Just this week I am on a trip to the Baltics. To be precise, Estonia and Finland. I am, as I write, on a Finnair Airbus 350, just starting to cross the Himalayas. Well actually skirting along them then up into Russia via Afghanistan.
I am really quite excited. I sound like a schoolboy, not a 55 year old, but who cares. This is the first time in years I’m traveling to a new country, two in fact, and I’m really jazzed.
I am writing this for a couple of reasons. One, because I want to write about my travels, not only for specific trips but also to journal my meanderings on the way to becoming a digital nomad. Secondly, I had a major cultural ‘moment’ at the boarding gate in Bangkok airport.
So, let me deal with the cultural moment first. As I said, I’m on Finnair. They have an excellent reputation and a lot of new A350s and I’d never tried them before so I thought why not. I like adding airlines to my list as well. In addition, since I am heading to Tallinn, it is only a short layover in Helsinki followed by a 35 minute flight over cold water to Tallinn. I have some business in Tallinn but I decided as well to take the time to stay in Helsinki a few days on my way back to Asia so I could see Finland as well. Although arguably, February may not be the most salubrious time to visit. I had to shop for thermal underwear and I am definitely not looking forward to the cold.
Anyway … there I am at the gate and the passengers are almost all Finns (or Europeans but I’m pretty sure mainly Finns). I’ve been in Asia for so long, and flying Asian carriers with predominately Asian passengers for so long, it took me a while to figure out what was out of kilter for me.
Everybody was just like me. They were quiet. There were some couples but a lot of people on their own. There were almost no large families or large groups traveling together. Actually, there were none. The only person that I saw who had two small children was Thai. They weren’t chatting, they weren’t living on their phones. They were just waiting quietly. They weren’t carrying ten times the amount of carry-on bags they were supposed to have. Everyone was quiet, neat, and well organized. And … wait for it … when they called for boarding … nobody moved! They waited until their row or class was called, then quietly got up and moved to the gate. No pushing, no cutting in line. And honestly, although the flight was full, it boarded in record time. The door was closed a good 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
This may sound like a criticism of things Asian. I don’t mean it that way. After all, I do live here and don’t see leaving anytime soon. But I’ve been here so long, I forgot what other areas of the world are like. Kind of makes me want to move to Finland. I actually have studied Finland quite a bit. Years ago, I did an Area Study of Finland for the Special Warfare Center, part of my qualifications. Pre-Internet days. Had to go to a library and look at printed books. Remember those? And ever since I’ve always been interested in the country. It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and one of the best educations systems. They are famous for design. They are extremely self-sufficient. I had read about the Finns, but the first contact was like a breath of cold, fresh air for me. I like them!
And of course, it was reflected in the plane. Great travel kit. Immaculate interior. Excellent food. Blindingly efficient service. Internet on the plane that worked.
I am so looking forward to my actual stay in Helsinki. Of course, Asia is my home, but so far, this was a cultural eye-opener for me.
I debouched in Helsinki and immediately was affected by crowds of Caucasians. Not used to seeing so many of them I guess, after 8 years of not being outside Asia. Helsinki has a very crowded airport. And the immigration and security people are unwontedly grim.
So I fought my way through the crowds. Don’t change money in the airports. Their rates are usurious. ($1.30/EUR versus $1.08/EUR in an outside bank). The flight to Tallinn was a turbo-prop. Quite full. But It got up to altitude and immediately started to descend. 20 minutes flight time only. So Estonia showed up – grey and cold with a dusting of snow.
I will write more later in my next entry. Fatigue and jet lag are really hitting me badly. More in a few days.