An Interlude at Altitude : Head in the Clouds

Kuala Lumpur Travel Blog

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Sri Lankan ladies defy Health and Safety regs to celebrate Sri Lankan New Year in airport departures terminal :)

'Ladies and gentleman this is your captain Stevie speaking.  Would you please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts as we are about to pass through a minor pocket of turbulence...a tiny patch of mental disturbance...'

I have 57 Sri Lankan Rupees to my name.  About 30p.  I foolishly hoped this would buy me a small pack of biscuits (110 Rupees!) or a small bottle of water (220 Rupees!!).  Happy Cow 'Potions' of processed cheese available at more than twice their normal price.  60 Rupees per triangular cheese 'potion'.  I shoulda given my spare money to the toilet attendant after all.  ( "Happy New Year!")  Everywhere asking for Dollars I'm unwilling to relinquish too.  No breakfast then.

'Windows on the World'
  Airports are quite torturous little consumer pleasure palaces to be if you have no money left to fritter or are determined not to do so.

Are immigration staff paid not to smile or respond to affability as part of their job description?  None of them even look at me let alone respond to my cheery "Happy New Year" greetings.  Some pretty ladies in pretty bright saris bend low to tend a burning fire in the hallway approach to departure gate 16.  A small black cauldron propped on staves of wood is boiling and simmering over.  A TV camera captures all.  Smoke wreathes up into their immaculate coiffures.  Some kind of traditional Sri Lankan New Year ritual.  "Oooh wow, a free internet point thingamy!"... instead of getting on with the important business of boarding my plane I suddenly find I am checking messages from my three Jakartan TB angels who are to be my guiding lights - my landing lights into their country.

'A wing and a prayer'
  Simsim, Fran and Rini.  'Kuala Lumpur.  Kuala Lumpur boarding...' offers the man in the red Air Asia waistcoat.  Whoops!  Don't wanna miss that plane!

'Air Asia, a truly Asian airline' declares the head air hostess into the over the speaker system as flight number AK256 taxis backward.  ( Skytrax World Airlines Award Winners 2009 :  World's Best Low-Cost Airline according to the blurb).  Stevie in seat.  Buckled in.  A window seat without asking.  Bonus.  No one sat next to me.  Bonus bonus.  Taxiing along the runway now... 'Please sir will you turn your mobile phone off?'.

.. and picking up speed... and here we go... take off... that moment where the whole plane seems to collectively hold its breath... and then we're in the air.  And Sri Lanka's suddenly fast receding beneath me.  Soon out over the sea.  'Passengers near the emergency exits are requested to familiarise themselves with the operation of these exits' request the overhead speakers.  I wonder if this has ever led to anyone having an ill-fated practice fiddle with the door handle at over 9,000 feet and ascending?

The air hostess working my stretch of the plane has to be one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen.  Seriously!  A stone cold knock out beauty.  Her ancestral makeup as indeterminate as it is miraculous in its cumulative effect... or, am I just exaggerating?  A little over-excited?  Everything in my mind tends a little towards the superlative and over enthusiastic of mood when stepping on board a plane.

Brand spanking new plane.
  Something inherently insanity inducing about strapping yourself into an aluminium can that's about to be blasted 37,000 feet in the air at 850 kilometres per hour.  'But there's all that cool free stuff, drinks an' movies an' all that I paid ten squillion pounds and, and, and'... oh dear.  Just like a little child. 

Either way I am happy to be heading to Southeast Asia again.  Appreciation of beauty is of course an entirely subjective affair but there's something about the rhythms and music played by the genetic symphony of the centuries in this part of the world that seems to throw out unique and freshly minted paradigms of beauty sometimes at almost every turn of the head.  As if God had not entirely abandoned seeking to craft physical perfections, kicking up his hallowed heels on Day Seven, but had rather retired to a small back street artisan's workshop in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Saigon or Jakarta where he continues to work his wonders to this day.

The Cloud Gazer (portrait)

I can't take my eyes off her.  But have to.  So stare out the window instead.  The ant-sized lands and lives of Men fast receding below.  The vast sky world outside framed in the crisp ovoid of the plane window.  Blinding light.  Clear bright blue.  Cooling hot eyes.  Thin ribbons of white pastel streak the blue announcing the cirrus suburban sprawl of the Cloud Kingdom coming.  I am always amused by the black lettered admonishments on airplane wings that run along a black line and state 'DO NOT WALK OUTSIDE THIS AREA'.  Nope, for sure, if I was out there right now, I wouldn't be taking a single further step toward the edge of that wing!

This plane is absolutely pristine.  Fresh out of its box and wrapping.  Humming along.  850kmph.  13,000 feet ascending.  I glance at the air safety card, watch the ladies and gents of the cabin crew go through their little game-dance of safety charades but feel I‘m not staring at the hostess for her aptitude in life preservation, blush internally and look back out the window.

  I pick up and flick the in-flight magazine Travel 3Sixty.  'Tired of the usual digital cameras?  Then give your vay-kay pix a fresh treatment when you capture special moments with a Lomographic camera instead!'  What the f**k is a 'vay-kay' when it's at home?  Okay, okay.  I can gather what a 'vay-kay' is (short for 'vay-kay-shun' right?) but I am reeling from yet another blow dealt by advertisers to linguistic integrity.

The beautiful air hostess had had to tell three or four people yakking on their mobile phones to turn them off ahead of take-off following the prior announcement already requesting that they do so.  Of course like chastened and churlish little children they continue now to surreptitiously text away whenever she swings her heart-stopping eyes away.  Though I’m sure that such activity has very little real bearing on our safety one way or another, for a habitually fearful and paranoid species, particularly where flying and our mortality are concerned, we seem perfectly willing to take such chances and break the rules anyway.

  Even those designed to enforce our protection.  It’s small telling moments like this that make me wonder sometimes if we don’t often deserve the innumerable demises that Fate devises for our falls.

Back to my Travel 3Sixty magazine.  I can’t face Ulysses at 30,000 feet.  It’s hard enough going at ground level.  ‘Air Asia Conquers India.’  Flights now to Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Mumbai.  ‘Whoop-di-doo!’ ( 'Been there, seen it, got the dodgy quality t-shirt' ) A cover article to celebrate this fact : Kolkata’s Many Charms by one Michael Hew.  ‘To be honest I didn’t like Kolkata at first.  In fact, I was put off by the city.  The traffic’s perpetual snarl, drivers blast their horns indiscriminately, and the city’s a cacophony of noise.

Flying Air Asia with winner if Taiwanese 'One Million Stars' you lucky things! High culture at high altitude.
  The sidewalks are congested with people and the streets are dirty.  I knew all of this before coming here so I was prepared for it... or so I thought.’  Hmmm?, perhaps some us guys could write for Travel 3Sixty?  A quality literary publication.  Don’t seem so hard.  Any free flights with the gig? :)

‘Six and Sexy Anniversary’ for Air Asia Thailand.  Celebrating their success with an ’average load factor of 85% [...] despite the grim global economic situation.'  Both seats beside me and those next to the pretty girl in front of me in row 16 have remained free.  Is she lonely?  No, reading and cloud gazing like me.  ‘Experience Macau!  Discover the beauty of magical Macau!’  The Apple iPad is being touted in this rag.

Here comes Indonesia! :))) "YEY!"
  A device apparently about to change the face of the world... again.  But one I only found out about when I picked up a copy of Newsweek in an antiques shop in Galle the other day.  44 Hard Rock Cafes noted in the U.S. in their ad.  From Atlanta through to Yankee Stadium.  None noted in the UK though there used to be one I’d walk past on the way to work every day.  Broad Street, Birmingham.  But it was a short lived venture.  Bust.  ‘Singapore : A million moments.  One world.’  ’Discover a whole new world that’s truly rewarding.’  ’Step out in style with vibrant charm.’  'We won't be satisfied until you are.' 

Good, the drinks and snacks and the beautiful air hostess are on their way.  No breakfast, I’m starving...  ’What do you mean I get nothing?  Nothing at all?’  ’Did you order a meal when you booked on line sir?’  Did I?  ’Well no.

All the pretty eyes take to the skies.
..’  No, I’m pretty sure that when ploughing through the minefield of check/uncheck boxes on the websites of budget airlines I pretty much say ’NO!’ to anything that translates as ’give us more money’ but I thought you at least got SOMETHING?!  What about all the cool free sh*t I get on the plane for my ten squillion poun... oh, errr? okay, for my £40.  A bread roll and a cup of water perhaps?  Anything?!  ’May I check your boarding pass sir?’  ’No it’s okay, I didn’t request any meals.  So not even a cup of water?’  ’Sorry sir.’  Jes*s Chr*st!  My stomach rolls over.  I’m gonna be chewing burps all the way to Kuala Lumpur.
The Air Asia octopus.
  Luckily Louis’ll be there to whisk me away to a friendly lunch. article.  Readers Tips.  Amongst them :

1) Avoid strong-smelling foods (before the flight!)  There is nothing worse than sitting next to someone with garlic breath or durian belches for two or three hours.

2)  Queue jumping isn’t necessary.

I second that one.  It always amazes me how prone to rushing and crushing and queuing with a rabid intensity of impatience people get at airport check-ins and gates as if with the force of their physical presence and self-important will they’re gonna get where you’re all going that much quicker.  ‘Duh!’

3) Keep your shoes on, if you have smelly feet.

'We won't be satisfied until you are'
  Your neighbours will thank you for it.

6) Habitual leg joggers and children who kick the chair in front - it’s annoying for the person in front.

And my favourite tip :

9) When using the toilet, remember this saying : “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be sweet and wipe the seat.”

Next up ‘Flying to Tianjin with Rachel Liang‘.  Pop star victor of Taiwanese reality show One Million Stars in 2007 we’re told.  According to Regional Head of Commercial Air Asia, Kathleen Tan, “Having Rachel on board will help us tap the younger generation in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia including Singapore and Malaysia where she is highly popular and where Air Asia has the best connectivity.

In. Out.
  Younger generation of Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia including Singapore and Malaysia you have been warned.  You are being tapped!  (As well as watching cr*p TV and listening to questionable music). 

‘Heart-felt Article’ reads the headline.  ’Your in-flight magazine is a good read with many interesting and informative articles that are useful to travellers.’ says Alice Fernandez of Perak, Malaysia.  Winning free in-flight meal vouchers for her troubles.  Maybe I should send them a paragraph of sycophantic cr*p too then I’d get a meal next time maybe!  ’Excellence has it rewards, year after year.

Duty Free
’  ’To us home and lifestyle are simply inseparable.’  ’Just the right mix of simply everything.’  AdvertsAdvertsAdvertsAdsAdsAds... ’  No queues.  Better deals.  Always open.’  A Travel A to Z article.  ‘A’ is for Accommodation.  ‘B’ is for Baggage.  ‘C’ for Camera and ‘I’ I’m curious about as it apparently stands today for Itinerary and only just now from that internet point at the airport had I mailed Rini saying ‘I am totally disorganised’ and that ‘I think after 18 months travel my ability to do sensible logistics has disintegrated.’  AirAsia Junior Jets Club, AirAsia’s ‘very own global children’s club [...] An exclusive club for young high-flyers’ that will be ‘all sorts of fun and educational.
'Relax and Unwind'
Tapping youth again.

MoreAdsAdsAdzzzzz... ‘Fares to London can’t get any LOWER than at Air Asia!’ ( Yeah, 'cos the Pound Sterling's never been so hammered on the exchange rates as it has been for the entire frickin' duration of my journey! ) A speech bubble projects from an image of the Houses of Parliament : ‘So what are you waiting for?  London’s calling....’  As a courtesy to the next passenger may we suggest you use your towel to wipe off the wash basin.  An image of a mobile phone with a big red cross through it.  An image of a cigarette with a big red cross through it.  Back in my seat a tiny ring of ice not bigger than a polo mint has formed at the base of my window on the world outside.

'Special Offer'
  ( Do not walk outside this area)  Formed of little crystals of ice the shape of microscopic crows foot prints.  What is happening to my attention span?  ’I NEED COFFEE!!!’... and sustenance as a secondary consideration.

Lucky then that we’re descending now to coffee shop KL.  ‘Runway three.  The time is two twenty local time.  The temperature is 33 degrees’ and ‘Be happy’ signs off the captain on the tannoy.  ’Ladies and gentleman may we remind you that trafficking drugs into Malaysia is a serious offence and carries a mandatory death sentence.  Thank you.’  You are also ’not allowed to use the lavatories at this time’ so flushing your stash ain’t an option at this point.

  We land to a screech of wheels and the tune of a  hundred Nokias being turned on before the former stop turning.  Di-di-doo-di, di-di-doo-di, di-di-doo-di-dah!  ’Be happy.’  Farewell there, fair hostess of the air... ’Be happy’ :( 

A waltz through immigration.  I’m getting to the stage now where I have to ask politely for immigration officers to stamp particular areas of my passport so as not to waste precious remaining blank pages.  ‘So you came from Colombo?‘ the surprisingly friendly immigration officer asks. (They pay them enough to smile here clearly)  ‘Yes I did.‘  ‘So, what did you do in India?‘  ???!  Hey, they’re only paid to have knowledge of their own borders okay!  A new ’90 days in West Malaysia’ visa even though I’ll only be in town three hours.

Fog clouds recycle through the A/C system as we board.
  I nearly miss my bag on the carousal so bamboozled am I by a flat-screen TV trailer sat in the middle of it for an apparent upcoming A-Team The Movie ( ‘This summer there is no Plan B!!!‘ GADDAKKA-DAKKA-DAKKA!!! )  Hungry.  Thirsty.  Faint.  Just gotta wait for my friend Louis.  Louis a fellow veteran of the ill-fated tour to the Mekong Delta outside of Saigon last year that saw two of our tour group drowned in the river [ see entry entitled ‘Death on the Mekong’ ].  We’ve been in touch for a swift reunion and he’s said he’ll come whisk me away for a now much needed lunch. 

But one and a half hours of standing by the International Arrivals exit later and Louis’s a no show and I am literally dizzy from lack of food and drink.

Catwalk, Air Asia style :)
  A man wears a t-shirt stating ‘To be bad is very bad.’  People hover with nervous excitement  and expectant gazes for loved ones, friends and colleagues to appear through the arrivals door.  One lad walks through them with a laptop powering up in his arms within which he cradles it like a newborn baby.  Couldn’t wait to get on line.  WiFi.  WiFly.  It’s no good.  I can’t stand by on an empty stomach and watch the parade of beautiful Air Asia hostesses with their little wheelie bags, tight smiles buried in six inch deep landslides of makeup and even tighter than heck red mini-skirts flounce past me any longer!  Louis, are you doing this to torture me you cheeky scamp?  I bash an ATM for 50 Ringitt (£10) and collapse into Starbucks where I trough out on a latte, muffin and some other greasy pastry thingamy, realising too late and with a muffin in my mouth that I’ve just broken one of my two key (and very odd) pre-travel vows.  Not to have a Starbucks until I got to The States or home, whichever came first.  The other odd vow?  Oh, not to be forced through lack of any other options to read a Dan Brown or John Grisham novel whilst on The Road.  Still unbroken.  It’s okay, I’m only odd in short manageable bursts following exposure to high altitudes. 

Checked in again.  Flight AK338.  Onward now to Jakarta.  Departures lounge. 

Attention! screams a sign after passport check.   Mango seed weevil.  Sternochetus Mangiferae.  Poses serious threat to the Malaysian mango industry.  All importation of mangoes and mangifera species (Kuini and Bacang) require import permit and phytosanitary certificate otherwise under the Plant Quarantine Act 1976 ‘the fruits will be confiscated and destroyed.’  Surrender those mangoes people!  'DROP THAT FRUIT AND PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!'  I think ‘mangiferae’ is my new favourite word for the day.

No Lonely Planet guide book for sale in Books @ LCCT to tempt me away from my decision to try and travel Indonesia without one.  No language book either, so not for the first time I will arrive in a country without even knowing how to say 'Hello'.  People zombie about the bright neon lit little retail treasure troves of the Duty Free zone and sip over-priced coffee. 

Dunkin Donuts.  Shouldn’t it be ’doughnuts’?  What’s a donut?  A do-nut?  ’America runs on Dunkin’ announces the LCD video advertising screen on the back of the cashier’s till.  ’Make the most of your ten second break!’ it advises.  Yes, America does nuts quite well I suppose.  Lots and lots of do-nuts.  Crunchy choc, choc, double choc, choc pudding, triple choc, green tea, Boston cream, raspberry, blueberry, mocha, black forest, honey dipped, apple, orange frost, windmill choc, windmill Dutch choc, happy, Bendera, peanut, peanut jelly, sesame, nutty choc, white choc, strawberry frost, banana, pineapple, big orange, choc mint, big apple, Bavarian, fresh lime, artic circle, cinnamon, Swiss milk choc, sugar raised choc, choc, choc, “Chocs away!”  

As I board the plane dry ice style mist blasts in foggy torrents from the A/C system smelling of lemon fresh face wipes.  I imagine these as recycled clouds that they harvest with a special machine as we chomp-fly our way through them.  Stevie takes his seat.  Buckles in.  No window.  Same magazine.  But I picked up a free paper.  The Malay MailDr Death Willing to Testify.  Transvestite Forces Woman into Prostitution.  Fake Passport Syndicate Busted.  A Government Beyond Reproach?  Island Lockdown (Al-Qaeda f**king up the Philippines).  Under The Sea (China f**king up the Great Barrier Reef).  First Lady's Visit Boosts Morale (Michelle Obama in Port-au-Prince, Haiti).  Gwyneth making Iron Man 2 wants baby number 3 whilst making movie number 3 but Coldplay Chris for 1 ain't so sure saying 2's enough.  Hugh Heffner Finds Love with Crystal at 84 ( 'She's very real' says The Heff.  'Uh-huh' ).  Sandra B to divorce sex-addicted husband Jesse-James ( 'She 'is really happy right now' says friend.  'Uh-huh' ) and Demi Moore on youthfulness at 47 ( 'I pretty much think of myself as like still being about five'  'Uh-huh' ).

We're up at 30,000 odd feet again.  37,000 in fact.  Second time today.  'No. no meal ordered.  Thanks all the same.'  My head's a little fuggy from the major yo-yo that is my journey today. The man sat next to me (seat 2A) furiously stares into his finished can of Diet Coke and rattles it in a frustrated manner to try to salvage the ring-pull now he realises it could win him FIFA World Cup 2010 goodies.  The man to my right (Seat 2D) reads Tom Clancy's Op-Center : State of Siege and orders the Junior Jet Club Meal (spag bol and Ribena) refusing the 'free' * mini packet of Nestle cereal that comes with it ( * while stocks last ) causing the two pretty air hostesses to titter and giggle and risk avalanches of foundation and blusher to come crashing down from their high cheek bones.  The couple in front (seats 1B and 1C) share iPod earphones and lean into each other whilst Mrs reads from a book chapter headed 'The Emotional Deprivation Life Trap'  I think I'd have to be in an emotional deprivation life trap before picking up such a tome.  I'd also like to take my shoes off right now but the magazine article told me my neighbours would thank me if I didn't.

LOVELY LADIES LOOKING FOR male for frienfship partner for city/ any / island tour/ indoor/ outdoor.  Call : Ho.

Friendship [not 'frienfship' this time then? ] : ADD EXCITEMENT To your life.  Open minded ladies / man seeking relationship with/ without commitment.  Free for ladies.  Call : Freddy.

YOUNG CUTE AND OPEN MINDED ladies seeking guys for dating with/ without string attach.  Free for ladies.  call : Mr Eddy

I bet Freddy and Eddy are the same guy!

'We're commencing our descent' announces Captain Victor, snapping me out of my consumption of mindless trash, 'the weather is cloudy with rain.  Twenty eight degrees Celsius.  The time is 19:23 local time.'

It's been a long day.  Up and down.  Up and down.  My brain a little addled from it all.  And so this journal entry likewise addled to reflect this fact.  But in the dark, out the window beyond the man struggling with his Diet Coke can, the twinkling lights of Jakarta and a whole new nation's worth of fun are glittering into view.  I run over my rapidly scribbled notes of Simsim's tips on how to get from the airport to the Touristville in town easy and cheap one more time.  I'd have been lost the minute my toes touched Indonesianian tarmac, and prey for the Ruppiah-thirsty taxi drivers without her on this one.  (Cheers Sim!)  We land to a screech of wheels and the tune of a  hundred Nokias being turned on before the former stop turning. 

$25 Visa On Arrival.  30 days.  'This visa is non-extendable.  Must leave Indonesia by 13 Mei'.  Okey-dokes.  'DEATH! To all drugs traffickers' subtly announces the Indonesian Police poster that I have time to read 10 zillion times whilst waiting over an hour to pass through immigration.  Okey-dokes.  Photo.  Fingers scanned.  Thumbs scanned.  Okey-dokes.  'How long do you intend to be in Indonesia?'  Is that a trick question?  'Thirty days... one month.'  'You must leave by the thirteenth of May' emphasises the surly immigration officer.  No, smiles once again are not in the job description.  She firmly rings the date '13 Mei' on my visa in blue biro.  ALRIGHT ALRIIIGHT ALREEEADY!!!  I get the idea.  You want me to b*gger off before I've even got here... 30 days... it's a big country... 'AYO PERGI!!!'  [ 'LET'S GO!!!' ]       

justasimsim says:
Big Smile to the Pretty Hostess of Airasia, and YAIKS for the Immigration people :)
Posted on: May 17, 2010
globalodyssey says:
maybe those are magic potions?
" you are now free to move about the world".
i will never fly air asia again.
your brain chemicals certainly make for a lively trip
Posted on: May 12, 2010
dothoin says:
Your blogs never cease to amaze me buddy have a rare talent
Posted on: May 12, 2010
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Sri Lankan ladies defy Health and …
Sri Lankan ladies defy Health and…
Windows on the World
'Windows on the World'
A wing and a prayer
'A wing and a prayer'
Brand spanking new plane.
Brand spanking new plane.
The Cloud Gazer (portrait)
The Cloud Gazer (portrait)
Flying Air Asia with winner if Tai…
Flying Air Asia with winner if Ta…
Here comes Indonesia! :))) YEY!
Here comes Indonesia! :))) "YEY!"
All the pretty eyes take to the sk…
All the pretty eyes take to the s…
The Air Asia octopus.
The Air Asia octopus.
We wont be satisfied until you a…
'We won't be satisfied until you …
In.  Out.
In. Out.
Duty Free
Duty Free
Relax and Unwind
'Relax and Unwind'
Special Offer
'Special Offer'
Fog clouds recycle through the A/C…
Fog clouds recycle through the A/…
Catwalk, Air Asia style :)
Catwalk, Air Asia style :)