation that would eventually escalate into what the Malaysian government has deemed a national emergency. Smoke from fires in Sumatra were blowing across the Straits of Malacca and engulfing peninsular Malaysia in a lung busting haze.

Finally we landed in Soekarno – Hatta International Airport, where we met Samsun, our friends the Wilsons’ driver and were whisked away through Jakarta’s own locally produced lung busting haze. It was incredibly difficult to leave friends and family in the States but after two car-rides, five airports, one monorail, three airplanes, five airline meals, and 43 hours it was finally good to be home.

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