Asia, Moving

Business Classy

It’s time for a confession: I sprang for business class.  A 14-hour stretch of dehydration torture with air contaminated by the coughing tubercular denialist three rows back isn’t my idea of a good time, so I paid to put a little space between us.

It takes less than five minutes on my first long-haul to deem the price of this extravagance worth packing in. I board, and go to the left. First class is sequestered upstairs, and everyone in coach heads right. I feel delightfully free of the fray, especially since I survived three bad omens to get on board.

The first involved an overturned Mini Cooper on the ramp to airport departures. The driver lay on the cement, her head braced by a civilian as her own blood pooled at her side. Its color matched the cherry red car. I’m 90% sure she was missing her right hand, but I stopped trying to figure that out the minute I noticed it.

The second occurred just after my taxi driver/ English professor/ Masters in Linguistics candidate (“you learned your Spanish in Mexico? Ahorita is a very Mexican wor.”) pulled to the curb. According to the lovely agents at Quantas, I am required to have a visa to enter Australia, even if I only plan on spending the night. In the airport. (I’m a princess, but a stingy one.)

Luckily, I can get this right across the hall. After some back and forth, some very vague responses to my question of requirements (is this for Chileans, for planes arriving from Chile, or for everyone?), and $26,200 “leftover” Chilean pesos ($50USD), I am checked in and on my way to goof off for a bit before boarding my plane.

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Chilean money is the prettiest I’ve seen so far. Some of it has windows and the $10.000CP notes match my iPad cover.

Aside: I’m traveling with books on my ipad, which means I have to find something to do during take-off and landing. (God forbid I read Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and actually plan my trip.) I wander to the airport newsstand where I find a Vanity Fair. Disturbed by my level of excitement, I take it to the counter and tell the woman behind it I’m afraid to ask how much it costs. She laughs, and tells me: $7900CP. That’s $14 US dollars, which converts to one dollar for each hour of flight. Jay-Z better be pretty damn interesting.

I go upstairs for one last fantastic South American cappuccino before leaving. Somehow, I get this:

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A cappuccino to insult all cappuccinos.

How milk foam with a little espresso becomes coffee with whipped cream is a conundrum.  Also a conundrum: how to drink this.The whipped cream foams in the coffee, spilling over the edge of the mug and onto the saucer. I let it sit for a while until the foaming comes to an end, and I drink it. Why not?

Eventually, I slink through duty free, careful to avoid the perfume assault zone,  and find some other interesting items, like a $19USD bag of m&ms,

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Easy economic conversion for Chile: drop 3 zeros and multiply by two. Thus, this bag of m&ms costs (9,500/1000)x2. Or $19USD.

and a selection of goods in sardine cans with the brand name “Robinson Crusoe.” They are things I wouldn’t consider eating, regardless of being stranded on an island. One can’t help but wonder who does the product selection for this location, and how much canned octopus cocktail they actually sell.

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I don’t know what oil of maravilla is, and I think I’m better off this way.

And here I arrive at bad omen number three: I queue like a South American now. In other words, I line up ridiculously early and completely ignore all order-related instructions. Boarding rows 45-60? How nice. I’m in row seven and I’ll just be boarding now too. Apparently I’ve adopted this mentality during six intracontinental flights and a similar number of bus trips since leaving home.  Consequently, I unintentionally cut a long line of people who actually are in Business Class, boarding with me. Australians do not take kindly to this provincial custom, and I garner quite a few dirty looks.

When I get to my seat, I shirk off the guilt. I’m too giddy to care. I’m on to more important things, like my seat. It flat-reclines, has adjustable lumbar support, and a massage feature. A pillow and two blankets await me, and there is so much leg room, I can stick my legs out straight and still not touch the next row.

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I have my own tv that rises out of the center console and has movies, tv shows, documentaries, news, and more. There is a vast menu of food options that make my mouth water, even if I accommodate for them to be done airline-style.

The flight has a customer service manager, who introduces himself in English, with a tasty Australian accent. This is the first time I have understood a flight attendant’s safety instructions since I left the US. As soon as the door closes, I am brought a bottle of water, hot towel, toiletry kit. And then…a set of pajamas.

The woman sitting next to me is a pro. She already knows that second blanket is a bedroll to pad your seat for more comfortable sleeping.  The minute we are allowed to unbuckle and move about the cabin, she is first to the restroom to put on her pajamas. (The bathroom has a flower arrangement, and individual cloth towels instead of paper.) She is quickly followed by most of the rest of the cabin, so that, while we boarded as normal individuals, we slowly don the appearance of a doomsday cult.

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Yes, these are real. I checked.

Luxury comes at a cost, though, and I’m not talking about the price of the ticket. The cloth towels go into the trash just like paper. Does this happen with the hot towels, which are made of the same cheap washcloth? What about all those pajamas when we are done with them? Are they laundered and reused?

What about all those cases with unused toiletries, facemasks, and little black socks? The list of waste goes on, and maybe this is why I don’t sleep for more than about three hours on this flight.  I am slightly ameliorated by putting some of my beloved Chilean pesos in the UNICEF envelope provided with my headset and collected at the end of the flight, but heading into an area of the world with extreme, extreme poverty, this definitely provides some food for thought.

The price of just an average foreign vacation in much of Southeast Asia is much more than the average Southeast Asian can afford. People in the countries I am visiting don’t use toilet paper, so how does one explain throwing out cloth towels after a single use? I may be Business Classy, but the contradiction between the way I’m traveling and the standard of living in the countries I’m traveling through is definitely not lost on me. It’s food for thought for that four-star menu.

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