After nearly 24 hours of continuous travel, I have reached Vietnam. The travels could not have been derailed any more than they were. My original itinerary: Seattle to San Francisco to Hong Kong to Saigon. My first flight was canceled due to mechanical issues (apparently it was the same plane that was canceled a day earlier, and apparently it was much to my benefit that I got to the airport so early so as to get rescheduled to the next plane). On board the next plan to SF, I would still make the connection to Hong Kong (but by a hair). I explained my situation to the United employee at the main desk, who bumped by seat up to an upgrade (not First Class, but approximately 15 rows closer to the front) so I’d get off the plane earlier and have a better chance at making that flight. All was lost, however, when the delayed plane, presumably the same exact aircraft that had the earlier canceled flight, was approximately 1.5 hours late in taking off. It was around 1 hour delayed when I woke up from the nap in my upgraded seat and the captain announced people could get off the plane to get food, or rebook. I decided to “deplane” and then get rebooked. This was a wise decision on my part: I talked with the amazing desk person, Mika, who got me the original upgrade, and after about fifteen minutes of her artistically figuring it out, I managed to get a transfer over to Asiana (the Korean airline) that would put me through Seoul/Incheon and then to Saigon. Glorious! And the cherry on top of the cake: I would get to Saigon 1.5 hours ahead of the previous route. When I got to the desk at the South Satellite terminal of SeaTac, the Asiana desk person, who was just as sweet and helpful as Mika, got me aisle seats for both planes. On top of all these delays? A couple meal vouchers that kept me running and in high hopes via coffee and baked goods.
Having been on Asiana, I was not surprised by the amazing quality of the entire flight experience. In fact, I enjoyed it so much this time around not via surprise but via contrast to a recent trip on Delta to NY. Though Delta is trying to pick up the slack of USA airlines with new technology and “experience”-based flying, they still fall short. Asiana’s seats are some of the most spacious. Their food is fantastic and free whiskey is actually a little more valuable than one thinks when the day is filled with stressful flying. All the free movies, music, and games built in to each of the seats is amazing as well. It’s hard to describe the “Asian” experience of Asiana, but I will say it’s similar to being on an Air Asia flight, and a China Air flight. Anyway, long story short: if you’re American and haven’t traveled East, then you haven’t traveled. You don’t know what you’re missing. It’s kind of existentially break-through.
I only had about fifteen minutes between getting off in South Korea and getting on the plane to Saigon, but I will comment that the entire process was smooth and enjoyable. Maybe because I’ve done it before? On the previous plane I watched such mediocre hollywood hits as Jupiter Rising, Monster University, and Seventh Son. I fell asleep to Exodus: Gods and Kings. I read bits and pieces of Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual which is delightful and makes great travel reading. It’s one of six books I brought on this trip. I listened to Billie Holiday. There was, needless to say, a lot of sleeping.
Getting through security, passport control, and customs at the airport in Saigon was also very easy, and I think it was so enjoyable because I didn’t have to wait in any huge lines. I do remember all of my previous times in Vietnam being counterpointed with Jason. This time around, I had myself to keep myself company. Me alone with my thoughts. The taxi ride was familiar but silent. Inevitably we got to Bizu Hotel District 1, located right in the heart of the backpacking district, the same general location Jason and I stayed in when we came here 2 years ago. Nothing has changed, though the young Vietnamese kids hanging out drinking and partying look even younger than I remember. I picked up some smokes and some water, and in the course of doing a short walk to stretch my legs, lasting 15 minutes, the familiar shouts and calls for massages, marijuana, moto drivers, and beer specials washed over me in numbness. It’s my goal to not do any drinking while in Vietnam. We’ll see if I can hold true to that desire. I look forward to taking it easy and having a slow pace that meets with the humidity and the long, frantic trails of the tiniest ants in all the world.
Tomorrow I’ll be going out with my real camera, taking pictures of parks, pagodas, and other sights that I missed the first time around. I’ll also be meeting my dear friend Dede, who I regularly spent time when we both worked in Cambodia last year. Hopefully I’ll still enjoy the coffee with condensed (sweet) milk, the baguettes, and the noodles all on the horizon. Hopefully I’ll continue to stay active and engaged with my friends in the USA via G-chat, Facebook, and Whatsapp. Vietnam, though blocking Twitter, offers free international texting via T-Mobile. It’s these small amenities I didn’t have the first time visited that are truly making this experience different in subtle though alarming ways.