For today’s post, I found the perfect example of what I am hoping to have people share for the “MyID” feature. A group of international students at Ball State University in Indiana tell about their first impressions of life in the United States. Special thanks to littleleafyuko!
Posts Tagged ‘My Initial Descent’
My ID: 26 December 1986 into San Francisco International
United Airlines (flight number unknown)
My Initial Descent into the West Coast came on a post-Christmas family vacation at the tender age of 7. We flew to San Francisco—my first long plane ride—and my first several hours on the West Coast were spent trying to make my ears un-pop from the airplane. I tried holding my breath, sneezing, chewing gum…nothing seemed to work.
Within a few hours, I had seen my first palm tree and my first sunset over a body of water. A few days later, we drove down the coast, and it was really the most beautiful site I had ever seen. Well, the train track that hugged the Pacific coastline, anyway. See, at that time I was fascinated by trains, planes, and little else. My only other recollection of that trip was that I apparently, according to the family albums, got in trouble in Knott’s Berry Farm for kicking Snoopy in the ass.
As far as cultural differences, well, it’s difficult to really evaluate that when you’re 7. Fortunately, I would have many other times to get back and learn about everything we plan to share with you in this space as we move forward.
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: 3:34pm, Tuesday, 22 March 2005: Narita Airport
United Airlines Flight UA837 from San Francisco
While it goes without saying that most first-timers to Japan arrive through the Narita gateway, my first true experience with Japan was, quite literally, at Narita Airport. The destination of my first trip to Asia was the Philippines, via Singapore, and my flight from the US touched down first in Tokyo. I’m not counting the hour I spent around Gate 54 as my first foray into Japan, but it just so happens that I had the reverse route back, six days later. This time, my incoming flight from Singapore left about a three hour window before I had to depart back to SFO.
Being the rookie traveler that I was at the time, I decided that instead of eating the same dried out sandwich and Pocky pack I had at Gate 54 earlier that week, I would stand in line at immigration to get my passport stamped. I had my fancy Narita Immigration sticker 30 minutes later, and stepped outside to breathe Japanese air for the first time—in the Narita parking lot. After a 15-minute tour of Narita’s long-term parking and train station, I thought better of my inkling to leave the airport, and went back to the gate for my flight…but not until I had experienced Japan for the first time!
My ID: Train 4:32pm, Friday, 07 June 2002; Stazione Milano Centrale
My Initial Descent into Italy came via the rails, arriving into Milano Centrale after a night’s journey from Munich. Along the way, as the Alps bore down upon me like an intimidating older brother, I saw in the distance countless waterfalls so rugged that man dare not attempt approach. Cutting river valleys that housed rocky streams, and huge mountainside cliffs with trees above. Only water, strong enough to hold the ships of the sea and brave enough to tumble the likes of Niagara and Victoria, could experience these places up close. The Alp lakes were stunning, scattered with islands and vast waterways resting peacefully in the mountains’ pocket.
While I enjoyed my first day walking around Milano, the next few days heading further south in Italy left me with a few impressions, some of which I have subsequently discounted and others with I still hold true today:
- Rome has a lot of bad smells in it!
- I’ve even seen little kids smoking here; everyone smokes!
- Road rules don’t seem to apply to scooters—they are everywhere and do whatever they want!
- Every building has elaborate designs sculpted into it—outside and inside.
- Italian guys are so forward, aggressive and (if you’re a male) unfriendly. Could the stereotypes be true?
- Italian guys wear really, really tight jeans.
- The concept of air conditioning has no meaning in Italy.
- The shoes people wear here look like bowling shoes.
- Many people here have small, prissy dogs…..not the big dogs I’m used to!
- There is no hospitality here. Business owners are rude, and nothing is complimentary.
Over the next several weeks, my impression grew to be that of a stark difference between the North and South of Italy. The further north I got, the more comfortable I felt. This was shaped by a few experiences, such as seeing a brawl break out in a stairwell at Naples’ Central Station within minutes of my arrival there, and some of the shady characters I shared train compartments with in the south.
(Note: Please do not get upset, my Italian friends—this was all taken directly from a journal I kept the first time I was in Italy, and “MyID” is supposed to be an unfiltered, unedited account of first impressions! I know now these aren’t all true :).
My ID: 1:22pm, Wednesday, 23 March 2005: Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Philippine Airlines flight PR502 from Singapore
The tone was set for my Initial Descent into the Philippines before we had even approached Manila. About two hours into my flight from Singapore, where I had just transited from the United States, the Philippine Airlines flight attendant serving my section pulled me aside and asked a question: “Do you play basketball in the PBA?”
Of course, I had no idea what that was (it turns out it’s the Philippine Basketball Association), so I politely suggested that while I do play basketball, I was not a PBA participant. The middle-aged woman apologized unnecessarily, saying that I looked like I played basketball (perhaps my bald head at the time suggested as much), and asked if I needed anything else to make my flight more enjoyable. I settled for some mango juice and reclined my way into Manila.
The pleasant exchange taught me a few things about what to expect upon my arrival, which turned out to be true. The people were not shy, yet very humble, warm, polite and wanted to make me feel welcome. While this can be expected in the hospitality industry, in the Philippines I felt it from everyone, and it was genuine (and perhaps this is why the hospitality industry around the world employs so many people from the Philippines). I knew the visit would be good, and indeed it was.
My ID: 7:10am, Friday, 28 November 2008: Copenhagen Kastrup International Airport
Scandinavian Airlines System flight SK926 from Washington-Dulles
My Initial Descent into Scandinavia was one of the most spontaneous travel moments I’ve ever experienced. With a four-day break from work, I decided the day before the holiday that I would fly to Copenhagen. I had done no advanced planning, no research…nothing. I literally just packed a weekend bag, put on my winter jacket, and stepped onto the SAS plane. I didn’t know where I would stay or what I would do, but as my flight was a red eye and I would be landing in the morning, I figured I would have a day to figure it out.
Before we landed, some nice Danish people I had met on board had given me directions to Vesterport, near Copenhagen’s central station. They even had made a few hotel recommendations. While my first few choices were not available without notice, I eventually found a temporary home, dropped my bag, and set out to explore the city, amazed that I could pretty much cover it on foot.
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: 3:28pm, 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.
MyID: 11:52pm, Monday, 29 August 2005: Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport
Cathay Pacific flight CX709 from Hong Kong
As I embarked upon my Initial Descent into Thailand, I knew little else besides the fact that everything was going to be cheap. I just didn’t realize how cheap. When I landed at Don Mueang Airport (which was “BKK” before Suvarnabhumi Palace opened up a few in 2006), I was surprised at the ease of which I found my bus (which cost me all of $1.50 into the town), and of course the golf course that lied between the runways (literally—I couldn’t believe it still existed in the post-911 days).
Upon checking into my $20-a-night hotel, I realized that I had gotten exactly what I had paid for—a cheap hotel. But when I walked down the street to the Holiday Inn, which itself was still less than $100 a night—and five star—I figured I’d do it better the next time I came.