Myanmar Diary – Part 1 – LAX to Taipei

4 November 15 – Wednesday

So I sat in the airport, waiting to board the plane for Taipei, my stopover on the way to Yangon. It’s an 11 hour flight, after which it would be another 4 hours from Taipei to Yangon and a 12 hour ride from Yangon to Pyin Oo Lwin. That’s over a day of travel, but it would take longer with stopover times and bus schedules. All in all I was looking at two full days of hideous travel with few comforts, because we could not afford anything of any degree of luxury.

I was also a bit worried about a new issue that seems to have arisen at the check-in luggage counter. Though my team told me in no uncertain terms that I should not check-in the lithium-ion batteries in my carry-on case, the baggage handlers at LAX insisted that I should. They said that TSA will turn me back, and are practically forcing me to put some of the Li-ions in my check-in luggage.  This is 180 degrees opposite of what I’ve been told (Li-ion batteries can explode) but in my generally stressed condition I do not argue.

They still haven’t thought this through properly

Alarm bells were going off in my head. There was some reason why I should not check in lithium-ion batteries. I know the post office is also very cautious about them, so it could not just be the airlines making me do something weird because they liked exerting control on me – like how they still make everyone take off our shoes. I was so tired, and in my fevered imagination I imagined the batteries exploding in the suitcase, incinerating us instantaneously, littering our debris all over the Pacific. Or maybe just swelling up and leaking acid all over my clothing – what would I wear? How much would this sabotage the film?

The wiser part of me argued that the chances were that nothing would happen. If these batteries really were that bad then no one would manufacture or sell them.  Add to that, the TSA would have had something like two hours with their army of battery-sniffing dogs I am sure they have trained for these situations, and they would find the menace before we were airborne. They would have found them in my bag and called me on the intercom.  Because of that I was actually listening carefully to see if they did call my name.

At the airport I am generally a cooperative citizen, kind of like a surly herd animal that obeys nonetheless. Yet despite my polite demeanor and uwnillingness to make direct eye contact with my oppressors I was still swabbed twice (for what? Explosives? Lithium Ion Batteries?), patted down on the ass (I made the mistake of having my passport in my back pocket when I went through the creepy peeping underclothes Xray machine) and was generally given “special treatment.” Maybe it’s because I’m a big dumb white guy? They sure did pull me aside for observation quite a few times.  More than just randomly.

Even so, they certainly failed, because I passed all the checks, made it through all the Scyllas and Charybdises, and soon I was safely planted in a terribly uncomfortable bench seat awaiting my flight. Everyone – and I really do mean everyone – was nose-down into a phone. The rest of you do not notice this as much because you are also nose-down in a phone. I hate to break it to you all, but phones really are not that great. They’re just not.

Maybe not everyone was texting, though, because the girl behind me chose this moment as the perfect time to paint her nails. The acrid stench of acetone filled the air.

The guy in front of me not only had a punchable face (some people do), but he was man-spreading. And not just a slight inclination of the knees, this guy was practically doing the splits in his chair, one foot solidly planted in the center of each seat on either side of him.  This was a display.  Why must dudes do it? It only tells the world they must be very proud of their crotches. Discreetly I checked his, and it was not like this guy had some pornstar bulge I needed to be wary of. If his tight jeans were any indication, he was packing like a Ken doll, all smooth and plain. No reason to open your legs so wide for that. This Royal Douchebag was actually reading a magazine called MOTORCYCLIST.

I mean, really.

I wish it were this issue. Then he’d be cool.

The plane ride itself was one of the most excruciating I’ve ever endured. I swear to you that my seat was unnaturally small. It was the middle seat in a front row and just getting into it was a bit of a chore – it was made for a child, I promise you. I could not lay my arm across the middle, elbow to fingertip, and I am not a large man.  OK, I could stand to lose some weight, but I don’t tip any scales, I’m just middle-aged paunchy.

It was not helpful that the guy to my right seemed to have made it his personal mission to invade my space as much as was humanly possible. He was constantly leaning over, pushing his shoulder into me. That and his snoring made it a bit hard for me to sleep at all.

If I had the ability to choose my companions I would have been definitely not at all interested in selecting the howling baby who started shrieking the moment we took off. For a while I contemplated infanticide until I saw her with her parents walking down the aisle, they trying desperately to pacify her. What a cutie. Considering her cries had gone from a plaintive wailing to an all-out expression of torture and destruction of the soul, I was betting her parents simply were not adequately attending her needs. One look at them – callow, young, harried – suggested maybe they just did not know how to hold her right. He certainly didn’t. She’d calm down if the mom held her.

But I’d take 100 of her over Snore Bear next to me.

“Mealtime” on this plane was a disaster in this seat! When the stylish airline “breakfast” arrived I had to eat with both elbows pinned to the inside of my torso and in front. Sort of like a cartoon T. Rex. Snore Bear next to me inhaled the hideous food with a power seen only on industrial vacuum cleaners. I think it was his mom he was traveling with, and she came over from the seat behind him to give him her noodles, as if his oversized and bloated frame needed the extra carbs. A growing boy, certainly.  Growing into my personal space, anyway.

He scarfed down the second portion with a lusty gulp before I was partway through my first. There was a bright side: eating did at least mean that his toxic dragon breath had been mitigated – for now, that is, until the noxious world of hideous bacteria that called his mouth home could start working on whatever was left between his molars that he couldn’t dislodge with his toothpick. The viscous sucking sounds and vigorous jack hammering he was doing in there threatened to dislodge a filling, if not his entire palate. If he’s not careful with that routine he could require hospitalization.

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