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It's almost 2:00 Friday morning here in the City Of Angels (11:45 Thursday morning back in 'Burque if I did the math correctly). I'm laying here in the Ebina House Hotel near the airport feeling completely refreshed after having taken a long-overdue shower. I decided to go ahead and find a room tonight only after I'd breezed through Customs. The room was 2400 baht for the night (approx. $60), which included transfers between the hotel and the airport plus breakfast in the morning.

It seems like ages since I checked out of my Portland hotel at 3a.m. Wednesday morning. It was fairly cold waiting for the train to arrive but the time passed quickly because I spent it talking to a very nice older man. He turned out to be a political refugee from Ethiopia. I was a little stressed at the Portland airport when, among other things, a TSA agent managed to break my cool dual-time watch when he wasn't paying attention and started running things off the end of the conveyer belt. He also smashed a guy's laptop so I certainly wasn't alone or the worse off.

In the Vancouver airport, they even had the International connections passengers go through the basement maze of Customs procedures. After several of the Portland passengers finally arrived at the gate for the Tokyo flight, we discovered that ALL of us were also connnecting in Tokyo for Bangkok-bound flights! Even stranger was that almost all of our Tokyo to Bangkok flights were on different planes that were scheduled to land within a half-hour of each other. There were four flights involved among the eight of us; it felt like an episode of "The Amazing Race"! We spent the next three hours talking about Thailand and giving each other tips about what to do and see.

The Air Canada flight to Tokyo was nine hours of bordom. I tried to read and sleep but neither worked so I watched two of the three movies ("Must Love Dogs" which I enjoyed and "Batman Begins" during the last hour of which I dozed off and on).

They hadn't let any of us check in for the Bangkok-bound flights in either Portland or Vancouver, and I'm sure each of us has similar experiences in Tokyo. That airport was the most confusing I've yet been in. After following the signs for International Transit Passengers, I found myself confronted by a security checkpoint. Not having a boarding pass yet, I asked an officer where to check in for my flight. He said I could do that at my flight's gate and waved me through. However, there was nobody at the gate, just a sign saying the flight would be delayed ten minutes.

I didn't see any of the people I'd befriended in Vancouver so after several minutes of waiting, I went in search of someone who could help me. The person manning an information booth seemed confused after looking at my Air Canada ticket and made a couple of phone calls. She then told me I had to go back through security and check in at Japan Airlines which seemed odd to me since it was a code-share with Royal Thai Airlines, All Nippon Airlines, and Air Canada NOT JAL. Still, she assured me that this was the case. The time for the flight to leave was rapidly approaching...

When I finally got to the JAL counter, I was relieved to see two of the Portland/Vancouver passengers who I knew were on the same Bangkok flight as I. However, the girl at the counter told me I had to go to ANA. I pointed out the couple who were on my same flight but the girl stood her ground. At ANA, I was told I had to go to Air Canada!!! (By this time, I was getting extremely tired of the runaround and worried that I was going to miss the flight.)

"Well, where's the Air Canada counter?" I asked, not having seen it anywhere. "You must go to other terminal. Take shuttle train.". (It was now less 50 minutes to my departure time.). I followed her directions and finally saw the Air Canada sign at the entrance to the shuttle train station - it was hand-written in marker tacked to the bottom of a sign reading "Domestic Passengers"! To increase the stress levels, once I arrived at the Air Canada counter I found myself at the end of an extremely long and meandering line. Forty minutes to departure...

I then noticed that the bulk of the line was being directed towards some Japan Airlines counters at the far end of the counter. I showed an attendant my ticket and pointed to the Air Canada sign. "Shouldn't I go there?" I asked (pleaded). "No," she responded, "you are in right line.". After several more impossibly long minutes, suddenly I saw a JAL-uniformed girl running towwards me. She grabbed my arm and ran with me pass the multitudes of others in the line, leading me to the farthest away JAL counter. The girl at the counter said, "So sorry, Mr. Jochim, we'll issue your boarding card.". Even though I had booked a window seat towards the front of the plane, I was she told me the 44J listed on my just-issued boarding pass was the last available seat on the plane. (It turned out to be the aisle seat of an exit row so I had plenty of room to stretch my legs but no video monitor or tray table and I kept getting bumped into whenever the flight attendants were rolling the !
food and beverage carts up the aisle. But at least I got a seat...)

After finally checking in, they wisked me away in a motorized cart back to the shuttle train (allowing me to bypass a fourth trip through security). At the other end of the train, another cart was waiting to take me back to Gate C87 (I still don't know what prompted this sudden change from a wild goose chase to VIP treatment). But I had been looking at the time and knew we were arriving at the gate several minutes past the delayed departure time. So I was very surprised when the gate area was still packed when I arrived. It turned out that the plane still wasn't there. All that stress for nothing!

Anyway, the flight ended up taking off 90 minutes late. The seven-hour flight passed extremely slowly. I spent most of it alternately dozing off (but never approaching anything close to a restfull deep sleep), eating (we were given two multi-course meals and numerous snacks), and watching the gorgeous flight attendants (Thai Airlines, who ended up being the main operator of this flight, has a reputation for hiring the most beautiful women in the airline industry).

We finally arrived in Bangkok around 11:30. We parked way out on the tarmac and were bussed to the terminal, the first time I've been on a flight where this was done. After withdrawing some Thai baht at a post-Immigration ATM, I began to head for the domestic terminal to find a quiet place to sleep when I happened to see the same guy who'd helped me with my hotel back in June 2003. Of course, I just had to let him book me another room (he even remembered me from the last time!) and that's where I'm at now.

Tomorrow, it's back to the airport for my 80-minute flight south to Phuket. Only when I arrive there, the hotel picks me up, and I get checked in to Kamala Bay Resort then I'll truly feel like I can relax...

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