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Adventures in Travel

Surprisingly, after shirking my duties as a blog writer for a couple of months (mostly because I felt like I was just writing for my own entertainment), a few people reached out and said they enjoyed reading my inane comments. So, what the heck …

During the month of April, I had to fly home to obtain a new retirement visa, in order to keep living in Thailand. I flew from Thailand to China, from China to New York, and from New York to Texas. It was a 30-hour trip, with 21.5 hours of actual flight time. It was quite an adventure. I flew with Southern China Airlines from Chiang Mai to New York, which meant most of the people on my flight were Chinese. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with Chinese travelers, but I tend to think of them as the honey badgers in the world of international travel. They don’t give a shit about no airline rules! This is simply an observation in comparison with the many, many flights I’ve taken over the years.

It all began during the boarding process. Chinese travelers started lining up well before the actual time for boarding, with little regard for the actual boarding process. As we showed our passports and passes to the attendant, several people were sent back into the queue, because they tried to sneak ahead before their group was called. Finally aboard the plane, making my way down the aisle as people tried to stuff oversized bags into the overhead compartments, I finally arrived to my row, only to find a Chinese man sitting in my window seat. He motioned for me to take the middle seat (his assigned seat), but I was having none of it, and he finally relented with a fair amount of side-eye and a blatant exhibition of scorn. As I settled in, it was apparent it was going to be a full flight. Many of the oversized bags, had to be checked by the flight attendant before we could get underway. The departure was an hour behind schedule, which was worrisome, because I had only a short layover before having to catch my connecting flight. As we took off, nearly everyone on the flight ignored the prohibition of using cell phones or laptops, but we lived through it.

I must say, the actual service aboard the flight was outstanding. The flight attendants were attentive, and the in-flight meal was quite good. As we landed in Guangzhou, China, the announcements for our final descent were largely ignored. The honey badgers were constantly standing up to take their luggage out of the overhead bins (to insure a quick get-away when the plane stopped), and the lavatories were full. Even as I heard the landing gear come down, there was one gentleman who tried to make his way to the toilet. He was the only person on the flight who was admonished and ordered back to his seat.

When the plane finally landed, I could barely hear the announcement, “Please keep seatbelts fastened and remain in your seats until the plane comes to a complete stop,”due to the cacophony of seatbelt buckles clicking open. Of course, as the plane neared the arrival gate, several people were on their feet, queuing up to get off the plane. I’m not sure why it was so important to exit the plane as soon as possible, but it obviously was.

Upon exiting the plane, I only had a few minutes to reach my connecting flight, which of course was departing from the most distant terminal. I ran (which isn’t a good look for me), rushed through security and immigration, and arrived at my next flight just before the doors closed, with my belt hanging from my neck. The behavior during this flight, nearly mimicked the first one.

I’ve always been a bit puzzled why Chinese people tend to ignore simple rules when traveling. Maybe because of the strict oversight of their government and police, when presented the opportunity to rebel, they just go for it. I’m not sure. If I weren’t easily entertained, it might be annoying.

Once I arrived in Texas, I allowed myself a couple of weeks to gather the documents I needed to apply for my visa. The two most difficult to obtain were a medical certificate (ensuring I don’t have elephantiasis, tuberculosis, leprosy, or that I’m in the third stage of syphilis … no shit), and an FBI criminal background check. The background check was easy. I simply went to what is known as an “FBI Channeler,” had my fingerprints taken electronically, paid $50; and a couple of days later, my report was ready for me online. The medical certificate turned out to be much more difficult.

Because I’ve been living in Thailand for a couple of years, I no longer had a “Primary Care Provider” in the U.S., even the VA wouldn’t see me until I had one. The problem was I didn’t have much time, and every place required I meet with a doctor to establish myself as a patient. After going to the VA and two other clinics, I found a clinic with a doctor who had just had a cancellation and could see me. She turned out to be awesome, and signed off on my medical certificate when I met her.

Luckily, before leaving Thailand, I anticipated I might have a problem with this, and I went to Bangkok Hospital and had the tests done. It cost $40 with no insurance, with a one–hour wait for the results of a blood test, urine test, and X-Ray, ending with a consultation with a doctor. I showed my test results to the American doctor, so ended up not having to have the tests redone.

After getting all my documents together, I flew to Los Angeles, turned everything in to the Thai Consulate there, and had my visa the next day. One observation I had, is the TSA employees at LAX were the most miserable people I encountered on my trip. Airport security everywhere else, from Thailand, China, New York, and Texas, were friendly and polite. The folks in Los Angeles were surly to say the least, and I swear, I never saw even one of them smile or greet any passenger. I guess if I had to live in LA, I might be the same way.

So, now I’m back in Chiang Mai, where it’s extremely hot and humid (think Texas in August), and only have air conditioning in my bedroom. Now, I move from sitting in front of the fan in the living room, to the bedroom, when I need a break from the heat. I’m living the life a dog now, but the rain is coming soon!

One episode of reverse culture shock I had during my time back home is the price of food in restaurants! I know things are cheaper here, but I would swear food is at least 25% more than when I left the States in 2016. Does it have something to do with the hike in minimum wage? Or is it just my imagination?

Anyway, it was great to be home, to see some of my family, and to eat some of the food I miss while living in Thailand, but in a way, I feel like I’m back home. I guess at this point I have two homes. I’ll try to get another blog out before too long. I welcome your comments and look forward to hearing from you!