Friday, March 15, 2013
The working life: The glamor of travel
This is what it's like to enter the unspecified Middle Eastern country, hereafter referred to as "Elbonia."
You get off the plane after a 13-hour flight. You walk and walk and walk. You get on the moving walkway and try to continue to walk, but apparently, the concept of "Walk left, stand right" is strictly a western one. "Stand left, stand right" seems to be the approach in Elbonia. You get off the moving walkway and walk on the regular floor instead and go a lot faster than the people standing on the moving walkway.
You get to passport control. You look at the lines. It is a single server, single line setup (the McDonald's model) as opposed to a multiple server, single line (Wendy's, US passport control, anyone with any sense).
You try to figure out which line is moving fastest. This is important. Single server, single line is a very unfair system and your speed through the process depends completely on the efficiency of your server. If you pick wrong, you could wait a lot longer than the people in other lines.
I always pick the wrong line.
My Elbonian co-workers told me always, always to pick the line where a woman is working. The men, they said, are there to hang out. The women are there to work.
Apparently, the job of passport control agent is reserved for Elbonian nationals. It must be considered a Good Job. "They take breaks, they do the cheek kiss, they chat. They don't hurry," my Elbonian co-workers explained in disdain. My Elbonian co-workers are not Elbonian nationals. They are Indian and they hustle.
China might be a military threat to the US, but while we're busy buying their cheap consumer goods made with prison labor and worrying about the trade imbalance, Indian professionals are quietly taking over the world.
But they make good movies, the food is excellent, and they speak English, so it could be worse.
As SH and I stood in line, we realized we had of course picked the wrong line. Occasionally, a man in a long white robe would open a new line, but rather than taking people who were at the front of their lines and redirecting them, he would take people from the ends of the lines.
Which is totally unfair.
During the long wait - it took us 45 minutes to go through a line that was about 40 feet long, ads for Burberry flashed above us on large screens.
I had already decided that Burberry has gone the way of Tommy Hilfiger and Polo with the giant logos and become the brand of choice for drug dealers, but being subjected to those ads for 45 minutes sealed my decision never to buy anything made by that brand ever.
Here's what it's like to leave Elbonia:
You get to the airport. You see the security line as shown above. You sigh, move your computer bag from your shoulder to rest on top of your suitcase, and you wait.
And then you see an airport official letting seemingly random people cut the line.
When you grab the guy and ask him how you can cut line, he asks if you are on the Air Thailand flight.
No, you say. You are not.
He shrugs. Those people are on that flight and the flight is closing so they have to get through security.
You gasp. Wait! Do you mean that you are letting those seven people cut line because they showed up at the airport less than an hour before their international flight was to depart and OH NO! it wasn't enough time to get through the FIVE DIFFERENT SEARCHES/CONTROLS one must endure to leave Elbonia?
He shrugs again.
So why bother to show up three hours early as everyone knows is the standard for international flights, especially international flights leaving from airports in countries like Elbonia?
He shrugs again.
If I had shown up late, then I would be able to cut? you ask. But because I showed up on time, I have to stand in line forever?
He nods sheepishly.
You want to scream.