Posts Tagged ‘Initial Descent’
My ID: 8:05am, Saturday, 09 May 2009: Muscat Seeb International Airport
Oman Air flight WY602 from Dubai
Coming from the hustling, bustling, steel-and-glass metropolis of Dubai, my Initial Descent into Oman had me expecting more of the same. Sure, I had heard that Oman seemed to preserve more of its traditional heritage than its more famous neighbor to the north, but given that Muscat’s arrival onto the international scene along with the rest of the major cities in the Gulf region, I was skeptical.
From the design of the airport itself to the slower pace of the immigration and Arrivals halls, I immediately understood that this wasn’t the same as Bahrain, Dubai, or even Doha. This place indeed marched to its own rhythm, and I was going to enjoy it.
Even the ride into town was different. There didn’t seem to be the maddening traffic prevalent in the other cities here. There were surely signs of Western influence—your occasional American restaurant chain or hotel—but it seemed more understated and subtle. Upon landing in my fifth city in the Middle East, I finally felt as though I was really in this part of the world.
My ID: 6:33pm, Sunday, 28 August 2005: Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Cathay Pacific flight CX721 from Hong Kong
My Initial Descent into Malaysia, via Kuala Lumpur International Airport (like so many others), had me thinking the entire country was a lush, green bed of palm trees. As far as I could see into the distance, rows and rows of palm trees, seemingly planned and organized. I had expected a tropical paradise of sorts, and my first impression was exactly that. And as KLIA is one of the most beautifully designed airports in the world, featuring large glass panels and atriums with more palm trees, that impression continued until long after I had arrived.
While this wasn’t my Initial Descent into Australia, or even into Sydney (this was my second visit), I had one of my more interesting airport arrival experiences here, worth sharing. Sadly, it may even provide a glimpse into Sydney’s culture, although let’s hope that isn’t the case!
For the last hour or two of my 13-hour flight from San Francisco, I had been talking to my seat buddy, a young lady from Montreal who spent a lot of time in Sydney working in modeling. She had the typical model look–tall, incredibly skinny and pale-skinned–definitely not my type. But she was nice, and most interestingly for me, she was from Montreal. I had always wanted to visit there, and was happy to get some “local” perspective.
This trip, she was to be reunited with her boyfriend, who lived in Sydney and awaited her at the airport. After standing in the customs queue together for another 30 minutes (after our 13 hours together on board), we were about to wish each other farewell and part ways, as she saw her boyfriend awaiting her in the arrivals hall. They hugged, I gave her a casual “good luck” and told her to keep in touch, perhaps by connecting on Facebook. I can’t emphasize enough that after 13 and a half hours of acquaintance, I was just hoping to have someone local I could get some information about Montreal from when I finally did get my act together and visit.
This, apparently, did not sit very well with her boyfriend. She introduced us and we shook hands, and I watched them walk off happily into the Sydney morning. I then proceeded to handle my international arrivals business (sorting out the money situation, phone, etc.), and was shocked to turn around 15 minutes later to a tap on my shoulder. It was the girl’s boyfriend, who had apparently left the girl he had been waiting months to see in the car, and felt the need to walk back into the terminal and seek me out with an important message.
(insert thick Aussie accent here)
Guy: Listen mate, I just wanted to let you know that she’s NOT going to keep in touch with you, and you are NOT going to see her again, alright???
Me: (so astonished that I can’t even stand straight) You actually left her in the car and walked back in here just to tell me that? Whatever man, I’m not even interested!
I then stepped aside and walked away, the situation apparently diffused, given that I didn’t receive any more taps on my shoulder.
But I didn’t know what I was more shocked by–the fact that the guy felt the need to come back and say this to me, when we were clearly introduced–or the fact that he actually had the nerve to tell his lady after they got back to the car that he had to go back into the terminal to talk to me. I mean, what’s she thinking at this point?? I just hope that he didn’t get any that night, and if he did, well, bless that poor girl (with a working brain cell, please).
So, this was my first perception of Sydney–meathead, gym-mongering guys just looking to show off their macho wares to impress a girl. I would later find that while this may be spot on for certain areas like Bondi, fortunately, not every Sydneysider is this way!
My ID: 3:53pm, Wednesday, 21 January 2004: Vancouver International Airport
Alaska Airlines flight AS673 from Los Angeles
My Initial Descent into Canada came on approach into Vancouver International Airport on a cold, gray January afternoon. Living in California at the time, I decided I wanted to see the city I had heard so much about. So I hopped on the plane and took in the beauty for the entire 3-hour journey up the coast. I was treated to a view of California’s Yosemite National Park, the downtown Seattle skyline, and excited for the bigger treat I had awaiting me upon landing.
Just walking down the corridor at YVR to the immigration queue, I knew so much about the culture and heritage of British Columbia. From Native American Indian artifact displays to mock lakes and trees to recorded nature sounds coming from the walls surrounding me, no detail was left untouched. While the immigration officers themselves were a bit stuffy, I found everyone else I encountered during my first 4-day stay to be exactly as I had expected: warm, polite, friendly and welcoming. There have been few cities I have visited where I felt immediately at home, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was one of them.
My ID: 7:40pm, Saturday, 11 August 2007: Doha International Airport
Qatar Airways flight QR52 from Washington-Dulles
My Initial Descent into the Middle East came by way of Doha, Qatar. Sent by my employer of the time for a business meeting, I wasn’t really sure what to expect on the other end of my 14-hour flight. I knew I was excited—a kind of excitement I had not felt since my Initial Descent into Asia a few years earlier. The feeling of embarking on a new adventure in a place completely opposite to everything familiar to me.
I remember following the course of the flight on my in-seat map, and noticing (as it would turn out later, in both directions) that we avoided flying directly over Iraq. I wondered if it was still some fallout of the political confrontation started by the United States. I remember looking down as we descended below the clouds and seeing nothing but yellow sand, stretching in every direction into eternity. I remember popping over a glowing sea of blue as we approached Doha, and seeing half-constructed buildings sprouting out of the desert like pine trees against the edge of the water below. And then I remember being on the ground.
Funneling out of a massive, state-of-the-art 777, into a little bus, it felt like the airplane I had just flown on came from the future and the airport I was now walking into came from the past (this is very soon to change, as New Doha International Airport nears completion). I began to sweat immediately upon feeling the August desert heat (my boss had warned me about this), and followed the queue into a glowing white immigration hall. After clearing customs and collecting my duffel bag, I will never forget walking around the corner into the Arrivals hall and being met with a wall of men—all men—all dressed exactly the same. The men were different colors—some very light, some very dark, and some in the middle—but all were dressed in white robes and sandals, with headdresses that were either white or red and white. If I didn’t know I was in a different world from the view out the window upon landing, I definitely knew I was now.
My ID: 3:32pm, Friday, 23 January 2009: O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg)
South African Airways flight SA208 from Washington-Dulles
Fresh off a 19-hour journey from Washington, DC, my first thought upon entering the terminal building at Tambo Airport was: “Shit, I can’t believe I left that in the overhead.” As usual with me, I left something in the overhead bin, only realizing it after I had deplaned. This time, it was something of sentimental value to me—my favorite knit hat. (See below). With a standby staff ticket, I could have transferred immediately over to Johannesburg’s domestic terminal for my the 7:30pm flight to Cape Town. Instead, I gave up my seat on that flight and took my chances on a later one, trying in vain to get a hold of the crew, lost and found, and ground service staff of South African Airways to see if there was any way to reclaim the had I had worn every winter day for about 5 years. I didn’t expect South Africa to be the most organized of countries to assist with such a loss, and when the first customer service agent laughed at my inquiry as to where the cleaning crew would turn it in, I knew I was really in South Africa J…Fortunately, it was just a hat. I couldn’t wait to lay eyes on Cape Town, and my imagination ran away with the thought of how many lions, tigers and hippos my path would cross at 35,000 feet along the way…
My ID: 3:28pm, Monday, 29 December 2008: Beijing Capital International Airport
Dragonair flight KA908 from Hong Kong
I had been to Hong Kong before, so my Initial Descent into China wasn’t completely foreign to me. But yet while Hong Kong has a very international, Western feel, I expected Beijing to be much different. I remember being nervous upon walking to the immigration queue. In hindsight, the only reason was because of the Chinese government’s strict reputation and the hassle I had to go through to obtain my one-year, multiple-entry visa from the USA.
Minutes after arriving in Beijing, I realized that this country was serious about its modernization plan (the airport was immaculate), and that everything I had heard about the Olympics earlier in the year—from the facilities to the technology—was accurate. It was also a much more diverse city than I expected, with expats living here from all around the world. This was an example of how many preconceptions I had gathered, now I had to let them go to enjoy this place to the fullest.
My ID: 8:21am, Saturday, 03 October 2009: Brisbane International Airport
Etihad Airways flight EY470 from Singapore
With sunshine reflecting off of royal blue Moreton Bay below, my Initial Descent into Australia was as beautiful and lush as I had expected it to be. Everything I had heard about this country was about its natural, physical beauty, and based on this first foray, I was not disappointed.
Customs, on the other hand, was a different story. Besides being just a few customs agents sitting in a room full of desks, leaving for an impossible queue, the authorities seemed intent on checking half of the bags coming through the hall. I had always thought Australians to be laid back and easygoing, which is perhaps why I didn’t expect the customs process to be more of a hassle than some of the US airports I’m used to, including New York City’s JFK or Los Angeles International. But that’s what I was dealing with, and I would find out within the next few days that my expectation of laid back and easygoing wasn’t really accurate even beyond the confines of a stuffy immigration hall.
Nevertheless, with a bright sun pasted atop a clear blue sky, I was happy to be in the Land Down Under for the first time!