Am I really 14 1/2 hours ahead of Los Angeles? Why am I now craving pizza in a land of delectable Thai food? Do I even care about the U.S. news anymore? These are just some of the reflections from a month on the road in Asia. And I spend a lot of months away from home. What reflections do you have when you change your latitude?
Apologies to Jimmy Buffett, who ran into a chum with a bottle of rum, and we wound up drinkin’ all night. I have no such excuse for what I am writing now, but it strikes me there are some tips and advice in here somewhere. So here goes, still under the influence of jetlag.
#1. I only suffer jetlag returning from Asia. Thanks, NASA!
Yes, studies by NASA and others with lots of degrees behind their names have told us that it is harder to adjust our body clocks when traveling from west to east. NASA’s chief of fatigue management (nice title) also says it takes about a day to adjust for every time zone. So when I drop back 15 hours flying from China to the U.S., I’m supposed to take a couple of weeks to adjust?
After a decade of those flights, I have yet to figure out how to beat the system. I have tried Ambien and Melatonin and eye masks and alcohol and abstention. Frankly, nothing works, although I am usually pretty normal in 4-5 days. If you have the magic answer, let me and countless others know by commenting below.
#2. What time is it? In fact, what day is it? Do I even care?
I’m sitting in Yangon, Myanmar contemplating a Skype call to California. My world clocks app tells me to adjust back 14.5 hours. So, I email the family to expect a call from me sometime yesterday. Except it is 3:00am there, so they don’t see the email anyway.
That reminds me that I have lost track of what day of the week it is. I got to Myanmar on a Thursday, I think, but it was a holiday, and who has a holiday on Thursday? Oh yeah, Lunar calendar, full moon, got it. At this point do I even care what day of the Roman calendar we are on? I will just let people back home know I am hopelessly lost in time.
#3. Why am I craving pizza, pasta and Mexican food?
The menu in Thailand is full of delectable items, from Tom Yum Goong to Pad Thai to Duck in Red Curry. So many wonderful choices. Why am I craving Italian and Mexican food? I don’t know if NASA has studied this, but after several weeks in Asia, I start dreaming about cheeseburgers in paradise.
My theory, and I don’t have a PhD, is that Americans like to eat all kinds of cuisines on a regular basis. We will eat pasta one day, burritos the next, then Chinese, then pizza, then fish, then a salad, and so on. In China, they eat Chinese food – every day. OK, it’s incredibly delicious, but eventually even KFC looks good to me. Is that normal?
#4. Security and shoes and chargers and Global Entry
Airport security in the U.S. sucks. There, I said it. Please don’t put me on a watch list. On my recent trip to Asia I take 12 flights. The toughest security measures are in trying to leave LAX. I’m Global Entry and TSA Pre. It doesn’t matter. Stand in a long line. Take out every electronic device, in fact, anything sort of metal. Take everything out of your pockets.
Take off your shoes. On December 22, 2001, a guy had explosives hidden in his shoes. Since then, about 10 billion American flyers have had to remove their shoes. It is the only one of my 12 flights where I have to do that. Then again, we don’t get blown up.
To be fair, I have had device chargers confiscated in China. To solve the problem, I bought my latest charger in China. Also to be fair, Global Entry does work on returning to the U.S. from abroad. This time arriving at LAX, I make it from gate to kiosk to curb in 15 minutes. It’s the best $100 the government will ever take from you.
#5. Am I looking forward to traffic on the 405 freeway?
It’s 8:00pm, and I have naively waited for rush hour to clear a little. I’m taking a taxi from central Bangkok to the airport. But there’s a problem. I’ve been in the taxi for 20 minutes and haven’t made it from the hotel to the street yet; traffic is virtually stopped. Eventually we inch along a pace that is slower than walking. And I have a flight to catch. It’s like that every day here.
Of course, it could be worse. I have come from Myanmar, where every form of transportation is an adventure. Yangon, which doesn’t allow motorbikes, is now overrun by cars, and without the roads to support them. Trains are the butt of all jokes. Busses are slightly better.
Near Myanmar’s Inle Lake, I am faced with a 40-minute walk to the market. The solution is to jump in the back of a sort of motorized wagon, as we bounce over the muddy, rutted path. I ride on the back of a motorbike on the way back. It is one of the US$400 models made across the border in China. I tell him to “take it slow.” It hardly matters.
Yes, when I encounter an accident and Sig Alert on L.A.’s 405 freeway on the final leg of my journey, it seems almost acceptable. I’m driving a Lexus on a real highway. I’m sure traffic will clear anytime now.
#6. Why am I starting not to care about news from the U.S.?
When I first leave the U.S., I find myself checking the ESPN website, reading The New York Times International Edition and searching for CNN on TV. With each passing day my interest in U.S. news wanes. “What was the score in yesterday’s football game?” becomes “Is my team still playing?” morphing into “Why is every football game on TV played with a round ball?”
I am reminded just how U.S.-centric the news is in America by how many interesting stories are presented to me internationally that would never be covered in the States. I can’t avoid the global news – there’s a television built into my bathroom mirror. I become a citizen of the world. I feel more intelligent. Still not smart enough to understand rugby from Australia. “That guy was tackled and down! Why is play still going on?”
#7. I’m still glad I carry a drug store in a Ziploc bag
Bugs are attracted to me. Mosquitoes think I am dessert. How else can I explain the several bites that are showing up on my arm? And I am inside the convention center in Bangkok. Thank goodness a tube a Benadryl is as close as my hotel room inside my drug store in a Ziploc bag, fully explained in another post.
How charming and quaint was the building on stilts as our longtail boat pulls up to the dock. Inside we find some ladies from Myanmar’s Kayan tribe, with their long neck rings, weaving and selling clothing. We have stepped back in time. Unfortunately, my stomach has taken a step back also. Nothing in that local store can take the place of the western medicine I carry with me. My drug store in a Ziploc bag comes through again, as it does time after time.
#8. It’s going to take 31 hours to get home?
I enjoy looking at those old ads for Pan Am or TWA, showing well dressed people smiling as they are served their steak dinners in-flight. These days the romance is gone. We treat flights as almost a necessary evil.
I am both upscale and on a budget, so I enjoy the comforts of a lay-flat bed on Asiana, but still endure an 8-hour layover in Seoul to save hundreds of dollars. I’ve done all the free tours of Seoul, offered as a nice perk by the airport, so this time I confine myself to the business lounge.
#9. Final reflections
Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I’ve been.
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again.
You got that right, Jimmy.
I may be tired and jetlagged, but already dreaming of the next trip. On this one I make new travel friends from all over the world, visit old friends, see a new country in the midst of historic change, and as usual, come back a little wiser about this planet we inhabit.
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