I have to admit that Malaysia was never on my travel radar. It was never on John’s either. Malaysia brought up images of the movie, Entrapment, curry, and really not much else. When John discussed international assignments with one of the vice-presidents of his company, we never thought about Asia. We should have. It is the emerging market. His boss told him that despite wanting something in Latin America, the only available position was based in Kuala Lumpur and covered Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei. This isn’t a small territory. Indonesia, a population of 250 million people, is made up of thousands of islands, hundreds of different ethnic groups who speak tons of different languages.
John and I were both driven to live in another country again and for him, at least, to be able to work internationally and to travel. John arrived with in Kuala Lumpur about 2 weeks before I came to visit. I had 30 hours of travel ahead of me including layovers. My first flight was easy breezy, 1 hour from Kansas City to Dallas. From Dallas, I flew umpteen hours across the world to Japan. I felt so exotic and international. The flight was exciting and anxiety provoking. I checked and rechecked that I had my passport.
This wasn’t my first international flight of course. But, it was my first travel time of 30 hours.
Leg 1- 1.5 hours of flying time: Kansas City to Dallas.
No problem. I can do this in my sleep. I was fuelled with excitement and hope. My mind raced from thought of: fun, fun fun, to, I couldn’t wait to see John, to, I was going to get to see part of the world very few Westerners dare to see.
Leg 2: 16 hours of flying time: Dallas to Soul, South Korea.
This was going to be the big mamma flight. I flew coach and so I was crammed in a normal plane seat. John’s company flew him first class. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, to stretch out. Actually, I thought it would be better to not know because then I would always compare my other flights to first class. Luckily I was bendy and contorted into many pretzel-like shapes and sizes despite avoiding palates and yoga.
I plan my international flights like a master strategist. Transportation is half the fun for me. Getting everyone in their seats and taking off takes about an hour. Then comes the first round of drinks. Flying to Europe or Latin America, this is a standard. I got the feeling that flying to Asia, that Women shouldn’t imbibe. That was the feeling from the snide looks in the corners of the stewardess’s eyes. But, I am an American and I didn’t give a shit. I was claiming my nationality. And, I had 16 hours of flying time. Red wine please. Then came dinner. Flying to Korea afforded me an American version of dinner or a Korean version. I choose the Korean version and I would say that it was a hell of a lot healthier and spicier. It paired not so well with red wine, which I topped off, but I didn’t care. For dessert, I ate half of an Ambien. I counted on this helping me pass a few hours of my contortion phase with greater bliss. I felt the ambient work like a charm and the movie I was watching blurred into nonexistence. The rest of the flight I passed in and out of various stages of drowsiness and semi-consciousness by watching movies and daydreaming.
Leg 3, 6 hours of flying time: Soul, South Korea to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When I landed in South Korea, I was a blurry mess. Not having really slept, I felt like I was swimming and that half of my body was still in Dallas. I stumbled through customs, collected my bags and redeposit them with the airline again. This is a procedure encountered with International travel that no one has really adequately explained the importance of to me. With several hours of a wait time left, I meandered through the airport taking in the sights and sounds. It was evening there. It had been evening for 20 hours. The airport was bright still and a chorus of people was singing. Why? Good question. I’m not sure. But, it was ethereal and beautiful. The airport was like a mall I would expect to encounter in Manhattan and I was dazzled, or just jet lagged. I filled up my water bottle, ordered hot tea, found my gate and crumpled into a pile of semi-consciousness before departing again.
I lied to my family that I wouldn’t fly Malaysian Airlines. Not just months before, Malaysian Airlines flight 380 disappeared from existence. What they didn’t realize is that Malaysian Airlines is one of the biggest airlines in Asia and I was set to depart on Malaysian Airlines to Malaysia. I figured it had to be the safest airlines in the world at the moment to stand the world’s criticism after such an atrocity.
What I found interesting is that the individual computer/TV screens offered the Koran to read in-flight. And, you could give to an Islamic charity by placing money in an envelope located in the seat pocket. About a third of the women on the plane wore a hijab but they were colorful. Like the colors of Easter eggs, magenta, canary yellow, bright blue with purple embroidery. The women wore charms to keep their scarves in place. Some wore long robes that matched their hijabs while others wore hijabs with blue jeans or suits. The stewardesses wore a hijab that matched their uniform.
I experienced jet lag like this only once before. It was the first time I cross the International Date Line. This was a right of passage I made for myself. I had officially time traveled and now I did it again. Was it tomorrow? Was it today or yesterday? I traveled for one day but it was really 2.
When I landed, I was delirious both from jet lag from not sleeping and from excitement to see John. My muscle memory was the only reason I could walk. And there was John, beyond immigration, beyond customs and beyond the ridiculously slow luggage carousel. There he was beaming and there I was in his arms again, home.