Getting There - Airport Transits with Kids
Trip Start Nov 06, 2008
3Trip End Jun 28, 2009
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Like a thief snuck in and had my last cup of tea in the house. My gracious neighbour had put the boys and I up for the night. And so, I stole one last look. I had left the electric jug, tea, coffee, milk and fridge as a nice gesture for the new tenants. They had agreed to look after my cat, for the year. She joined me in the empty space and lolled about on the carpet as I drank my tea. Cats always know when things are changing and she had been teetering on the periphery of unacceptance for the last four days. Now the place was empty she seemed more settled about us going than I was.
Our first flight was to take us from Auckland with an opportune stop over in Sydney with my sister-in-law for three nights, and then on to Bangkok. In hindsight, if you are travelling alone with kids and heaps of baggage, I recommend you take a direct flight. This was my first mistake. Then remember to travel light even if you are going for more than just one month - mistake number two. We arrived safely in Sydney on an unremarkable flight. This all changed once I got off the plane and had to start the relocation of two boys and oodles of luggage. Some of it was for the next three days and the rest had to go into storage until the next flight. Needless to say, we didn't do that well. I really don't know how I scraped through customs. It would have been easier to tread water in quicksand rather than get through the airport with no help.
I must have a grumble about fellow Australians here!! The service levels in Sydney left a lot to be desired. Entering the airport with two trolleys both full to the brim (I was carrying enough stuff for one year - a car roof rack, car seats and kayak equipment - we must have our priorities straight!), Ben (5) tried to push one of the trolleys and to say he struggled is a grave understatement. Aussie and kiwi trolleys are different. In New Zealand they are more like shopping trolleys where you simply hold on and push. In Sydney you must push the handle down and keep the pressure on, then at the same time, push forwards. Once you get it moving you must then make sure all your luggage stays on while you keep the constant pressure in two directions. If you let the downwards pressure off, your trolley abruptly stops and your luggage falls off. This was an abundance of information for a little boy to absorb, let alone to put into practice. And some people think New Zealand and Australia are the same!!!!
With Ben in tears, I started to push the trolleys like a tag team system. I pushed mine to a point while carrying Mathew on one hip and then walked back to where Ben was and pushed his trolley up to the first one. We repeated this at twenty meter intervals. It was enough to send you batty! We made very slow progress. Ben was frustrated that he was unable to use the trolley and he also felt sorry for himself because he just wanted to help. He started a barely audible whimper. Then it escalated into a full blown howl. The tag team system crumpled, cuddled and started again. It was the only way I could manage.
Four airport baggage blokes (the word gentlemen would be inappropriate for them) were standing by, idly talking and watching me, when the roof rack decided to slip from where it was lodged. I caught it with one hand and sighed heavily. I really didn't know whether to curse or cry. Then one of the guys offered a smidgeon of advice. "Putting that there isn't going to work love."
I replied as politely as I could manage "Thanks. Thanks a heap for your input. That is really going to help me with a crying child and two trolleys to push."
He looked at me as if to say, 'Well she's certainly one who got out of the wrong side of the bed!'
Right then and there I wanted to punch him in the nose. Unfortunately I didn't, because I knew it wasn't going to achieve anything except further frustration, with me being beaten up. They might have been older but they were still bigger. Somehow I knew this was going to be one of my hardest moments of travel. Being an Australian as well I know that we are very good at pointing out the obvious especially when it isn't required. You can put an Aussie in an obvious situation but you can't take the sense of the obvious out of the Aussie. I don't think it is a trait that we ever lose, no matter how long we are out of the country.
Finally, we made it through customs. "Yippee! Oh! Thank you God." My husband's sister was there to help me. Hearing her voice sounded as rewarding as the pop of a perfectly hit tennis ball. I felt much more than just relief. With the extra help we were easily sorted and on the road. We had a superb visit in Sydney for three nights and then set off on the next leg to Bangkok.
What a contrast it was to arrive in Bangkok instead of Sydney. It may have helped that I was determined to get some help with the kids and luggage even if I had to pay for it. Some things are simply worth their weight in gold. That is when I experienced the generous Thai concept of Jai Dii , as I was later to find out what it was called. Jai means heart and dii means good. What I assumed was just a kind gesture in a situation of extreme underemployment was actually a deeply rooted cultural trait. In hindsight, I feel embarrassed about my typical western ignorance, in assuming that Southeast Asia is so inefficient that they have people sitting around doing not too much of anything. However, it is really a reflection of the positive effect that Buddhism still has on the Thai lifestyle and standards of behaviour.
The Thai airport staff member I approached offered me the help of his personal assistant. The gentleman who helped us through the airport was extremely accommodating. He collected all of our bags, pushed the trolley, smoothly moved us through customs and then trekked through the throng of people waiting to collect arrival passengers. He even waited with us until we found Daddy and the company driver. With a subtle bow and wai, he turned on his heel and was gone. I hardly had time to say thank you. A wai is the respectful greeting where the palms are brought together in front of the face or chest, which is sometimes accompanied by a bow. It goes hand-in-hand with the concept of Jai Dii. We were to come across this time and time again in our travels and how the Thai people are happy to be helpful.
I guess this is how Thailand earned the title of 'the land of smiles'. There is a whole vocabulary of jai or heart talk which has worked its way into everyday expressions and Thai lifestyle. In fact, there are over seven hundred words or phrases in the Thai language using Jai to explain some type of feeling, mental or emotional state of being. Jai can mean either heart or mind but in Thailand they are viewed as one and the same thing. This does begin to explain some of the differences between the East and West cultures. In the West we seem to have separated the two with the brain being logic and the heart being emotions. Decades of following logic and science, has generally led to a colder and more pragmatic culture. The East is full of more moderate and warmer cultures. These are places where Buddhism has been woven into everyday life. In Thailand they may not always use the most ruthlessly efficient method of achieving something but they still get there in the end and mostly in a more kindhearted manner. Jai dii is a neat concept.
I was all choked up when we saw Daddy and I hid some tears of love and relief. And so, I refrained in my emotional moment and let our delightful boys have first dibs. I swallowed my tears and settled for a perfunctory peck on the cheek. We all deserved well earned hug. No one could get a word in edge-wise, so I whipped into mother mode instead of lover and nudged everyone toward the company van. It was almost one am and we still had two hours of driving ahead of us. I think I might need to explore my jai a little more and enjoy it with those I care about most. The airport was warm despite its air conditioning and the air outside was very, very close and thick with dust. We loaded ourselves into the van and sped off down the highway, generally sitting on 120 km per hour until we reached the city limits of Pattaya - our new home and travel base.