It took me twenty-seven hours to fly from Miami to Singapore. When you consider time spent checking-in and waiting at the beginning of my trip and passing through immigration and customs at the end, the total time I spent in airports and airplanes was at least thirty hours. So what was it like? Overall, it was not nearly as bad or as exhausting as I thought it would be. Even though my trip was mostly uneventful (I watched movies, I slept, I wondered if we were there yet…), there were three memorable incidents.
For everything else there’s MasterCard, but sometimes you need a visa
For some silly reason, I expected any difficulties I might have with the authorities to come on the Singaporean side of my journey. Not so. I arrived at the Miami airport somewhat relaxed after a hectic morning. (While I didn’t take a two-hour trapeze class -like I did the day I left for 5 weeks in Europe – I ran a variety of errands that needed to get done before I moved to the other side of the world.) I started to relax when those were finished and I got in the car. Little did I know that my blood pressure would skyrocket once I got to the front of the rather lengthy check-in line.
After handing over my passport, I leaned down to transfer some of my clothes from my checked bags to my carry-on, just in case. As I was fiddling with my luggage, it occurred to me that the guy behind the counter hadn’t said anything. Maybe he was waiting for me. I stood up. His eyebrows furrowed as he focused on the computer screen in front of him and typed furiously. I hoped he could find my reservation, because I hadn’t remembered to write down the locator number.
He looked up. “Do you have a return ticket?” he asked, in a seemingly friendly voice. I was relieved he had found my reservation, and so I smiled as I responded negatively. He continued, “how long are you staying in Singapore?” I smiled again as I thought about my imminent adventure and told him nine months.
He conspiratorially leaned over to his desk mate and said, “Second opinion? She doesn’t have a visa and she’s staying for nine months….” My heart started racing as I suddenly realized where this was going. Despite the whirl of thoughts and alarm bells going off in my head, I managed to form actual words.
“But I have a Fulbright grant from the U.S. government….I have paperwork….do you want to see it?” The words tumbled quickly out of my mouth and my tone inched slightly higher with each one.
He said they might help, so I frantically reached to the bottom of my suitcase where my papers where hiding and pulled out the first ones I touched. I passed them over with a smile. I needed this man to like me. I needed this man to let me on my plane.
After carefully scrutinizing them, he looked up. I awaited my verdict, still smiling sweetly. Or, potentially like a half-crazed clown. But I like to think it was sweetly.
“Congratulations,” he said unexpectedly, “you should be proud.” I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. As he proceeded to check me in, I looked at the papers I had passed over. The first one, my initial acceptance letter, stated, “your selection for a Fulbright is an achievement for which you can be justly proud…This award is contingent upon your obtaining: official research clearance from the host country; satisfactory medical clearance; and, required visas.” Thankfully he had apparently focused on the “proud” part and not the “visa” part. (My visa is currently being processed, but more on that later.) Moments later I had my boarding passes and he was wishing me good luck.
And so I was on my way to Singapore (via San Francisco and Hong Kong).
Coming Up: Twenty-Seven Hours Part II – “No, I don’t have Swine Flu” and Part III – “Gum-sniffing dogs”