Strangers on a Plane: Day 15

I don’t need to check out until 12 pm, and the bus is coming at 11.45 am. I awake around 9 am, grab breakfast and then pack my bag. I’ve got a little time still so I head out into the streets around Chinatown to take what I’m calling B-roll photos – better or newer photos of places I’ve been and mentioned for this blog. (B-roll is apparently the term used for footage in videos that shows shots of cities or locations before the presenter comes on and talks.)

It’s hot again. Really hot. I have a shower before packing, check out and then spend an hour posting up photos for a blog entry. Just as I’m finishing the receptionist tells me the bus is here. Perfect timing.

I’ve put my white shirt on today. There’s nothing worse than being hot and sweaty when you get on a plane and then feeling bad for the people that have to sit next to you. The linen feels much cooler than the heavy cotton of my black T-shirts. I also feel it would be nice to look smart for checking in – you never know, they might make you SFU: suitable for upgrade.

There’s a girl from the hotel also getting on the bus. There’s a row of single seats down one side of the bus and an aisle and then a double bench. She says hi as I get on. I take the single seat, and she’s saying that if the bus is going to busy I can sit on the bench next to her, but I say I want the legroom and the ability to slide my legs out into the aisle.

We continue talking. She’s very chatty. She’s been doing a work placement in Kuala Lumpur for six months. It’s just ended, so she’s flown from KL to Singapore for the night to get back into KL for a tourist visa. Her family are coming over from the Netherlands to visit her for a couple of weeks and then she’s going back.

We talk about our experiences living in Asia. I say I’m surprised that Singapore isn’t so sterile, but she says she’s glad it is, as KL can be rough and grimy. I say Singapore reminds me a little of KL in terms of the buildings and the shopfronts, but she says that a lot of that has gone now in KL, replaced by newer buildings. We talk about Korea and Malaysia and how it can be hard to penetrate the cultures and how the cultures can restrict building relationships. It Korea it is a very rigid upward hierarchy, and in KL there are certain roles that people pertain to. She says friends feel it’s weird that you can work with people but not get to know them – the Malaysians appear to remain in their roles as employees rather than friends that work together. I tell her that i explain to Koreans that in English, the language isn’t formal in an upwards way like in Korean, it’s more formal in a sideways manner; that is that the further away someone is in terms of how well you know them – say, a waiter or waitress – you would be more polite, but as you get to know someone the formality can be chipped away. She says she’s been struggling to think of how to explain it and that she likes that analogy and will use it.

We’re getting off a different terminals. We wish each other safe journeys, and I continue onto Terminal 2. I self-check in. I’m here four hours ahead of my flight, just because of the bus pick up times. I spot a sign that says you can self-check in up to four hours ahead. Perfect.

I drop my bags and head through to departures. I’m surprised that there’s no immigration desk or even bag scanning. I scan my passport, put my thumbs on the reader as I did when I arrived, and then I’m in.

I arrive in departures at the point at which I left on Thursday night – next to the big Welcome to Singapore sign. The terminal strikes me again as being a bit old-school. Heavy brown carpets and kind of old-fashioned signage. From here I know there is a Relay newsagent – I popped in when I arrived on Thursday. It’s kind of weird to see the English magazines, especially the UK ones. In Korea you can find a small range of magazines in book shops if you go hunting for them, and they’re often mainly Korean or American ones. I consider buying a couple but decide not to.

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I got my $20 key deposit back when I checked out and I use this for lunch. There are a wide range of restaurants but it’s really crowded. I look for something Asian – I have not been allowing myself western food (apart from breakfasts), but I opt for a set of a slice of pizza and some wings and drinks, as this will allow me to use the $20 and get a couple of small coins back to keep for my collection of coins/notes from each country I’ve visited, plus there’s a table right next to the pizza joint. I order and pay and move towards the table and then some girl just grabs it.

I perch on the ledge of a flower bed and gobble the pizza. There are desks and free Wi-Fi stations so I spend an hour writing up another blog entry before roaming the terminal. It was too early to assign me a gate when I dropped the bags, so now I check the boards and see I’m at the other end of the terminal from my gate. I wander around looking in the shops and very nearly consider buying a pair of headphones I have coveted for a while. I will save $170 buying them here in duty free, and if I hadn’t put the shirts and shorts on my card I would have had just enough to cover it. (To be clear, I’m talking about my UK bank card and account. My bank card in Korea only allows me to use ATMs for cash, not make purchases in shops). I wander around an Apple reseller store, who are also selling the headphones. I head to the perfumery and furtively spray myself with some Bvlgari so I don’t smell too bad to my neighbour on the plane. It has begun to rain – bit, fat, heavy rain that I haven’t seen since Hue, so I take a picture out of the window before making my way to the gate.

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Surprisingly this is where I scan bags. I’ve never seen it done this way before. Interesting. I paid extra for an exit row when booking the flight. It’s a 2-4-2 layout and I took the aisle seat on the left (I never do window seats). Luckily no one is in the seat next to me.

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The flight attendant sits opposite me. The only part of flying I don’t enjoy is the take off. Taxiing is okay, but when we get to the runway the nerves kick in. I was totally fine before a very rocky flight from Bali to Hong Kong in 2006, and when I went to Japan a couple of months later I had a sort of panic attack on take off and since then I’ve always been nervous about it happening again. The last couple of years I’ve actually got much better – I read a tip that is to lean forward and watch out of the window as you take off so you’re better orientated with the angle of the lift off.

I’m actually not that nervous on the taxi. I’m feeling fine. I’m just sitting upright and for some reason just drumming my fingers together while staring out of the window. The flight attendant sitting opposite me asks me if I’m feeling uncomfortable or something. Just nervous energy, I say. I tell her that the only part I don’t like is take off, but I have my technique, and don’t be alarmed when I lean forward – I’ll practically be in her lap. She tells me I can move back to another row as this back part of the plane isn’t full, but I say I’ve paid for the seats and I’ll be staying here for the legroom. She laughs and says it must be tough to be a tall flyer. I say I always fight for an exit row – when I’m not flying in premium economy or business. She leans to look out of the window as she thinks about how the angle will change. I tell her I usually do it until the seatbelt sign is off, then I lean back and relax. Turbulence is no problem – I just lean back and close my eyes and it never bothers me. She asks me if that means I won’t be eating. Oh no, I say. I’ll be definitely be eating.

We chat during the lift off and the take off. She’s been working for the airline for a year. She asks where I’m from. I tell her I’m living in Korea, and it’s not my first time to Bali. She says she has never been to Bali – the flight attendants are not allowed off the plan; not even onto the gangway. They have to stay on the plane, and of course they turn around and come straight back. She hasn’t been on a long haul flight yet, where they leave and stay overnight.

I’ve never really chatted with a flight attendant in this way before. Maybe with the white shirt I look more inviting to talk to than when wearing black, I think, since Helen on the bus was chatty with me too. I hotch over to the window seat to look out at the view and also to lean back – there’s no one behind the window seat so I can go back as far as I want guilt-free. The pilot has promised some light turbulence during the flight. We do have some wobbles, but it’s not too bad. There are lots of clouds at first, but they soon clear and I get some pictures of the wing out of the window.

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It’s a short flight – just over two hours. Pretty much after the meal we begin our descent. The pilot says there could be some turbulence. By now the sky is pink as the sun is setting, I take a time lapse video just to see if it will capture the darkening skies. The cabin crew are instructed to take their seats.

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I tell the flight attendant that landing doesn’t make me nervous at all. We talk about how pretty the sky is. We start to descend into the clouds. I say that the only thing I don’t like about the clouds is that they make the plane bump around. It’s getting dark now and hard to see out of the window. We seem to be in a type of ‘cave’ of clouds, and then we hit the thick layer below us. The plane lifts and rocks to the side. We wobble and shake. The plane seems to drop – it feels a little like we lift out of our seats as we drop and shift to the left and then to the right and then up again. The flight attendant squeezes her eyes shut. People in the cabin behind me gasp and squeal. I find it quite fun. The flight attendant says it’s like a rollercoaster ride.

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It happens again, only it seems to be worse this time. More squealing and gasping from behind. Someone actually screams. The attendant grasps onto the side of her seat. We’re really rocking and lifting and wobbling. Thick, heavy clouds stream past the window. I feel fine, though – I’m even smiling. I’ve never heard of a plane being brought down by a cloud, after all.

The plane settles – just a little light shaking. I say to the attendant that if this had happened on the take off it would have been a very different story – I would have been terrified. I tell her that I hope it’s not this bad when you take off again. “I wouldn’t mind another round,” she says.

We break through the clouds and have a very smooth landing. For some reason there are fireworks going off behind the terminal. I tell her about the fireworks and flag fly past in Singapore and joke that it’s like I’m being welcomed again.

I wish her a safe flight home as I leave. It’s quick and easy getting through Bali airport, and I have booked a driver to take from there to Ubud through my accommodation. I find him easily and we set off through the heavy airport traffic. It should take about 90 minutes to get to Ubud. It’s 8:01 when I check my watch after leaving the toll gate. The driver says it’s hot outside and turns on the air conditioning, but after the last couple of weeks to me it is cool and fresh, and I almost felt a little bit chilly on the walk to the car. I tell him it’s not my first time in Bali, and we talk along the way, chatting about aspects of Balinese culture and places I remember from previous trips that we pass by.

We get to Ubud at 9:25. I’m staying in a bungalow near the main palace. It promises ravine views on the sign outside, and I seem to be at the far end of the complex. My outside terrace is huge and it has a great big day bed and table on it, and the bed in the room is enormous. The terrace is in complete darkness and I can hear insects and running water and the wind in the trees. It’s quite different to anywhere that I’ve stayed before in Bali.

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I dump my bags and head out for a short walk to the bars for some satay and a Bintang – it wold be rude not to, after all. I’ve got a full day planned for tomorrow, and it’s fine that the bar closes about an hour later. I head back to the jungle for a nice, long sleep.

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