Burma Bound!

Map of MyanmarWednesday, we scurried around the office and the house, in that order, trying to get the last details attended that would permit Bonnie and me to make our exit from Winona, MS for our fall mission trip to Asia. We didn’t get everything done, not the least of which was to mow the grass. Well, it’s already high from weeks gone by, and I guess it’ll be there when we get back. Surely, it will stop growing soon as we approach a change in the weather.

Packed with four bags to check between the two of us, two carryon bags (nearly empty due to the Asian restrictions of a mere 15 pounds per carryon) and two computer bags, we pointed the Town and Country minivan toward Collierville, TN. The rolling carryon bags do hold some items, but perhaps best of all, we can cart our laptops on them, using them as carts. (Singapore Airlines did weigh my bag to make sure it was not overweight.)

We had our last supper at our favorite restaurant, the Texas Roadhouse; Rebecca joined us there on her way home from work – teaching school in Horn Lake, MS. I had my usual – road kill – a glorified and well-seasoned chopped steak, a salad and a baked potato. Rolls and peanuts accent the atmosphere.

Having arrived about 30 minutes before the restaurant was open and before Rebecca was free from teaching school, we got gasoline (40 cents per gallon cheaper than back in Winona), an oil change (slightly past due) for the van and the complimentary car wash. After we ate, we bought some last minute things for the two month trip overseas on which we were about to embark.

Being Wednesday and being in Collierville with our daughter, we attended the Collierville Church of Christ. We received a lot of well-wishing and encouragement for our Thursday morning departure. Back at Rebecca’s home, we tried to take care of final matters (e.g., emails, Internet check-in for our flights and printing our boarding passes). Off to bed about 11:00 p.m. I was hoping for a good rest, but I suppose the impending trip kept us from sustained and restful slumber.

Thursday morning saw us slalom through Memphis Interstate traffic to the airport. A slight hiccup at the check in counter, though three of the four  bags to be checked were well under the allowed weight, one piece of luggage was about four pounds overweight. Always before, in every airport we have ever visited, the combined weight of all the bags was calculated against the weight allowance. Not this time, though, which required us to move some things around from one bag to two other bags (the other bag already headed down the conveyor and was not available) that were bulging to the max. Even though both of our carryon bags were spacy inside, we did not dare put anything in them because when we reached Singapore Airlines, they require no more than 7 kg or 15 pounds (the case weighs half that) – and the agent at Singapore Airlines weighed my carryon baggage.

The trip to Los Angeles was pleasant, and Bonnie and I did manage to sit with one another. We have been traveling companions through life for over 38 years now – and we want to continue that way as long as God permits. Always before, we have crossed to or from the West Coast at night, but this time we could view the scenery. We took the southwest air route – roughly following I-40 most of the way. It crossed my mind that the pilot was merely following the highway, maybe using a roadmap! We didn’t see much green, but scorched earth – in part, doubtless due to the hostile, burning summer without rain that this part of the country has experienced this year. Of course, the rugged mountains explain some of the scattered settlement of portions of that region. Hmm! I might have to grant Mississippi some accolades.

LAX lived up to and surpassed past experiences, being the most painful airport experience we endure anywhere we go on the planet. Stages of construction and destruction were everywhere! Hardly any signs or personnel could be found to get around. Unlike other international airports, one has to leave the terminal altogether – dumped on the street and fend for himself. One errant bus ride, finally boarding the correct bus and much walking, we found our way to the international terminal. Lines, lines and more lines – endless lines. Then, when we finally arrived (over two hours early) at the seating area for our flight, the only eatery was a Samuel Adams pub. Not interested in the booze, neither were we desperate enough to pay $13 or $14 for a cold, premade lunch meat sandwich. We had a cereal bar apiece for breakfast on the way to the Memphis airport, and we feasted on the same, plus we split a package of cheese and crackers.

Finally aboard our plane, an A380-800 – the biggest commercial airliner in the world, we were able to utilize the three seats in our row on our side of the aisle – because the plane was sparsely occupied. Other than a little turbulence occasionally and reduced legroom, it was like being in our living room – it reminded me of small theater seating. Pretty nice, actually. However, wouldn’t you know it, the nice, personal video screen malfunctioned, and for a while I thought I would have to forego the distraction of inflight entertainment to help pass the 11 and a half hours between LAX and our refueling stop in Tokyo, Japan. Did I mention that the plane has two decks?

Naturally, we had to deplane in Tokyo, go through security once more and reboard the same plane, this time for Singapore. Aloft, Bonnie and I both got some sleep at different times. Bonnie read a book through that she borrowed from our daughter. We watched some movies – on the way to Tokyo from Los Angeles and from Tokyo to Singapore. Even the biggest commercial jetliner gets tossed about sometimes by turbulence, we can attest. However, as big as it is, the pilots set that big bird down easy – easier than many of the smaller craft  on which we ride.

Around 3 a.m. Singapore time, we landed. To our dismay, our favorite airport of anywhere that we go shuts down its transit trains at 2:30 a.m. In Terminal 3, we had to make our way by foot – lugging our portable office (computers) and carryon bags. The problem, though, was all of the signs are geared for directing transfer customers to the appropriate transit trains, and nowhere – absolutely nowhere – are there signs directing pedestrians to Terminal 2. Men don’t like to do this, but I finally found a policeman in the nearly ghostly empty airport who gladly pointed us in the correct direction.

The usually bustling airport cafes and other retailers were almost all closed. We found a couple of croissants with egg, cheese and bacon, accompanied by a Diet Coke and tater rounds; I had no idea that Turkey bacon could be so tough! Our bodies say that it is the middle of the afternoon when the local clocks say that is very, very early in the morning; I would have been happy with a Whopper, but the two Burger Kings we happened by had no beef offerings at this hour of their day.

Waiting patiently is a very important, acquired characteristic that is very useful in foreign travel. We are waiting again – this time for the security to open separating us from our departure gate.

This is the morning of the third day since we left Memphis, TN. We have only lingered long enough in airports for the next plane to fly us on toward Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). We have been wearing the same clothes all this time, and we have another four hours or so before reaching Yangon, sometime after which we may be able to clean up and change clothes. We have not brushed our teeth in days, and my personal body odor is so repulsive to me that I can’t stand to smell myself. My unshaven face has become prickly even to me. Then, days from now and for about eight weeks, we will be out in the sun and mostly away from AC and shower facilities; sometimes it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Cutting through the thick clouds on our descent to Yangon provided us one of the bumpiest rides we have ever experienced; we were glad that the clouds gave way eventually and were not all together from sky to ground. At 9:30 a.m. Yangon, Myanmar time, we arrived at the international terminal, and once we cleared immigration, recovered our baggage and processed through customs, we were greeted by several dear brethren. No place on the planet do we receive a warmer reception than from our loved ones in the faith in Burma. Some of these brethren had to travel several miles for about an hour on the back of pickup trucks to be in place to receive us!

Tired, yes! Dirty, “Yes!” Smelly, “Yes!” Time for showers and rest, “No!” Not more than checked in and getting our luggage to our hotel room, it was off to downtown to purchase airplane tickets for our movement within Myanmar over the next two weeks or so. Since we were downtown, we exchanged currency and made some purchases at Scott’s Market. I love Scott’s Market, and I could stay hours if we had time – just so I could thoroughly look at everything. Each year, we buy some gifts for family and friends, and we buy carved wooden or jade animals and purchase some jade bracelets or necklaces to offer as tokens of hospitality to brethren Stateside who lodge or feed us as we travel in our country weekly.

It seemed like it took forever to get the airplane tickets arranged for Bonnie and me as well as for our two nationals traveling at different times with us. Our “girl Friday” and dear sister in Christ also reserved hotels for us along our upcoming trip and handled related details in advance of our arrival to those places.

Finally, we were able to shower and take a nap. It was a struggle to decide on napping longer or go to supper with dear sisters; we went to supper. Besides we needed to stay up as long as possible to force our bodies to more quickly adapt to the new time zone in which we found ourselves – 12 times zones away from home – nearly completely opposite day and night between where we live and being in Myanmar. We went to bed early, slept well and long! By the time we slumbered Saturday night, we had been up since early Thursday morning; to say we were bushed would be an understatement.

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