Box

Box. Box box box. Box box. Bubble wrap. Paper paper paper paper paper. Paper. Box.

Stuff!

Box box. Paper paper paper paper paper.

Stuff!

I have a love-hate relationship with unpacking.

Letter from America

The last time we left him, our hero was boarding a Singapore Air plane bound for San Francisco. Let’s see what happened next.

The Singapore Air experience was, as always, fantastic. Food every three hours, drinks every hour, and a really comfortable seat. We had a transit stop in Hong Kong that was vaguely ridiculous: We left the plane, travelled through half the airport, and then reboarded the same plane the moment we got to the new gate. There was just enough time to have someone top up Oliver’s water supply, and get the news that he was “very active”. I have pictures of him greeting the water-carrier with a great wagging of tail and sniffing of water bottle, and possibly scaring them half to death.

Back on board, the flow of alcohol began. I was very cold on board so I was forced to have coffee with cognac, alongside the screwdrivers, champagne and Silver Kris Sling; a heady mix of champagne, gin, cointreau, orange and pineapple juice, for the vitamin C of course.

The food was excellent, although Mirto will probably have something to say about the running out of the beef before getting to her. When the service is this good, it’s the small things that really get to you. For instance, the wonderful service requires the attendants to interrupt movies a lot to ensure you get exactly what you want. If you’re not careful, you can end up resenting that constant interruption!

Movie-wise, I watched Iron Man, a waste with that screen size, but the noise-cancelling headphones made the audio reasonable, and I’m sure to watch it again, and Kung Fu Panda, which was one of the finest animations I’ve seen in a long time. While Wall-E is a great movie for story and characterisation, the standard of animation is exactly what I now expect from Pixar. This, however, was unexpected and wonderful.

After movies, things started to fall apart. Not literally, thankfully, although we did have a couple of hairy moments flying through active thunderstorms, but my eyes started to droop and my brain started to shut down. I normally make it a rule to not sleep on flights as I find that really helps the jet lag. I don’t know if it was the comfy chair, the relief of stress, the overwhelming amounts of alcohol or the carbohydrate laden food that actually pushed me over the edge, but I slept. Really really well.

Five hours later I woke up (in time for breakfast, yay!) and realised what I’d done. One poor attendant received the full force of it: when he asked if I wanted coffee or tea, I just stared at him blankly, I’m told. I thought that I said very clearly “yes please, a coffee would be a fantastic idea. Thank you”, however I apparently just stared at him until he looked worriedly at Mirto, who was able to translate for me.

I’ll skip over watching Forbidden Kingdom as it was so forgettable that I did not mind when my movie system rebooted during the final boss battle. The movie system runs a customised DR-DOS which unzips the software on boot that it then runs through something that looked alot like Windows 3.1, by the way.

Once we landed, we sailed through immigration thanks to the power of lawyers and enormous piles of documentation, and our bags came off almost immediately. I went over to the animal carrier handling to pick up Oliver, where I could see his crate. The gentleman who was looking out for me motioned that the crate was empty! This, apparently, was a very poorly timed joke on his part. On reaching the crate, I was greeted with a great tail-wagging and snuffling. I’m impressed that he had not dirtied his crate, and was not stressed, but merely extremely happy to see us.

It was not all fun and sunshine, however. We were expecting to be met by a driver, as we were travelling with many bags and the poochinator. No-one was there. Fortunately, we had two numbers to call in case of issues like this. I went to the payphones and tried the first, free, number.

Automated phone voice: “<insert name here> is not available, please leave a message or hit 0 for assistance”

Me: 0

Automated phone voice: “General mailbox… is not available, please leave a message <phoop>”

Me: “bum”

So I found some US coins and tried the second number we had, a more direct line, apparently.

Automated phone voice: “Our office is now closed. Please call back tomorrow morning after 9am.”

Me: *sob*

It appeared that while I’d successfully made it to the new country, and successfully brought my family with me, I couldn’t get out of the airport, and was stranded there. I can tell you that I have never felt so impotent and frustrated as that moment. I really did not know what to do. It didn’t help that Oliver was sitting in his crate with his legs crossed. He really needed to go.

Meanwhile, Mirto has made friends with a family with a kid, and they’re all fawning over Oliver. I’m glad that she was able to relax, and I only worry what the family must have thought about this blustering, harassed brit storming around with bits of paper flying everywhere on the verge of frustrated tears.

Mirto suggested that I go and find an alternative limo or taxi who could take us, which I think was her way of getting me out of her hair while she thought of a solution, but which I did anyway. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hello, large van limo driver, I have lots of luggage and a dog. Can you take me home?”

Driver: “Yes, I’m your driver and have been waiting for a call from the office who were waiting for you to contact them.”

Me: “Bu.. wha.. Great!”

I could leave it here and say that we are living happily ever after in the service apartment with everyone in one piece, however there’s one really important story that I want to tell.

As we were loading the luggages into the van, it came to be Oliver’s turn. Now Oliver ways 30kg, and his crate is 12kg, but it was also full of blankets and toys, which pushed the whole thing up to 50kg. I can’t lift 50kg, especially when 60% of it is moving around inside. Just as I start to look for a porter, an older gentleman who I didn’t know came over and offered to help. I tried to refuse, but he insisted, saying that he noticed I was looking harassed, and needed to do something while he waited for his wife anyway. Between us, we got the crate to the van and in the back, and then he welcomed us to “Obama country”, which was the first we heard of the news, and went back to the terminal.

I can’t think of a better way to sum up how happy I am to be in San Francisco than to point to that and say that that is the attitude I’ve always wanted to be living around. A selfless willingness to help, and eyes open enough to see when people need help.

A greater welcome to the new America, there could not have been. Thank you, random older gentleman of possibly German extraction.

Leaving on a jetplane

“Today” has been going on now for something like 35 hours, but I’m too numb in the brain to figure it out exactly. It started on Tuesday morning in Singapore with the chaps who were meant to pick up the last of our boxes not showing up, and the co-ordinator explaining that they’d get there some time after we’d left the country. Which was less than helpful. Some expectation-realignment later, and that minor hitch was sorted out.

I’m going to skip the packing and repacking and the final handover of keys, and get to the fun bit. The bit where we had to get to the airport with a dog and shiny new US visas. The first stop was the US embassy, where it became clear we hadn’t been given the coupon we needed to pick up our passports. We were still allowed in and went through the metal detectors and scanners and finally to the inner sanctum, where we were told that our passports were available, and were in a basket by the front door. Back we went, and picked up the passports. It took about 10 minutes, which was fantastic as I was expecting at least an hour there.

Next up was the pickup of the puppy, which was smooth sailing, and then on to the airport. I was impressed yet again at the efficiency of the check-in team at Changi Airport. They handled all of the paperwork requirements easily and arranged for Oliver to be taken off to the holding area. We’d been told horror stories of holding areas being out on the tarmac in the full glare of the sun, but were assured that their holding area was inside.

We had to put him in his crate for weighing, then take him out, then try to put him back in again. Putting him back in was a scene from a cartoon: He splayed his legs as far as possible to try to stop the inevitable. It was a battle of wills, and the irresistable force of me finally overcame the immovable object of Oliver, and in he went. He was carted off on a trolley and all we could see were his big brown eyes the size of dinner plates through the bars of his crate.

If you are reading this as a dog owner, and have ever relocated a dog, you know how stressful this moment can be. If not, I will do my best to explain. At the moment they are taken away, you start imagining the worst. Will he be put on the right plane? Will they remember to switch on the climate control? Will he be taken off during the transit stop and not put back on? Will all of his water spill before he gets there? When we get him off at the other end, will he be in one piece? Will he have dirtied his crate and be feeling humiliated and stressed? I took comfort in how professional Changi Airport were with him, and that we had ensured every piece of paperwork was in place for him.

So it was time for us to go to the lounge (we were flying business class, courtesy of Uncle George) and get a cucumber sandwich. For those who don’t know, the cucumber sandwich, made well, is the finest sandwich ever made. It must be made with white bread, cut small, with real butter and layers of thinly sliced cucumber with just a little salt and pepper. The crusts must, of course, be cut off.

Settling into the lounge, and briefly checking early election results, I went to grab a plateful of the sandwiches. I saw them in the food area and decided to browse around a bit to see what else I could get. When I returned, the entire plate had been taken away! It did not return, and I was sad. So I grabbed a couple of small Tiger beers and went back to our very comfy chairs. Please note that at this point, myself and the wife had not sat in a chair for a week; I can’t tell you the relief of a really comfy armchair after that.

We’d been told at the reception of the lounge that we were to board about fifteen minutes later. Given that, it was time to go down to the gate to board. Imagine our surprise when the screens were showing the gate was closing already! Also, imagine the stress levels rising when we find out that the gates are 18 minutes away! A mad dash through the airport later, we get to the hand luggage scanner. I dread these; not because of the scrutiny, the personal space intrusion or any notion of privacy being eroded, but because I’m a geek and carry two laptops, plus gaming machines, plus miscellaneous gadgets, in my hand luggage. My wife also carries a laptop, pda and a smattering of gadgets. Every time we go through the scanner, we have to unpack it all into the trays, get scanned, then repack it all. Add to this the pressure of “last call for flight SQ002” booming of the tannoy, and things got a little frantic.

I’m too tired to keep up the tension, and it is probably clear from the fact that I’m writing this post, but we did make it on to the plane on time, and were greeted by drinks and food galore, as is the way with Singapore Air.

Another post will be along in a few hours when I’ve had some sleep to complete the story of the journey to the Brave New World.

The anxiety of an absence of anxiety

Yesterday, the packers finished packing up and left us with a mostly empty apartment. This moment also signifies the end of the week of stress. It means that everything we had to do before being ready to move on Tuesday is done. You’d think that this feels fantastic, right?

The trouble is that I’ve become trained over the past couple of weeks to be constantly thinking of what needs to be done next. There’s always a new task or new requirement coming along. Suddenly there’s nothing. Nada. And I find myself with a stack of stress and energy with nowhere to point it, like a greyhound without a hare.

In my head, it goes something like this:

Stressed brain: You have so much to do! What’s next!

Relaxed brain: I’ve checked twice, there’s nothing. Really.

Stressed brain: Of course there is! You’re wrong! Check again!

Relaxed brain: Well ok, I’ll check again… No, still nothing.

Stressed brain: You’re wrong, check again!

I need to find a way to channel this energy into something constructive. Time to clean the apartment!

I’m a legal alien

Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California...Image by Jose P Isern Comas via Flickr

That was a significantly simpler process than I expected.

The plan was to get up at 0600, deal with Oliver, make sure everything was in order so the packers could work without supervision for the day and get to the US embassy by 0745. A mixture of tiredness, mild hangover (for me, not for the sensible one in the family) and bureaucracy ended with us diving into the cab at 0730. I explained we were in a rush to the driver and he assured he would try his best, although it is a 20 minute ride when traffic is good, and we are deep into rush hour.

At this point in the movie, please insert a montage of shots including us undertaking people on the freeway at 120kph, rocketing down the shoulder of the freeway to get a lead on the exit we needed, and overtaking on a no-overtaking section of road with a car coming towards us interspersed with close-up shots of the terror on our faces.

We arrived at the embassy with a great squealing of tyres at 0745.

Twenty minutes of queueing later, we’re allowed through the security checks and metal detectors to the Antechamber of Waiting. There are many people there, all of whom are clutching their numbered chits and an assortment of paperwork and documentation. Noone has a 150 page document like I do, however. I clearly win that battle. Our number came up after only fifteen minutes and we headed over to the counter.

It’s at times like these when my social ineptness really comes to the fore. As the lady behind the counter efficiently asked for each document in turn, I felt a building pressure to deliver those documents confidently and promptly. Sadly, this led to a bumbling ineptitude the likes of which Mr Bean would be proud. This, in turn, led to more anxiety, which increased the bumbling, which increased the anxiety, which.. well, you get the picture.

Fortunately, this was not the interview portion of the process. Back we sat and waited to be called again. I spent my time breathing deeply and trying to put away the excitement and nerves I was feeling.

The second time we were called was maybe thirty minutes later, and we were only asked to provide our fingerprints. I assume that these are now going to be used, along with my picture, in upcoming CSI episodes when they run prints through AFIS or CODIS or whatever the acronym is. I shall be watching for myself.

The third, and final, time we were called was the all important interview. We’d practiced for this. We know each others’ favourite ice cream flavours (coffee and mint-choc chip for me, berry and vanilla for Mirto) and felt ready.

“You work for Lucas?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“And how long will you be staying in the US?”

“As long as you’ll have me! *nervous laugh*”

“Ok, I’ve approved your visas. You can pick them up on Tuesday.”

Is that it? That’s all it took? Wait, Tuesday? Uh oh. This is what I’ve been dreading. You see, we fly on Tuesday. We need to have the visas in hand before Tuesday, right? Right?

“Um.. We fly on Tuesday so can we pick them up sooner?”

“No, I’m afraid it takes two days. They’ll be ready at 2.30.”

So the visas will be ready just in time to pick them up on the way to the airport. That’s cutting it close, but not too close. In fact, there’s an elegance about that and I’m willing to let the Universe take its course. You see it took just two hours in total, the interview was more of a quick chat than the grilling I’d expected, and we are now legally allowed to enter and work in the US.

Now if I can just get San Francisco to scan the same as New York, we’ll be sorted.

Update: Mirto’s side of the story can be found here.

When the mover comes around

Today is the day that the last two weeks have built up to. The moving company is in and they’re packing up the house. They’ll finish packing today and then load everything into a container tomorrow, which means one night surrounded by boxes and then life in an empty house apart from a couple of suitcases.

This relocation has been more organised than any previous relocation. I may have said this before; please excuse me as I’m running on Gummi Bears, Alpen Light bars, instant coffee and very little sleep. As always at this stage I feel oddly redundant. I mean, this is my stuff that these guys are packing up, and I’ve invested almost all of my time recently to getting the place into a state to make it easy to pack. And now I’m just sitting on a bare mattress with my laptop next to me with nothing to do. I occasionally venture out, ostensibly to get a drink or to check if they need anything, but actually to just feel involved in some way. The worst thing is that I can’t just sleep like I really really want to.

A couple more hours and it will all be done. Then tomorrow morning it’s the long-prophesied Visit To The Embassy, at which point our heroes’ quests will be complete as they hold aloft the fabled Visa Stamp allowing entry to the legendary United States of America.

Then sleep, we will. For days.

It’s really gone and begun now

Eight days to go until we fly out of here and into SFO. Today is the day things really kicked into gear. We get three opportunities to get our stuff from here to there: The luggage we carry, an air shipment with volume and weight limits, and a sea shipment with volume limits. They arrive, respectively, with us, one week after we arrive and five weeks after we arrive. Having done this more than once now, myself and the wife have a really good idea of what we need at each stage.

The sea shipment is being packed up in three days, so it was vital to make sure we separate out the things for air shipment and luggage before then. Given the shit-storm that is going to happen over the next few days with immigration and vet visits and turning security passes into work, etc, etc, etc, today was the day to get it done. And get it done, we did.

The apartment is now officially a tip, but things are sorted out, which is fantastic. We’re basically living between kitchen, laptops and the bedroom, with brief sojourns to the bathroom. Everything in-between is either in disarray, or in a box.

Usually, this would be enough to send my anxiety through the roof, but seeing the boxes made and tetrised (yes, it’s a verb) into the right volume requirements for the air shipment, and seeing the luggages spread out with coats and jumpers (oh, coats and jumpers. Finally!) ready for the cold air of San Francisco, is a great feeling.

Eight more days. Then we get home.

Harnessing my powers for good

Today is the first working day off in a break that will last three weeks. I woke up as normal, checked my sites, caught up with my friends lives and started wombling around the house. By 9.30 I was on edge. This is not like me as I tend towards a rather sedentary life with my natural cycle revolving around nocturnal activity. But there it was, I needed to do something, anything.

So I broke out the moving plan that Mirto has done a fantastic job putting together while I’ve been at work for the past few weeks. Here we are just five hours later and a huge dent has been made in the list. Shelves are down, holes are spackled, figurines are boxed, cables are sorted, floors are vacuumed. I didn’t do it all, of course, but it feels great to have had the energy and drive to get anything done. I hope I can continue harnessing the work habit in the next few days to finish off the list earlier and getting some true chill out time with the family.

Of course, if the XBox 360 wasn’t glaring at me with three red segments, and if Singapore Post would actually deliver Warhammer Online, perhaps this bout of motivation would not be so easily harnessed for good.