Sunday, October 04, 2009

Colombo and Singapore - Not a Good Trip, but a Good Ending

Update from Singapore. I have been here almost exactly a week, but I have not been sufficiently disciplined to collect my recollections in one or more blogs. Tonight, sitting in my comfortable room at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel, on Bukit Timah street, Singapore, I am getting down to the task.

Another excuse for not writing is that I have been sick. Not flat on your back or rush to the emergency room sick and, apparently not infected by the H1,N1 flu virus about which there has been a lot of concern everywhere I traveled. Just one of those debilitating, broad spectrum malaises that saps ones energy and can erode the spirit as well, if one allows it. It has been accompanied by a persistent, hacking cough. Probably new colleagues at the Lee Kuan Yew School’s Water Policy Institute, though they have been unfailingly cordial, are viewing me with roughly the same level of enthusiasm as I viewed my recent traveling companions.

For my malaise was contracted on the Colombo-Kuala Lumpur leg of my Colombo-Singapore flight on Sri Lankan Airlines. It was almost entirely fully populated by a cadre of elderly Malaysians who must have been on some sort of tour - or perhaps they were being surreptitiously evacuated from a Tuberculosis (or H1, N1) isolation ward at Colombo’s General hospital. The wheezing and coughing was that bad and it continued without interruption through the entire flight. Mostly the hackers covered their mouth and nose when they coughed, but not always. I just knew I was going to get sick and, of course, I did.

The airport checkin wasn’t all that great either. When I fly out of Colombo it is normally to London and I spring for a business class seat. My marvelous Sri Lankan travel agent, with whom I have dealt for nearly twenty years, arranges a very reasonable rate. Check in is not a problem. For this short flight, however, I chose economy. The check in lines were long, disorganized and moved at glacial pace. Check in took more than two hours and I just barely caught my flight.

It is easy to make contrasts between Sri Lanka and Singapore, most of which are not favorable to Sri Lanka. I mostly will resist the temptation. Readers know that I love Sri Lanka. Dysfunctional check-in lines and a planefull of contageous companions are not likely to dim that affection.

But Singapore’s Changi Airport is quite remarkable in the way it processes large numbers of passengers congenially and efficiently. Lines can be fairly long, as they were at immigration, but move briskly. When one is in doubt, there is almost always an information counter nearby or, more likely, a helper at one’s elbow to courteously offer assistance in fluent English (and probably other languages too). Things are quite different than in Colombo or at dysfunctional Frankfurt Airport on which I reported in an earlier posting.

But where were the two bags I had checked in Colombo? I waited... and waited...and waited. The group of passengers standing hopefully beside the conveyer belt dwindled. Ominously, a message flashed on the TV screen above the belt, “all bags from the aircraft have been loaded on the belt.” My bag had not appeared. I began to scan about for that least welcome of all airport kiosks, the lost baggage claim center.

But wait... a crisply dressed young man appeared at my elbow. “Can I help you?” he asked, cheerfully, “you look as if you have been waiting a long time.” I acknowledged the truth of his observation and, at is request, produced my claim checks. I had learned my lesson in Frankfurt and they were right at hand.

By what Karmic magic the young man accomplished this feat, I will never know, but shortly after he had looked at my tags, but as far as I can tell, taken no other action, my bags magically appeared on the near empty conveyer. “Are those yours?", he asked and when I nodded he said “good” in a satisfied voice. We matched the claim checks, just to be sure. “Who are you,” I queried gratefully. “Oh. I’m from the airport baggage lost and found department,” he responded with a smile as we went our separate ways.

I had arrived in Singapore.

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