Home Again From Southeast Asia: I Wanna Go Back

Now I am not sure how you can make a boring trip back from Southeast Asia to Arizona sound exciting, but I am going to try. Singapore is the last stop on this six week journey in Southeast Asia during which we have gone to 8 countries and there’s no more story to tell.

Perhaps in my attempt to tell a good story, where there is none to be told, I will start with the horrific stench that assaults me when I open the door of our cheap Singapore hostel room on my way to the shared shower. It’s those stinky shoes that our fellow travelers several doors down placed into the hallway for the night. My sign is still there announcing to the owners that their shoes stink, as though they need to be told. I plug my nose as I stumble towards the shower stall. Oh sick! Come to think of it, what if those stinky feet people showered in here last night, and now I am going to get their stinky feet mold on my feet! How repulsive. I shower as quickly as I can while attempting to stand on my heels. Maybe the organisms won’t take as well to my hardened heels as they would to my squishy toes.  I don’t want to have soaking wet sandals on the flight home so I do it barefoot against my better judgement. I guess in due course I will find out if I have mold growing on my feet or not.

Once I am done with my shower I wake up the munchkins. It is early, and they are tired. Silly parents that keep their kids running around til all hours of the night. That’s teaching them bad habits if anything. You think we would be teaching them that nothing good happens after 10 pm.

I decide to rearrange our baggage. We are going to check in three bags rather than having them as carry on. That means I need to move some vital items from those three bags into the two that we are going to carry on. And then we go downstairs for our not so delicious hostel breakfast. And then we check out, and I get my $10 sgd deposit back. But time is a wasting, and we have a 10 minute walk to the metro. A quick glance at the time shows me that we are running late. Hurry, hurry!

Once we arrive at the metro station we are in for a shock. I thought that I could use my debit card in the ticket machine to buy our metro tickets to the airport, but alas no. The machine only accepts cash. I have $10 cash from the deposit money I just received, but the tickets cost $12.60. Now what? There are no cash machines down here!

I flag down a British traveler and ask him if he has a bit of Singaporean money I can trade for U.S. dollars for a good exchange rate. Nope…..don’t ask a Brit for any favors, I learn.

I rush over to the man at the ticket booth and tell him about our problem. He looks annoyed. I am sure he gets this story every day. Dude…..seriously, we are going to miss our flights back to the U.S.!

After a while he tells me that I can purchase 4 tickets with my money and come back to his counter. I can barely make out what he is saying in my fluster. In the end he comes to the machine with me and feeds in my $10 and some of his own change to buy four tickets. That’s nice, but we are still short one ticket. Then he leads us to the turnstiles and opens up the gate so one of us can enter for free.

Well, that’s nice, but you still need to have a ticket to scan when you exit the metro, so I am not sure how that is going to work. We strategize. The decision is made that the boys will exit in the same turnstile at the same time, and we will hope that the booth agent there does not notice, and that the turnstile doesn’t have some kind of detector that notices two bodies pass instead of one.

Our plan works. We aren’t arrested for breaking a law in Singapore. Now you know that Singapore has very strict laws. Simply spitting your gum on the sidewalk can result in huge fines or even lashings. In fact I remember when we arrived in Singapore before the wedding Johann had pulled out a pack of gum from his bag and started chewing on it right in the metro station! Of course he did not remember the no chewing gum rule of Singapore. We were buying metro passes while he was chomping on his gum, and the ticket agent looked up at him with a shocked expression and she had asked him rather sharply and incredulously, “Are you chewing GUM?” He very quick wittedly answered that he was eating candy…. but little did he know that there is a $500 fine for eating or drinking in the metro station. But anyway, I digress…..we successfully broke the law in Singapore, albeit with the ticket agent’s blessing. I will have to send them $2.40 in the mail or something.

It’s a mad dash once we arrive at the airport station. We have to line up to get our $50 refund on our now expired metro cards. After that we have to go retrieve our suitbag that we had put into storage, which is at another terminal. We frantically rush up the stairs, and greet the cranky woman at the luggage storage counter. She is just downright unfriendly. Since we are 30 minutes past due she charges us another $5. Luckily we have cash now to pay for it.

Now we are in serious crunch time. I planned that we would stay in Singapore last night just to make sure that we don’t miss our overseas flights back home, and here we are about to miss them. We have less than an hour to check in and board our plane before it leaves. I pile the luggage onto a luggage cart and run helter skelter through the terminal, and we grab the skytrain to the next terminal. In the meantime the luggage cart is kind of hard to control at high speed, so I practically knock over some rope posts, which makes the kids giggle.

I think you can see in this picture that Kristoff thinks its all pretty amusing, but David looks like he isn’t too sure this is fun. Come to find out that our seats from Taiwan to Los Angeles are in the very back of the plane, which David does not find amusing at all considering that he gets motion sickness very easily.

We rush down to the gates. I have to tell you that I don’t think I like the design at the Changi airport here in Singapore. The security is set up really weird. Instead of going through security in the beginning of the terminal, the security stations are set up at the gates, sometimes just one gate at a time. That might save you a bit of time as far as waiting to get through security goes, but you can’t buy any food or drink once you are in the gate areas. But anyway, we make it by the skin of our teeth. They are already half done with boarding by the time we arrive.

Check out this ridiculous plane. I have never seen a double decker plane like this before! The whole thing is two floors!

The first leg of our journey will take us out of Singapore and into Taipei, Taiwan. That’s where our journey began six weeks ago. We are the last ones to board the plane.

What happens next puts David and I on the edge of our seats, that’s for sure. I have the window seat. I know I might be a bit paranoid about noises on a plane, but this one seems to be making a strange clunking noise as we taxi. Our flight takes off like a plane normally would, but no sooner do we get off the ground than the plane decelerates sharply and begins to descend a bit. It hovers low over the city and loops around and around. It picks up a bit of speed, climbs a little higher, and goes a little lower and goes a little slower. Then it picks up speed and altitude again, and vice versa. I don’t hear the funny clunking noise anymore, thankfully. By now David is getting nervous, and we clasp our hands tightly together. The stewardesses are nowhere to be seen and the plane is eerily quiet. The captain comes on and announces to the flight crew to remain seated.

By now I am  pretty freaked out. I have never been in a plane before that has had any real significant problems, so this is making me nervous. Are we going to have to make an emergency landing? We swoop low over the bay, and this time I can see all the ships from above, much like we did when we were up on the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. We float over the city and the bay for probably 45 minutes. I envision a water landing, and all I can think about is how my camera and my photo memory cards will get ruined! I take the memory cards out of my purse and put the small case that holds them into my zippered pants pocket just in case…..at least they won’t go to the bottom of the ocean unless I do.

I envision the pilots up front. Can you imagine being the person in charge of this many lives? Lives that matter? People with friends and families and loved ones? I wonder what he is thinking, and why they are so silent. Why don’t they announce what the problem is?

Stealthily we begin a slow ascent up to cruising altitude, and when we look on the flight map on the screens in front of our seats we can see that we are heading towards Taiwan. At one point it looks like we are turning back again, but the plane corrects itself and we finally relax a bit; nonethless, our hands are tightly clasped together for the duration of the flight, except for meal time. The flight still seems to be slow, and our 5.5 hour flight takes more like 7 hours.

That long of a flight calls for a potty break, so both David and I head to the back of the plane to use a restroom. I open a restroom door and imagine my surprise when I find that the restroom is large! Large enough for two or three people. So without even thinking we both pile into the bathroom and lock the door. Then we realized that duh…..how are we going to get out of here without people potentially thinking that we were up to no good in an airplane bathroom!? Great!! People can get arrested for this kind of stuff. Wouldn’t you love to be in the news for engaging in hanky panky in an airplane bathroom?

We devise a plan. David will leave just a bit before me. Well, dumb me, I just set myself up for an embarrassment! No sooner does he leave the restroom than a man pushes open the unlocked door and starts to come into the bathroom! Imagine his surprise in seeing me there right after David had just left. I don’t know if I blush, but I clear out of there in a hurry! Hopefully no one else notices.

When we approach Taiwan David realizes what the hold up was when we were circling over Singapore. There is a crazy typhoon approaching this island nation….and we are going to land here? They must have been trying to decide whether or not it is safe to land in Taiwan, and that’s why we were circling above Singapore. The clouds are ginormous. When I look below I see enormously humongous thick puffy white clouds. I marvel to think how it is beautiful and sunny up here above the clouds, and how a storm is brewing down below that is threatening to wreak havoc on the island of Taiwan. Here we are floating in the blue, blue sky with marshmallow pillows below us, and down there……it’s windy and dark and gloomy…..and something ominous is in the air.

When we begin the descent into the thick clouds the ride gets bumpy, and as we approach the runway the wind seems to be rocking us to and fro. Now I am really thinking about the pilot. Can you imagine being the pilot in this type of weather? That’s crazy! Literally hundreds of lives depending on you and your skill. What if a huge gust of wind blows us off course? I grip David’s hand even tighter.

We land. It was a pretty good landing for such conditions, and I cheer a bit….but I am the only one to cheer so I shut my mouth rather quickly. These people are quiet travelers, which is a bit unnerving in and of itself. It seems like everyone was equally nervous about our landing into a city with a fast approaching typhoon.

We are overjoyed to have landed safely, but underjoyed when we realize that we might miss our next flight…..you know, the long one….overseas to Los Angeles. And even more underjoyed when the realization strikes us that we have to fly out of Taiwan just ahead of this typhoon that is bearing down. We literally run to our next gate.

As you  might suspect because of the weather our flight was delayed, so we have about 30 minutes until boarding starts. I think I told you that our seats are in the very back of the plane, which is less than exciting for David, but since we are in the back of the plane we are one of the first ones to get on. As we are near the door to the plane I see some free newspapers on a stand, including the USA Today. I point to it and tell David, “Hey, grab a newspaper!” Of course we don’t really read newspapers anymore, but it seemed like a good idea for some reason.

David glares at me as if to say, “No siree bob…..”  I realize my folly a bit too late. The headlines are blaring loudly, “Debris Found From Missing Malaysian Flight MH370”! And who wants a reminder about missing planes when they are boarding a plane just ahead of a typhoon?

We settle into our seats. Now, do you have any idea what it feels like to be on the tarmac at a standstill when the wind is blowing the jet from side to side so much that it feels like you are in a rocking chair? This is freaky! I try to peer out the window, and see a few shrubs bending sharply in the wind. Wow! This is nuts! Are we really going to take off in this?

Of course since we are in the back of the plane we have a long wait for the plane to load up, and that is a lot of rocking to and fro. We are literally moving from side to side like we are sitting sideways in a rocking chair. Again I think about the pilot. Can you imagine? I think I have been down this thought road before. No, I can’t imagine, and obviously that is why I am not a pilot.

A big dude piles into the seat next to me. His arms and shoulders take up my space. I have a t-shirt on, and his bare arms keep rubbing against my bare arms. It is super creepy. I try to lean into David to give the dude more room, but his arms keep rubbing up against me intermittently. Ish. Finally I realize if I put my down jacket on my one arm it doesn’t bother me so much if he brushes up against me…..at least it isn’t skin to skin contact…..

Once the plane is loaded we taxi to takeoff. The jet engines scream as we lift off. The plane gets blown around like a bedsheet drying on a clothesline for a second or two, and the pilot skillfully maneuvers to correct our course. After a few bumps we soar high above the clouds and we are safely on our way back to American soil.

Now a piece of us in still in Taipei, Taiwan awaiting the arrival of the typhoon. Jasmine and Tristan are there, as you might recall, for their “real” honeymoon, hunkered down in a windowless hotel room awaiting the deadly storm. Jasmine sends a text that they have upgraded to a 5 star hotel with windows because they couldn’t stand the thought of being hunkered down in a windowless hotel room with a massive typhoon bearing down upon them. I agree. I would have done the same. Hopefully the windows are hurricane resistant. Apparently there is great concern that the Taipei 101 tower that we had visited at the begining of our trip might not have strong enough windows to withstand the storm. Stay safe, kids!

And so it is that we settle in for a twelve hour flight. It is a twelve hour uneventful flight at that. Now I will say that later we look at some video footage of a Singapore Airlines plane that took off from Taipei just ahead of a typhoon just like we did. Apparently they can take off in winds of up to 30 knots, however visibility was so poor and the airport safety considerations so lackluster that the plane accidentally took off down the wrong runway which had construction equipment on it. FYI….don’t watch scary videos about airline crashes any time before or soon after flying. Bad idea! There also is a video of a large passenger plane tethered down for the typhoon that was lifting off the front end in the wind.

Our arrival into Los Angeles is pretty uneventful. We have a long customs/immigration wait, which is the norm. We decide we don’t like the L.A. Airport. It is very poorly designed…..actually I don’t even think it is designed, but rather is just pieced together with remnants of yesteryear.

We are in for a shock, however. We are kind of hungry when we land and so we decide to maybe grab a hamburger to eat or something. Ends up being the burgers cost $15 each……and we are used to paying $20 to feed 6 people to the point of bursting. Talk about sticker shock. There is no way we are going to pay that much money for a hamburger, and since there was nothing else cheaper we just sit around with growling stomachs.

I am actually looking forward to having a snack on the plane from L.A. to Phoenix, which is kind of funny because we all know what snacks are like on airplanes. Maybe I can score some orange juice to help with my hunger pangs. We are all settled in again for a short flight. Soon we will be home. Just as the snack cart arrives next to our row the captain announces that food service will be suspended due to turbulence.

 We hit a couple small bumps and that’s it. The plane begins its descent into the hot box known as Phoenix. This place is ridiculously hot! My sis, Sari, is at the airport to pick us up. We stop at In & Out Burger on the way home to feed our growling bellies, where we drop $30 for mediocre food. That’s more than most any of the delicious meals that we ate on our journey.

When we pull up in the driveway at home my sister notices that the side entry door window is broken. Great! We have had a break-in? Luckily not, because on closer inspection I notice that the window is not broken, but appeared like it was due to huge splotches of dirt from what appears to have been heavy rains when we were gone.

Ugh! Whose idea was it to shut the A/C units all the way off in the house when we were gone? The house is 95 degrees when we arrive. And guess what else? The unit that cools the main part of the house is not working.

As soon as we get in the house all of our belongings from the trip go directly out on the back patio. In fact, we all strip down into our skivvies on the back patio and leave everything there. I know, it will be my job…..all the clothes need to be washed to make sure if there are any stray bedbugs or other vermin attached to our belongings that they get eradicated.

It seems pretty nice to crawl into our own bed to sleep. David awakens suddenly in the early morning a little confused about where he is. He exclaims loudly that the bed that he is sleeping on is the most uncomfortable bed he has slept on during the whole trip…..meanwhile it is our bed……that’s pretty pathetic……I guess maybe we need a new bed?

Honestly, on our first morning home I realized that I have to make breakfast……and lunch…..and dinner……and go grocery shopping…..This is a joke! I haven’t had to do any work for 6 weeks. No laundry. No food prep. No cleaning! Woooow! This sucks! How come I have to do all this work…..all I had to do for these last six weeks was sit down and order food, complain if someone didn’t do a good enough job cleaning…..put away my freshly washed and folded clothes….

Okay, I know. This is reality. Life. I  need to hunker down and stop whining. It’s not that many years anymore to when I get to retire. Gulp…..here I am wishing my life away? That’s dumb. I am almost forgetting that I need to live for today.

But that will be after the work gets done……my doors are covered with cobwebs…..


My motivation is lackluster. I wonder if it has anything to do with this oppressive heat!? Oooo looks like my car needs cleaned, too.

I have to go back to school shopping, too. The kids missed their first two days of school, which is pretty irresponsible of me. I decided that it was more important for us to go to Bali as a family after the wedding than for the kids to start back to school when their classmates do. They start back two days after we get home, and I hope they don’t have terrible jet lag. If you haven’t heard me say this before, then I will say it now. I hate school. I wish my kids could stay at home with me all the time. If I could have it my way my kids would all be illiterate dumb nuts, and we would just whittle our time away doing things that we love to do…..

Come to find out that you don’t need to go to Vietnam to have the bus wheels fall off. This school bus lost a wheel right on our little dirt road here.

We have another case of sticker shock when we go to Costco. Our fridge is pretty much empty, because we made sure of that before we left. We make a Costco run to stock up on a few items and end up spending $500, plus $220 for an A/C repair, and this and that…..before you know if we have forked out $1000….. we decide that maybe it’s cheaper to be on vacation…..and more fun….and more interesting….

There’s only one way that we can go on vacation again, and that is to work hard and long hours to save up money and accrue vacation time. And so it is that just two days after returning from our fabulous Southeast Asia tour that we find ourselves back at work again. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job…..I love the people I work with…..I love a lot of things about my life here in Phoenix.

I really don’t know what is the driving force behind my nomadic tendencies. Perhaps I really do have some Lapland Sami native blood in me, as they are traditionally nomadic people. Now in reality I can’t claim to be so nomadic in nature when I have spent the last quarter century living in the same area here in the great American Southwest. But I feel this constant tug to go places, see places, experience places.

The truth is that the great state of Arizona is incredibly diverse and beautiful. There are many places to explore right here in our own backyard, and maybe that is what I need to be content with.

When I look back at our trip I have to say that everything went according to plan with hardly any problems. It has been really awesome. As far as packing goes I am super happy that my friend lent me the packing cubes for our clothes, for without them our bags would have been a chaotic mess. Of note also is that we were very satisfied with the amount and type of clothing that we brought along. We packed super light, and it ends up being that we wore most all of the clothes that we brought along quite regularly, and there was just the right amount in terms of weight and space in our bags, as well as for having enough variety of clothes to wear between laundry days. We saw many people with incredibly huge backpacks on the trip and I wondered how they could stand to haul around all that weight, and what on earth was so important to take along that they would be busting themselves with such ginormous backpacks.

I would just like to say a word of thanks to all who have read my blog posts (there’s 38 of them on this trip) and given me positive feedback. You may have heard me say that the reason that I have taken the time and expended the effort and energy to write this blog is mostly for my kids. They think it is the most awesome thing to have a written record of our trip. Sometimes one of them will come up to me and say, “Mommy, can you read the blog to me?” And if I say yes they excitedly call their other siblings to come listen while mommy reads. I hope that you all have enjoyed the ride…..

9 thoughts on “Home Again From Southeast Asia: I Wanna Go Back

  1. Loved it! I am making babies just so I can take them on trips like this. It is scientifically proven that EXPERIENCES not THINGS create long term happiness!! ~Hannah “See u on night shift”

  2. Kaija, I am Eric Humphrey’s mother-in-law and just wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading about your adventures! I even stayed up way too late reading when there would be a couple blogs in my inbox when I did my last check before I put the machine to sleep 🙂 You are a great story teller. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thanks for sharing your awesome trip with us! It truly felt like I was traveling with you. Love the excitement in your storytelling as well as your great sense of humor. Was fun to catch up how your kids are doing around the world..brought back many memories which I shared with your family in past. Claudia also enjoyed to read what Annika was up to.

  4. Kaija, thanks for sharing your trip. The pictures are great and your stories are very interesting. Would be nice to meet you.
    You know my sister, Jane Alanen, she sent me the link to your blog. GP , Jerry

    • Thank you, so much. Yes I know Jane very well. She has taught my kids piano in years past and held evening singing sessions for the kids as well. Delightful lady :-). I am glad you enjoyed the blog. It was fun to write.

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