Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A photographic challenge

Dawn breaks over Belo Horizonte, which from this hotel overlooking the municipal park, it quite impressive (dawn, that is).

So frequently the only impressive thing about Brazil is its natural setting and its nature. Check the photos on Flickr - so few are of what the Brazilians and their immigrant forebears have actually done to the place these last 50 years. I promise I will try to find something in the life of the country worth recording other than what the place can happily do every day without human presence. Now there's a photographic challenge!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Off to Belo Horizonte

Today I have to fly to Brazil to carry on with the project there. Dawn flight from Nice to Lisbon, then connect to Belo Horizonte.

Coming in over Lisbon I could see the Torre de Belem and the Monument to the Navigators that I once tramped around many years ago with Marcia. The wait in Lisbon Airport was the usual stagger from over-priced boutique to over-priced cafe to over-priced bookstore. All in a setting that, if I didn't know better, was deliberately retro 1970s. It wasn't retro, it was the original.

Total confusion at the gate for embarking; hardly surprising given general style of the place. The second attempt to get on board the transfer bus (the first attempt having failed for confusion over destination and a 'technical' problem with the plane - the crew hadn't turned up) and we did a total tour of the airport perimeter before deciding that, yes, this was our plane.

We're on, nothing happens untoward, I land in Brazil. This airport is woefully equipped to handle international traffic. Two people to check passports (one for Brazilians, one for everyone else). The baggage retrieval system was a farce. Too small to carry anything but the baggage of passengers from a Cessna, this was attempting to disgorge an avalanche of accumulated essentials and souvenirs from an Airbus 320. That there was no-one from the airport even aware of the fact that the bags were jammed up like the elephants in Walt Disney's Jungle Book, well you can imagine the scene. Passengers were scrambling over bags, conveyor belts and each other in a scramble to grab their bags before they disappeared into a tunnel or were crushed by the en suite of others' bags. Women screamed 'that one! that one!' then elbowed their way to one side of the belt so their men could to do the heavy lifting. Children twirled, men leapt to the challenge, officials determined this wasn't part of their duties. And so on for a good hour. Don't fly to Belo Horizonte direct unless you have hand baggage only. Unless, of course, you like a good show.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back home again

Earlyish flight home. The rain was pounding down so it was good I left the hotel early; and of course all the streets are being reconfigured because tomorrow is Singapore's first Formula 1 Grand Prix. I'll be able to see it from home and point out all the curves and sights seeing (ad nauseam) "that's the ... and here I was only yesterday when I ....".

George came out to see me off, which was really sweet of him. I managed to make a scene at Starbuck's because the table I put the coffee on tipped and sent the coffee flying - over my trousers too. I was completely "prima donna" about the whole episode, in part because the service was already poor (waitress more interested in doing things other than serving). Thr manager came out, gave me a new coffee and a voucher for another for me to use -which since I'm sure I had embarrassed George enough (I was even embarrassing myself) I gave to him.

Usual long, cramped flight home with dead time in airports.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bungee jumping in Singapore!

Last day of work done, I had dinner out with George, whom I had first met yesterday. Dinner was after my convincing him to clamber aboard the mini-bungee apparatus that is mounted at the end of Clark's Quay.

This version is an open 'barrel' of a three-seater, with a great stanchion underneath it to hold it down as the elastic cords are tensioned. With a click the stanchion unhooks and the barrel is sent hurtling up into dark space before being tossed down to the deck, bouncing back up to be tossed down again several times until the cords exhaust themselves of their energy and the barrel comes to rest - though its temporary passegers don't.

George hadn't done this before so it was yes-no-yes-no until he gave in and I got to mix up his innards for a few minutes. A short while in the queue - front of the queue mind you, along with a delightfully vivacious French lady as passenger number three - and we were ushered up to the platform. There we were made to take our personal effects out of our pockets and put them in a large plastic box at the front of the stage. Very theatrical - is this how people felt when being led to the scaffold, block or guillotine, I wondered. Buckled in, with the lady between us, and in short order we were taking a closer look at the stars. Then the deck, the river, the stars again, the deck ..... wel you know how it goes.

George's body was suitably shook up and he was definitely wobbly as he unbuckled from his seat. Me too - in fact I felt queazier than the last time I did this in Monaco a few years ago. Anyway, George was over the moon figuratively) after this and was bouncy all through dinner at the Italian restaurant nearby. Good - I always enjoy how people act when they've done something they never thought they'd do. The realization of achievement is a great thing to feel for oneself and see in others.

We said our goodbyes at the MRT - first time I'd been on it today and it really is good, almost better than the HongKong one - headed for the hotel and crashed out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reflections on Indonesia

Today it was fly-back-to-Singapore day, as I had arranged some more business there before heading back home. As the last time, Ilham came to the airport to see me off, which is a real pleasure. You know you have a friend when he does that for you.

Didn't do much work this time round, only a couple of meetings, but it was as interesting and as rewarding being in Indonesia and Jakarta the first time round.

I am beginning to get a real appreciation for the quiet pride and confidence the Indonesians have in themselves. Although not a nation in the formal way it is now, Indonesia always had a very high level of culture and society from very early times. Both its pre-Islamic and Islamic origins are obscured to the general world view by its many centuries of dominance by the Dutch (God knows how they managed that, if the island leaders had united earlier the Dutch could have been kicked out in very short order), to the point that the perception is that it is a young country. It is a young state, but it is an old civilization and ancient culture.

There is much to see and learn here. And the climate in the uplands is an absolute delight. It would be most rewarding to live here awhile. Bahasa Indonesia is no more difficult (or easier) than Tagalog. The market is greater, the process of facilitating it the same. Hmmmm...

Back in Singapore I was quickly through the controls (what a delight!). I had booked back in the same hotel as before, but a different room this time (it's nice to be able to look out of a window).

Dinner was, yes, back at the street restaurant and then after walking around again to stretch my legs I went back to the same bar (I'm getting to be a local) where an English guy of part Italian origin introduced himself. There on a project, staying longer. Lucky guy - I'd love to live in Singapore for a while...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Jakarta work day

Today was a work day, so the only thing I did of consequence was eat dinner out at a Chinese restaurant (the worst Peking Duck ever) and go to the movies with Ilham.

I wanted to see Mongol, the latest version of the life of Temugin Genghis Khan, but it wasn't showing, so we saw XXX instead. Usual afterwards - back to hotel and crash.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Day trip to Bogor

I had no business on Monday so Ilham came by again and we headed off by train to another Jakarta weekend getaway called Bogor.

This place was once called Buitenzorg by the Dutch, and from time 'immemorial' it has been one of the preferred places for Batavians, Jayakartans and Jakartans to spend time in. Its only an hour away from Jakarta by train, so very convenient for everyone.

We had time to wait at the station in Jakarta, so it was interesting to see the people come and go. Mostly they were commuters, but some were families visiting and others were local traders bringing or taking their bagged produce from one stop to another.

The train we took was a simple commute train with narrow wooden benches along the carriage walls and a large open space where the start and end of the daily grind of city work plays itself out. Traders strode up and down the train offering their wares - drinks, snacks, gadgets and things.

One trader offered up a poem to the passengers in return for small change. Didn't understand a word but his delivery was most exuberant and effective. To me it brought back a memory of what I've read in tales of old Islam - the ancient appreciation and respect for literature and poetry - and for those who recount them.

After a few minutes waiting at the station in Bogor, the surrounds of which are the exclusive domain of street stalls and a cascade of motorbikes, scooters and rickshaw taxis, we met up with XXX, a friend of Ilham's from his college days.

She jumped into one of the minibus taxis; these have room for about eight people but most times the driver manages to squeeze in ten or twelve. The roof is low, so for someone like me, who jumped in straight after, legs are pinned and head is not far from knees.

We zoomed around the center of town, past the main shopping street, square and entrance to the President's summer residence, finally stopping beside the gate of the large park that surrounds the residence.

This park was first laid out by the Dutch (the residence was once the Governor's) and has been maintained through time. As before, its serves as the lungs of the city, a place to break away from the constant clash of commuting and a place to see some plants from other parts of Indonesia - and indeed the world.

The gate we were planted by the minibus at was closed, so after my attempt to climb over the spiked railings failed (I was told to stop, I would be arrested and I was embarrassing everyone, not that they would say), we walked up the hill to another entrance that was open (with payment of ticket) and headed over to a bungalow set on a low hill that serves as the park's restaurant.

Great beams of teak comprise the greater part of the restaurant, from its columns to its railings, all standing on a cool grey stone floor. There were some guests - Dutch and Australian if I heard them right - otherwise the place was mostly empty.

In fact I was surprised it was open at all, given that we are in the middle of Ramadhan. Again, the relaxed way with religion - those who want to observe, may; those who don't, need not - impresses me, and is a pleasant counterpoint to the in-your-face variety that Malaysia pushes. Not the Indonesia is one whit the less religious.

Lunch over and the resident cat suitably disappointed at not receiving any, though it did lounge most cutely at my feet for a while, we walked through the park with one purpose - to find the rotten-egg flower.

This flower is a monster, almost 2 meters across, it rises out of a thicket of leaves like a dark pink bomb, only to break open and with its stinking sweat scream 'Feed me!" like some freak creation in a florist's shop.

You would imagine we just needed our noses to find this one, but apparently this is not the flowering season. Over a bridge that crosses one of the streams that run through the park, itself fetid with the detritus thrown in from city streets above the park, we asked several people who I think work there.

The result of their counsel was to walk a giant pretzel shape around the park, admiring flowering shrubs, fans of palm trees, the back entrance to the Residence and even a swinging liana which I did my best to Tarzanize (to the exasperation of the others), but no flor horribilis.

No luck then. We could see the horizon darkening with rain clouds so it made sense to head back to the streets and grab another knee-cracking minibus back to the station. A commuter trip back to Jakarta and I was ready for a long shower and a lazy evening.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Train ride to Bandung

Saturday morning Ilham came by. We had no specific plan so in the end we decided to grab a train and head out to Bandung. I had been reading something of the history of Java and thought we were heading to Bantem. So for me the voyage turned out to be a ery pleasant surprise - we were headed into the interior of the island, through valleys and across hills, higher and higher until the air of the Jakarta plain gave way to bright, light, exhiliarating fresh air of the central highlands.

All around the hills were greener, the flowers more colorful, the buildings more spacious and the villages more beautifully set than i would have imagined.

Ilham told me that most people from Jakarta head for the hills every weekend in order to relax, visit family and generally get away from the constant buzz of the city. I can understand.

At the station Ilham negotiated a taxi for the day - all of 250,000 rupiah (less than 25 dollars). We jumped aboard and headed out of Bandung for a restaurant he knew of further up in the hills behind the town itself.

We were in the period of Ramadhan so I wasn't sure that there would be much on offer. It turns out that Indonesians are less rigid about observing the daily fast than in the Gulf, so, embarrassingly, there was plenty to choose from, although the number of guests were few.

Lunch over, I asked the local manager what there was to see in the area, other than some much-quoted, totally forgettable conference hall that was built for an international summit many decades ago. Not much, was the answer.

Ilham hit on the idea of heading for the place where the strawberries we had eaten for dessert were grown. Evidently these are grown locally and the area is famous for them. That really surprised me, so it sounded like a great, totally off-the wall way of seeing something.

And we did - the taxi driver got delightfully lost on the roads that wind through and over the hill tops behind Bandung. So what I saw were the beautifully kept villages and verandahed houses with gardens of mangoes and papayas that seem to be a hallmark of Java. The people were well dressed, well fed and obviously content. Kids played in the open spaces between one house and another; in one more open area monkeys were cavorting.

Up and down we went, past nurseries full of all the plants and flowers that you normally buy in the supermarkets and garden malls of Europe. So this is where they come from, al those ficus, alanchoe and red leaved climbers. Only here they look so much more natural, sheltered by veritable halls of 'geenhouses', here made of bamboo and used more to shelter the plants from the direct sun than to encourage then they are back on a warm, tropical island.

Every time the taxi driver asked if anyone knew the way to the strawberry plantation they smiled and pointed over the next hill. Eventually we saw some signs and, continuing our way through this open labyrinth, we eventually came upon a steep hill overshadowing a small, deep and narrow vale. Here it was, Rumah Stroberi, the source of our luchtime strawberies.

Rumah Stoberi knows how to market its strawberries. Here there is a garden restaurant where you can have a dish of them, drink strawberry sharbat or have them as a milkshake, following if you like, with strawberry tart or ice cream. Or both, whichever takes your fancy.

The garden is obviously used for parties - and I suspect very good ones too. There's a store where you can buy fresh, conserved and frozen strawberries, in a basket, in a box, in a jar and in a bag - all with strawberry designs and logos. There are strawberry trinkets, magnetic buttons, lamps and other souvenirs that are at the same level of commercial excellence and pushiness as ever I've seen at Marineworld or Disneyland. What great vision and purpose in introducing a (strawberry) slice of the entrepreneurial spirit here, in a quiet, almost idyllic, vale in the heart of Java.

The afternoon quickly muted into evening, then evening into night. We were back at the station, a little bit early so we went to a snickets store Ilham knew of, bought a whole bunch of stuff that ruins a diet and headed back to the station. The train turned up and left on time (something I've gotten used to in SE Asia is that the infrastructure, even if modest, works). Most of the time I dozed, as I always do when I'm a passenger in something and there's nothing much to see out.

Back in Jakarta we jumped into a rickshaw taxi that works more or less like the ones in India, headed to the hotel and, since it was too late for dinner, crashed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

From Manila to Jakarta

Another day, another flight. This time early in the morning (again) back to Singapore. I didnt have a ticket to Jakarta but fortunately there was space on midday flight so I jumped aboard and was in Jakarta by the middle of the afternoon.

Headed for my usual hotel, the Millenium Sirih, mostly because it as a good swimming pool, sauna and masseurs. Dumped the bags, headed straight for the maseur so I could have the six flights in three days rubbed out of me.

In the evening I just stayed in the hotel, ate a curry and - you guessed it, crashed out.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One day in HongKong

The flight out from Manila was terrifyingly early, the reason being I had to be downtown HongKong by 9am. There were more people than I expected at the airport at this hour, locals heading places, tourists going home, workers heading to who knows where. Mostly filipinos on their way back to the many jobs they have in other places.

I had forgotten the 'exit tax' process here, a brazen excuse like in several other places to levy an extra tax on people traveling through - and of course provide extra sources of patronage for local government officials.

The flight out was the usual - i slept. Arriving early in HongKong was an event in itself - swept through pass control with the politest of smiles from the various authorities, bags delivered in about 30 seconds and speedily onto the train that effortlessly takes you to the heart of the city.

Doesn't matter how many times I'm in Asia, I enjoy the mix of history, culture, civility, vibrancy and focus on making today's lifestyle less of a hassle and more of a rewarding part of whatever it is you are doing that day.

The day was for work, which is never the purpose of this blog. However one things I have t mention in passing - lunch was at the HongKong Yacht club, which juts out into Victoria Harbor and gives you a brilliant view of both the Island and Kowloon.

From here, my host told me, many people gathered to see the scenes they shot for the latest Batman movie - the part where he grabs the Chinese bad guy and is pulled out of a building by skyhook from a passing plane. There, above the newly built stadium, was the tower. Evidently the director had the plane pass so closely to the skyscrapers that everyone was convinced it was going to crash - which is why they were all at the Yacht Club watching (several of the buildings' owners being members of the Club).

Work over, it was back to the airport and another flight back to Manila. Arriving late, I really didn't do much - wandered to a bar in Malate, had a couple of drinks, crashed out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reflections on the Philippines

Two days of intense work. No particular events to report; tomorrow I'm office to HongKong and although I'm back in Manila overnight this is really my last day day here. I liked the Philippines the moment I visited the first time in 2005, I'm sure in part because of the friendships I had with Filipinos before I arrived. I like their warmth and personableness, their hospitality and their intellectual flexibility.

I'm sure that, as in many countries and cultures, what a stranger sees on the surface of a society isn't necessarily what that society or individual truly feels - but since the mask exists in all places I prefer it is a polite one, rather than the hard and hostile one I've seen in a few places I can mention. The true way to a culture's soul is t learn its language - learning Tagalog and/or Visayan would be a challenge, but it would be a fun one.

I'm sure this is completely erroneous, but I always come back to comparing the Philippines with Mexico - they are almost sister countries, tied by Spanish steel, Spanish trade and Spanish mores. Both are fusions, but of quite different histories. The overt Hispanic presence has been subsumed into a melanged identity, more evident in Mexico because the principal language is still Spanish, but still very much there in the Visayan tongues also.

This is a place I could live in - the infectious warmth of the people and the beauty of the country has got to me - but what I could do I don't know, especially as Manila, the hub of everything in the country, is not an attractive place. Let's see what time brings - for sure there is business potential.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Viva México!

The greater part of the day was work. This took me from Malate into Makati - about 20 minutes through streaming traffic in roads narrow and wide alike. The city looks like a mash between Mumbai, Jakarta and Sao Paulo. Middle class neighborhoods rub against poorer shopfronts, soaring glass towers against older concrete buildings that were once the high points in town. Many roads seem to be upturned, with work going on to install drains, cables, restructure or just hold together. Once away from the bay its difficult to have a sense of orientation - or maybe it was me just letting the sensation sink in and not worry about the direction.

Met up with Chinky Calderon for lunch. I first met Chinky in Cebu in 2005 when I visited Philippines for the first time; she's a friend of Charlie's and we've stayed in touch since. Quick update of each other's activities over last year, jaunt around an indoor market in Greenfields looking for fans for a party she's holding and I headed back to Makati to wrap up business.

At the end of the day I met up with Jude again, who had gotten me an invitation to go to an event organized by the Mexican Embassy to celebrate Mexico's Independence Day. Of course I couldn't refuse - Viva México! The event was in a hotel ballroom, all decked out in Mexican colors, with chefs imported for the occasion. So good to see the bright colors of Jalisco and hear the music of Veracruz! And the sopa de tortilla!

Mexico is always one of my most favorite countries in the world.

Met some people, wrapped up the fiesta, walked Jude to his offices, headed back to Malate for drink and then crashed out at the hotel. Jef was watching TV and I don't think I remember much else.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Meeting an acquaintance

Managed to struggle awake at a reasonable time, which was good because had to head back to the airport to pick up Jeferson Menuza, a guy I had been chatting with for years. He flew up from Cagayan, since I had no time to go there and visit him and his family.

As is so often the case, chatting and meeting are often to different things. Once we could talk more easily, we quickly found we had little much to talk about that the other actually found interesting or could relate to. So anyway we were able to twitter on about this and that, and the time passed.

In the evening I wandered around a different part of the city, heading down the bay front away from the US Embassy. The bay is enormous - it could hold an entire Armada comfortably within its encompassing embrace. It also smells from the effluent of the city, which I suspect lies in the bay and festers as there is no significant current to sweep the detritus away.

Saw more of the street life at night in the district, which was subdued given its a Sunday. This time no crashing out - just a meander back to the hotel, with the evening finished off by a really good back massage by a Filipina. One of the things I discovered the time I had overnighted the first time I passed through Manila - there's a 24 hour massage service in every hotel I've stayed at. I love being slowly kneaded, especially after long flights.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Party in Manila

I made the flight! I'm stunned - I was sure I wouldn't even be close. This Cebu Pacific flight was from the 'budget' terminal - bright, light and ful of filipinas returning home from work as maids etc from Singapore. There's actually quite a large filipino community in Singapore; the mall on Orchard Road where I bought my air tickets was full of stalls selling filiipino foodstuffs, movies and other stuff from home.

I slept the entire flight out to Manila, waking up once to the sound of the stewardesses singing to everyone. Yes there was a competition - three stewardesses, three songs and three winners - those passengers who were first able to guess the song. There was also a 'raffle', with three lucky winners selected by randomly picking a seat number out of a bag. What an absolute total delight! A human touch where normally you get an amorphous lump of mewling passengers prodded into obedience by scowling warders. American Airlines (whose cabin staff are morose), British Airways (governesses) and Continental (Con Air) could all lean a trick or two from these sweet, smiling, staff.

Landed some time in the afternoon, grabbed a cab into town and checked in to the hotel Jude Defensor had proposed for me - the Riviera Hotel in Malate. I called him on arrival and said though the price was great (1,700 pesos) the place wasn't, so the alternative he had proposed would be a good idea.

Jude came by, and this was the first time I had met the Expat editor, the magazine in which my article on security had been printed. After the usual introductions we went up two buildings and checked out the Executive Hotel. At 2,500 pesos a night it was perfectly acceptable.

From there Jude acted as guide to Manila for me. This is the first time I've walked in the capital of the Philippines; the first time I was physically here I just 'overnighted' in a hotel near the airport, so I saw nothing of the city itself, except by air.

We walked up the seafront promenade, past the US Embassy in its high profile location on the bay, through the park with its fountains and outdoor theater where young ballerinas were pirouetting to the music of Mozart, past the old Senate building and the shell of a building the Queen of Spain had, many years ago, funded for its restoration.

By now it was dark. We kept on walking, over a bridge into Chinatown, through a gate in the glowering walls of Intramuros, the old Spanish heart of Manila with buildings are sisters to the buildings I remember from Mexico.

In the much cracked and as many times repaired church a wedding is being celebrated, the whole family in white and with cockades of flowers. From here on in the streets appear cracked, the buildings shuttured, the atmosphere one of abandonment. Think what could be done to revive such as place - made into a tourist attraction, a Bohemian quarter, with arts and night life and street shows that make a place live. Not here - people want the modern luxuries of malls, air conditioning and boxy apartments that sell for twice the value in two years.

We wandered back up streets that I had no idea were, stopped at a bright, formica tabled restaurant for a delicious bowl of beef stew, then back through Malate to the hotel.

Later in the evening Jude came by again to invite me to a party he had been invited to, not far from the hotel. Great fun! Locals, plus guys from Spain working for an NGO, a woman from Angola, some Dutch, an American and an Indian who looked like a guru. The noise roared on and the rum was too soon gone.... The view from the apartment looked over one section of the district that still had the old, two story Chines style houses, infinitely preferable to the anonymous concrete towers that dominate the city.

Eventually wandered back to the hotel and crashed out (I'm always doing that, huh?)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Work and play in Singapore

Some work in the day, plus organizing the flight to Manila tomorrow. Lunch was in another street stall (I enjoy the food thoroughly), dinner with some people I had been introduced to on the trip back in June.

Went out again after dinner (hey, its Singapore!), met up with some more people (in the same bar), conversed with them a while and crashed, reasonably early at about 4am on the 13th. Which is good, coz the flight is at 09:30 ...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Street Eating and Bars

Long work day, bad weather too. All heavy with rain. In the evening headed back to my four-dollar street restaurant, walked around a bit and then went for a drink in a bar not far from the hotel.

You enter through a gate in a high wall; inside, before you get to the two storied building proper, the still-walled entrance has made an outdoor 'garden' and small bar, which complements the larger one inside. Nice place to sit and have a drink.

Chatted with one guy who said he was from Vietnam, a student on a three week exchange. Turned out to be a hustler, but the storyline was fun anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back in Singapore

A long, long flight and then I touch down in Singapore and head to the hotel I've selected this time round. I had checked out the Royal Peacock Hotel the last time I was here; a budget hotel on the south side of Chinatown not far from a good slice of night life. On this voyage I'm splitting the costs with my client (my way of convincing them of letting me get back out here), so I'm trimming everything.

After the requisite meetings and presentations the city is mine - and I go out to enjoy the scene until late. The decorations I saw on the avenues as I came in were now lit up - a riot of many hued lanterns and giant flowers. And a rabbit, even though its not the Year of the Rabbit.

As I ate my deliciously filling chicken and rice for all of four Singapore dollars, I was told this was in celebration of the mid-autumn festival, a ceremony once banned in China but now common throughout countries with a significant Chinese population.

I spent at least a couple of hours shooting what I could with my snapshot camera (the big one staying at home), then many hours more trying to get something presentable out of them with Photoshop. Snapshots are fine enough for 'good weather' shots but they fade fast when it comes to low light situations; the sensor is small, so the noise is great.

Met up with some people in a bar near the hotel, conversed with them a while then crashed out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Off to Singapore!

Great! I'm off to Singapore again! I've definitely fallen in love with the lifestyle and culture of South East Asia. If I can swing it this is where I want to live for some considerable time in the future.

The usual early rise, the usual last minute things to do, the usual frenetic rush to pack in time and I'm gone into the blue yonder, this time thanks to Lufthansa.