Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We landed in Hong Kong about 6:00 AM local time. We were allowed to get off the plane even though we were continuing on the same 747 to Singapore. We took our carryon bags and boarding passes and stepped out on Chinese property, the Hong Kong airport facility. I turned on my world phone and called my wife. She was planning to be in Bakersfield today for a meeting with Sister Mullings as they outlined the agenda for the planning session with the Ladies Ministry department of the Western District. Fortunately, they were a little late getting started. It was 3:14 PM Monday in Bakersfield and I got through on the first try. Technology is amazing. It sounded like she was standing right there even though we were talking from China to California. Technology also has its price. This particular phone is about $4 per minute. However, it doesn’t take long to say “I love you” and “I miss you!”

Fortunately, the signs in the Hong Kong airport were bilingual – Chinese and English. We found it amazing to see some of the various terms used that are different from the U.S. The restrooms were identified as “toilets,” the elevators were “lifts.” We only had an hour in the airport but it gave us an opportunity to stretch our legs and walk around before the next flight. A free internet display was sponsored by some online business colleges. There were about eight work stations set up for internet access. I was able to check my email and respond to some before boarding the flight to Singapore.

The continuation of flight SQ1 scheduled three hours from Hong Kong to Singapore. We had a nice breakfast as we began the journey. One good thing about Singapore Airlines is their quality service and meals. We were well taken care of.

The ride got bumpy as we finished our breakfast. It was the most turbulence we have experienced yet. I’m thankful the overnight flight was smooth. At least it did not interfere with our sleeping!

We arrived in Singapore on time and made our way through immigration and out into the ticketing area of the Changi Airport, Terminal 3, a new terminal since my last visit two years ago.

Missionary Steve Willoughby met us in the lobby and took us to their church in the Chinatown Point business complex. They lease the fifth floor of one of the pavilions, a section that was once a theatre. One of the theaters is setup as a studio where they can film video productions. The larger theater holds about 500 and is where they have church. When we arrived they were preparing to baptize a young woman who had been attending Bible Study. We met several people there including one of the native pastors and an associate missionary (AIM), Brother Dabbs.

We looked around at some of the shops in the center and then went to a food court area where we had some of the local fare, noodles with some strips of meat. I had pork; Rhette had beef. We also had some soup with dumplings in it. It was very good. With all the food vendors cooking in this indoor area it was sweltering. The fans did little to refresh us. Brother Willoughby had some errands to do so we took a walk around several blocks of the city in this area. We went by a large Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque. The religious conflict is evidence by these diverse worship centers in close proximity to the Pentecostal Church! We found a clothing store where we browsed around a bit and almost bought some tee shirts. However, the sizing was so different it looked like they would not fit us very well!

We made it back to the complex where we met Brother Willoughby again and he took us back to the airport. We took the connecting train to Terminal 2 from which we would be leaving for India. We strolled around looking at some of the shops and found a free internet area where we checked our email. About an hour before our scheduled for a 7:00 PM departure, we found our gate for Ahmedabad and waited for them to open up the security checkpoint. In this terminal each gate area has its own security area. A team arrives about 45 minutes before the flight to screen the passengers as they are allowed into the gate waiting area.

There were few passengers on this Boeing 777 for Ahmedabad. I would estimate 50 or less. As a result, we had all the room we desired! In the entire back section of the plane there were only about eight people. We were definitely able to stretch out – but still not exactly like my bed at home. The arm rests would not fold up all the way which would have helped! We ate a little. The masala on the menu definitely told us we were on the way to India. We slept most of the way. The turbulence was rather consistent during the five hour flight. I guess we were rocked to sleep!

As approached the city and looked across the lights of Ahmedabad we saw a variety of fireworks being set off. This is the evening before the Hindu New Year, Diwali. They love fireworks and especially loud firecrackers! We heard them all day on New Year’s Day and occasionally throughout the week.

It is always a little culture shock to land in Ahmedabad. Motorized stairways are driven up to the exit doors of the airplane. You then load onto buses with windows open wide inviting the evening air to cool the passengers. The arrivals are shuttled across the tarmac and dropped off by the doors to the terminal where a line forms to clear immigration. Due to the fact that there were few passengers on this flight, the lines moved quickly and we were able to get through before our baggage was delivered on the carousel.

Every nation has their way of handling tourists and other visitors to their country. Here, it seemed like there was some redundancy. The immigration form had a tear-off tab on the bottom. After the customs officer cleared us and stamped our passports another officer intercepted us and said, “Put your passports away. Hold this in your hand.” He emphasized his English words as he handed us each item. Okay that was simple enough, except we had to pickup our luggage and go to the “washroom.” When Rhette came back out of the restroom he had put the tab in his passport so he took it out to retrieve it. The same security officer saw him again and emphasized, “This in your hand, passport in your bag!” We laughed at the incident all week!

I was a little nervous about getting our luggage as we watched bag after bag come out on the carousel. They were collected and placed on luggage carts and still no sign of ours. Finally, near the end, Rhette’s came out. At least we had one! Mine followed close behind. No problems!

The next step was to take your bags to be screened on the way out. I thought that was unusual. A security guard took our famous little immigration tab and handed it to the screener. We walked around the x-ray machine and picked up our luggage. The screener had laid our tabs on the edge of the scanner. Rhette asked if we needed them. “Yes, take them!” We cautiously took the tabs and made our way about 10 feet where another officer was collecting them! We finally got rid of them and out the door, after exchanging some U.S. greenbacks for Indian rupees. Our $120 US became $4900 rupees.

Pastor JP was waiting for us at the door and led us to a taxi that would take us to Anand where the conference started the next morning. Earlier he had taken his family to check into the hotel and he rode the train back to Ahmedabad to meet us at the airport. He was unsure how much luggage we would have so he had arranged for two different taxis. Because we were traveling light, only one check suitcase and one carryon each, we were able to get into a small Tata to make the 1 ½ hour journey to Anand.

It was great to see the first impression for Rhette in a taxi as we dashed through the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The confusion of the traffic and driving on the opposite side of the road is always a thrill when you come to India. We had many more experences, but this was a fun introduction to what lay ahead. The Expressway between the cities is very nice and tempts you to think it is the US other than the large antiquated buses and trucks that travel the Expressway. It is a toll road and bicycles, scooter, mobikes (motorcycles) and motorized rickshaws are prohibited. It allows for much safer travel at higher speeds than what is possible on other roads.

We arrived at the Surabhi Regency Hotel where we stayed in our previous visit and checked in about midnight. I was relieved when Pastor JP said that we would begin the conference the next day, Wednesday, at 11:00 AM. That would give us one morning to attempt to sleep in if possible. We got some bottled water from the hotel, ate a few snacks, showered and retired. It was not over 35 hours from the time we left SFO to our arrival in Anand, Gujarat, India.

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