Archive for December, 2003

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Saturday, December 20th, 2003

Took some good pictures of Athens that I’ll get up after I charge the camera. For now, try to appreciate how great my Saturday was:

  1. Woman at airport chided me for being there just 2 hours before departure — and then gave me a middle seat in a regular aisle for the 4 hour ATHLHR journey.
  2. In the gate, they passed out a letter informing us in-flight entertainment wasn’t working.
  3. Boarding was delayed 25 minutes due to “certification problems.”
  4. They found me an aisle seat — but it was behind a very generously-sized woman who kept trying to recline.
  5. Takeoff was delayed 15 minutes because they had trouble disconnecting the jetway.
  6. Landing was delayed 20 minutes because air traffic control wanted us to hold.
  7. The customs guy was the rudest I’ve ever dealt with.
  8. I spent €2 [US$2.48] for a 15-second call to Matt, where I discovered he wasn’t at the airport because he thought my flight wasn’t in for another 2 hours.
  9. I had to spend Euro because the ATM on the ground level wasn’t dispensing cash.
  10. There was no ATM on the second level, though staff on ground said there was.
  11. While the train to Paddington was fine, I sat at the Circle Line platform watching no less than 8 trains pass on the opposite one before mine came.

But all of that doesn’t matter, because sitting patiently at the last station was Matthew, ready to guide me to his place and play the gracious host. He’d even made a “JSP” sign for Heathrow. Go Matt!


Wednesday, December 17th, 2003

So, initial thoughts on Athens: the practically brand-new airport makes Heathrow (at least Terminal 4) look like a sad old relic. But they’re going to need more than that to get geared up for the 2004 Olympics — and everything is still under construction (even on the weekends, I’ve been told.)

Not least among these will be more airport shuttles. I was crammed — with my ever-expanding luggage — into a city bus with 48 other travelers* and their luggage for the 75-minute journey to the city center. This after being crowded at the bus stop by people who jostled for boarding position while puffing madly on cigarettes.

Not to make far-reaching generalizations, but it’s impossible to imagine the Singaporeans doing this. Just as it is difficult to imagine a Singapore** resident asking me the question I got upon leaving my (impressively dingy) hostel this morning:

“Do you play basketball?”

* All the Greek taxi drivers have been on strike since 0500 Thursday, so this number may be inflated. However, it’s a 35km journey, so it’s probably pretty expensive.
** In Singapore, for example, I can’t stand straight up in the phone booths (the on-hook phone doesn’t even come to my navel.) No joke.

The Thing About Singapore

Sunday, December 14th, 2003

“I love everything about Singapore. It’s so clean [and] modern, yet so conservative at the same time.”

That’s how the Singapore Abuzz! leaflet in my hotel room proudly quotes Shah Rukh Khan, “Bollywood superstar”. Apart from the pleasing implication that “clean and modern” is not normally associated with “conservative,” it’s hard to see what he’s talking about.

After all, the thing that struck me most about Singapore wasn’t cleanliness or modernity (though both are evident), but the many malls. The downtown map lists no fewer than 78 “shopping centres” and the four I’ve visited were each at least six stories. Which I suppose is no surprise when you consider it’s a place with a strong economy and frequent thunderstorms.

So what’s this conservative deal? Everyone I’ve encountered over the past few days has been scrupulously friendly, with the hotel staff ridiculously so (but they may be a tad overzealous at everything — housekeeping actually aligned my toiletries and folded up clothes left on the floor, boxers included.)

True, the arrivals form seemed a tad unsubtle in its boldfaced announcement of DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW. And I suppose there was that whole caning thing — so maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked to see that HBO is edited. (You can determine this quite quickly when they’re showing Snatch.)

Therein lies Singapore’s problem, kids: you can be friendly and clean and warm and safe, and that’s a great accomplishment. But a country where Dennis Farina isn’t allowed to say the word “fuck” is just not somewhere I’m going to want to live.

Deadline Looming

Monday, December 8th, 2003

Yes, I’m still here! No time to talk right now (in fact, really should be in bed — it’s 4:35a) but wanted to throw up something for the lovely people who check regularly.

Since I last wrote, I’ve visited the nation’s capital, Canberra, where I managed to get tickets to observe “Question Time” with the Prime Minister. I hope to discuss that and more whenever I get a chance to do a proper update. Sadly, that’s not right now. But soon, I hope!