I’m back in Vietnam, after a two week trip that whisked me halfway round the world on six flights, three air carriers and through five separate countries.
From the humid south east over to the spring weather of bustling Dhaka, and onto the grey skies of London, where friends and family were all on great form and collectively excited about the clock change last night, and the prospect of saying farewell to winter days.
Saigon greeted me on Friday with that type of warmth you associate when you first step off the plane on a summer holiday in any part of the world where thermometers seldom drop below seventy five degrees. I’d not been in shorts for a fortnight, and it was great to adjust back into being ‘home’.
If truth be told, I am not a great flyer. Despite all the statistics I am still uncomfortable with the notion of hundreds of tonnes of metal, people and oversized suitcases cruising three miles up in the stratosphere. Give me a nice train any day.
Anyhow, this past year of travel has helped me brush up on some of the ways you can make the whole flying experience that more palatable – including tips on queuing at immigration, how long you actually need to arrive before the flight leaves, what to bring to read, to listen to, to watch, and to wear (lace up shoes and belts can slow you down at security for priceless seconds). And never, ever, get yourself into a situation where you have to accept a middle of the row seat.
The fact that I haven’t yet posted a blog about an amusing anecdote after being sat next to someone worth anecdoting about on a long haul flight, is probably testament to how I conduct myself these days once I am on board. Gone are the days when I’d be the first to strike up conversation with the stranger sat beside me, instead I now opt for as much limited human contact as possible when flying.
I have my iPod on from the minute I enter the terminal, and ideally will remove it only if confronted by an officious member of the on-board stewarding team, instructing me to keep in line with that most ridiculous of airplane rules that if you are listening to Coldplay when the aeroplane is taking off, then you might somehow interfere with the transmitting signals and cause a major national disaster.
The iPod needs to stay on all the way through from landing as well, as this can be the time when my anti-people period peaks. It can, you see, be once you are safely touched down that you experience some of the most turbulent moments of your journey, in terms of three hundred passengers suddenly all assuming that, in the hierarchical pecking order of the population of a boeing 747, it is them – above everyone else – who should rightfully be allowed off the plane first.
I have noticed on Vietnamese flights, in particular, a competitive tendency for people to storm the exit doors. On several occasions I’ve witnessed air stewards practically rugby tackle passengers who have decided to get out of their seat, grabbing their holdalls just seconds after we have reached the end of the runway, in a bid to win the game of “every inch forward up the aisle makes all the difference”.
You can usually spot them poised with fingers on seat belt buckles, ready to un-flip them at exactly the same time as the seat belt light itself is turned off, in order that they may spring up, be the first to dismount their bags from above them, and jostle as far down towards the front of the plane as possible.
Of course, sat in an aisle seat, the counter game you can instigate once you sense there is someone next to you eager to win that particular flight’s ‘Captain Speedy’ award, is to not budge for as long as you can stomach it, and enjoy the resulting clenched teeth which follows.
Although again, I have noticed in Asia that some people are more than happy when this happens to simply to climb over you. The more European etiquette in these situations, if you are really stubborn and won’t shift, is that the person will bend their body ninety degrees to reach up to the overhead locker, retrieve their possesions and then wait, stooped below the low ceiling next to you, in what looks to be a truly uncomfortable posture.
Anyway, I am back off to Bangkok tomorrow to do battle with immigration queues once more, and so enough of the air travel waffle.
A fortnight is a long time away from two growing children (Lou will confirm that to be oh so true as well!) Just before I left, Flo started swimming proper, and so Friday afternoon after school there was only one place we were destined for, the pool, as she revelled in demonstrating her new underwater skills and her plunge diving.
Martha’s party trick at the moment is “cruising” around the house at ten months old. Not one these days for quiet cuddles and sitting still, she is permanently on the move, hell bent on targeting – how is it they are all programmed so young to be like this? – the most dangerous hazards in our apartment (plug sockets, table corners, sliding doors, cupboards, the bathroom cabinet). We have moved all our knives into a cupboard above the fridge, but I fear it is only a matter of time before I come in one day to find her, ninja like, perched on top of the worktop and balancing on her toes to pluck one of them out.
Where Martha’s obvious transitioning at the moment can be seen in the more physical signs, Flo is constantly growing her vocabularly, and the intensity in her talking and her projecting of all those multitude of inner thoughts and ideas she has during waking hours.
She cracks jokes, counter argues, asks challenging questions such as “Dadddy, do dolphins have backbones?” and is a full on negotiator in all that she does.
Instead of Lou organising play dates for Flo these days, we are finding that she is doing her own brokering of these during school hours, so that Lou can sometimes be met at the school gates by Flo and two of her friends, announcing that they are all coming back to our place for tea.
There is definitely a new confidence to be found in Florence since I have been away, which eeks its way out in how she gets dressed, chooses what to eat, what to play with, and who to play it with. And, after yesterday, we now also have first hand experience of just where some of her school ex-pat friends probably get their confidence from too, as Lou took Flo to a birthday party at one of the plush villas in a nearby compound, usually reserved for corporate folk or, in this case, senior embassy staff…
There was an initial twenty minute stand off at the gates of the house, when Flo wouldn’t get out of the car because she was afraid of the five Walt Disney characters awaiting her with balloons and scary smiles.
I have previously written about Flo’s coulrophobia – the clown one. Sadly, google can’t provide me with the appropriate name for a fear of people dressed up as Mickey Mouse but, whatever it is, Flo is petrified of anyone in any costume, so the main point to take away is that this can often prove testing at children’s parties in Asia, where such practice comes as standard.
Also standard, if you own a mansion sized house it would seem, is to invite over thirty children to your daughter’s fifth birthday, as well as all of her school teachers, friends, friend’s tennis coaches, nannies, and so on.
Entertaining acts at such gatherings we have witnessed before: magicians, acrobats, jugglers. However, yesterday’s event trumped anything Lou has seen previously in this department.
The back to back variety show bill on offer included performing dogs, performing monkeys (yes, monkeys) followed by child acrobats, fire eating jugglers and then a crotch-grabbing Michael Jackson impersonator.
At Flo’s 3rd birthday last September, where we invited eight kids, I was high fiving myself afterwards for having delivered on pass-the-parcel, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and bespoke party bags. I clearly have much still to learn.
Best get my coat…and start packing for Thailand…