Well, that was a long day. Or two. Having been on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Tokyo, and then Thai Airways international to Bangkok for the CSBio2012 computational biology conference, I’ve lost track of exactly what time it’s supposed to be. Although my computer claims that in Toronto it’s 6:18 P.M., here it’s 5:18 in the morning and I’m wide awake.
Now, I’ve complained about time zones and travel before, but this trip is a whole new ball of wax for me – never having been east of Paris, nor west of Vancouver Island, a spin halfway around the world was bound to mess me up a bit. And it really is halfway – almost exactly 180 degrees on the globe.
Sunday afternoon, and Toronto’s Pearson airport was much as it always is. As usual, I showed up far earlier than necessary, and eventually climbed on to a completely-full 777 for a very, very long flght to Narita airport. The 777 always makes me smile, as my brother spent some years working on the software systems that run its environmental controls. If you’re ever on one, and it’s the wrong temperature – it might just be his fault.
The onboard meals didn’t help to un-confuse my internal clock, cycling backwards through a hot dinner, a container of pot noodles for lunch, and eventually breakfast, where I opted for savory rice porridge with shredded chicken and mushrooms. The flight slowly lost time, although I didn’t begin to realize it until the last hour and a half or so, when I realized that the chances of making my connection at Narita were becoming very thin indeed. I was getting progressively more nervous as I watched my hour and ten minute cushion evaporate. I learned later that the delay was due to us skirting a typhoon, or “flying around the wind” as one of the cabin crew put it.
Should you ever find yourself running for a very tight connection – Narita is definitely the place to do it. Airport personnel were there to guide us, to the extent of even having a printed notice board with all of the passenger names who needed to make the connection, the flight number, and the gate. Even the unexpected need to go through airport security again (not something I’m used to in the middle of a trip, but routine when changing countries I guess) didn’t slow things down too much. In the end, they waited the plane for us, and boarding was calm and orderly. Soon I was safely ensconced on another brand-new 777, this one belonging to Thai Airways International, a much less crowded affair. That famous Thai hospitality didn’t disappoint – smiling, calmer than the Air Canada crew, but quietly efficient. Digging into my package of crunchy airline snacks, I was slightly shocked to pull out a small, crispy fish – tasty enough, but another reminder that this Canadian boy has not traveled outside of North America and Europe. Lifting off from Tokyo I was stunned by an incredible, orange moon rising over the Pacific – too dark, and too far, and moving out of view too fast, for me to snap a decent photograph. As the plane skimmed down Japan’s Pacific coast, the view was of the ocean – had I been on the right hand side, I could have glimpsed Mount Fuji. Chewing on a tasty pork curry, laced with dangerous fragments of hot chili peppers, I could only regret that my entire Japanese experience had, in essence, been to not visit it. And in a heck of a rush, at that.
An hour or so, and Japan was only a memory, disappearing rapidly into inky blackness as we chased the terminator across the East China Sea. Place names loaded with historical meaning scrolled by on the in-flight map – Hiroshima, Da Nang, Phnom Penh. A 120-kph headwind eventually died out, replaced with a mild tailwind, as the airplane pushed 900 kph across the beaches of Viet Nam, invisible in the blackness below the faint ghosts of a wall of dark clouds.
At this point I was feeling distinctly gritty, just in time for refreshment in the form of a small tub of something cold. In the reddish cabin lighting it looked to be chocolate in colour. It turned out to be delicious green tea ice cream, which, accompanied by a glass of orange juice, was just right in the dry airplane air.
And so on to Bangkok, where I got the first taste of “visiting professor” hospitality (no nitpicking from the peanut gallery, please – I’ve mentioned before that I’m not really a “professor” per se) – a personal assistant to greet me, a golf cart ride through the vast expanses of Suvarnabhumi airport to a priority immigration lane, and a private car to deliver me to my hotel. Thank you, conference organizers – after however many hours of travel it ended up being, this was just what I needed. And now it’s early, the jetlag is lurking in a pre-dawn light, and I’m ready to meet up with my good friend Dr. Jonathan Chan for a visit to his university, and my first introduction to Thailand in the light of day.
Further thinking about this makes me remember that I left Toronto at 2:00 PM on Sunday, and arrived in Bangkok at about 9:40 on Monday night, with another hour or so to get to the hotel. My computer claims it’s now 6:37 PM Monday in Toronto, whereas it’s most certainly 5:37 AM on Tuesday. I suppose that the International Dateline has something to do with this. Any way you look at it, I think I was traveling nonstop for something like twenty-two hours.