After the Lunar New Year holiday I returned from Beijing to Hong Kong and prepared for my next trip, to various destinations in North and Central America involving great temperature extremes from very cold to very hot, planning to be on the road for about two weeks.
Apart from climatic variables, the trip also involved a mix of work and pleasure, including a short fishing holiday in Guatemala which also required me to pack some specialized gear and gadgets.
Even with a zero-based approach to packing, I ended up with one very large, heavy Rimowa suitcase containing everything from winter overcoat, gloves, scarf and pin-striped business suit to a fishing rod and reel, fishing lures, fishing shirt, swimsuit, sun block lotion, pliers, knife, etc.; plus a carry-on backpack containing laptop, notebooks, and reading material.
Luckily the metal case, which I have nicknamed “Big Bertha”, comes with very heavy-duty wheels built in. From a distance it looks like the offspring of a Hummer which married a Panzer tank. To pick it up, you’d think there was a collection of large iron ore-bearing rocks inside.
As I checked in with Cathay Pacific at Hong Kong’s Airport Express Station in Central — a painless, quick process — I was pleased to learn that the flight was still scheduled for on-time departure, and I still had time to get a bowl of wonton noodles at the Cathay/Dragonair airport lounge.
After all, this could be the last good bowl of wonton noodles I’d have for a few weeks. There is good Chinese food in a handful of North American cities, including New York, but I might not have time to track it down during this visit — the best restaurants are usually not located in the middle of town.
My flight was due to arrive in New York’s Kennedy Airport around midday. I had two meetings scheduled for later that afternoon in New York as well as a dinner that evening; so on time arrival was important.
After the boarding process, I settled into my seat in the Business Class cabin, which was full. I first checked out the new films on offer, then organized my laptop, a newly acquired novel (“Dirt Music” by Australian writer Tim Winton — an excellent read), and the latest copy of “The New Yorker”, a great magazine.
Still well sated with wonton noodles, I gave the first meal a pass and opted to go long on water and short on food during the flight, because I find that dehydration and resulting problems in one’s digestive track tends to be a significant contributor to jet lag. I ended up eating only one of three meals offered — the breakfast meal late in the flight — plus a few light snacks, and enough H2O to fill a small swimming pool.
I don’t take sleeping pills, and find natural sleep-enhancing supplements like Melatonin produce mixed results for me. After several films and some reading, I managed to catch a few hours of decent sleep. The whole approach worked reasonably well, and during my meetings and dinner that evening in New York I felt reasonably sharp and free from that narcoleptic, zombie-like feeling which jet-lag can bring.
If given the choice, I would always opt for an evening flight departure time for long-haul air travel — the later the hour, the better; because after boarding the aircraft you are closer to your normal local time for sleep and therefore more likely to obtain a sound first night’s sleep. Getting started with a good night or two’s sleep makes a big difference in keeping jet-lag at bay.
The overall inflight experience, as I’ve generally come to expect from Cathay Pacific, was very good. Compared to ten or more years ago, leading airlines (and aircraft manufacturers) have done a good job in improving the creature comforts on offer to passengers on long-haul air routes such as those across the Pacific.
By contrast, domestic North American flights and airports are parts of the trip you generally expect to endure rather than enjoy.
I hadn’t been back to New York in an unusually long time for me — several years — so I was curious as to the mood of the people as the New Year began.
The first welcome I got as I came out of the airport terminal building was a bear hug from Old Man Winter. New York, as everyone was talking about, had an extremely cold, snowy winter, unlike anything in recent memory.