Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Packing rituals and lost luggage

Etihad crew. Uniforms designed by Ettore Bilotta

Perhaps because  I will be away for some weeks, spending most of the autumn in Jakarta as a Research Fellow at the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, Jakarta Office, then travelling a bit within the Southeast Asian region ( if I can manage it) - more about it in future posts -  I spent the weekend catching up with some TV. Well, I was also busy packing, so having the TV on in catch up mode gave me the necessary background noise which aids my concentration for the extremely difficult job that is packing.
We all have packing rituals and mine are as complex as anyone else's.  Depending on the length of my trip, packing is staggered over the night before departure (short trips, obviously) or a week, sometimes even a fortnight, for trips longer than eight weeks, and consists of throwing everything that comes to mind into the chosen suitcase, which I always place in the hallway fully open so that it cannot be ignored (and people can suitably trip over it en route to the bathroom and begin their not-so-silent swearing), and then a day before departure taking everything out and ruthlessly putting to one side what I believe I can buy locally or  do not need  at all. It works.You just have to be quick and throw an item into the suitcase or bag as soon as it comes to mind - or it will be forgotten. I have been known to suddenly get out of bed at 4 am because I have remembered something that has to be packed.
As I will be  based in Jakarta for the next 10 weeks or so, so my packing was a long drawn affair, putting everything in there which I will need straightaway. I am here to acquaint myself with the world of fashion in Southeast Asia, so my packing was very careful indeed.
But of course there is nothing more annoying than landing after a long haul flight and discovering that your suitcase has been left behind at the last airport where you transited. Which is exactly what happened to me.
I flew Etihad and everything seemed to be smooth, I was early, boarded my flight on time and things started going wrong because we were not allowed to take off, had to wait for nearly an hour, the runway was not available. We got to Abu Dhabi and I had forty minutes to get to the gate, the electronic board showed my flight to Jakarta with a flashing light, last boarding call. I got through security again, begging everyone to let me go first and I got there just before the gate closed. But my luggage did not make it.
Soekarno Hatta Airport, Jakarta
So there I was at Jakarta airport, with just my laptop and a few bits and pieces in my hand luggage but my carefully packed suitcase was nowhere to be found. Finally I got it traced and while waiting for the paperwork to be completed, a fellow traveller  next to me  told me his incredible story of suitcases swapped and three weeks spent in Indonesia basically chasing his luggage. Three weeks! I nearly fainted. The woman that was dealing with me went out of her way to reassure me that the luggage had been found in Abu Dhabi, it would get to Jakarta with the 11.30 pm flight - it was 4 pm. Really,  all I could do was get a taxi to where I am staying, hoping and praying the suitcase would be delivered. I left at 4.30 pm, and at 7 pm I was 'home'. Nothing like Jakarta to make you realise that rush hour traffic in London is absolutely nothing, compared to the congestion and pollution that is the norm here and the long, long waits.
However,  the saga has not ended. It is over 24 hours since I landed and my suitcase has not yet been delivered. It is now with a driver and I have been waiting since 7 am  - it's 8.00 pm now local time.
I suppose I just need to look at the bright side. There are some positives: 1) I can get compensation as it has been over 12 hours and my insurance will pay up, provided I put in a claim within the specified time 2)  the suitcase has not been irretrievably lost  (at least I hope) 3) I have managed to get a few bits and pieces at the local shopping mall (shopping malls, now that deserves a full post) to get me going.
And I guess it is a good introduction to local culture, where everything is always happening 'soon, in the next couple of hours' and no one is ever willing to say no to your face - has the driver left, I kept on asking, suggesting that if he had not I could get the suitcase myself. He has just left, head office would reply, and obviously the driver had not or had gone on another delivery (there is plenty of people waiting for missing luggage) but somehow me going to pick up the suitcase myself was not a desirable course of action. I had to wait for the van. I suppose I have to get used to this.
 I just hope I can get my suitcase before tomorrow, I badly need my clothes and my personal effects.
From tomorrow and for the whole of next week it will be a round of offices and red tape and I need to be formally dressed.  - I am not exactly looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, salamat malam.

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