Oasis Hong Kong – a review

There are a few reasons why I decided to go to Hong Kong for my holiday. Relatives, culture, shopping, food, gadgets, China, Macau and Disneyland were all factors. The biggest factor, however, was a new airline called Oasis Hong Kong that was selling return tickets for £275 (including everything).

£275 is significantly less than flights to most US cities. You could probably get cheaper flights to New York at certain times, but certainly not the west coast, which is approximately as far from London as Hong Kong is. Canada would be tricky. Europe is obviously much cheaper, but I felt like going somewhere further afield, and I didn’t like the idea of dealing with Easyjet or Ryanair, schlepping to some remote airport hours from where I wanted to be.

There’s a great deal of curiosity about Oasis flights. Whenever I tell people that I travelled on Oasis, they can be counted on to say one of three things:

  1. Don’t they only have one plane?
    Not true – they have at least two. It’s pretty much necessary if you’re going to do daily flights to and from Hong Kong and you don’t have a way to teleport aircraft. But it does mean there’s only one plane per direction.
  2. Did you hear about the delays?
    Oasis had a spectacularly bad launch day; they didn’t get permission to fly over Russia for their first flight, which delayed things for hours. Let’s say it didn’t paint a good picture of their competence. Having said that, their on-time record seems to be perfectly fine these days.
  3. Sounds awfully cheap…
    So it must be nasty, right? Not so.

Particularly in Hong Kong, a lot of people asked me how the flight was. This is a little odd since the airline’s been running for about nine months now, so you’d think there’d be plenty of reviews and stories, but I’ve only been able to find one substantial review and that was for business class on the inaugural flight – hardly representative, but it was positive. So, I feel like it would be useful to talk about my experience on Oasis. If you can’t be bothered reading the whole thing, then there’s a:

Summary: Very respectable, considering the price. Yes, you get free meals and entertainment. Now, onto the real review… Continue reading “Oasis Hong Kong – a review”

Fire Alert at Heathrow

I was sitting in the lounge area of Terminal 3 in Heathrow when the PA system came on.

“This is a security announcement. All passengers are reminded that baggage should-”

A sharp beeping interrupted the message. “A fire alarm has been activated in your area. Please go to the nearest emergency exit immediately. A fire alarm has been activated in your area. Please go to…”

People looked up quizzically; was this real? Most people decided not to take any chances and began to collect their bags and look around for the nearest green sign. This was hastened when shop staff started closing up. As I walked to the nearest exit to me (the one by Chez Gerard, heading into various gates) I noted with satisfaction that everyone was moving calmly but with seriousness; clearly the we’ve had bomb and terrorists drilled into our heads so much by popular culture that everyone knew what to do.

A stream of people were heading the same way as me. If you’ve been to Terminal 3, you’ll know that some of the walks to the far-off gates can take a while. 5 minutes for a fast walker, easily 10 minutes for a slow one. About halfway along, around when I was wondering why it was taking so long to get to an emergency exit that actually led outside the building, I spotted a green sign… that pointed back in the way I’d come. Brilliant.

Some people milled around it, paralysed by the competing signals, but most people just kept walking on. A little further on was another, more promising, green sign that hung above a double-set of fire doors. Some people were sitting around inside, looking bored, but the doors were locked. I shook my head.

When I’d come in to Heathrow earlier this morning, I was thinking about bombs. It was a nice day, and I wondered what would happen if someone set off a bomb in the airport. How long would it take to get back to normal? Would they still run some flights? I suppose I had this on my mind after watching a bunch of action movie trailers last night, most of which had some combination of huge explosions and nuclear bombs.

I knew that this fire alert probably wasn’t serious, but it all seemed very odd. Along with most other people, I kept on going until I almost reached the end gates. There, a small group had collared someone wearing a uniform – he wasn’t security or anything like that, he looked like a construction worker.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“There was a fire alarm back in the shops area. It told us to go to the nearest emergency exit, so here we are,” someone replied.

“Huh, I didn’t hear anything. All the tannoy systems are linked up together, so if there was a fire alarm back there, we should’ve heard it here.” All the same, he got on his phone to his supervisor, who evidently didn’t know any more.

“So what should we do?” we asked him.

“I don’t know. Like I said, if there was a real fire, we should be hearing it here.” He just seemed a bit bemused by the entire situation.

“Yes,” replied a woman, “but there was a fire alarm, and you said you didn’t hear it down here. So maybe it’s still going on. And there are some people going in the opposite direction now, back to the shops.”

He nodded. “That’s true. Well, all I can say is that you could just wait here, or you could go back and find out more.”

We all shook our heads, and headed back to the shops. No-one seemed particularly bothered, although I did hear someone say, “What if someone had fallen and hurt their knee?” What indeed.

After another five minute walk, I got back to the shops area. There was a small crowd hanging around, and a woman in uniform saying “You can go back now, it’s open!” So I went back, and on the way, saw some staff hanging around in Chez Gerard; they hadn’t even moved since the alarm.

I know that if there was a real fire, or a real bomb scare, everything would’ve moved a lot faster. But events like this just desensitive everyone. A fire alarm going off in a busy terminal is a big deal for the people in it, even if it isn’t for the staff. The fact that none of the staff know what’s going on, that the emergency exits signs point in the wrong direction, that it takes 5 minutes to get to the nearest exit – which is locked – is unbelievable.

They x-rayed my shoes when I came in. What’s the point? Security is only as strong as its weakest link.

Star formation

Another long-haul flight, another blog post. After I’ve exhausted the in-flight movies, this month’s issues of Scientific American and the New Yorker, listened to one and a half episodes of In Our Time, and even done some work, I’ve had to fall back to the option of last resort – writing a post for this weblog.

There’s something about long distance travel that engenders it to writing diaries or journals. For me, it’s a combination of being forced to spend lots of time thinking about nothing in particular, and soaking up large amounts of varied information from articles, podcasts and observations in general about people and airports.

Airports – now who couldn’t be moved to write a few hundred words about them? They’re an experience that everyone has to suffer once in a while, a shared environment that exists independent of location. Personally, I’ve often thought of airports as being extremely slow teleportation devices, in that you move between two near-identical buildings without any experience of the space in between them. Even the styling of airports resembles teleporters, from the retro ‘2001’ space-age look (60s US airports) to the high-tech space-age look (00s Chinese airports). Unfortunately the analogy falls apart when you spend 90 minutes waiting in immigration at JFK, but otherwise it’s a nice though.

US immigration – surely one of the worst flying experiences ever. No doubt in theory the fingerprinting and photo process shouldn’t take thatlong, but the geniuses in charge of the process forgot two things. One, that the immigration desks would be chronically underfunded and understaffed; and two, that there is a high proportion of fuckwits (and I use the term after some consideration) that pass through airports and slow the entire process down for everyone. Clearly the challenge of filling out a couple of forms and correctly stating your nationality was just too much for a good 75% of people – although the incredibly poorly designed forms didn’t help matters. I found myself wondering whatever had happened to the US free market – why can’t someone set up a few fast-track immigration lanes that you could pay $5 to use? I certainly would’ve stumped up the money to save myself an hour.

I also felt sorry for the US citizens who had to go through immigration. When entering the UK, EU citizens just have to flash their passports and get waved through. I have no idea what happens to US citizens, except that it seems to take about ten times longer. So much for American ingenuity.

One of the In Our Time podcasts I listened to was about galaxies. Normally, In Our Time’s treatment of science is not quite as good as the arts or humanities – I put this down to Melyvn Bragg’s slight disdain for the field, and the sad fact that many scientists just aren’t good communicators. However, this one was pretty good, mainly because there was a charming American scientist on the panel.

One of the interesting facts in the program was to do with the Milky Way’s spiral arms. What with all the ‘photos’ of the Milky Way showing the magnificent spirals (obviously they aren’t photos, since we’re in the Milky Way), you would think that all of the stars are packed into those arms. But apparently, they’re not. The stars in our galaxy are actually formed into a disc, so they’re also present ‘in between’ the arms. The arms themselves are regions of star formation, and because the new stars shine so brightly and light up the gas around them, that’s why the arms outshine the rest of the galaxy.

What’s even more interesting is that the spiral arms do not travel at the same speed of rotation of stars within the galaxy – it’s a bit like the way in which waves in the ocean aren’t composed of water that’s moving sideways, they’re composed of water moving up and down. The arms are also waves – they’re compression waves that roll around the Milky Way, collapsing the clouds of gas that lie in between the stars so that they form new stars. Where do the clouds of gas come from? From the ashes of exploded stars – which are themselves the engine of the compression waves.

*The Earth takes about 250 million years to travel around the galaxy.

The first time I heard this wasn’t from the podcast, it was from Will Wright at GDC this year. Because of a common connection, we happened to be at the same dinner one night and he, as ever, was talking about Spore. I was supposed to be talking about Perplex City and ARGs, which I did with a few folks, but I neglected my duties with Will and instead spent my time learning about spiral arms and swapping ideas about the chirality of amino acids (I think Will was pleased to find someone at the conference who also knew about astrobiology). I remember being absolutely fascinated by the notion of the spiral arms being a natural phenomenon writ impossibly large, like the carbon cycle or tectonics, but on the scale of hundreds of thousands of light years. Something that everyone recognises as being beautiful – the spiral arms of our galaxy – is made even more beautiful by knowing how it works.

I was impressed (although admittedly slightly dubious) by Will’s intention to actually show players in Spore how this worked in an interactive fashion. It’s not as if anyone needs to know the mechanism of star formation in our galaxy, but it’s one of those wonderful, perfect facts that just makes startling sense.

Terminal 3

After a while, you begin to realise that the only times you get to sit down and update your weblog is when you physically cannot do anything else; on a bus, in jail, or in an airport.

Well, that’s not quite true. I could read a magazine or a book, or gaze at the various electronic goodies in Dixons. I could even ruminate on why, inexplicably, the World News store is the only place in Terminal 3 where you can buy newspapers, magazines and sweets – you would’ve thought that other shops would try to tap into the captive audience of hungry, bored travellers carrying a lot of spare cash. Maybe they’ve been granted a monopoly or something. In any case, the end result is that there is an absolutely enormous queue at World News and I can’t be bothered getting anything to eat (not that they sell anything that wouldn’t immediately give you diabetes).

I got to Heathrow this morning using a rather cheap trick. Because the London Underground is doing one of its periodic ‘the District line doesn’t work and never worked’ maintenances, you can’t actually get to Heathrow via the tube. I would never try it myself anyway, normally I get a taxi because the tube takes far too long and is rather depressing, but in this case, because of the maintenance, London Underground has struck a deal with Heathrow Express where you can travel on it for free if you have a Zones 1-6 Travelcard.

Zones 1-6 Travelcard: £6 offpeak
Heathrow Express single: £14

There’s no competition. I honestly felt sorry for the guy on the train I saw paying full fare. The Heathrow Express itself is a fine enough train but it’s not really worth getting unless the traffic is bad, you’re travelling on your own, and you’re coming from central London. It’s also worth considering that when you get off the Heathrow Express, you still have quite a bit of walking to do before you get to Departures. I suppose if they reduced the price it might be worth the hassle, but I can’t see much difference between it and a taxi.

I’m on my way to Toronto today for a week’s holiday, so there’s even less chance that I’ll update in the near future. I’m also going to be heading to Montreal in November for the Montreal Games Summit to do a presentation on ARGs, which should be fun. Who would’ve thought I’d end up becoming a games designer after doing a degree in neuroscience? Life is strange.

Let me back in

Right now I’m on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Los Angeles, to attend the E3 convention. I have inevitably ended up directly behind someone who has chosen to tilt his seat back as far as it can go, and slightly further besides. This sort of thing is like the tragedy of the commons – if you want a decent amount of room to read or type, then you have to tilt your own seat back, and then this continues ad infinitum, or at least until the end of the cabin. The solution? Don’t allow seats to tilt back. Or give people more room. Or put all serial seat tilters in their own cabin and charge them more. Actually, I quite like that last suggestion.

Anyway, the one good thing about an 11.5 hour flight is the way it lets me do some serious reading and writing, uninterupted by the siren call of the internet. No doubt this will not be the case next year, but for now it means I can catch up on this weblog.

I have a bunch of things to write about, including the Oxford Literary Festival, a run, the launch of Perplex City and other associated things, but right now I’ll do a nice easy movie review: Ocean’s Twelve.

Ocean’s Eleven is one of those strange hit movies that really shouldn’t have been so good or successful for having the presumption to put a bunch of A-list actors together in an ensemble cast. And yet everything clicked – the dialogue was funny, the pacing was tight and no-one got too much or too little screen time. The only objection I have to the movie (which I make, without fail, upon any mention of it) is when Matt Damon tells Brad Pitt that Julia Roberts is the most beautiful thing he’s seen (or something to that extent). Now, I don’t want to comment on Julia Roberts’ looks but I think it’s a real stretch of believability for Matt Damon to say this. But apart from that, the movie is great.

As for Ocean’s Twelve, I had already formed an opinion of it before I’d watched it. Most reviews I’d read or heard said that the intro was pretty good, and then it got far too silly and self-indulgent. I have to agree – the intro is rather funny but then the plot slides into a confused muddle that undoubtedly resulted from the director trying to top the previous movie. The cameo by Bruce Willis was an unnecessary and distracting diversion, and the less said about the Julia Roberts bit, the better. Still, if you can get it for free, it’s worth watching because there are still a few flashes of inspiration and amusing lines dotted amid the over-produced wasteland.

On to the Oxford Literary Festival. The first talk I went to was a panel discussion featuring Philip Pullman, the woman who wrote Chocolat (Joanne Harris, I think), and a couple of other guys. I’m a great fan of Pullman but I wasn’t sure how he’d hold up in real life – maybe he’s just a good writer? As it happened, he’s also an exceptionally good and well-read speaker, armed with interesting insights and facts. The most interesting thing I took away was his suggestion that a law passed in the late 19th century, requiring railway stations to have newspaper and booksellers, was one of the main causes of episodic fiction (i.e. Sherlock Holmes) to become big. I haven’t been able to find out the name of this law or whether it even exists, so if you can shed any light on it, please let me know.

I didn’t like Joanne Harris at all; she seemed mildly obnoxious, like a schoolteacher who is very sure of her knowledge and feels compelled to explain it to others in a condescending manner. She also didn’t really answer any of the audiences’ questions, and instead twisted them around in such a way to suggest that the person who asked the question was mentally deficient. The other two panel members were waffly academics. What a shame.

The second talk I saw was by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, one of my favourite recent novels. Now, the Oxford Literary Festival does an interesting thing with its lectures (interesting to me, at least) – it doesn’t let authors lecture on their own. It prefers panels or interviews, where some low-level literary media-type will amiably chat to the author in question and then select questions from the audience.

I found this a little strange at first, but now that I’ve given it some thought, it makes a lot of sense. Just because someone can writer doesn’t mean they can speak well, and normally people speak much better in conversation. Even so, the first few minutes of Mitchell’s talk were pretty irritating since the interviewer was asking absurdly general questions of the ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ variety. Eventually it started flowing better and a few gems came out.

One of the questions David answered was ‘What was the first story you wrote?’ David hummed and hawwed and eventually said that his first story wasn’t actually a story, but a map he drew on a big piece of cartridge paper. He maintained that the act of creating a world was like creating a story and a history, so you have the evil mountains, the black forest, the rivers, the golden plains, the western oceans, all of that. He also said that practically all of the other authors he’d mentioned this to said that they’d drawn maps when young as well. As an amateur mapmaker, I found this all fascinating.

Talk then moved on to Jorge Luis Borges, whose stories I am urged to read with increasingly regularity. I think that the talk got to Borges because David mentioned that Haruki Murakami was one of his strong, if fleeting, influences, and of course that tied in with Borges quite a bit.

One other startling relevation was that David Mitchell has never read Cloud Atlas in its published form. Cloud Atlas is a novel composed of seven short stories that interrupt each other halfway through, progressing forward in time and then progressing back, finishing themselves up. Mitchell, unsurprisingly, wrote all of the stories as complete entities before chopping them in half, and in the final act of editing before emailing it to his editor, he cut and pasted the entire lot into order. I think he has the familiar terror of writers of actually reading the whole thing in order and finding out that it’s all a load of crap (which, naturally, it isn’t, but anyway…)

We then had a very nice treat – Mitchell read out two excerpts from his book-in-progress, Black Swan Green. It was the first time he’d ever read out any of the book so it was a novel experience for him as well, and since the first segment he read out was a sex scene, a very embarrassing experience as well. The way in which he got embarrassed and also occasionally apologised for his bad accents was highly amusing, and every few minutes or so he’d spot a mistake while reading out and then dash back to the table to note it down. At one memorable point he asked the audience which version of a sentence we preferred, and then changed it according to our vote. Now that’s what I call interactive fiction!

After the talk, I got a copy of Cloud Atlas signed and chatted to Mitchell about my interest in maps and about Perplex City. He immediately urged me to read Borges and assured me he’d be on a lookout for the cube. Excellent stuff.

All in all, the literary festival was quite fun and something I’ll probably go to again. The audience was an interesting bunch, mostly middle-aged or older, with a smattering of younger types. I suspect I was in the bottom 5th or 10th percentile of the age range there.

A Passage to Bangalore

(First part online – other parts being written)

A Passage to India has always been one of my most hated books. Perhaps it’s because we were forced to read it in school. Perhaps it was the way in which our class had to take turns read out aloud the entire damn thing. Or perhaps it’s just because it was incredibly boring. The only moment of relief we had was at the beginning of the book when one character smokes a ‘hookah’, which we all thought was the funniest thing we’d ever heard.

In between reading that book when I was around 13 or 14 and now, I’ve learned rather more about India through judicious study of newspapers, magazines, books and documentary movies such as Lagaan. Furthermore, I’ve acquired several Indian friends at Oxford and Cambridge, one of whom I visited in late November 2004 while she was in Bangalore. This is a diary of that visit.

Tuesday 23rd November

For reasons of economy, my flight to India involves London Heathrow, Zurich, Mumbai (Bombay) and Bangalore. The Heathrow-Zurich-Mumbai section is by Swiss Air, and the internal flight is handled by Jet Airways. This all ends up as being around 20 hours including the interminable transfers, and for some inexplicable reason, I decided to book a flight that leaves Heathrow at 6:10am today. That meant I have to get to Heathrow for about 3am, and that meant I didn’t get any sleep.

I ended up getting to Heathrow at 3:30am and joined the queue at the Swiss Air check-in desk. Approximately 100 minutes later, and 60 minutes before the plane is supposed to leave, the check-in desk finally opens. To say that this irritated me is to say that I have a passing interest in Mars. Firstly, it turned out that they don’t open their check-in desks until 5am. Fine, I can see why they might want to do this, and how it might even make sense, providing that they told passengers beforehand, and that they actually open properly at 5am and start processing passengers. Naturally, neither such thing is true. In fact, I witnessed what I wrote at the time was a ‘magnificently incompetent’ bunch of check-in staff performing the most wondrous farce of losing keys, running back and forth, dropping stuff and generally slowing things down to the extent that the plane left the best part of an hour late. It’s almost worth laughing at apart from the fact that this sort of thing costs airlines enormous amounts of money.

The flight to Zurich was gratifyingly free of stress and I slept the entire way. Transferring to my India-bound flight at Zurich was scarily efficient. I don’t think I waited in a queue for longer than a minute there as we were quietly herded through the impossibly clean and functional vastness of the airport by the impossibly clean and functional Swiss.

It took 8 hours to fly from Zurich to Mumbai, and I filled the time by marvelling at how I had four seats to myself and watching I, Robot a second time (a pretty decent movie) and the Indian movie Main Hoon Na. I think Main Hoon Na represents the final product of the evolution of movies over the decades – the omega point, if you will – and is best described as a maddening mix of Ten Things I Hate About You, Kindergarten Cop, Die Hard, a romantic drama, a musical, and of course, a Bollywood movie. You may wonder how it is possible to fit such things into a 179 minute movie. Watch it, and learn. I was later informed by a friend of Shakti’s that as far as these things go, it out-Bollywooded Bollywood.

Before landing in Mumbai, I had to fill in an Indian immigration form. Invariably, when I visit another country, I stay with friends. Said friends will meet me at the airport and so about half of the time, I have no idea where I’m supposed to be staying in said country. This poses a problem filling in immigration forms. I recall this first happened was when I travelled to the US on my own for the first time. I was basically scared shitless when I realised I couldn’t fill in the form properly but then hit upon the idea of writing down a fictional address (it was ‘Best Western Hotel, Denver, Colorado’) which of course worked fine since the immigration staff never check that sort of thing out. I had to do the same thing for Mumbai except I was pretty sure that Bangalore didn’t have a Best Western Hotel. In fact, my knowledge of the city’s hotels was so limited that I had to claim I was staying at the ‘Bangalore Hilton’.

I’ve since discovered that there is no Hilton in Bangalore, and even if there was, I’m not sure whether they’d have believed I was staying there. Happily, I didn’t experience any problems with this.

Anyway, soon enough, it was time for me to leave the safe cocoon of the plane to land in Mumbai. I did a bit of research on the airport before my trip and discovered that a good number of travellers describe it as the worst airport in the world, and in one case, a ‘chaotic hellhole’. Now, the reality could hardly match up to a claim like that; sure, it wasn’t very clean and had useless signage, but in its defense, they had very quick baggage handlers and the immigration queue was much faster than what I’ve seen in the US. Perhaps I just caught it at a good time though.

The airport lounge was entirely devoid of interest and had rather more mosquitoes than I would have liked (i.e. it had more than zero). One of the first things I noticed was the smell – not unpleasant but very tangible. Maybe something to do with the nearby ocean. Maybe not.

Actually, when I think about it, Mumbai airport really is quite horrible when compared to places like Singapore or Hong Kong. I imagine the new airport in Shanghai will blow it away as well. To be honest, if India really wants people to take it seriously, it needs to go down the Hong Kong/Singapore/China route and make a kickass airport that travellers like. It may seem like a terrible waste of money but airports really shape lasting impressions of a country and, I don’t know, could help additional outside investment.

The internal flight down to Bangalore was quick enough and I landed early shortly after 5am on Wednesday 24th November (India is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT).

American Airlines Boarding Procedures

REVIEW – AMERICAN AIRLINES BOARDING PROCEDURE

I have the dubious distinction of being a frequent flier now. A distinction, because it means I get to fly to a lot of interesting places and see a lot of interesting people. Dubious, because it would be even better if I got to fly in business class instead of on the cheapest tickets I can find.

This being the case, I’m familiar with boarding procedures which see me following the first class, business class and club member fliers. American Airlines, however, have done something new with this. Instead of having the unwashed masses board via seat number, they’ve split us up into numbered groups, from 1 to 6.

On the whole, this is a good idea since there are always people who cannot cope with the concept of reading their seat number and correlating it with what they hear over the PA. However, it’s ended up with me always being assigned to group 6, the last to board the plane.

I don’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted by this. Unlike most fliers, I have no especial hatred of the boarding lounge and I don’t really know why you’d rush to board a cramped plane (unless, of course, you aren’t travelling in coach). So by this measure, I should be pleased. Even better, being in group 6 means that you are generally seated at the front of the plane and so are among the first to escape, which is certainly a good thing.

I still wonder, though, why I’m in this group, along with about 20 other bemused-looking fliers stranded in the lounge. I don’t check in particularly late or early, I don’t look particularly smart or scruffy, and I don’t always get the cheapest ticket. So what gives? How do I get assigned to this group? Is it defined by bloggers, or somewhat-frequent fliers, or what?

Of course, it could all be chance. We will discover the truth the next time I go flying.

Altitude

The woman sitting next to me on the plane was snoring. The roar of the engines drowned most of the noise out, but she was definitely snoring. It was the more common variety of snoring, with a regular rattling sound as air passed through her nose by her epiglottis, not one of the rare snorers who emit noise in a radioactive decay fashion; randomly timed and powerful bursts. A few minutes after her daughter escaped across the aisle to talk to some friends, I decided to take out my iPod and listen to some music, unaware that this would cause no small amount of hilarity on her daughter’s part.

As we were preparing to land at Sydney, the daughter announced, “You were snoring!” The woman turned to me for a second opinion.

“Was I snoring?” she asked.

Diplomatically, I said, “Well, I suppose so, but it was quiet.”

She smiled. “You should have kicked me.”

“Ah, it didn’t bother me. I snore as well,” I confessed.

“How do you know?”

“My friends tell me.”

I’ve been aware for some time that I snore, certainly before I had a long-term girlfriend who was more sensitive to these sorts of things. The fact that I snore didn’t really bother me, and I did know that I wasn’t the loudest snorer out of my friends, judging from the elephant-like sirens heard at some of the more notable sleepovers I’ve been to. But these things have a tendency of surfacing on top of your consciousness as time goes on, and occasionally when I’m sleeping in close proximity to people whose opinions I care about, I manage to catch myself snoring and then stop it. I have no idea exactly how this works, that I can detect my own snoring, maybe it’s because the unique breathing patterns of sleep begin just before the loss of consciousness. Anyway, it happens.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen every time. When I went skiing last year, I’m reliably told that my snoring penetrated through two sets of doors with ease, rather like a nuclear-pumped X-ray laser. I can only offer my abject apologies to the person who was unfortunate enough to be sleeping next to me – personally, I blame the altitude.

Singapore

I’m writing this from the improbably clean and tidy Singapore International Airport. I’ve just gotten off a 13 hour flight from Manchester, and I’m feeling surprisingly okay; Singapore Airline is pretty good. The plane had a very impressive entertainment system with the usual complement of movies and TV shows, but more importantly, they had about fifty or so albums on their system that you could listen to and queue up songs from. Given that I have an iPod, this isn’t that amazing but it’s another small step in in-flight entertainment.

Movies I watched:

Bulletproof Monk – not as bad as some claim. In fact, I thought it was pretty funny; if you take it seriously then it’s your own fault that you don’t enjoy it.

The Core – again, not that bad. While I will not comment on the science issues of the movie, I did think that the whole ‘pigeon strike’ scene was hilarious. Surely that must’ve gotten cinema audiences laughing?

Legally Blonde – one of my friends has been trying to make me watch this for months. With the lack of anything else to do on the plane (I watched the above two movies, and rewatched parts of Shanghai Knights and Tomb Raider) I checked it out. Funny in the Clueless sort of way, although I have real difficulty watching cringeworthy films.

Only a few minutes in Singapore Airport were required to give me a strong ‘I’m not in Kansas any more’ feeling. Maybe it was the thermal imager on the way in, or the fact that several of the jewellry boutiques I passed turned out to be digital camera stores. Then again, it might just have been the four soldier walking around the lounges toting assault rifles. It’s enough to make a person break out in sweat (and probably get arrested for having SARS).

I can see why this airport was recently voted one of the most traveller-friendly airports in the world. It has practically everything – a supermarket, massage areas, an enormous concourse and free wifi, ethernet and infrared Internet access. They even lend out network adaptors and powercord for free. Alas, their generosity does not extend to giving people free web terminal access outside of the hours of 11pm to 6am, so I am having to pay a couple of USD for this. Luckily, they do have cripped web terminals that offer access to a few selected websites, including BBC News.

But the lack of a keyboard and address bar has never stopped me from finding the websites I want. From the BBC News site, I clicked on a link to a Big Brother fansite, and then to Blogrolling, and then I could basically go anywhere I wanted; Slashdot, MetaFilter, pretty much every weblog out there, and thus every interesting linked website. If the admins were really keen on preventing this sort of access, they could simply have restricted browsing to a select number of IPs, which is what they do in a lot of museums in the US (I have tried this tactic elsewhere, as you may have guessed). But they didn’t, so life is good.

It’s a shame I’m only in this place for three hours, it would’ve been an interesting city to have a look around. Mind you, the assault rifles have me spooked – I don’t think I’d like to live here.

Airports

About twice every year, there’ll be a newspaper story about how Heathrow or some major metropolitan airport wants to add more runways. This story will be immediately followed by complaints from nearby residents’ group organisations about noise pollution. My typical thought used to be, “Get over it. We need more transport capacity, and I’m sure the noise is nothing double-glazing can’t fix.”

And so I kept believing this blithely until I got here in San Diego, and now live in a flat that’s directly below the flight path of F-18 Hornets from the nearby Marine base. These jetfighters will periodically scream over the canyon, creating a low rumble that cannot be avoided by any measures whatsoever and worst of all, last night they prevented me from hearing the punchline of a sitcom joke that looked as if it might be good. I’m already mildly annoyed about it, and that’s with perhaps at most half a dozen flyovers every evening. I can only imagine that it’s far worse for people living near Heathrow.

Of course, there’s not much to be done about it now for current residents. Hopefully in a few decades time this will be less of an issue due to current research in developing supersonic jets that will not produce sonic booms.