Monday, May 23 2022 to Wednesday, May 25 2022 (Day 0)
Edmonton, 5:18 am (Monday May 23):
My first day in Singapore was May 25 2022, but the first notable event of the trip actually happened on May 23 2022, nine hours before takeoff, when I received this email from NUS:
We are pleased to inform you that you been offered admission to our NUS Non-graduating (NG) Programme for 2022/2023 Semester 1.
The letter of offer is attached to this email and provides details of your registration and other points to note.
There’s a lot of other stuff in the emails and attached documents, including a bunch of deadlines or starting dates for things (a couple of which will trigger while I am on vacation, like the application for the Student’s Pass and the application for hostels, the latter of which I am thinking of declining anyway.) I also got approved for three of my eight applied courses, which is enough to get a Student’s Pass and which I will showcase in the future if I get accepted. However, there’s one important note in the Offer Letter, which is this:
This offer of admission is conditional upon successful application of your Student’s Pass. Instructions to apply for the Student’s Pass will be provided in a separate email within the next one week. Successful application of the Student’s Pass is required for entry into Singapore. You are advised not to purchase flight tickets until your Student’s Pass is approved.
This was always the most uncertain part of my Singapore application, though there was always a lingering grades issue (see earlier posts) that could have scuttled any application. This acceptance changes my chance of going abroad to Singapore in August from about a 40-60 or 50-50 chance to a 60-40 one or so.
However, that Student’s Pass will be trouble, for reasons stated elsewhere, so that is the main reason that I am making this trip back to Singapore, above and beyond all the nostalgia stuff that I will hopefully get to experience and chronicle here. I just thought it was funny that there was actually movement on the Singapore end the day before I left on the trip, as though it were some sort of lucky charm.
But for the moment, it was time to leave on my trip! Literally, I wrote this part two hours before I was scheduled to leave the house.
Oh, and my travel itinerary looks like this:
Edmonton to Vancouver – AC 239
Takeoff: May 23 11:40 am
Landing: May 23 12:13 pm
Duration: 1h 33m
Layover: 1h 2m
Vancouver to Tokyo – AC 3
Takeoff: May 23 1:15 pm
Landing: May 24 3:10 pm
Duration: 9h 55m
Layover: 2h 45m
Tokyo to Singapore – JL 711
Takeoff: May 24 5:55 pm
Landing: May 25 12:20 am
Duration: 7h 25m
I’m a bit worried about that 1 hour layover in Vancouver, but we’ll see! It’s at least the same airline so maybe they can delay it if need be.
My initial train heading out from the train station near my house was supposed to come at 8:10 am, which would have then allow me to catch the 8:30 bus to the airport from the train stop next to the one near my house. That would put me at the airport before 9:00 am, and I would have had plenty of time before my 11:40 am flight.
But when I reached the train station at 8:02 am, the next two southbound trains (which I needed to catch) were scheduled for 28 and 48 minutes from now, according to the ticker, which was very strange (where was the 8 minutes from now one that I was supposed to catch??). Oh well, 28 minutes from now would still mean I could catch the 9:00 am bus to the airport, and reach at about 9:30, which was still plenty of time for the 11:40 flight.
But then the train came anyway, off schedule, when the 28/48 minute ticker had ticked down to 16 and 36 minutes left. This reminded me of how off all the transit times were in the USA when I visited it. Had Edmonton’s transit reliablity levels fallen so low over the past year as well? Still it was 8:16 am, so I still would catch the 8:30 am bus and be right back on schedule, therefore no harm done, right? Little did I know what this was heralding.
Edmonton, 10:30 am (Monday May 23)
Talk about things that could possibly go wrong on a flight itinerary. This is a story of how my original 24 hour flight eventually took me about 48 hours before I was fully in my Airbnb in Singapore.
My first flight, AC 239, was delayed by an hour or so, and its new landing time in Vancouver became 1:18 pm — three minutes after the Vancouver to Narita flight was scheduled to leave.
During check-in, the Air Canada rep thought that there was a good chance the flights would line up anyway, but he didn’t have a good answer for what would happen for sure — he showed me his flight info screen and noted that it said the flight was “being monitored” by Vancouver, and that unless I wanted to wait and come back tomorrow, he felt it was better to just check in and go anyway and talk to the Air Canada reps in Vancouver. I agreed, so I checked in, including sending forth one piece of checked baggage, and passed security in about 15 minutes.
Once inside the departures area, I received another email — I had been rebooked for a heck of a diversion, to one of those dreaded 39 hour flights from Edmonton to Vancouver, because they didn’t think I would be able to make the original connecting Narita flight from Vancouver. My new flight itinerary became:
Edmonton to Vancouver — AC 239
Takeoff: May 23 11:40 am
Landing: May 23 12:13 pm
Duration: 1h 33m
Layover: 11h 2m
Vancouver to Sydney — AC 33
Takeoff: May 23 11:15 pm
Landing: May 25 7:45 am
Duration: 15h 30m
Layover: 3h 15m
Sydney to Singapore — SQ 232
Takeoff: May 25 11:00 am
Landing: May 25 5:30 pm
Duration: 8h 30m
The total duration of this thing is 39h 50m! It still gets me there faster than waiting for next day’s Narita flight, but that’s wild. At least I’ll get to see Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, I’ve never been there before as far as I’m aware. I also would get to ride Singapore Airlines for my homecoming, so that was neat. I had been forcibly rebooked for a nasty middle seat for the SQ 232 flight, but someone at the Flight Info & Reservations service desk phone number managed to rebook me for an aisle seat, and I thanked her profusely. That was my 2nd call to the number too, the first attempt netted me some Indian man whom I could barely understand and who told me to basically go talk to the Edmonton desk for rebook questions — except I learnt that Edmonton doesn’t HAVE a booking desk because we’re not an international hub, so I had to call them back again.
Also, I could not see and take a customary picture of the poo chairs in the Edmonton International Airport because they were in the USA departures section, not the domestic one. Oh well. I did see this vending machine though, and laughed because this was very typical of my University — everything’s always broken and under maintenance.
Vancouver International Airport
The Edmonton to Vancouver flight was quick and uneventful. I had a bulkhead economy seat and had to stow my backpack up top because there was no seat ahead of me to slip my bag under. So Tigey had to suffer the indignity of being in an overhead bin.
When I got off the flight, I immediately went to talk to the Air Canada rep who was stationed at the gate, telling her about my case and my connecting flight. I noticed that the flight was still around, but that it was on Last Call status or something and she said that since my flight ticket had already been (forcibly) changed, I was unable to get on that plane, plus it was much too late to get there anyway. She pointed me to another Air Canada customer service desk not far from the arrival gate.
I went to the customer service desk, where like the Reservations phone number, I initially got a completely clueless Japanese lady who was confused and was convinced that Singapore needed a negative PCR test within the past 72 hours to enter and kept on asking me where mine was, wasting a whole bunch of time (while the plane was even still in at the gate) confirming that that wasn’t true before telling me that there was nothing she could do.
What annoyed me the most was that the Vancouver > Narita flight was still in the airport when our flight landed and I had a good 20 mins or so to get over there still. The manager in the end said that that was probably not enough time to get my luggage over anyway, but they could have always just gotten me to rebook at the Air Canada customer centre at that point anyway, which was where I went to argue for some compensation. Instead, I couldn’t even try for the plane that was still there (albeit many gates away, but that’s what they have carts and walkie talkies for). According to FlightAware history, it was even more egregious than that — my incoming flight (AC 239 on May 23 2022) landed at 1:04 pm and my original outgoing flight (AC 3 on May 23 2022) departed at 2:01 pm. I’m pretty sure the screen said it was gone by 1:25 pm or so though, so it was probably sitting around on the tarmac a while. I would find out later that my checked luggage actually made this flight (it was tagged with high priority by the initial agent who had checked me in in Edmonton, it did not have a Sydney tag on it when I picked it up in Singapore, and the Lost and Found tag on it said it came in through my original third flight, JL 711), even though I didn’t make it.
Air Canada was very reluctant to offer any sort of compensation for tacking on 15 hours to my flight as well. She refused to give me more than two complimentary $15 restaurant vouchers. Air Canada are cheapskates! They wouldn’t even give me free Maple Lounge access or something similar due to idiotic “policy”, since I basically would have been satisfied with a quiet place to work. I even went to the lounge to ask and got rebuffed. Coming back to the customer service desk and complaining again did work in the end though, even though it took more than two hours — but hey, on the other hand. I had 11 hours to be a thorn in their sides. My request was escalated through two or three levels of managers until they finally found someone who could approve and give me a complimentary Sheraton Hotel room in the end.
That being said, the last manager who got me the hotel room also checked the reason for the flight cancellation and said that it was (or seemed to be) a controllable delay, so after talking with him I think I might possibly be eligible for this compensation attempt via Canada’s Air Passenger Protection thing. He told me to try to contact Air Canada’s customer service reps through their Customer Relations website, and I’m listing this here so that I remember that. He gushed over how good they were, despite (that’s my emphasis) being based in Calgary, and he said to send them a brief summary and one of them would get back to me in a few days (it would likely take more than one day though) and give me someone I could converse with about the issue.
He said if I was due compensation, they had some sort of formulae that would calculate it. I worry that, like how a HR team of a company doesn’t generally work to benefit the individual worker but instead works to benefit the company, there might be a bit of a conflict of interest here, but we’ll see. It is more than a 9 hour delay though, so I might get lucky based upon that website. I just couldn’t exactly file it since I wasn’t at my final stop yet.
Anyway, here is a picture of the two attendants who really helped me, and a shot of the voucher tickets if anyone’s ever curious as to what they look like.
I used one of my two $15 vouchers for a free lunch from a store named Rice Tales in the Vancouver International Airport departures lounge. I had Plain Meatless Rice Noodles with Hot Chili Sauce for $14.33, so it came out free after the coupon. It was not hot at all though, and was as plain as the name suggested, although the alternative was adding meat and I do not think that would have helped. It was cooked like the (fake) Singapore Noodles, with green peppers and a couple other types of vegetables.
I never did redeem the other voucher, since I wanted a keepsake. I checked out of the airport and ran to the shuttle area, but as typical to how my day had been going, the hotel shuttle only comes once every 30 minutes (:15 and :45 at the airport) and I barely missed it, so I had to wait the full 30 minutes for the next one. Still, the promise of a refreshing shower and a quiet place to work on my blog was great, and I had my lunch at the shuttle bus stop while waiting for it.
The shuttle then arrived to carry me away:
Past interesting looking architecture (I want to live here!):
The shared hotel shuttle went to Hilton, Marriott, and then Sheraton, and the three buildings were pretty much side by side anyway. My hotel room was room 260 North at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Richmond, although the room key says Marriott Bonvoy. Here are a bunch of hotel room pictures.
My flight was scheduled for at 11:15 pm local time, with boarding starting at 10:30 pm, and the shuttle came every :00 and :30 on the hour at the hotels. It was about 4:10 pm by the time I even got to the hotel room, so I took a nice shower, sat down to do some writing and upkeep, and eventually caught the 8:30 pm shuttle back to the airport without incident.
I contacted my homestay person in the meantime, who had originally offered to pick me up for free from the airport even though I was arriving at 12:30 am on May 25th. I did worry about this because I didn’t know if customs was going to hold me up. I suspected they would, but I didn’t have a good reason to say no. Now that I was arriving at 5:30 pm though, the trains would still have been running, so I told him I’d make my way over myself! He suggested I grab dinner at a hawker center in Eunos, one of the two MRT train near his house, and he could pick me up from there after if wanted. Good guy.
As a result of this reroute, I also had to download an Aussie government app named Australia DPD and fill out an online declaration of vaccination thing on it. This thing was more onerous than the Singapore, Canadian, and Japanese versions put together. Though to be fair the Japanese didn’t have one (they had this, though, which I found interesting). But I had to fill this in even though I was just transitting through Australia, and part of the form involved filling in a complete address and phone number for where I would be staying during my time in Australia. For a 3 hour transit??? The FAQ page says to put in the airport name and details in cases like that, but they didn’t list the details so I had to go Google it up (and that’s a stupid workaround anyway). And then they wanted me to fill in all my vaccination dates by hand AND then provide a scan of the vaccine document anyway. Why both?? I filled it in and would later find out in Sydney that they never even looked at it or asked for it. I eventually got approvals for my Sydney declaration once I was sitting in my bedroom in Singapore!
Vancouver to Sydney flight
The Vancouver flight was a 15.5 hour flight, and would have been awful if not for the fact that even though I grabbed a cheap ticket, this second leg of the trip was originally a Premium Economy seat anyway, and not a regular Economy one. I did ask for an upgrade anyway but again Air Canada are cheapskates, and the manager at the gate could not authorize any sort of an upgrade or compensation or anything. He did say that if I was in Economy, he would have bumped me to Premium Economy, but I was already in the best available seat as he could not authorize a bump to Business (maybe they were full). i was hoping for at least complimentary flight internet or something, but nada. He did say he would try to see what he could do anyway but nothing came of it in the end and I boarded as normal. We were stuck before takeoff on the tarmac for around an hour as well, due to something about some pump in the aircraft not working and the pilot mentioning that the mechanics on the ground were trying to fix it. But there was no one in the seat beside me, and no one in the seat beside that either, so I even brought out Tigey and Clara and gave them their own seat next to me (the seats are visible here, but the plushies are not pictured).
They were not the most comfortable seats, because Air Canada seat handles are not liftable like many other airline seat handles are, and also because of this idiocy:
This mini-tray thing juts out of the side of the seat handle and could not be moved. Really poor design. Still, the premium economy seats were decent enough, at least they weren’t economy:
All the seats also came with bottled water and a bag of goodies since it was a long flight:
Not that I ever opened mine. Definitely brought it along with me when I left the plane, though.
They served us drinks four or five times on the 15.5 hours flight, counting meals. I always take tomato juice as my drink on airplanes. Tradition? Lucky custom? Maybe time to change it up after this trip? This particular one was given to me fancy though.
We were given three meals, about 1, 7, and 14 hours in. The first one, dinner, was chicken or veal, and I picked veal the main dish was “veal ossa buco, asparagus risotto, gremolata”, the side dish was “celeriac salad”, and the dessert was carrot cake. The fake kind.
The chicken dish, which I didn’t pick, was “chicken thigh, korma-style sauce, basmati rice, spinach curry” and vaguely looked like this:
The second meal was labelled “snack”, and was a chicken sandwich and a cookie (more of a dry snack bar, but whatever).
The third meal, breakfast, was a fruit salad, “omelette, cauliflower au gratin”, and “crêpe, cream, fruit compote”.
Of the three meals, the veal and the omelette were both served hot and was quite good. I don’t really know the names of the sauces but both of them had a lasagna-style tomato-adjacent sauce that tasted great.
I felt fairly good in this flight on premium economy. There were only 3 rows of premium economy in the aircraft (24 seats in total), though there were also only maybe 12 or 13 people in it total.I brought out the Steam Deck and played several hours of Monster Train and Atelier Ryza 2 on it, and watched part of a movie (the second live-action movie adaptation of Kaguya-sama: Love is War).
Just before landing, they gave out a declaration form to everyone. This was a slightly longer version of the one I had already filled in on the app, plus asking about things I wanted to declare while going through customs. I partly filled it in (because it was so similar to the online app’s form and I had no idea at the time that that would not even be looked at) but decided to ignore it in the end since there were even more questions on it that I couldn’t answer. Without further incident, we then landed in Sydney!
Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport
Perhaps it was partly the effect of being 32 hours into my travel itinerary already, or that I only had about a half an hour after we landed before my Sydney to Singapore flight started boarding due to the delays in Vancouver, although there was a good hour of boarding time so I actually had about 1.5 hours to make it there. But whatever it was, I found the part of Sydney Airport I was stuck in to be one of the most onerous and terrible airports I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in. It’s saying something when I rank Edmonton International Airport higher than yours, Sydney. And there were so many reasons why the Sydney airport experience sucked.
Firstly, WiFi. Besides being spotty in general, it’s a rare airport when the local airport’s free WiFi doesn’t reach the passengers in the plane when the plane is docked at the gate. This was not as important coming in, but I did notice it then since I couldn’t use my phone like I normally did after landing and before disembarkation, to tell people that I had successfully landed. It’s very anti-foreigner/visitor. It was a much greater irritation factor when we were stuck at the gate on the way out and I had no way to relay that or amuse myself on the Internet to pass the time for 30 minutes either.
Secondly, unclear arrival signage and routes. When we arrived, we alighted the plane into a kind of back corridor arrival gate area that was different from a departure gate with seats and the counter and such. This thing was just a funneling corridor that led to a 3-way T-junction. To the back was the way I had arrived from, to the left was a similar-looking corridor with a couple machines of some sort and then a sharp turn out of sight, and straight ahead was a passage that went through a duty free mall and then ended up at a bunch of machines and some Customs gates. At the 3-way junction, there was a sign that said something like “Domestic Arrivals” or “Customs Processing” or something, pointing ahead through the duty-free mall. But there was also a sign pointing ahead that said something like “International Transit Processing”, whereas a very similar sign that said “International Transits” pointed left. The exact wording might be slightly off, I don’t remember. But the two signs were only one word off and it didn’t really make any sense to me that they were pointing in opposite directions. Where was I to go? In addition, my boarding pass did not have a gate number on it, and there were absolutely no TVs displaying the departure schedule of planes in this section of the airport for some reason like there are in most other airports.
Before we left the plane, there was an announcement made about connecting flights due to the delays, listing a few Australia/NZ-based local ones and how they were being rebooked/rescheduled, and to go see the airline reps waiting at the arrival gate if anyone had any questions. When I asked on the way out, they told me that my flight was still fine, I didn’t have to go collect checked baggage (despite the announcement that “everyone” should) as it would follow me, and to go see if I could get a buggy ride from a buggy at the bottom of the ramp to my gate if it was there. It wasn’t, so I had kept on walking down the path until I got to that confusing part.
Now that I was stuck there, I went back up again to the Air Canada airline reps and not only were they able to give me my flight number, all of the passengers had now departed the plane as well, so one of them walked me over back to the junction, looked at the signage, and pointed me left. Yay! So I went left and followed the passage.
And hit a dead end. After some walking, I did indeed find the gate for my Singapore plane, Gate 51, but it was the arrival gate, and was just a featureless door with no seats and no counter, next to another featureless door for a gate number adjacent to my gate. There was another gate or passage or something that was open, but as I started going up that passage, I was able to tell that this was also some sort of arrival passage as there were a horde of people coming down it. There was also no way a buggy would have fit going up that thing. So I turned around and went back down.
I did notice a lady on a buggy talking on a walkie-talkie in the dead end corner though, and I approached her to ask for directions. She took one look at my ticket, and told me to hop on. She finished her call and then started driving. Bbugggy ride! Wheee,
That’s her driving the buggy. I didn’t catch her name, although I think I saw the name Sheraton on the ID tag around her neck at some point. Or an uncommon name (i.e. not Sheralyn) very close to the name of the hotel chain I stayed in in Vancouver. She drove me back to the intersection, went through the duty-free mall strip, and then took a sharp right turn after the mall strip, where there was a tiny floor sign pointing toward an obscured side passage with another International Transfers (or something) sign. We picked up another confused and lost transit passenger, and she then drove us through that corridor, through yet another duty-free mall strip, and then a side service corridor so that we could avoid going through a THIRD duty-free mall strip. Finally, we ended up at a small side doorway thing and were told to get in line there and filter our way through the usual baggage checks before we could go to our gates. Annoying, but standard, and it was progress!
Fourthly, not enough arrival signage. Maybe I missed one or two small screens while on the buggy, but I don’t recall seeing them, which is a bad sign in and of itself for people trying to figure out connections. I did finally see a TV screen at the International Transit queue line:
And was amused that the status for my flight (and others that were on time but had not started boarding yet) said Relax. I had heard from the Air Canada rep earlier that my flight had been delayed but I didn’t see that reflected here. I wasn’t sure how accurate it was since it still showed flights that were supposed to be gone as still being in Gate Open or Final Call status though.
Fifth, there was only one single queue processing International Transfers, so it took about 15 minutes to get through it even though it was a relatively short line. It felt like we were an afterthought. I passed through the metal detector fine, but was selected at random to be more thoroughly searched anyway, which consisted of a hand-sized detector device being waved around me and my luggage. Better than the family in front of me that got something like 10 tubes of toothpaste confiscated because they were well over their limit of what Australia allowed in carry-on luggage, even though they were just transitting through.
The last irritation I remember was the walk to the departure gate. After passing through that International Transit scan, I went up an escalator and was finally in the main airport departures area. I could see my plane out the window, and it wasn’t far at all, but when I got to the gate, I found it blocked by a pane of glass. I could see the check-in counter for my Gate 51 on the other side of the glass, and I was maybe about 10 feet away from it. Yet, to actually get TO that counter, i had to walk for about 2-3 more minutes, past three large shops (one was shuttered) trying to sell me overpriced airport stuff, then skirting the edge of a food court, and then all the way back down the back wall of the shops where there were a large number of seats for the departure gate, before I finally could reach that counter.
It felt like Sydney was trying to not only penny-pinch by providing their guests as minimal and cheap an experience (WiFi, poor signage, poor layout, lack of arrival screens) as possible, but also trying to shove as much shopping as possible into their faces in order to extract as much money from them as possible before letting them move on. The whole experience felt like it was designed by an Electronic Arts executive or something.
It turned out I didn’t have to rush though. The counter was expecting me anyway (the buggy lady probably radioed ahead), and they said I was the only one coming from Canada so they knew it was me. I was in the last boarding group too, though not by choice. But mostly, it was because that even after we boarded the plane and sat down, we were stuck in our seats without WiFi for about 50 minutes prior to takeoff alone, due to baggage loading issues. According to the pilot, it was an issue being faced by all the Sydney Airport planes (perhaps explaining those odd time anomalies on the Departures TV monitor earlier), as there was a staff shortage in Sydney due to COVID-19. Or maybe they just were underfunded?
I had an aisle seat in a middle row of 3, and the middle seat between me and the guy on the other end of the row was empty at first. It was being used as a filler seat though, and the staff first shuttled a Chinese woman into there, before an attendant came back to apologize for some sort of error that had caused her seat to be double-booked or something. He told her they would be getting her an equivalent aisle-row seat, and beckoned her to follow him — I would later see her on the bulkhead aisle seat of the aircraft section behind us, and we exchanged tired smiles and waves. Shortly after she was reassigned they put another passenger there, an Indian man who apparently had booked through a budget travel agent of some sort who had also put him into a wrong or nonexistent seat. This time it was pinned on the travel agent so he didn’t get reassigned anywhere else (if that was even possible), nor did they even had a meal plan for him — he required vegetarian or halal food but the Singapore Airlines stewardess said that that would have had to be booked in advance and they couldn’t accommodate it. (They did eventually end up giving him cup noodles as his main dish for both meals though, which he was OK with). He also hadn’t picked up a pair of complimentary Singapore Airlines earphones on the way into the aircraft, and I gave him my pair because I wasn’t using it (and had no devices I could plug it into, as it was a dual-prong plug that I surmised was mostly used in aircraft if at all.)
Amusingly though, when checking in and claiming my seat for the Japan Airlines flight the day before my trip, I had noticed a food option as well and had picked out Seafood from the list, because well, Japan was known for its rich seafood. When I got forcibly rebooked by Air Canada onto Singapore Airlines as my last flight into Singapore, they kept this request as well, and so an attendant coming by to confirm people’s food requests confirmed with me, to my surprise, that I had requested and would be getting seafood meals. That sounded good to me!
The in-flight WiFi, run by KrisFlyer, was awful. Absolutely atrocious. There was a complimentary 2 hour WiFi, that could only be used for certain chat programs (Line, WhatsApp, etc, and it excluded more intensive ones like Discord), but it wasn’t activated while we were on the ground waiting for the bags to be loaded, and once we were in the air, signing up kept erroring out and it took well over an hour and a half to finally do so. And then after that the connection itself refused to let me apply the voucher code and start the two hour session so I could at least send out some messages to my family. And then once it started working, it barely worked and kept seeming to drop off. I couldn’t even confirm if any messages were sent until much later, after I arrived in Singapore. And they wanted people to pay for actual data packages (to get regular in-flight Internet usage) with that kind of connectivity?
One of the highlights of the cramped airplane were the seats though. The seat armrests were liftable, which was great, and the seat pocket in front of the seat was nicely partitioned into sections that could hold a mobile phone, earphones, a book, and so on. I really liked it, although my mobile phone pocket was filled with pink gunk and I had to report it to a concerned and profoundly apologetic stewardess. I also really liked the flight display, which had several display modes you could toggle through, including a neat cockpit view mode:
It wasn’t nearly detailed or updated enough to be interesting though, a the perspective was all wrong and the map was not “zoomed in” far enough for a cockpit mode — flying over that narrow body of water displayed at the bottom of that first screenshot, for example, probably took about 10-15 minutes instead of seconds.
The flight was predominantly full of Indians who were transiting through Singapore to the Indian sub-continent, and in particular it was full of families — there were at least seven babies or very young toddlers in our cabin alone, and one of them spent the entire trip crying his lungs out. He had nothing but dry wails left long before the end of the journey.
The meals were pretty decent. My first meal, served soon after takeoff, consisted of fish under that same tomato/lasagna-ish sauce from the Air Canada flights, along with some potatoes and some vegetable strips that I’m bad at identifying:
The fish was piping hot and good. The problem with this meal, was the speed and delivery. I don’t know what the Singapore Airlines crew was doing, or if this is normal for economy flights, but it took over an hour for the attendants to give out all the food trays, which meant that it was an hour and fifteen minutes before our finished trays were collected and removed. And these meals barely even take 15 minutes to consume if done at a languid pace. Thus many people, especially people without aisle seats, were stuck with their seat trays down and unable to move anywhere, go to the toilet, pull out their larger electronic devices etc, for well over an hour. This was infuriating and people were flagging down attendants to try to get them to remove their individual trays by the end of it all, further adding to the confusion.
The second meal was much simpler and didn’t require any sort of tray to cause logjams later on. They were wrapped sandwiches, and my seafood request was still active, so I got tuna sandwiches!
Once the trays from the first meal were finally cleared, I spent basically most of my remaining time playing more Atelier Ryza 2 on the Steam Deck. The airplane went into turbulence mode at least seven times during the flight, which was quite something and probably contributed to the crying baby’s agitation, but obviously arrived without incident, since I would not be able to type and publish any of this using their crappy in-flight WiFi. There were plenty of missed connections, mostly to India, and it caused a round of “If your connecting flight was X, you are now scheduled to board Y at gate Z”, etc before i finally stepped off my final plane. It was an interesting experience to see all the cascading failures that went on, and wonder what triggering events elsewhere were even going on that day to cause all three of my flights to be delayed so badly.
Singapore – Immigration (May 24, 6:30 pm – 11:00 pm)
And yet, my ordeal wasn’t over! It had been about 44 hours at this point since I had left my Edmonton home, but it would take me nearly another 5 hours or so before I actually passed immigration and was able to walk free.
The crux of this issue was that my Central Manpower Base (CMPB) enlistment officer, whom I had been talking to for the past couple years and had invited me back to see the CMPB doctor for a checkup and to bring my medical forms with me so they could process my exemption which would clear my warrant for draft dodging, had not actually given the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority, or ICA, a heads up that I would be coming. This was despite me telling her my itinerary and arrival date 3 times, once over WhatsApp chat, once over the phone, and then a follow-up email after that with flight details, even though that was all eventually ruined by the delays. She had “missed the email”, she said later on.
Anyway, ICA flagged me when I was at the immigration checkpoint because my fingerprints matched the ones in their database from when I was still pre-transition and pre-migration. All male citizens are entered into Singapore’s fingerprints database when they’re registered and given notice that they will have to serve in the army when they come of age, and I believe this initial registration usually happens around age 12. I was 14 when I left the country.
They did not know about my case or my transition, however, since they had not received notification from CMPB, so they were really confused and sent someone over to talk to me after escalating my case. I think I could still have passed the border if I had lied and said I had never been here under a different name, but that would go counter to what I was trying to achieve by coming back here, and was a crime by definition, plus I believed my CMPB rep had invited me here out of good will and I wasn’t going to break that, so I told them my story.
What happened afterwards was an incredibly boring five hour wait punctuated by some really interesting moments. They first put me in a waiting room while they got in touch with said enlistment officer, who did confirm my story. They then tried to figure out what to do with me — at one point they had eight different officers all poring over the same computer as they examined my edge case, which they had probably never seen before.
I was at some point then allowed to speak to my enlistment officer, who filled me in on what happened. Apparently, because I was already in the country, she couldn’t now send an email to ICA asking them to let me through, and they’d have to take me into custody. However, it was just a procedural thing, and once I was actually in custody, she said she could then send a letter telling them to immediately release me, and after completing the paperwork I would be free. She apologized for that, and I did note through the night that everyone seemed to be on the same page here, besides that CMPB rep, everyone on the ICA team and the police team that accompanied me and even the ones at the station processing paperwork knew exactly what was going on and were perfectly cordial and occasionally even friendly, offering advice on this and that matter. I was actually really impressed by how the different units seemed to communicate well with each other.
But! They had to formally arrest me, with handcuffs and all, in order to actually get me past the border control, since I wasn’t allowed to be in the country until the paperwork was done. They walked me through a quiet part of the airport, actually found my checked luggage for me from the Lost and Found section and picked that up, then ushered me out through some employee back areas. I was put into the back of a police car and driven off. The place they brought me to was also an internal area of the police facility where no non-officers were allowed to roam freely, so they had to keep some form of cuffs on for that too (sometimes it was both wrists, sometimes it was just one). i didn’t feel like I was in danger during any part of this process though, and no one was mean or rude about it, although I definitely worried a bit as to what happened if my CMPB enlistment officer either failed or was denied somehow, or fell asleep since it was late at night. I did receive occasional updates as to where the process was now though and by when I was expected to be released. I was also given a rapid COVID-19 ART (Antigen Rapid Test) and passed that.
I was eventually released with a document stating that my enlistment officer had posted a $1000 bond for me, and that I had to report to the CMPB building in two days, as was my original intention anyway. None of this was a surprise, and I was let go from the station in the middle of a residential area, with directions to the nearest 7-11 and food facilities.
So with that, I viewed the entire thing as a really unique and sort of neat experience. Not the kind where I’d ever want to come back for a repeat event, but I got to see a lot of things and places that a normal person would never get to see, and felt like I was being given a guided tour while not actually being in any danger at all through the process. There was just a lot of boring waiting around.
Singapore, post-release (May 24, 11:00 pm – May 25, 2:30 am)
Unbelievably, I still had a little bit more drama before I could finally safely end the travel part of my trip. The Bedok police station I was enshrined in, was nowhere near a train route, and the train service was on the verge of shutting down for the night anyway. I was also hungry because airplane food is never filling. But most importantly, unless I wanted to turn on data roaming for a price, I didn’t actually have wireless or data access to do anything.
I did know that 7-Elevens sold prepaid SIM cards though. Many places do, in Singapore, there are ads for them EVERYWHERE. Following the instructions from the police officers, I went to the nearby one to pick up a SIM card, and with the help of the friendly store clerk, managed to replace mine. However, I had to actually download an app over wireless to activate the SIM card, which I found counter-intuitive. The instructions said to find a public WiFi place to do this, like a train station or the airport, but I was nowhere near any of those.
The 7-Eleven clerk had suggested that the hawker center might have free WiFi, so I wandered over to the hawker centre, only to find that they didn’t. However, there were still a couple of stalls open, and several people sitting around enjoying the humid night breeze and a bottle of alcohol or some late night snacks, and I asked a couple people around if they could point me toward the nearest train station anyway.
One of them, a man named Manuel who was here with another friend got wind of the reason, and instead did something better- – he offered to turn his phone into a hotspot and give me access to his network so I could activate my SIM card. What a great man this Manuel was! I managed to activate my phone this way. He came through for me and I even will forgive him for his WiFi hotspot network name, Pretty WiFi for a White Guy. Shortly thereafter, I had data again and was immediately hit by a flood of texts, messages, etc.
Google Maps was the most important thing though, and that worked, and secondly was getting in touch with my rental place. My enlistment officer had earlier offered to contact my rental place for me to tell them that I would be late without actually telling them -why- I would be late, and I had agreed and had given her the number. I would later find out that she had done exactly this. Third was getting in touch with the enlistment officer herself, she had told me to call her once I was free and though it took me a while to do so, I eventually did this and thanked her for her help. Despite everything, I do consider her a really nice person and she definitely did stay up and work extra late to make sure I was safe, so that was nice of her. We agreed to chat again the next day after some sleep.
I needed food before sleep though, so I bought a meal at the hawker centre I was at, called 85 Fengshan Centre. The store itself was just called Oyster Omelette, and I picked up Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee for $6. A good pile of Hokkien Mee is my favourite all-time dish, but this wasn’t quite it — it was still a great first Singapore hawker centre meal after over 48 hours in an airplane and after 25 years away from the country though.
I then ordered a ride to my AirBnb-like (but not) rental place, using an Uber-like (but not) app called CDC Zig, from a company called ComfortDelGro Taxi. It was decidedly a car though, they seemed to commander both a fleet of actual taxis as well as personal cars, as far as I could tell. The fare was $10.50, and I delighted in that not only does Singapore not do tips, so there was no compulsory tipping for any of the food nor car/taxi rides, but also that the driver told me that $10 was enough, and to keep the extra 50 cents since I was paying in cash. He got a 5-star review and a shout out and immortality in this blog’s history for that, his name’s Tan Yang Siang.
I then arrived at the house that I had rented a room from. It’s an actual house, a really large one at that, but it has some quirks that prevent me from posting full pictures of it. For one, I couldn’t actually contact the owner to get in to the house, and had to ring and chat him several times at 2:30 am or so to finally be allowed in, only to discover that (he had forgotten to tell me that) the side gate was open and all the doors in the house were also open, and were left open on purpose most of the time. This was really interesting to me, and a nod to both the culture of how Singapore is safe as well as the family’s Muslim culture and beliefs in general, I think, or perhaps the economic reality of having a fairly substantial line-up of guests living here. But this also means that I won’t be the one that compromises their safety by posting pictures that make their house easy to find. I will probably post some pictures at the end of the trip or after it, of some of the public internal rooms. I want to get some nicer pictures first anyway.
For the moment though, I finally got to my destination, took a shower, and flopped into bed. Bed! It took nearly 52 hours or so to get here after everything was said and done.