First day in the USA

The flight to the USA was painful but I was very much looking forward to this exchange. Looking forward to coming to America, less the part of being alone and feeling indecisive as to whether I should start talking to an acquainted stranger, whether it’s becoming acquainted through delayed and cancelled flights, seat buddies, as a Singaporean student you can identify with going to a student exchange programme as you or possibly other exchange students who are here for the Fall term as well. From the maps, I see that the plane passed by Europe, Russia and the areas near it, crossing a large part of Canada then the USA. It is hard to believe that this is the distance all of us on the plane (tourists) go through for teevee land.

Now, in Philadelphia, I am told: (1) my baggage is delayed for two days – that I have nothing on me except my toothbrush and toothpaste (thankfully), laptop, kindle, parting gifts that come in useful in an occasion like this such as bathroom slippers, plush toy pillow, chips and cards with nice words and photographs; (2) the last flight transfer, that is now delayed to close midnight, will mark almost three days I take to reach my final destination. The intended flight first flown off much earlier without me and because everyone around you are going different places in the USA, it was difficult to crosscheck with others; the rebooked flight was later cancelled because of “crew was unavailable” the last minute and all the flights after that were fully-booked except this one I am taking late tonight.

Also, I had some issues with the immigration security as well where I was called out to go into a room called the “Secondary Inspection” – there was a counter where officers were hanging around behind that, a photocopier, two dark rooms each of them situated on both sides of the photocopier machine,  a digital clock on the white wall and the room was lined with seats. It was just me and a woman with a child. I thought a grilling interrogation will follow after I get called out but the officer was nice about the whole thing and he just told me what to do to avoid getting ruled out as “illegal”.

There is little for me to share about being on the plane for the 7 and later 13 full hours. Time ticked by very slowly which I thought three hours would have gone by every time I went to sleep but only 30 minutes passed each time. I had a good appetite – I did nothing but ate alot and instantaneously felt tired after every meal I had so I slept for at most an hour after those. The two European guys that sat next to me (being in the window seat) during the first flight had a can or two beers each time the stewardess pushed the drinks cart out so the whole journey smelt of booze when they slept with their mouths open. I liked the way the flight safety instructions were presented in the video. I also wished I had more transit time to explore Hamad International Airport and ride on one of those futuristic rapid glass trams with visible trails circularizing on top of us.

What was my first experience in America and with the people? Announcements that were made on the spot in the airport sounded comical, not in the sense that it wasn’t conveyed in a serious manner but because their voices came in so many variations and it wasn’t in a similar monotonous tone you do in formal announcements. American Airlines could delay and cancel their flights as and when they like and the reaction of the American passengers aren’t those that are blown out of proportion so it kept me on the check that I should just go with the flow and wait in the line to rebook the flight. One of them proclaimed “American Airlines is the worst I’ve seen!” but she still eventually joined the queue with the rest and waited quietly. There are open shoe shine counters all over the airport where the customers need to prop themselves up two steps on cushioned seats so the shoeshiner stands up and bends himself to shine the shoes of his customer.

I don’t like the feeling of staying for long hours in a foreign airport and wanting to sleep. But because I feel sick in the stomach and I don’t feel OK sleeping with no one to watch over me and the things I have with me, I can’t sleep. I think I am going to ask whether there are sleeping pods around. I also don’t like to think about how I am going to spend tonight doing. Will I ask for extra clothes to spare from the Orientation Advisor (OA) who will be seeing me in school when I get there by taxi? If he/she doesn’t show up, should I ask the campus police for clothes to spare and ideally, some soap? Should I ask the taxi driver to detour at some 7-11 for a short while to get those supplies and then head to the university? Should I call an Uber and save myself $8 more? Let’s see how tomorrow goes.

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