Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's A Man's World ... But Not Today!

Today is Moving Day! Unfortunately, not to anywhere good, just to somewhere (slightly) better. Following my housemate's departure, I tried my little heart out to get relocated to a building somewhere in the part of Dubai you see on TV. Where I live - it no like this...
Due to massive recruiting commitments, and a certain lack of commitment to accommodating said new recruits, there is a bit of a shortage of available rooms at the moment. I had a couple of better options, rooms that were vacant or becoming vacant as crew resigned, got married and moved out, or just never came back from holidays. The day I put my hopeful face on and went to speak to the dear old folk at the accommodation department, however, I was politely (cough) refused. My highly anticipated move to 'Fun Dubai' was not going to happen. My only option for moving was to take the vacant bedroom in my own apartment. Which I did, hello it is much bigger and has an ensuite, saving me from mad towel-clad dashes to my room in the presence of any unfortunate unlucky enough to be around. But Fun Dubai it is not.

I set my alarm for really early (normal people early, not flight attendant early), as I only had one day to do the move. I went downstairs in search of my brand new keys, only to be told that I needed to present a memo from the accommodation department proving that I was privileged and trustworthy enough to be in possession of two sets of apartment keys at the one time. I was clearly not privileged enough, as I had no memo. I stormed off in a huff, taking a taxi through peak hour traffic to go and speak to someone, only to be told I was supposed to have printed out the email they sent me two weeks ago. Which, I might add, made no mention of the fact that my keys would be held to ransom if I failed to print it.

After eventually getting my paws on the keys, I set to work moving all of my things. Being a bit of a natural hoarder, I was sure I would have accumulated epic amounts of crap over the last 8 months which would take me hours on end to sort through. I love to sort - discovering things you forgot you had, it's like owning them again for the first time! Anyway, I rolled up my sleeves and got down to business. Over the next several hours, I was going to make moving my bitch.

An hour later I was done. Turns out I'm not quite the hoarder I thought I was.

So I set my sights on a new challenge. A few months ago, I bought some furniture from Ikea that was desperately needed at the time. And which has sat, flat packed and gathering dust, since then. I was now going to make Ikea my bitch.

I have never in my life built anything beyond Lego, and I was enthusiastic but not confident that I could get the job done. Without a chivalrous male assistant to bend, puff and expose their bum crack over my furniture, I wasn't even sure where to start. But I discovered Ikea's cute cartoon instruction booklets, with the happy allen-key wielding people, and found the strength I needed. If the fat gender-less cartoon without clothes can do it, so can I. One TV unit (way more appropriately used as a shoe rack). Two TV units (I have many shoes). Ikea was officially my bitch. My helpful moving assistant and I agreed we deserved to celebrate... we should go to Ikea!
 I loaded up on shiny new things, feeling like doing some redecorating - hey, if I couldn't move to a new apartment, I'd make the old one feel new! Once home, I ran into difficulty. My shiny new coat stand (handbag holder) was on a whole different level - no allen key in sight, this one was all done by screwdriver. Naturally, I do not own a screwdriver. I used one once, to open a picture frame, but that was my Dad's. However, Ikea was my bitch today, and I would not be defeated. I went and spent a whopping 11 Dirham (less than $3) on a set of 6 screwdrivers, came home, and put that pretty little handbag holder together. Moving Day is my bitch. It is also officially over.

So I'm pretty proud of myself. I survived, and managed, and lifted and constructed all day on my own - not entirely on my own, thank you to my stripey-skirted assistant. But next time, will I fret and look wildly around in search of a strong and able man to Ikea me? Not a chance. Burn those bras and get those bum cracks out girls, I did just as good a job! I discovered today that I can put these things together with much less huffing, much less sweating (and therefore less stinky B.O.), nowhere near as much swearing, and without throwing half-built furniture across the room when it becomes clear that Ikea's cartoon people have forgotten a step in the construction instructions. Oh and way less bum crack. But I can work on that for next time.

My shoes have a home!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

First World Problems

I'm feeling fairly reflective and peaceful today - pretty sure it's just hormones, so don't think I'm turning zen-buddhist in my spare time or anything, although I am burning candles and oil in my apartment right now. But I thought I'd take the opportunity to share some of the burning questions and problems I have been mulling over lately. And yes, I really do ask myself these things daily.

What do you mean, "chocolate isn't a food group?"  I've decided that the health benefits of eating chocolate far outweigh the negatives. Although the irony of using a word relevant to 'weight' here isn't lost on me. When considering my overall diet and food consumption, chocolate makes up a large percentage of it. As this is fairly generic, I'll clear up any confusion by stating that 'chocolate' includes chocolate bars, chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake and chocolate frosting from the tin (thank you Betty Crocker).

Apparently regular consumption of dark chocolate has noticeable health benefits, including lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and overall benefits to a healthy cardiovascular system and increased longevity. Hey, it was on the internet: it MUST be true! Another big tick in the box for the pro-chocolate team is that it contains natural anti-depressants, and stimulates endorphins in the body. I've done the research, and it's true - I never feel sad when I have chocolate to keep me company! I'm just ignoring the part where the health benefits are in dark chocolate because, let's face it, nobody really likes dark chocolate. But I am sticking to my theory that chocolate is in itself a worthy contributor to the balanced diet of a happy person - it's "produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree" ( Pretty sure you can't go wrong eating plants.

What is wrong with people?  As much as I enjoy people-watching, and even the occasional interaction, I can't help feeling that there is something wrong with our race. Is it me? Am I alone in this observation, have I set my standards for my fellow homosapiens too high? Am I overlooking cultural differences that are leading to misunderstandings between me and others? Am I so magnificent and perfect that I believe it is not asking too much for some common appreciation of others? Some recurring noggin-scratchers...

Parents who raise the Spawn of Satan and let it loose in public or, more painfully for me, on an aircraft: its summer holidays in half the world right now and flight after flight after flight I have some form of run-in with Damian Omen, or Damian Omen Sr., or Mother Omen. (This is an allusion to a Devil-Child, for those of you unfamiliar with horror movie references.) If your child doesn't understand the safety risks of dancing in the aisle at take-off or landing, YOU SHOULD. If 400 people are trying to sleep and your kid is doing hot laps up and down the aisle, screaming, am I to blame when people get mad and abuse you? Call me crazy, but I don't consider it should be my responsibility as Crew to stop behaviour like that - that one comes down to a parent. Or maybe I'll start concealing a wooden spoon in the lining of my waistcoat as it becomes more and more a part of my job description. To the people who encourage their children to look down their nose at people in the service industry: I sincerely hope your child shows the same disdain toward their schoolwork as they do to me, and end up with a full career as the Night Manager at McDonalds wishing they had avoided this karma by not treating me like a maid. I AM NOT A MAID.

People who lack manners: "Please." "Thank you." That is all.

Individuals who are unable to comprehend the use of a toilet: There's a hole. You put your bum on it. I understand cultural differences may see many unsure of the high-rise bowl. But wherever you choose to go in the world: there's a hole, you put your bum on it, and you say farewell to whatever delight you choose to partake of at that moment. Why, oh why, would something so basic appear so complicated? Furthermore, if you know where your bum goes, surely it follows that others' bums would go there too. Would you put your bum on someone else's business? Doubtful. Clean up after yourself, it's the polite thing to do.

Why can't I save money?  Damn summer sales and impromptu holidays and $100 tanks of petrol.

Does my bum look big in this?  It used to depend on the mirror. Now that chocolate is officially a food group, it's more of a rhetorical question.

What should I order for dinner?  The answer to this question is usually relative to questions 1 & 4. Daily consumption of 1 multiplied by recurrent exposure to 4 equals dinner, where the value of 1 & 4 can change the outcome from a tin of tuna to a KFC burger meal or anything in between.

So. Now that I have exposed the chocolate-addicted, shallow and somewhat bitter individual that lurks inside of me, I want to explain that today I had a revelation. A friend and I often make jokes about 'First World Problems'; those that reflect the greed and selfishness of many of us like "my iPhone won't get reception on my yacht", "my wireless internet connection is too slow and I can't download fast enough," "the designer shoes I wanted went on sale but they didn't have my size left, so I was forced to buy them in a different colour" and so on (More on First World Problems).

Today I operated a flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: the dreaded turnaround. It is my most despised flight, because there is no layover and no exploring at the end of it. Many of the passengers are Muslims making the pilgrimage to Mecca (JED is the closest airport), and a great deal of them travel in enormous groups and often don't speak English. The lack of English often makes boarding take about 2 hours, as they can't read seat numbers and plonk themselves wherever looks good. On a flight that is always, always full, it causes problems. I did my normal complaining bit today, "boo Jeddah, why me, I always get it, other people never get it, blah blah I'm so annoying and selfish." While our passengers were disembarking in Dubai, though, I helped a very elderly couple with their bags (Cabin Crew of the Year). They were wearing the traditional robes of the pilgrims, although theirs weren't the pristine white of many of the wealthy Arabs. They were old, and worn, and the old man had the flat-bottomed feet of someone not accustomed to wearing shoes. I tried to help him by carrying the big bag with the heavy flagon of water he had brought from the sacred spring in Mecca, but he pulled it away and wouldn't let me touch it. I realised how important this trip was for them, that this couple had probably saved and made sacrifices over their whole lives just to pay for the airfare to come to this place once in their life; the center of their faith and all that they believe, and I get sent there twice a month, being paid and fed and provided with my fancy uniform for nothing, and I complain about it. I'm a jerk.

Not that I am going to stop pondering my insignificant First World Questions; hey, they're interesting to me. But I am, in the serenity of my candlelit vanilla-and-lime-blossom scented lounge room, going to acknowledge that maybe I'm a bit spoilt and take my lucky life for granted. So I'm going to try and be more open-minded about some of my First World Problems, at least for the next couple of days. Thank you old pilgrim people for being so silent and peaceful, if only I could email you a link to my appreciative blog of self-discovery...

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The 'F' Word

Now hold your horses there folks, don't think I'm going all potty mouth on you. I'll save that for another day when I've really got something (or more likely someone) to rant about. No, I'm not talking about that one. I'm talking about the 'F' word that becomes so familiar to us cabin crew, so much a part of us that it's everybody's middle name, and its one we can't avoid - as much as we try.


Yes, to a certain extent we get used to living this way, flying at ungodly hours of the day or night, across time zones, into different climates, cultures and conditions. We drag ourselves out of bed, put on the make-up, pack the suitcase, inject ourselves with coffee and work our butts off on that aircraft. Then we get somewhere incredible (I'm writing this in a hotel room in Hong Kong) and shrug off the weariness, scrape off the make-up and, allowance in hand, shake our over-worked booty out the door for some form of sightseeing activity, ignoring "The Big F". We see and do things that a 'normal' job would not allow us to do, and to some it may seem very glamorous and exciting. And some days it is.

After arriving home from Paris last week, I had days off stretching luxuriously into the future...there was two of them. In a row. Glorious dreams of sleep, housework, laundry and season 2 of 90210 filled my mind - until 1 phone call changed everything. New plan: road trip to Oman. Sigh...what's a girl to do?! So, 2 days of housework / laundry / 90210 were suddenly condensed to just a few hours, with a hot dinner date at the IKEA sale squeezed in the middle. Minimal sleep would see me through - I was off to Muscat!

Self-appointed navigator for our all-female team, I toted my dodgy map and firmly insisted that the 'E44' highway would take us in the right direction. After driving for about an hour, the Burj Khalifa appeared in front of us - an excellent clue that we were heading in completely the wrong direction. Of course, like all things Dubai, the roads are hostile and confusing to newcomers. We drove down the same road 4 times before we managed to find the point to merge onto the right know, the one that actually goes to Oman. Celebrations were short lived, as we arrived at the Omani border bearing passports open for a new stamp (yes!) and were told we would need a visa. Right. After a quick pit stop at the consulate, including the most unsanitary lavatory encounter never to be discussed again, we got the visas and headed off. Beware border-jumpers and groups of clueless female road-trippers, there are 4 customs stops between the UAE and Oman. It gets confusing. Luckily, after all these problems, we were informed to turn right at the next roundabout and drive straight for 250km. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Quick stop for some petty when the light came on turned out to be an issue - I voted we stick a straw in the sand and fill up that way but we went for the more traditional gas station. We got some Omani Rials out of the ATM (no receipt, thanks ATM), saw the number on the pump that said '37', generously rounded up, and paid the guy 40 Rials. Off we went, singing songs we didn’t know the words to on the Arabic radio. Who knew that countries so close in geography would be so distant in currency? The '37' was indicating litres. 40 Rials is actually the equivalent to 382 Dirhams, or 96 Australian Dollars. Oops. Would've been better off with the straw. Once finally in Muscat, we headed for the hotel. Except, of course, we had no idea where it was. A street name, yes, but no street map to find it. I don't know how other people travel, but if I'm looking for the Beach Hotel in Muscat, I damn well expect it to be standing right in front of me when I drive into Muscat. Instead we had to make a couple more stops to ask for directions, swipe a map, and take pictures of someone's pet monkey cruising the beach in their Jeep. Naturally, when we found the hotel they hadn't received our booking. Thankfully at this stage something went right and they had a room available. We ate a delicious but slightly expensive Thai dinner next door to the hotel (not as pricey as the petrol though) and crashed out, the three of us "F'd" to the max.

Unfortunately, our angry Arabian neighbour and his ongoing domestic dispute, along with some unnatural and very creepy sawing noises in the wall of our room kept us from sleeping as much as we planned - I for one hardly slept at all, convinced we were going to be abducted and sold as exotic prostitutes or, worse, maids. Determined to make the most of our quick trip, however, we were up and at 'em early in the morning, off for a stroll on the beach before our price-inclusive buffet breakfast at the hotel. It sounded perfect but, true to form, the temperature was already in the high 30's, and our relaxing beach walk turned into a sweat-fest with no relief - conservative dress codes in Oman seem to be a little stricter than Dubai, and we felt a little conspicuous in bikinis, opting to stay out of the water in public. Buffet breakfast by the pool was calling us.

Unfortunately, we get fairly spoiled in the Marriotts and Hiltons of the world when it comes to buffet brekkies. The stale croissants, watered-down juice, and Indian curry-fest of the Beach Hotel just didn't really cut it. We checked out and headed into the old town of Muscat to check out souks, forts, and palaces (mainly from the air conditioned comfort of the car, big bunch of sooks we turned into). A little bit of wandering around satisfied our curiosity and we voted to head back to Dubai, using the combined navigational skills of our memories to get us there. Another 4 border stops, 1 vomit stop and 1 (much cheaper) petrol stop later, we were home. What took us 7 hours on the way over took only 4 on the way back, which is a handy travel tip for anyone else planning a similar journey: take a map (and someone that can read it) or preferably a GPS. It's worth it. Once again, "The Big F" was taking control. Unfortunately it had to wait; I was having one of my last dinner dates with one of my best Dubai ladies who is leaving me in just 5 days from now. Fatigue or no, I was making a pig of myself with her - its tradition.

Although it was a lovely dinner, it meant that I didn't get a chance to catch up on the sleep I'd missed out on since arriving back from Paris. I managed to stay fairly lively on the flight to Hong Kong the next day, but typical onboard dilemmas left me hanging out for a glass of red wine to ease the nerves before bed. A few of the other crew members and I relaxed in the hotel bar playing pool and sharing stories, and before I knew it I was crawling into bed at 2am...only to be woken 4 hours later by the delightful sounds of my very in-love neighbours expressing their love through the paper thin walls. "EFFFFF". Unable to get back to sleep, I went downstairs for the free (re-read: FREE!!) buffet breakfast which poops all over the Beach Hotel's, then headed out with a few other crew to explore Honkers.

We decided that since it was such a beautiful clear day (it's often cloudy and overcast in Hong Kong) we would go to The Peak, an observation deck atop one of the many mountains on the island, with a great view over Hong Kong and Kowloon. It was such a beautiful day, in fact, that the 6 of us were sweating up a storm very very shortly after getting out of the air conditioned train station. Apparently Dubai has not hardened us against heat whatsoever, we were all grumbling and complaining like spoilt children! The view was worth it though, it is amazing to see such a tiny island so crowded with towering buildings, a beautiful harbour and the frequent sight of planes coming in to land at Hong Kong Airport. We took the tram back down the hill - it's such an old tram that the seats face only one way and you sit backwards going down the very steep hill - and wandered over to the SoHo area for dinner. It's a long but narrow alley stretching up a hill, plastered all along with multi-cultural restaurants and bars. It's fabulous, and most of the bars offer Happy Hours anywhere between 3-9pm every day of the week. After a long day full of walking, sweating and whingeing, a decent sit-down and a sizeable meal pushed all 6 of us over the brink. We were now all totally and completely "Effed". After such a busy week, with less-than-minimal sleep, I was incapable of talking anymore. The quick nap on the train gave me just enough energy to stagger back to my hotel room, turn on my laptop and compose this long-winded piece on the benefits of getting enough sleep. If I had not been so under the influence of "The Big F", I would have made way less spelling and grammatical errors and it would have been done ages ago.

So in summary: yes, I love the fact that I get to travel to amazing places with amazing and fun people. I don't care if things happen that would stress most other people out because I know these are the things that make the best stories (except paying $100 for a tank of petrol - that's just silly). I will endure any condition, illness, sleep-deprivation or weather in order to have the adventures and experiences that I do.


If I don't get enough sleep tonight, and more before the flight back to Dubai tomorrow night (THANKS GOD for sending me a 2-day layover, sometimes I really do think you might just have my back), that "F-word" is going to get me. I could make a sleepy mistake, overlook some tiny detail that most people wouldn't even notice, or not be able to think quickly enough to react at a critical moment, and it has the potential to involve lives. With 500 passengers and 26 crew onboard this aircraft, I can't afford to be tired. If I'm "Effed", we're all Effed.