The Trip from Hell Continueth


So here I am, on the back end of a trip that would give the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles a run for its money. I could certainly have done with the entertainment of John Candy and Steve Martin to pass the time as I made my journey Down Under.

Instead, I had to make do with meeting random people such as those in the smokers’ area of the O’Neill’s Plastic Paddy Pub, airside at Terminal 3.

I have to say that I met a few interesting people to pass the time with. There was Efan, the rugby-mad Welshman who, along with some other big Welsh rugby dudes were off to Dubai for the World Sevens tournament for a few days of “Mayhem in the sun” (his words).

We were then joined by Steven, a young English fella whose parents were from the “shithole that is Rathcoole” (his words) a few short miles from the centre of the universe that is my home town, Ballyclare, Northern Ireland.

So, a Welshman, an Englishman and an Irishman were sitting in a bar in Heathrow. Obviously there must be a joke in it somewhere and indeed Celtic brotherhood ensured there were many – mainly at the expense of the Englishman and his underperforming national rugby team.

Eventually, after several encounters with my Belgian girlfriend, Stella Artois, it was time to head off for my flight.

Boarding the plane, I began searching for my home for the next 16 hours, seat 64B in Economy Class and was disappointed to see that it was of course the middle seat of 3 but pleasantly surprised to see that it was at an emergency exit which ensured that I had plenty of legroom.

Perhaps my efforts of laying on the ICO at check-in hadn’t failed as dismally as I had thought.

Ah yes – the famous ‘blag’ for the upgrade to Business Class that I mentioned in the previous blog.

Ahem.

Approaching check-in a few hours previously my attempts at the ICO went as follows:

“I suppose it’s a bit cheeky to ask, but is there any chance of an upgrade for the flight?” I asked hopefully.

“Yes of course there is” came the enthusiastic response from the pretty, young girl at check-in.

“Oh yes?”

“Yes of course – if you pay for it.”

“Ahem – I suppose it was a wee bit cheeky of me”

“Well – it’s only, like the millionth time I’ve been asked that question.”

“Yes I suppose so.” I sheepishly responded.

Nice to see I hadn’t lost it.

But at least I had the legroom that seat 64B offered, which was a small compensation for my clumsy efforts.

The only thing left was to hope that I would not be joined by anyone else either side of me – or at least only one person, so that I could spread myself out and about a bit.

Of course this was not to be as I was firstly joined by a 6ft 5 man in his late 50’s, wearing a tracksuit, sandals and socks and sporting one of the largest noses I have ever seen on a human being. He sat down to my right, immediately squeezing me over to the left in my seat.

Secondly, a rather tough-looking character in his mid-30’s sporting a crew cut and tattoos sat to my left. Not as big as the other guy but displaying an attitude that said I wouldn’t exactly be cuddling up next to him for the duration of the flight.

I looked around the rest of the cabin in search of somewhere else that I would be able to build a nest. The flight was close to capacity. I was in trouble here, so there was no other option but to befriend my travelling companions. A few pleasantries where exchanged and it turned out that both of my new friends were heading off to Bangkok for some R&R.

Ah yes – Bangkok. Unknown to me the flight to Taipei would first be stopping off in Bangkok, introducing a rather unexpected and certainly unwanted addition to my travel itinerary.

As the rest of the passengers boarded, the conversation continued and it soon transpired that the two of them were off to do pretty much the same thing once they reached their destination.

Drink, fuck and drink some more.

“Those fuckin’ Thai girls are fuckin’ gorgeous,” Big Nose growled beside me. I swear to God, he was practically salivating at the prospect.

“Too fuckin’ right mate, they’re lovely. They’d do anything for you”.

“I’ve got a girlfriend over there, she’s fuckin’ tidy, she is. But I’m not interested any more. A man of my age, with girlfriend troubles! I go over there for 4-6 weeks this time every year. It’s what I live for.”

He stopped his monologue as his thoughts drifted off to a place where I really didn’t want to even start thinking about.

But the chat continued with the guys swapping detail after nauseatingly intimate detail of their Bangkok experiences until the first meal was served by the charming and helpful Taiwanese stewardesses. I felt uncomfortable as I became aware of my companions eyeing them up salaciously.

I quickly went for my IPod and went into my own wee world as I sampled the delights of my first in-flight meal on Eva Airways, which was surprisingly tasty.

During the flight, I watched every movie they could throw at me, read some, listened to music and drank several glasses of wine. As expected, sleep did not welcome me and as I struggled uncomfortably in my seat I noticed that the plane was full of several other similar dodgy-looking characters, all of which I assumed, rightly or wrongly, would be getting off the plane at Bangkok.

Thankfully both my companions found sleep rather easier to come by than myself. Obviously they were more used to the long haul experience than I was.

Descending into Bangkok, I looked out at the wonderful scenery and wondered what delights Thailand had to offer. I know it is a beautiful country with spectacular scenery that most of us could only dream about (unless you’ve been to Northern Ireland of course) but I found myself dismayed at the idea of these ambassadors for England who would soon be working their way - and their moves – through Bangkok’s bustling streets.

I was certainly happy to leave them to it.

As all passengers had to leave the plane, irrespective of final destination, I disembarked the plane with my hand luggage and walked into the pristine, airy airport that is Bangkok International airport and went off in search of the nearest smoking room.

Having eventually found it, I walked in and sparked up but I needn’t have bothered. It was disgusting. I took two drags on my cigarette and almost vomited. The air was thick with smoke providing an atmosphere that suggested I had no need for me to light one in the first place.

I left the room almost as soon as I had entered and then embarked on a 20 minute walk through the transit lounge, to international departures and back to the gate where our plane was waiting - the exact same plane that we had recently disembarked.

With a half-hour delay thrown in for good measure, it was a frustrating inconvenience that I could really have done without. I just wanted to get going again. However, with the added delay things were getting a bit stressful for me, as I only had a one hour connection at Taipei before the flight to Brisbane. If I missed that flight, I would have to spend 24 hours in Taipei airport, waiting on the next flight to Brisbane. Obviously something that I wanted to avoid at all costs.

Sitting in the same seat, I feared the worst as to whom I would be sharing the next flight with. Things looked bad when Big Nose had been replaced by an Asian guy who was almost as wide as he was tall.

Thankfully, no other passenger showed up, so I was able to scoot across to the window seat but my relief at this was soon replaced by an increasing worry about the connecting flight to Brisbane as the plane sat for a further half hour before take off.

I asked a stewardess would I still be ok.

“The flight to Brisbane leaves at 22:00, yes?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Yes – it should be no problem; the plane to Brisbane will wait for you.”

“Should be no problem” was not exactly the answer that I was looking for, but there was little else that I could do, so I settled into my seat and turned on my IPod.

I am pleased to report that about an hour and a half of the three hour flight was gratefully spent by me in some sort of sleep. It was the fist sleep I had managed in about 24 hours and was long overdue.

As we made our descent, the lights of Taipei made it look a vast and interesting city, although I have to say that up until now, I knew of nothing of note about the place but I was reliably informed by the in-flight entertainment that the city is the proud host of the world’s tallest building, with the world’s fastest elevator inside.

I looked out of the window during our descent hoping for a glimpse of this building but amongst the neon-lit horizon of the city it was nowhere to be seen. I guess it must have been visible on the other side of the plane.

By the time I had disembarked, I was left with 15 minutes to catch my flight, meaning that I had little option but to engage in a brisk charge through the terminal, fight my through the queues at security and being one of the last passengers to board, a sweaty and flustered frazzle. Unknown to me there had been 14 of us on the Taipei flight that were in the same position, and the flight was waiting for us to board. So no panic needed.

I settled into my seat beside a girl I had recognized from the previous flight who had arrived just in front of me. I recognized her because she had also made a bolt off the plane as quickly as I had.

We exchanged introductions and settled into our 9 hour flight, both glad that we had made it onto the plane.

Having watched all the movies in the previous flights, I was dismayed to see that the movies on this flight were exactly the same. Scrolling through the personal entertainment system, I saw there were a few Asian movies to choose from as well, so I found myself passing 4 hours watching a Japanese movie about street dancing and a South Korean movie about a woman who trapped a rich playboy by getting pregnant and then marrying him. Apparently it was a comedy.

Aware that the cabin was in total darkness and that Pam, the girl beside me was trying to sleep, I decided against turning on my reading light and instead ended up listening to my IPod for the rest of the flight, dozing off sporadically but for the most part just blearily looking into the middle distance contemplating what I was about to embark on.

An hour before our expected arrival, the cabin lights were switched back on and breakfast was served, after which we prepared ourselves for arrival into Brisbane International Airport, touching down about 10 minutes behind schedule.

After a quite intensive questioning by customs and then a thorough search of my backpack by a rather apologetic customs official, I was through customs and into the arrivals lounge of Brisbane International Airport.

My Great Adventure had begun.

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