Saturday, November 7, 2009

Will This Never End?

Later Friday

The wheelie arrived just as MA started to get nervous. Boarding was to commence at 11:45 and the wheelie didn’t show up until after that. As a result, we sailed through security and onto the plane. Singapore’s airport is unusual in that each gate has its own security scanners. There is no security check point per se when one enters the departure area, just a passport/boarding pass verification.

We were unprepared for what we saw when we entered the airplane. First and foremost, there was an ethereal air to the cabin because there were misters in operation which made it look foggy. Then there was seat configuration – the entire plane is Business Class. On EVA, the seats in Business Class had been set in a 2-2-2 format with quite spacious seats which became almost-flat beds [that we slide out of]. On SQ022, the seats were 1-2-1, seriously wide seats which are supposed to convert to flat beds for sleep. Service was excellent and attentive. We were given printed menus which listed all of our dining options as well as all of the never-ending drink choices. Naturally, we chose sodas again.

Soon we had slippers, eyeshades and earphones. We navigated the 50-page booklet of entertainment selections from first-run movies to books-on-CD to television programs to music CDs in every possible genre and language. D selected a Dave Brubeck CD for background listening while he updated and MA chose the movie Cheri. Unfortunately, her movie would not play properly despite her best efforts and those of two crew members. Shortly after the last attempt, the entire system was shut down while someone tried to fix it. It could be a long flight for some people if there is no entertainment system. Ninety minutes down; fourteen-and-a-half hours to go.

About two hours into the flight, we were served lunch: lobster and mesclun salad; beef fillet with parsnip puree and roasted vegetables; ice cream; and candy. Because we had the two center seats, we were served by different attendants and D was finished his entrée before MA was even served. The entertainment system never did work properly for MA and one of the lead stewards [how decadent a word now], offered her S$100 toward any item[s] in the in-flight sales brochure, certainly less than the round-trip ticket we asked for but generous nonetheless. A little more than four hours into the flight, with almost thirteen-and-a-half to go, the lights were lowered so people could sleep.

We each slept for about an hour but discovered that the flat beds on Singapore Air were actually less comfortable than the multi-position seats on EVA. True, we tend to slide off the end of the EVA seats if we extend them fully, but they are otherwise more ergonomic. At 8:45 p.m. Singapore time a flight attendant saw that we were awake and [1] closed MA’s bed before D had a chance to break it and [2] brought her a voucher for $100 US to use in their on-board catalog. We had assumed that their penance was in Singapore dollars since all of the prices were listed in that currency. MA had decided on her choices but now had to force herself to spend another S$50 or so. [She actually overspent, we discovered, and we will have to pay SIA about $10, a small price for all of the stuff we got.]

We are now approximately nine-and-a-half hours out of Newark and switching to EST for time references; thus, it is 7:55 a.m. on the east coast and we expect to land around 5:30 p.m. The Longest Day continues with more food being served within the hour. By 10:30, we had finished what little we were going to eat and the trays had been cleared. We had an appetizer of chicken and lamb satay; a duck liver mouse with salmon; and our entrees – rosemary infused chicken with mushroom timbale [mousse], coarse mustard basted potatoes and peas. The chicken was tough but MA liked the mushroom timbale. D was not hungry and ate very little of any course, even skipping dessert! MA had a peach crumble which she said was wonderful. As we have noted before, on a trip like this, we really eat our way around the world. To top it off, there will be "breakfast" before we land in Newark in seven hours [even though it will be 5:30 in the afternoon]. We’re hoping Continental does not offer any food s we can attempt to sleep on the way to PBI.

D used some of the time today when he could not sleep to draft a letter to EVA praising Daniel Fau for his efforts. Once we find a mailing address, we will send that off to EVA. Daniel deserves recognition for all he did for us [and probably many other passengers] yesterday. We may also send a letter to the management at Changi about the SATS lounge staff who were so kind to us. We spent so much time in the lounge that we felt like family.

Things continued in that twilight that is an airplane with all of the shades drawn. We tried unsuccessfully to sleep and were bleary-eyed when the lights went on as we approached Newark. For some reason, we decided to double-check our boarding passes for the next flight which we was to depart about two hours after we landed. We had plenty of time because the Singapore Air clerk had routed our bags to PBI and printed out the boarding passes.

Wrong! The boarding passes were for flight 745, not flight 345. CO745 was supposed to take off at 4:45 and we discovered this while airborne at 5 o’clock. We could not find our luggage claim checks to see if at least the bags were right, but that didn’t matter. We immediately told one of the cabin attendants about our problem; she couldn’t do anything, of course, but we felt better sharing our angst. Apparently, the flight attendant told somebody because when we deplaned just around 6:45, we were met by our wheelie, Mrs. Patel, as well as a member of SIA’s ground support team who was aware of our situation and assured us that things would be fine. She told Mrs. Patel to do what D had told MA we would do – clear Immigration; collect the luggage; clear Customs and go to the Continental counter which re-directs in-transit baggage. The race was on! Mrs. Patel, who soon became our new best friend, dashed through the Newark terminal as fast as her 63-year-old legs would carry her. She took every shortcut she knew, pushed ahead in lines and created her own lines. As soon as we exited the baggage and bureaucracy area, the SIA rep was there to guide us through the re-tagging of the bags and the reassigning of seats on the correct flight. Luckily, we still had Daniel’s handwritten order showing the re-assignment to this itinerary, so Continental couldn’t even charge us for checking the bags.

Mrs. Patel must have thought we were in a hurry because she rushed us through security and to the gate. At the security check point, she tried to tell the screeners that MA could not stand or walk, but that ploy did not work. MA was almost finished with her wanding by the time D got through the metal detector the fifth time [Cell phone? In the carry on. Belt? Take it off and hold your pants up. Cell phone case? Yep, it has metal and a magnet. Watch? Can’t be too sure.] Mrs. Patel left us at the gate and we tipped her royally – we might have made it in plenty of time, but she took us as her personal mission tonight and she was sure she recognized us from October because she sometimes does security at EVA.

The Continental flight left on time, arrived early and was cramped. There was no snack this time other than pretzels and sodas, but we had done nothing but eat for the past 18+ hours anyway and had, in fact, skipped the "breakfast" snack before landing in Newark.

Almost home now. D had called Tony, our driver, from Singapore to explain the change of plans. With the time difference, we are sure D woke him up, but he remembered us and was waiting in the cell phone lot for our call. Our bags were among the first on the carousel, so off we went, out the door, into the car and home to our own beds.

Medical Update: D’s intestinal difficulties had not improved even by Saturday morning; in some ways, they were worse because he is tired of them. At MA’s urging, he called the family doctor and got the answering service who had the on-call doctor call back. He was pleasant and seemed to know what he was doing [but so did Dr. Isabela]. He had doubts about a fungal infections but could not rule out salmonella or a parasite. Since pro-biotics and Cipro had not helped, he prescribed something else, suggested D stay close to home and call the regular physician on Monday. Let’s hope this is the last entry about this subject!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Longest Day, part 93

Friday, November 06, 2009

We spent the night at the Traders Hotel in Singapore. EVA picked up the cost of a taxi, the room and the return taxi this morning. We could have eaten dinner and/or breakfast in the hotel dining room but opted not to. The room was tiny compared to the Marriott and smelled of stale cigarette smoke. Hotel staff told D that they had run out of non-smoking rooms when the influx of EVA passengers filled the hotel yesterday; most of those passengers “checked out” in time to catch the rescheduled flight to Taipei which Daniel said was supposed to depart at 11:30.

Prior to leaving for the hotel, we spent even more time with Daniel. He escorted us through the terminal to the Immigration check point where some officious clerk ran him through circles because we were not with the rest of the EVA group; we had already cleared Customs when we entered the airport earlier in the day and now we were trying to enter Singapore without having gone anywhere. Daniel sent the wheelie to do the running around and he sat with us and chatted about his wife and children. When we were finally allowed to enter Singapore, Daniel and the wheelie took us to taxi stand, bypassed the queue and sent us on our way.

The driver wasted no time getting us to the hotel where he was paid by front desk personnel. We were shown every courtesy even though we weren’t paying and soon we were in our room [smaller than an inside cabin] and our bags delivered. We were asleep by 10 o’clock having spent a long time getting nowhere.
We were up by 7 this morning thanks to internal alarms and no heavy curtains on the window. After doing morning ablutions, we were ready to go 8:30. D had reconnoitered the breakfast buffet but was not enticed into eating anything. MA decided to play it safe and ate a cereal bar from our collection. [D had bought these and leb kuchen on a shopping trip to the grocery at Paragon 2 days ago.] We checked out of the hotel with no problem and the clerk handed us $25 in Singapore currency for the taxi ride back to Changi. The ride in last night had cost $19.60 and D was a little concerned that the $25 would not be enough with morning rush hour ERP fees and fees . It was close, with the taxi ride totaling $24.35 on the meter. D congratulated the driver, Mr. Heng, on a job well done and gave him the $25 after he loaded our bags on a trolley. Note: Baggage trolleys seem to be free in every airport in the world except in the US. It’s a minor expense but it is so anti-tourist that one wonders if it is worth it in the long run.
Mr. Heng had dropped us at Door 5 which was marked Singapore Airlines Business Class. Sure enough, just inside the door was Counter 6, the one Daniel had told us to find. Score another point for Daniel. The counter was not busy and we right up to a clerk who handled us smoothly. All we had was a hand-written form showing the re-routing from EVA flight 226, but Singapore had us in the computer with our seats already assigned; Daniel said he could not promise that they would be together, but they are. The clerk also checked our bags through to PBI and issued our boarding passes for the Continental flight from Newark.
While waiting for the wheelie, we checked e-mail messages and discovered that Jon is not due in Singapore on his way to Mali until 7 p.m. We had hoped that it was 7 a.m. so we could see him one last time. The wheelie took us to the Silver Kris Lounge, a far cry from yesterday’s surroundings. This lounge is tremendous, quiet and well-appointed. We found a spot overlooking the entry hall to T3 and dropped our bags before exploring our breakfast options. We found breads and pastries as well as 4 kinds of flavored butter; quiches; Asian selections; chicken wings; fruit; and cheese. There were sodas, of course, as well as Tiger beer on tap; a wide assortment of teas; and a coffee/cappuccino machine. We ate at a dedicated counter rather than having to balance plates on little tables. Altogether, it was quite satisfactory, as Henry would have said.
Once we were finished, we returned to our seats and MA read newspapers while D did the daily update. Lounge staff members found us while we were getting sodas to bring back to our seats and confirmed the wheelchair. The apparent norm here is for the wheelies to keep the passenger’s boarding pass so they won’t be forgotten, so MA was relieved when the lounge staff returned her boarding pass; she worried all day yesterday that she would not have it if/when we were ready to board the plane.
The flight should begin boarding in a half-hour or so. With any luck, we will have 16 hours of smooth air, and lots of sleep, before landing in Newark this afternoon.
The Longest Day Continues.

Read this second!!

Thursday, continued

It is now 6:15 p.m. and we are still at the airport.

When it became obvious that our flight to Taipei was not leaving at 3:15, we were told that passengers would be taken to a transit hotel until the plane was ready. We realized that the EVA staff had been spending its time and efforts with the mostly-economy class passengers who were in the waiting area; like good Do Bees we had returned to the Business Class lounge and appeared to have been forgotten. Time dragged on. The lounge staff, who are not EVA employees, passed on the information that the flight had been rescheduled to 11:00 tonight. Even with the supposed 3:14 departure we would have missed our connection. An 11 p.m. liftoff meant a night and a day in Taipei in order to catch the flight tomorrow if there was room. It was a mess. We [the collective] wanted to see an EVA rep but that wasn’t working out because the reps were busy getting passengers into taxis for the ride to the hotel. Eventually, all of the other lounge lizards went off to the hotel on the chance that they could get some answers or satisfaction or at least vent a little.

We, on the other hand, remained calm but resolute: we would not leave to lounge until an EVA rep came to talk to us. Having MA in a wheelchair probably helped our cause, too. Finally, “Daniel” came to greet us. D explained that we did not care about getting to Taipei; our concern was getting to New York and then West Palm. He also told Daniel that JAL, ANA and Singapore all had flights from here to JFK tonight. Daniel hurried off to see if he could rebook us on one of the other carriers [We thought it would be funny if somehow we ended up on the Singapore Air flight to Paris with Jon, but it was not to be]. In the meantime, we were each given a $5 phone card which we couldn’t really use and Daniel personally escorted us to the food court to get dinner while he finalized everything. His plan was to send us on JAL to Narita [Tokyo] and then on to JFK with a Continental flight from JFK to PBI.

We went to dinner where MA had Indian and D had something that wasn’t. We weren’t really hungry. When we were back in the lounge we discovered that things tend to fall apart and the wheels had fallen off of Daniel’s little red wagon. The JAL flight was full – at least Business Class – and there were problems with the domestic flight as well, although that was a little garbled in the conversation. Regardless, his latest offer has us leaving Singapore tomorrow at 12:15 in the afternoon and flying directly to Newark on Singapore Airlines, reputedly the best in the world. We will be in Business or First Class, of course. We are scheduled to get to Newark at 5:15 and leave 2 hours later for West Palm, arriving at 11 p.m. It’s not ideal because we will not get home until after 11:30 and our decompressing night in a hotel will come before the long flight, not after it. Still, it is one less plane change and we don’t have to leave at 11:30 p.m. as we would have with JAL.

We are beginning to feel like Tom Hanks – we have spent so much time in the lounge that the staff feels like family and calls us by name. At one point one of the attendants took our baggage trolley and hid it so no other passenger would abscond with it. And they like Grandpa’s monkey tattoo. Daniel has been such a gem that we asked him for a comment card so we could let his superiors know how impressed we were.

With any luck, this will be the last entry until after we get home and sleep for a few days.
It’s been quite an adventure!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Emerald City

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our last full day in Jakarta started slowly with brunch at Koi, the same place we had brunch 3 weeks ago. Friends of Jon and Briton met us there with their infant and we had a very enjoyable time. MA had the French toast with caramelized banana and D had scrambled eggs, hash browns and spinach. It was the biggest meal he had had in a long time.

Back at the house, we had a leisurely day. We napped a bit in the afternoon and then packed for the trip home. Carter helped so the packing only took twice as long as it did when we left WPB. Finally, everything was done. Jon grilled hot dogs and veggies for dinner. The kids went to bed late after watching Blue’s Clues with Grandma and Grandpa until almost 8 pm. We talked with Jon and Briton before heading to bed around 9:30.

Monday, November 2, 2009

We were up really early this morning [4:30!] after a night of intestinal difficulties, so it was already going to be a long day. We saw Jon off to work and Carter off to school before Caiden was even up. Because Kusnadi had to take us to the airport, Caiden and Ati went to school in a taxi which Ati had to hail by walking out to the main street. Caiden was happy about the taxi but suddenly had a little breakdown when we said we were going to America this morning. He wanted to go to the airport with us; he loves flying and hotels. He went sobbing with Ati to the taxi and we loaded our stuff in the minivan [well, Kusnadi loaded the van].

We left the house just after 8 a.m. The drive through Jakarta and to the airport took almost an hour and a half. We still had plenty of time to kill before our 11:40 flight to Singapore. The Singapore Airlines counter was deserted when we arrived and we waltzed through check-in and security. There are several layers of security at the Jakarta airport, each repeating the steps from before. We spent some time at Starbucks where MA had her favorite, passion fruit iced tea, and a chocolate chunk scone. D was still not too anxious to eat, so he chose not to have anything.

Boarding was supposed to start at 10:40, a full hour before departure, so we headed for the gate. When we got there, there were lots of passengers waiting in the hallway but no one actually going down the ramp to the waiting area. We weren’t sure if it was open yet but decided to see. Sure enough, we were the first ones to appear there. Of course, we had to pass our carry-on bags over for another x-ray screening and then found seats for the wait. After we got comfortable, staffers came to ask us to bring our bags back to the screening area so they could hand search them. We don’t know what they were looking for, but they found nothing of interest and we went back to our seats.

The flight actually left pretty much on time. Although the flight to Singapore takes only 80 minutes, Singapore Airlines managed to serve lunch to 300-plus passengers. We had a macaroni & sausage kugel with a jello chiffon dessert. It wasn’t bad and we were hungry.

MA’s wheelchair was waiting in Singapore, of course, and we sped through the airport to collect our bags. Our wheelie wouldn’t let D handle the bags. As he identified the bags on the belt, she hauled then off and onto a trolley. We glided through customs and immigration and emerged into the waiting room to look for Albert Tan, our cabbie. As it turned out, Albert was with another client and had sent someone else to cover for him. The replacement drove like a maniac, weaving in his own lane throughout the ride to the Marriott. At one point, D thought he was going to hit a Jersey wall; later he almost rear-ended a stopped car before slamming on the brakes on the rain-soaked street.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we settled in and took the requisite nap. With the threat of rain, we didn’t want to try Clark Quay, the outdoor dining and entertainment venue, so we marched down Orchard Road to the Paragon shopping plaza and had dinner at a dim sum restaurant – won ton soup [with spinach-filled dumplings] and steamed pork dumplings along with hot tea and cold drinks. It wasn’t exotic but it was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. After settling the bill, we walked across the mall to our favorite Starbucks to try the wi-fi.

Normally, wi-fi service is free at Starbucks, but try as he might, D could not get a connection. Last year, there had been no problem; at first we stole the signal from a nearby mobile phone store, then got the password from the Starbucks’ staff. This year, though, the system had changed. Although free service was available “for tourists,” we discovered that it required a local [i.e., Singapore] telephone number. Several staffers tried to help. One even offered the use of his cell phone number because the needed password was sent via SMS. That didn’t work either. Finally, they called in their “tech expert,” a former employee who gave us his logon and password from the store. Bingo! We had web service. We sent a message to the assorted children and started for “home.”

The city was still alive with pedestrians shopping, eating and socializing. Added to the mix of people was a street display of Christmas lights running the length of Orchard Road and the intersecting arteries. The intersection in front of the hotel, one of the city’s major hubs was also decorated with reindeer and lights. Many of the stores have their decorations up already, too. We are going to try to get photos tomorrow night.

We watched CNN for a bit before turning off the lights around 9:30. It’s not home, but we are that much closer to our own bed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We stayed in bed until 9 o’clock! How decadent! How wonderful! By the time we were both showered and conscious, it was 11 o’clock, so breakfast was sort of out of the question. Naturally, we went to Starbucks but didn’t bother dragging the laptop because we didn’t plan on returning to the hotel after muffins and drinks. Instead, we picked up a taxi in front of Lucky Plaza [between the hotel and Paragon] and asked the driver to take us to Singapore Gems. We had learned about this jewelry store from Mary Molina, our dinner companion on the Grand Med. MA had e-mailed her for the particulars because she had raved about for the place one night. So off we went, not. The driver had no idea where it was despite our providing the address; he could not find it in the Singapore street guide either. However, MA had saved all of the information Mary had given her including the telephone number. D suggested to the driver that he use his mobile to call the store which he did. Then we were on our way.

It turned out that this was no hole-in-the-wall jewelry secret. When we eventually pulled in, there were 2 tours buses already in the driveway. Helloooo, Holland America. When we reached the second floor sales area, we asked for “Miss Fun,” Mary Molina’s sales assistant. The greeter/manager was impressed that we asked for a salesperson by name and assumed we had been there before. Miss Fun had no idea who Mary was, but she played along. She and MA spent a lot of time picking over pendants for MA’s necklace and finally found one that everyone liked. Sale completed, Miss Fun walked us outside and hailed a taxi for us; “Next time you are in Singapore,” she said, “call me and I will pick you up.” It must have been a bigger sale than we thought. Maybe we should have bargained more.

We returned to the Marriott to stow our purchase and went back out into the heat and humidity – we’re talking low 90s for both heat and humidity. It’s like Cambodia all over again. We had decided to visit the Botanical Garden, a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel. The Botanical Garden is so big that the suggested time to walk it all is 4 hours. We were interested in the Orchid Garden, a separate section within the complex. We started with a 10 – 15 minute walk through the park. Despite the oppressive weather, it was a pleasant walk. We came to the Orchid Square which fronted the garden as well as the Ginger Plaza. We ate lunch at Halia which is known for incorporating ginger into many of its recipes. MA had a Tandoori chicken sandwich which she said had hints of ginger accompanied by the Halia special tea, also replete with ginger. D’s minute steak sandwich had no ginger but was delicious nonetheless; he had an iced mocha to drink. We shared French fries but ate only half of them.

The orchids were magnificent. We spent almost an hour wandering through the display. We recognize some of the orchid types – we have vandas and phalanopses growing in our one tree in West Palm. We saw vandas so tall that they had been staked in the ground to keep them from falling over. There were banks of orchids of every color and style not to mention the large display of bromileads; it was like being home. Throughout our walk we also found fountains and benches, quiet places for tired travelers. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. On the other hand, we were relieved to find the air conditioning turned on “high” when we got in a taxi for the ride home.

It was 4 o’clock when we got back to the room. D called Albert, the phantom taxi driver. Albert had already made plans for the evening which took the pressure off canceling our evening’s plans. And then we took our nap. D got up around 6 to get a shooter glass from Hard Rock for Uncle Tim. He got disoriented in the underpass by the hotel and spent an hour finding the Hard Rock and purchasing the glass. He arrived back at the room soaked through for the second time today and took a shower to cool off. It was almost 7:30 and we didn’t want a big dinner, so we went to the lobby lounge and got a tower of nachos, quesadilla and pastry. Only one of the three pastries was worth eating but the Tex-Mex was pretty good. MA had a mojito to keep the theme going and D had his usual diet Coke.

For some reason, the Christmas lights were not lit when D went to take pix, so we are hoping they are lit tomorrow, our last night in Singapore. Back in the room, we watched So You Think You Can Dance tryouts from last season before turning off the lights at 10:15.
Only one more day in the Emerald City.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Today was Guest Appreciation Day at Marriott worldwide and customers were offered free muffins and juice from 7:30 until 9 o’clock. We made it to the lobby by 8:30 and were promptly and courteously handed bakery bags, each with a fresh muffin, and a choice of orange or apple juice. We ended up with a chocolate chip and a raisin almond muffin. MA wasn’t thrilled with the raisins, but D’s chocolate chocolate chip muffin was yummy.

We had decided to take the Singapore Airlines HOHO bus today. With our boarding passes, we got a 50 per cent price reduction and the right to ride all day. First, though, we went to Starbucks to check e-mail and Facebook. This was our first attempt to sign in since we had help the other day, so we were concerned that we might have problems, but the system and our borrowed password worked flawlessly. The pity was that there was nothing worth reading after all we went through. Still, we’ll make a note of the log-in and password on the off chance we are in Singapore again. Considering that the Marriott charges over S$50 for unlimited service for 24 hours [over $40US], it’s worth the walk to Paragon to use the wi-fi and get a coffee.

Our plan was to ride a complete circuit of the HOHO and then stay on for 2 repeat stops and alight at Little India. We planned to look around and get lunch. We picked up the bus almost at the Marriott’s front door and were lucky enough to be standing in right where the bus stopped. As a result, we were among the first passengers to board at our stop, a good thing since the bus was crowded. MA led the way to the back of the bus and was able to find two seats. Most of the others who had been in the ragged queue were not so lucky.

The crowd waxed and waned as we meandered around and through Singapore. We were disappointed that this bus did not offer earphones and a running commentary of the route; we had expected this based on experiences in Barcelona and Cadiz last spring. There were announcements made over a public address system, but they were hard to hear and generally named hotels and shopping venues near the bus stops. Nonetheless, we were able to identify a surprising number of places we had seen last year including the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest Ferris wheel; Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar, home of the Singapore sling; the marina and, of course, Orchard Road. We also retraced yesterday’s trip with a stop at the Botanical Garden.

We were fortunate that we went to the Garden yesterday because today it was raining hard when we pulled up to the stop. Eager tourists still got off to see the beauty of the park, but we fear that they were drenched by the time they finished their visit. The heavy rain forced us to change our plans – we were not eager to wander through Little India in a downpour – so we went back to the hotel with the idea of exploring the underground and the adjacent shopping plazas for somewhere to get a light lunch. D took the camera and laptop to the room and returned to find MA looking wan. Cancel lunch. MA went for a nap in the hope that her cold would abate and D went to the lobby in search of free wi-fi. The wi-fi was just as expensive in the lobby, but he stayed to write today’s journal entry.

The weather finally cleared before we went out for supper, and the temperature dropped, so the evening was almost comfortable. Because we hadn’t eaten much breakfast, and had had no lunch, we got a taxi and headed to Clarke Quay arriving just before 6:00 p.m.; we practically opened the place up. Clarke Quay is the restaurant, bar and entertainment venue for the young and the hip. We’re no longer young but we have hips, so we were fine. We ate at Clarke Quay several times last year and, after wandering through the complex, decided to return to a tapas restaurant we had enjoyed then. Our table overlooked the Singapore River and we watched tour boats of tourists travel back and forth. We especially remembered the roasted red pepper with soft cheese that we had eaten last year. To that, we added cheese croquettes which sounded better than they were; they were like any other fried cheese and were served with an aioli which actually detracted from the flavor of the cheese. We also shared an order of garlic bread and a pitcher of sangria. Woo hoo!

We didn’t leave until 8 o’clock, just as Clarke Quay was beginning to come alive. Night had fallen and the low lights of the bars had come on as business picked up. We had no trouble getting a taxi home. Our driver decided to avoid the ERP toll road and took a roundabout path [that ended up costing just as much, we think]. Rather than spend additional time fighting his way around the major intersection that is our temporary home, he dropped us off at the new Ion Orchard shopping mall across the road leaving us to find our way through the mall and the underground crossover. Ion Orchard makes Paragon look like Wal-Mart. It is the high end of the high end mixed with the more mundane in the basement levels. We took escalators to the basement and followed signs to the MRT station and then to the Marriott. A piece of cake compared to D’s adventure just the day before. D went back outside to take pictures of the Christmas decorations because they had reminded us of Mexico City’s decorations forty years ago. We watched a Monk rerun and went to bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Once again, we face The Day That Would Not End. We were up at 8 o’clock this morning for the start of the 40-hour day. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 10:30 with the elusive Albert Tan driving us to Changi airport. We anticipated arriving at the airport at 11 for a 1:10 flight to Taipei and eastward throughout the ensuing day and a half.

Albert was early getting to the hotel, so he gave us a little tour of Singapore’s neighborhoods, both the expensive and the government-subsidized. We talked about the economy, assisted-living, health care and many other topics common to all people in this age of globalization. It was an interesting half hour and we regretted even more that we had not made connections with him sooner. At Changi, D made sure to get his card in case we are in Singapore again.

And now the adventure began. We remembered that last year we were directed to a special check-in area because we were flying in the front of the plane. D recognized the area as we were looking for the regular EVA line and made a bee line for it. Sure enough, we were in the right place. The special check-in area includes seated check-in and someone else to drag the bags onto the scales [which weren’t even checked]. The clerk was able to check our luggage through to PBI, so we won’t have to drag it all to the hotel in Newark and then re-check it [for a fee] with Continental on Friday. Once all of that was done and airline lounge passes issued, we waited for MA’s wheelchair to arrive. The clerk even got us Cokes while we waited.

The wheelie arrived and got us through immigration/passport control without mishap. From there we went to the VAT refund desk where D presented paperwork for MA’s new jewelry. Once the paperwork was in order and stamped, he put one copy in a pre-addressed envelope and sent by mail to the company which will refund the 7% tax directly to our credit card. We made our way to the combined business/First Class lounge to await boarding; we assumed we had about an hour and a half until the wheelie returned. The 12:20 boarding time came and went and we started to get a wee bit nervous. The lounge staff assured us that we had not been forgotten but that the inbound plane was late, so there was no reason to go to the gate too early.

Eventually, even the wheelie got into the spirit of fear, so we went down to the gate. Even though it was now 1 o’clock, there was no airplane at the gate. We were told that there had been an unspecified mechanical problem and that we could return to the business class lounge or go to the cafeteria [with a voucher] to await further word. We were encouraged to return to the lounge which we did. The food options weren’t good [and the local cuisine smelled a little] but we were able to find chips and snack mix along with sodas.

The lounge staff informed us that the plane had been rescheduled to depart at 3:15 [maybe] with an ETA of 7:40 p.m. This did not strike us as good news since our flight to Newark is supposed to take off at 7:00. We were assured that EVA ground staff would meet us and explain what was going to be done to get us home. We are presuming that we will have to overnight in Taipei and take Friday’s flight to Newark if there is one. In that case, EVA will have to put us up in Newark as well as rebooking us into PBI; we will ask them to send us first class. There is also the possibility that some other airline flies from Taipei to New York/Newark and we will be rebooked with them, with the same perks, of course. At this point, it is 2:30, just 45 minutes until our alleged departure.