Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Considering Drastic Action

So, the one lasting unfortunate mishap from my recent overseas trip was the loss of my iPhone. The silver lining is that I intentionally put off upgrading my phone out of an abundance of caution that something like this might happen. So while I lost a perfectly good phone that I probably would have kept using for some time (or at least passed on to another worthy user), I didn't lose a brand new phone.

But now I have a dilemma.

Yes, it was a perfectly good phone. But my 14 days with no very little connectivity (not that it would have been improved by having my iPhone - it probably would have been shut off and left in my suitcase) has made me wonder if I really need that phone.

Yes, I should have a phone. For safety purposes, at the very least. Yes, and iPhone or other advanced smartphone is nice. iPhone in my case is good  because it is compatible with my MacBook.

But not having it was also somewhat freeing. I had to make an effort and a conscious decision to check my e-mail, and I wasn't able to just Google "The Cremation of Sam McGee" when I forgot a stanza. I had to pick my brain to remember it.

On the flip side, I was also minus a handy flashlight, a calculator, my reflex-check clock (had to resort to checking the watch I intelligently remembered t pack), and a nifty handheld GPS unit. I also missed having a more incognito camera than my point-and-shoot, and the iPhone camera is a good camera for capturing quick informal moments. And yes, for travel selfies.

All-in-all, that little phone is convenient.

But is it necessary?

I have my MacBook. But now that I've gotten used have something smaller to take with me.

So I have a tablet. And if I had a tablet with 3G/4G capability, then I would have the internet-anywhere that I've gotten used to having with the phone. And with this tablet I can pick up my text messages and do pretty much everything I used to do on my phone, except make phone calls.

So, if I had a 3G tablet and a regular dumbphone (with a calculator, flashlight, and maybe even a halfway decent camera?), I could survive pretty well, right?

So, the choice is:
  1. Spend the money to upgrade to a 3G tablet and pitch into a dumphone...
  2. Go, spend the money to replace the cell phone and rejoin the rest of the kitted-up 1st world?
  3. Move back to the land where the internet is near non-existent?

Timor-Leste, the Reader's Digest Condensed Version

When you return from a trip and somebody asks, eyes all lit up and face all aglow, "So, how was it?!??!" All that person really wants to hear you say is, "Great. It was great."

It makes as much sense as a knock-knock joke:

Excited Inquirer: "Knock-knock!"
Traveler: "Who's there?"
Excited Inquirer: "How was the trip?"
Traveler: "It was really great!"
Excited Inquirer: "Excellent. Now it's your turn to ask me about my life since you left."

But like most knock-knock jokes, the formula keeps getting screwed up by the Traveler, and like all knock-knock joke, screwing up the formula just annoys the Excited Inquirer who will just make you try it all over again until they finally give up and walk away.

[Granted, as a seasoned Traveler, there are times I take deliberate delight in screwing up the formula, just to enjoy watching the annoyed Excited Inquirer decide to leave me happily alone.]

And so, with that in mind, I will summarize my recent travels to Timor-Leste:

Where did you go?

I traveled to Timor-Leste, often known here as East Timor.

Where's that?

It is half of an island that is part of the Indonesian archipelago, but is it's own country. Oops, I see I'm losing your interest. 

It's just north of Darwin, Australia. Still not following the formula?

It's in the South Pacific. Yes, like the musical.

How long did it take you to get there?

Nearly 24 hours in the air.

What did you do there?

Visited a friend/colleague I worked with in Vietnam who is now clinic manager for a local medical clinic in the capital city, Dili.

What stood out most for you?

Two things, and they're related: first was the enthusiastic, dedicated local medical and support staff, Doctor Dan and the other visiting doctors and medical students, and my friend the clinic manager at the Biaro Pite Clinic as they are determined to provide life-saving care to all who pass through their gate.

Second is the determination of the Timorese people, who fought against all odds and terrible genocidal oppression to become their own nation, and who are now actively engaged in proactive democracy and nation-building. 

...wow...I'm going to have to shorten that up.

Okay, it was the warm weather and palm trees on the beaches.

And the fact that they had the Packer game on in Chicago O'Hare on my way back.

What was your biggest disappointment?

That I didn't get to see the Southern Cross again.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Up In The Air Again

True confession, of which I am much ashamed: shortly after I returned from my stint in Vietnam, it was time to renew my passport. I haven't used it once tho travel overseas since. Until this week.

Now, some 24 hours in the air (including one 15 1/2 hour stint stuck in a single metal tube), three countries, and some 10 hours sitting in airports later, I am merely 3 more hours in an airport and one international flight away from my final destination. 

It feels wonderful. Old hat. And I probably won't want to do out again for at least another year.

Still, this trip is teaching me some lessons, new and old, already. Like:
  • When you get a new passport, sign it before the boarding gate attendant at your third airport finally notices. 
  • Yes, even if your final destination is 95 degrees and humid, do pack a down jacket for that first flight at 6 am and -5 degrees. You can use it as a neck pillow later. 
  • O'Hare sucks to hang out in. 
  • Yoga pants are great for long international flights. 
  • 16 hour flight? Go prepared for misery. Plan to read at least two books and watch at least one in-flight movie. Out won't seem as bad when you realize it's just going to be bad. 
  • Asia's version of the TSA  is worse than the regular one. You will get screened getting off the plane and transferring to your next flight (no filled water bottles allowed) and you will get screened yet again at your gate before you board your next flight. Again, no half-filled water bottles allowed. And if you forget, you will have tho chug that water while you hold up the ray of that line. 
  • Sleep is highly overrated. You can sleep when you're comfortable, or dead. 
  • If you have as many connections as I do, do NOT expect your checked luggage to make it. It didn't. 
  • Wi-Fi is everywhere now, but don't expect it to be on a plane, and don't expect to actually be able to connect to it. 
  • Do know where you're going. And don't rely on having a cell phone or internet access when you get there. 
  • Even if you're just transiting through Bali, you need to buy a visa. 
  • In the world where online check-in doesn't exist, you will have to wait until the appointed time too check-in for your flight. You can't just waltz in and expect tho spend 4 hours hanging at your gate. 
I haven't reached my final destination yet. I hope my next lesson is that this is entirely doable.