Friday, January 25, 2008

Airports and airplanes

January 21

It is 5:42 am as I am writing this and I am waiting to board my plane to Guwahati which goes via Delhi. It will be another long day of traveling but I am thankful that I don’t have to do any teaching till tomorrow.

As we’ve always mentioned, India is a fascinating country in so many ways. The economy is growing so rapidly with a fast-expanding middle-class. With the amount of traveling done by Indians, there has been a lot of demand (and of course, supply) of domestic flights. A sample of the home-grown lot of airlines include Jet Airways, Paramount Airways, Kingfisher, Jetlite, Spice Jet, etc. So far, I’ve flown Jet Airways and Paramount Airways and this morning I’ll be experiencing JetLite.

Indian domestic flights are in direct and complete contrast to American domestic flights. First, the service (at least the ones I know) is exemplary. Jet Airways’s service is comparable to Singapore Airlines! I was immediately impressed when I flew them last September. Second, the food is mostly excellent. They give you a broad range of choices from vegetarian to non-vegetarian, regular to low fat, etc.

Last evening, we flew Paramount Airways from Kochi to Chennai. There is no economy class on Paramount flights. They are either First or Business. They were great. Despite the 45-minute delay due to air-traffic congestion, I was thoroughly pleased with the service. When they serve the meals, they serve them with cotton/fabric napkin! Though the food wasn’t as good as Jet’s, the service and the final touches were classy.

However, there is also a downside to this explosive growth of air travel here. First, when in line for either check-in or baggage screening, Indians have no qualms about cutting in front of you. Either they will slowly inch their way in front of you or they will appear like they are ignorant that they are cutting into your line! Then, there is the line confusion where sometimes a few lines would converge into one and cause all kinds of shoving around. Very frustrating when you’re trying to do it the proper way and the person in front of you gives way and lets some guy cut in.

Second, most of the airports here are still trying to cope with the increased traffic. Some have undergone renovation and expansion but the volume of travelers still seem to exceed the capacity of the airports of most cities. Also, in some cases, the service level of the airport ground staff has not caught up with the sophistication of their high-flying colleague. Hence, often there is a great customer service gap you’d experience between ground and air. India, if she hopes to truly catch up with nations around her like Singapore, Malaysia and even Thailand, will have to really buck up some of these aspects that are essential to development.

January 25

I am presently waiting to board my flight home to Singapore – yay! I can’t believe it’s already been 11 days since I left home. Since I left for Guwahati four days ago, I’ve been incommunicado. Whenever I’m in the Northeast of India, my Blackberry does not work. I discovered that the government blocks foreign phone lines from roaming in those areas to prevent foreigners from aiding the all-too-often insurgences there.

Unfortunately, this time, Brian was not even able to call me at the hotel I was staying for some reason. So, we were out of touch for a couple of days. Was so glad to be able to talk to him briefly as soon as I got into Kolkata on transit earlier today.

The two-day training seminar in Guwahati went really well, I thought. More than 20 people from all over the Northeast attended – some had to travel more than 12 hours by bus or train to be there! Mind you, these were not like villagers tucked away in the hills and hence the travel time but really highly qualified people. We had a few university professors, a few medical doctors, a few PhD candidate students and a few pastors. I always learn so much when I’m here even though I’m supposed to be the teacher. Always a humbling experience.

Oh, by the way, JetLite quite suck. First, my flight was delayed big time. And then, the “food” (or whatever it was they were serving!) sucked! The service was poor as well! When I went to use the lavatory, it was unflushed and there were “liquid excretory product” in the toilet! Gross! Then, when the plane was in transit in Delhi, we had to sit in the plane for almost two hours as the British Prime Minister, Brown, was visiting and hence the airport had to be closed for his arrival! If the flight was not delayed in the first place, we would not have been caught in the closure…

The saving grace was the wonderfully chilly weather in Guwahati. A very nice change. Anyhow, gotta stop here as I’ll be boarding soon…

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Bad news in "God's own country"

My time here in India is going well so far. I’m presently in Kochi – a small city in the west-coast state of Kerala. This evening I return to Chennai before departing to Guwahati very early tomorrow morning (6:30 am flight!!!).

My colleague, Neil, and I flew into Kochi early yesterday and we dived right into work as soon as we got in. But the schedule hasn’t been too bad for me in that I’ve had enough time to rest. Today, I only had to teach one session. What has been a highlight here is the food. Keraili food is so tasty! When Brian and I were in Chennai (Madras) last year, a friend of ours who’s from Kerala, took us to eat at a Keraili restaurant and we thoroughly enjoyed the food. So, you can imagine the feast I’m having here in the state itself.

Kerala is touted as “God’s own country” as it’s apparently a very green and beautiful state. I’ve yet to see much of this place though. What is evident is the ubiquitous coconut tree. Lots of them! In fact, what is unique about Keraili cuisine is the use of coconut oil in the cooking. Also, Keraili food is spicy-hotter than most of the Indian cuisine I’ve had so far. I love it. I wish Brian is here as I know he’d love the food!

A few days ago we received some bad news from our landlord – he’s selling the apartment we’re in. This means we have to look for a place to move to before May. We greeted this news with much sadness and anxiety. We’re sad as this is our first home together and the sentimental attachment is strong. Then, we’re anxious as we’re concerned about our ability to find another place at a reasonable rent. Real estate prices in Singapore are sky-rocketing and with our current commitments, it’ll be very difficult for us to find another place that is even close to our present apartment in terms of space and location. Nonetheless, I’ve to keep my hopes high knowing that God WILL provide according to what we need.

Our last resort is to move to the dormitory flat of Brian’s seminary. However, that would be challenging for us as those flats are too small. These flats are basic and small as they are intended for students who are in Singapore temporarily for a few years for their education and most of them have a home back in their home-country where they store the rest of their stuff. The case is different for us as whatever we have with us now (books, furniture, etc) are all we own and have. Hence, we need a real apartment and not a basic dorm quarters. Sigh…

We’ve been rather depressed since we received the news but we know we have to believe that things will work out eventually. I’ve seen how God has provided for us without fail, so I’m hopeful but being an imperfect human, I do have my times of despair. As of right now, I’m feeling more despair. Please pray for us…

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Presently in Chennai

As you would have noticed from our itinerary on the right-side of this blog, I'm presently in India now. I arrived here on Sunday night and will be here till next Thursday (Jan. 24). Just like my last trip, I will be in Chennai (Madras) for a week and then head to Cochin (on the west coast) for the weekend and then to Guwahati (northeast) on Monday before making my way back to Singapore.

The weather in Chennai at this time of the year is wonderful compared to the scorching hot months of May and June. In fact, I look forward to some chilly weather in the northeast where the winter is more pronounced. Getting reacquainted with the Indian traffic is always interesting but I think I'm so used to it now that I no longer squint my eyes when I see a car coming real close next to the vehicle I'm in.

The classes at the RZIM Academy here have been going well. Today, especially, I felt like I really connected with the participants and we had a very lively discussion on Buddhism. I'm also thankful that my sinus (allergic rhinitis, my doctor calls the problem) hasn't bothered me too much since I got here.

One of the blessings on our lives in the past few months has been the opportunity to travel and minister together as a couple. As I was leaving on Sunday, I realized it would be the first time in three months that I'd be away from Brian - and for almost two weeks! So, as much as I love visiting India and seeing friends here, I hope the next week will pass quickly.

Of course by the time I return to Singapore it would be a week from Chinese New Year and we would be getting ready to travel to Ipoh, Malaysia to see my parents. We're really looking forward to that as it's been a whole year since we saw them. Last year had been exceptionally busy for us and it was almost impossible to carve out time to travel to Ipoh. Besides, as I travel so much for work, when I do get a weekend when I don't have to be out of town, I'd rather stay home to catch up on chores, etc.

Another excitement we're looking forward to on our trip to Ipoh is meeting my niece, Xing Ru. She would be three months old by the time we see her in February and I can't wait to baby-talk to her! She has grown to be soooo cute!

Brian is, meanwhile, busy with his doctoral research. He discovered from a fellow students that he can do some of his work at home and don't have to be in college everyday. That's good news! Nonetheless, he still tries to be on campus a few days a week to use the library and all. He has also been busy with his new role of overseeing the Christian Education of our church as a board member.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

New phase

We started a new phase of life this mid-week (since 1 Jan. was a Tuesday). This newness especially pertains to Brian (of course, without not affecting me!). He started his first day at Trinity Theological College as a full-time Doctoral student. As the school is an hour bus ride away from our home, he's been leaving the house early armed with his coffee thermos for his after-lunch caffeine boost. At first we thought he needn't be at school everyday and will be spending significant time at home for his research but we realized that he needs to be at school every day for one kind of college community activity or another! We'll see if he can get out of some of them...

Meanwhile, Brian will be on our church's Board for the next two years overseeing the area of Spiritual Formation. He begins his weekend by having to attend an almost whole-day Board meeting today. Speaking of our church, we are extremely thankful for this supportive community. Realizing our need, they have stepped up to help us some with Brian's school fees. This act of love has alleviated a lot of anxiety and fear on our part. This is also a further affirmation of God's calling upon Brian's life as he is being prepared to be a Christian scholar and teacher.

The weekend will see me working on my computer as I prepare for my various talks next week and for my trip to India next Sunday. Have a good weekend, ya'll!
Brave men are all vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.
~ GK Chesterton

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

More pixs from Cambodia

Last night, we got more pixs of our Cambodian trip from our good friend, Alvin. I hope you'll enjoy them. Here's my commentary on the pixs: 1) Having lunch at the famous Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) 2) On the second day we were in Phnom Penh, it was my birthday, so we had a small cake. 3) Foreign men, especially white men, who visit will be asked if they'd like some "Boom-boom" as they are many "Boom-boom Girls" available for cheap (if you know what I mean!). Since I'm Asian (can pass as a Khmer girl, maybe?) and with an Angmor man, Alvin asked if we could pose as a "Boom-boom couple" in front of a nightclub!!! Humor aside, it is quite sad to see the flesh-trade so prevalent and explicit in this part of the world. 4) This last pix you see is of us and Celia, Alvin's wife, getting ready for our massage. It is so cheap to get a body massage here - US$5 an hour! Good times!