Friday, September 21, 2007

Visa’s, Typhoons and Lost Luggage

Thought I forgot completely about the blog didn’t you?

Nope, not at all. Just a very frustrating last few daze.

I’m writing this from home where I finally arrived after a 48-hour trip from Phnom Penh. I’ll tell you all about that later.

Saturday Rich and I ran around Siem Reap trying to get stuff done for the Museum. The solar needs to completely re-worked. Yeah they have solar at the Museum and I can’t get it here in California…go figure. When the panels were installed they didn’t put in quite enough to keep the batteries charged and run the pump that supplies water to the entire facility, and that’s been a real challenge. Rich is going to have more and bigger panels installed, move the solar pump closer to the tower that has the water tank, and he’s going to double the size of the tank to 4,000 liters (almost 1,100 gallons). He thinks he’ll have all the work done by the end of the month.

I’ve been very impressed by Rich’s style. He goes directly to the heart of the problem, figures out his options and then acts. Just what needs to be done, but oft times is not.

Sunday I went out looking for the guy in Siem Reap who can supply the plexiglass we need to house all the mines and UXOs Aki Ra has at the Museum. CMAA wants them completely out of reach of anyone. Well, my tuk tuk driver and I scoured Hiway 6 for an hour, in and out of the monsoon rains, looking for this place. I wanted to get a ‘borang’ price and see how much better our Khmer friends could do. All to no avail. But I know Seng Ho will do just fine.

I had to make some copies of some paperwork that CMAA gave us for the new NGO. It took them overnight to get the 360 copies done. Cost me $8.00. And that was the borang (foreigner) price. And they were all collated and bound. Staples, match that!

Sunday afternoon Aki Ra, Rich and I flew to Phnom Penh (PP) so we could get Aki Ra his visa from the British Embassy on Monday morning. I crashed that night and slept about 11 hours. (I’d need it.)

Monday we met at my hotel to get going on the visa forms. We ran into a glitch when we realized Aki Ra’s passport expires on 29 December. In the US it takes months to get your passport renewed. Aki Ra had it done in about 3 hours. It cost him $20. I don’t know who got the $20, but when I had to get my passport redone last year I used a passport service in the US, and with all the fees, etc., it was around $300. Think about it.

We also found out that we need bank account records for the man in the UK who is ‘sponsoring’ Aki Ra for the ISSEE class. Well, we got together what we had, made a list those few things we need and got a name at the British Embassy of a Khmer employee who said he would be happy to help if ran into any problems. Aki Ra and Rich are going back to PP in a week or so to finish up the process. He should have the visa two weeks after they get the application. The actual approval is done in Bangkok and there is a very slight chance he may need to go there for an interview, but our contact at the embassy said that since he’s been to the UK twice already, he didn’t think that would happen.

Tuesday was my day to head home. When I got up that morning I turned on the TV to CNN and saw a big, big typhoon headed for Taiwan. I was flying China Air and we were due to change planes in Taipei. I called the airline and they said ‘come on down’ to the airport. We’ll let you know when you get here what is going to happen.

So to the airport I headed. I caught a cab and got a business card from the driver. Just in case. My plane was due to leave at 10:50. I got to the airport at 8am with my ‘luggage’: a duffel bag, a backpack, a shoulder bag with my computer and a suitcase weighing 120 pounds. That held the 200 books I was bringing back. They started check-in at 9am so I waited. At 9 they said the flight was delayed and would leave at 5. I watched a movie on my computer (Déjà vu with Denzell Washington – not bad, but carry an extra battery.)

At about 12:30 I checked again. The flight wouldn’t be leaving until 2am Wednesday morning. I needed to find someplace besides the airport lobby to spend the next 10-12 hours, so I called ‘my’ driver.

That’s when I started having some ‘issues’ with my cell phone. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I had to find someone to buy me a sim card in Cambodia, as you can’t get one without an ID card. I found a guy who knew a guy. But he wanted the sim card back, and he wanted it back right freakin’ now! If the sim card falls into the hands of someone who gets picked up by the federales they could trace it back to the guy who bought it and he gets in trouble for selling sim cards on the black market.

But he had a solution. For a price he would not cancel the sim card. His price was $100. Now I was very tempted to tell him exactly what he could do with his flippin sim card, but instead I told him about the NGO, how I was trying to help Cambodia and tried to play on his conscience. Didn’t work, he wanted $30. So I stalled him.

My driver took me to a cheap hotel on the waterfront in PP where I got a room for $30. It overlooked the Mekong, the harbor and the working area around some of the docks. Lots of people working and most of them were girls. I’ll leave that for your own imagination. The room? Let’s just say I was looking for Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando when I walked in. They weren’t in, but I did have company. There were a couple of geckos running around the room while I was there. Had to remember to shake out my boots before I checked out that night. Just like the jungle. (JUST like the jungle…there were all kinds of things growing all around. Especially the shower, and no, I did not take one. I was bringing enough home already.)

Then the airline called and said my flight was to leave at 9pm. So I wound up paying for the room by the hour – with a couple of geckos.

Got to the airport at 7 and checked in with no problem. They didn’t even baulk at the 120 pound bag. But the handle broke off when they tried to lift it. Oh well, it still had 2 other handles and the wheels worked.

We left PP heading for Taipei with no one having any idea what would happen when we got there or when our connections would or could be made.

When we got to Taipei I’ve got to tell you, China Air was ‘Johnny on the spot’. They had a transfer area all set up with signs for our US destinations, all our tickets printed, vouchers for a hotel stay overnight and 2 meals. The last time this happened to me I was flying Northwest and they cancelled the flight because of ‘mechanical’ problems, shipped everyone off to Minneapolis and told us nothing. They gave me $5 voucher, which I returned. They need the 5 bucks more than me.

We didn’t get our bags when we got to Taipei, but there was a 7/11 right down the street and they had deodorant. The hotel gave us toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and a comb. Not bad. A suggestion: always carry nylon, quick drying underwear. I won’t explain, you don’t want me too. We got to our rooms at 3am. We all slept through breakfast except one girl from Florida who was so scared she sat in a chair all night with the lights on watching CNN. Now that scares me.

They taxied us all to another hotel for lunch, a really nice buffet, and then bussed us to the airport. My flight left at 4:15.

I got to Seattle yesterday afternoon and cleared customs. At that point my bag had lost a second handle and the frame for the wheels was coming apart.

Then I flew home.

That’s where my bags got lost.

Now I flew from Palm Springs to San Francisco to Taipei to Phnom Penh. Then PP to Siem Reap. Then Siem Reap to PP. Then PP to Taipei to Seattle during a typhoon. And Alaska Airlines lost my bags between Seattle and Palm Springs. There is no doubt that the US airline system is the crummiest in the world.

They delivered them last night at 2am. After phoning me, pounding on the door and ringing the doorbell. That’s after I said “just leave them on the porch”. He wanted a tip. Right. My ‘book bag’ is now just a big case with no handles, wheels or frame. But the books made it home fine.

So I’ve spent the last 6 hours working on emails, getting my cell phone repaired and updating the blog.

The blog will not end here. I will keep doing it, letting everyone know how we are proceeding with the new NGO and about Aki Ra’s adventures next month in the UK.

I’ve got 200 books, “Look At Us Now”. They are the stories of some of the kids who have lived with Aki Ra and Hourt over the years. While they are not a publication of the Museum, all the proceeds from the sale will go to the Museum. Watch for it here, in an email I’ll send out tomorrow, and on the website:

Thanks for all your kind comments and stay tuned for more from Aki Ra, Landmines and News from the Jungle.
Bill (out of sync) Morse

1 comment:

WENDY said...

I just love the design and content of your blog, Bill !
Now, I'm from Taiwan, was it really that bad? Haha, no, I completely understand, being somewhere by default, due to such circumstances as typhoon conditions, doesn't necessarily allow one to see the cheery part of it. Typhoons aren't the most fun in any country.
It's so exciting all the wonderful improvements made to the new Landmine Museum facility. So wonderful that you've been an integral part of all that. I hope to visit it some-year soon, and with my son !!
Thank you for all you do and for keeping us posted - as well as for some of your keen travel tips along the way !! (I'll have to remember the nylon undies tip !!)
wendy :0)