Penang Trip Part 1


I had not been so excited about flying, in a very long time.

Singapore Airlines is among the very few five star airlines, and was rated #1 in the world in the recent past.  Compared to the major American airlines, this is like driving Rolls Royce over riding a water buffalo.

It’s all about the minor details: the silverware is silver; the glass is glass; the hot food is still hot after bread and salad; for dessert you get ice cream that’s not melting like mud.  The stewardesses are no wider than the carts they push; there are too many movies that you actually want to watch; you also get a bag of towel and toothbrush in the event that grooming is necessary on a 24-hour flight.

The only complaint is that they feed you too often.  Having a “light snack” between “dinner” and “breakfast” at 3AM is something I haven’t done since college, not to mention it’s a full-sized entree seasoned with more than just salt and pepper.

Alcohol is not only free on the flight, it also comes in a great variety of options.  With dinner I got a Singapore Sling, a cocktail that required the stewardess a trip back to the station to make.

Here’s the optional survey I filled out.  When was the last time you saw something this pretty being called a “survey”?



Writing now from the Frankfurt Airport.  I was originally very excited about this point of layover, just because I had never set foot in Europe before.  Well, now I got here, and it looks no different from any average American airport… everything’s in English here!  There are fewer labels in German than JFK would have labels in Spanish.  Their duty free stores also sell the same liquors, same fragrances, and same Victoria’s Secret lotions.  Maybe a bit more Swarovski crystals and a few more brands of watches with 4-digit price tags.

Cultural observation #1: European toilets look and work quite differently from the US toilets.  Also the paper towels by the sink are softer than the toilet paper in the stalls.

Cultural observation #2: their sweepstakes car is a Alpha Romeo Spider, instead of a Land Rover.

I wouldn’t really mind driving this thing.  It’s just that if I bring a convertible back to New York, no matter where I park it, people will use it as a trash can.  It’d be a shame to see cigarrett butts and chewed gums all over this thing, so I decided to forfeit my chance of winning it.

As I wrote the above paragraph, I was sitting in a random seat at the airport, waiting for my plane’s “mechanical problem” to be resolved.  Then all the sudden a whole herd of people stampeded into lining up for the restaurant in front of me.  That’s weird, I thought, how could an airport restaurant get this sort of popularity?  Ten minutes later, I realized that among the crowd (still in line) were a lot of Singapore Airlines crew members and a girl with a travel bag with a creepy doll head, who was waiting for my same flight.  It turned out that due to the delay, the airline is now buying everyone lunch at this restaurant!  Now I’m writing this paragraph from a restaurant table, drinking European Coke from a curved glass.  Wow!  I’m so used to the American airlines that just tell you to fuck off when any problem arises, that this treatment almost makes me uncomfortable!

An 18.50-Euro filet of salmon later, I started a brief conversation with this guy who sat behind me on the plane and is headed to Cambodia.  He’s a law school student, and I told him I’m an actuary.  Not that I expected him to know what an actuary is, as most people have not a clue.  Moments later, we were served with boxes of Nestle ice cream snacks, as dessert.  He flipped the box over and studied hard, as if he could understand the nutritional labels in German.  Then to me he said, “so you could tell me how this will decrease our life span, right?  Isn’t that what you actuaries do?”  Holy crap!  I just got pulled the very first bad actuary joke in my life!  In Germany!  Once I read an extensive discussion on how to respond to these lame encounters, but of course I blanked out now.



Flight is finally approaching the Lion City, and I’ve accomplished one of the greatest tasks men have ever attempted in mid-air… I did my taxes.  After hours battling the everchanging jetlag, I had filled out my federal 1040, 8889, NYS-2 and NYS-201.  I wonder what’s gonna keep me busy on the returning flight.



So I had, as expected, missed my connection flight to Penang.  The next one is much later in the afternoon.  Sucks, but oh well, the airline had handled the situation very professionally.  As soon as we landed, our new boarding passes, meal vouchers, and transfer information were all printed waiting at the gate.  I even got a voucher to stay at the airport hotel during this six-hour layover (that’s somewhat extreme, if you ask me).  It’s kind of hard to get upset when people treat you so nicely.

Let’s be honest here.  If you have to get stuck at any airport for six hours, the Singapore Changi Airport has to be one of your top choices.  It’s huge, it’s clean, it’s technologically advanced and it’s simply bad ass.  Let’s see…

Environment: Gardens like these, with koi ponds, are scattered all over the airport.  The sheer mass of orchids on display makes you think they’re fake (but they aren’t!).  Alongside the motion-activated moving walkways are other potted plants like sunflowers.  If your gate is really far and you get tired of walking, you can also take a break in random corners with these (free) foot-massage machines.

Shopping: Bvlgari, Tiffany’s, Cartier, Hermes, Rolex, and Swarovski are among the average stores in this terminal.  Although I’m used to New York’s Fifth Avenue, this place still intimidates me.  Check out this bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label.  I bet it’s worth more than the taxes I paid in 2008:

(pardon me for not rotating it properly)

Entertainment: If you like sports, you can sit down in one of those speakers-equipped seats in front of the, eh, wall with soccer game display:

Right behind it is “the world’s largest 103″ 1080p HD display”, showing some regional tourism information:

If you’re young, or young at heart, there are also stations of Xbox 360 setup for you to play, for free.  The numbers of gamers this terminal can accomondate is no fewer than the Nintendo World at Rockefeller Center.

I picked up a controller, ran a race of Burnout Paradise, and won.  Then I sat down at the Internet station right next to it.  There are 24 computers set up for you to use the Internet for free, and there are these pods of stations (reminds me of Math Emporium) for you to plug in your own computer for power, ethernet, or the airport’s free wireless Internet:

There’s also a really cool “gadget recharging station”, which is like a set of lockers with cell phone adaptors inside.  You (1) find an unused locker that fits your phone, (2) plug your phone in to charge, (3) lock your phone inside and take the key with you, (4) go shop/eat/poop/whatever, (5) return with the key to retrieve the phone when you feel like it.

Alright I’m hungry.  Gotta go use my meal voucher and explore this cool place more!