Tuesday, September 23, 2014

DFW - Hong Kong - Ho Chi Minh City

DFW - Hong Kong - Ho Chi Minh City

This is another mileage run.

Being part of a loyalty program essentially guarantees that I will return to AA as a customer. I am saying to the airline, “I don’t care about how well you perform, I will come back no matter what”.  In the past, I have complained and made suggestions and made requests but they did nothing. While there are obvious benefits to loyalty programs, the programs are taking the element of competition out of the market. As a result, there is little incentive for AA to perform up to customer expectations.  I am just another body on-board and my feeding tube / my umbilical cord / my drip is attached to AA.  They know they don't to change. They know I will always be there. No matter what. Sad to say. 

So they set the honey out and like a spider web, I get trapped in the web.  And thousands, tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of us, get trapped.  We find ways to get to Elite Status.  We spend money to get there.  We spend time to get there.  More money for the airlines.  They have a way to keep us coming back.  What? Me go to another airline and have no status?  No hope of an upgrade?  See?  They have me and people like me hooked.  They don't have to guarantee anything.  Only if space is available, an upgrade is possible.  They have nothing to lose.


Tuesday September 23, 2014
Arrived at terminal, checked in at First Class Counter

Went through TSA PreCheck

Went to Admiral's Club



Some views of the airplane. Give me a break. I am am aerospace engineer. I designed planes in college. I am just admiring the aircraft. 


This big bump is wifi connection to the satellite


11:45AM Boarded AA 137 non-stop to Hong Kong 16 hours 50 min flight

My seat, 4J has 2 windows and seat in front of me, 3J, has only 1 window.

It is a little awkward trying to look out the window. I have to stand on my knees and perch forward to look at the window.

Bad part of my seat is the toilet is right behind my head and I can hear a muffled flush. 

Good thing is the toilet is right next to me because I drink a lot of water and go every 20-30 minutes.

View looking rear: 3J on left where man is standing and then is 4J my seat

3G and 4G

This is first class rows 1 and 2

Row 1. Guy in 1A (look too far right) was called to the check in desk and welcomed by a woman whose name tag said ConciergeKey. It is all about how much money you spend, she said when I asked her how I can become a "member".  She shrugged and said she has no idea.  There are a bunch of people like this man who spend a lot of money on American Airlines and they handpick these people and then they invite them to become part of ConciergeKey.  That is how they do still owe these benefits on these people.  When I have asked before, they say well you are executive platinum so you have other benefits. These are benefits for these people.

Seat 2J and a woman in 1J

2J 1st class definitely has much more room than business class. 


This is row 4 of business in the middle of the plane.

Welcome drink. I asked permission and she said so long as you don't take my face or name tag. I asked if she had a general idea of how many executive platinum's were on the flight today.  She said she would check and get back to me.  Later she said there are quite a few Executive Platinum's (like me) that are in business class today.I don't know what "quite a few" means.

Bathroom on 777-300ER (ER) means Extended Range" for these special ultra-long haul flights.  A better cabin class means more than just a better seat. On this plane, the business class bathroom is huge.  Plus it is ultra quiet. Very few people walking around. Giant overhead bin all to my self. All the food I care to eat. All the alcohol I could ever want but too bad I don't drink.

My head is just to the left of that wall.  From time to time I could smell the awful toilet smell. The toilet flushes with very little water and negative pressure so air swishes on the bathroom floor with flush and some of that air must blow in my direction under the wall. 

Touch free faucet.  Couple of lotions on the left. Top one is a moisturizer spray and bottom one is a moisturizer lotion. And the foam soap is below. 

Problem with the sink is it is flatand when people brushed their teeth, they spit out but and the food particles remain in the sink in the people don't bother to make sure that they clean it for the next person.  I didn't say the people in business class are any better than coach class in terms of manners. 

And we are backing out of the gate now. You can see that I am very excited about the trip. 

My weight this morning is 165, it is too low. I am losing about 0.5 to 1.0 pounds per day. I  am doing nothing different.



Plugs and USB port
On the left is a two-stage light.  Then there are two other bright lights coming from the ceiling that you can turn on and off with a separate control on the phone to the right. 

In the ceiling above are not only the two bright lights but also two air vents.

Yes even I have to pay for Internet. I paid $19




Menu and amenity kit (has ear plugs, lotions, tooth brush, etc.)

And then the meal cart arrived (first of several of the flight)

Starter and salad
This was fabulous

I had pre-ordered pre-selected my meal

and the sea bass was amazing

And then the best part of every flight with a meal is


The other bad thing about my seat is right behind me is the galley.  Chatter of fiight attendants.  Clunk and clatter of dishes, silverware, glasses, latches opening, doors slamming, etc etc.

Problem with AA flight attendants is most are so so so close to retirement but they are just hanging on for retirement flight and health benefits and milking the system which causes fares to go up. Look at other airlines, much younger ages and each worker has the opposite of the AA "entitlement" attitude. When I flew Cathay Pacific and other airlines, they are so different, so at your service, so checking up on you, so energetic.



Entertainment 
A ton of choices but the touch screen is not very responsive and needs many touches and pushes with the finger tip is required to make something happen. 

I stopped complaining to AA because a rabbi made 24 complaints to Delta or United in 1 year and they threw him out of the Elite member status and he took it to the U.S. Supreme Court and he lost. The Court sided with the airline

So I stopped complaining. I used to complain, make suggestions, make comments. Now they never hear from me at all. 


There is a inter-seat chat


So you have group public chat or specific seat # to seat # chat

2:09 PM not sure time zone but there are 13 hrs and 8 min to go

So on this new plane, there is a self-service bar with snacks. Here is what I put on my plate. It is only for 1st and Business Class. 




Fruit cups. Desserts to the right. Sandwiches to the right of that.

We were approaching Alaska and it was getting dinner time in Dallas so I was getting hungry.


You can see our vapor trail shadow on the ocean. 

A little while ago we were over Cold Bay and you can see the Aleutian chain islands are very close to each other which, thousands of years ago, with different sea level, shows how easy it may have been to cross the land bridge.

Most of it seems to be solid bald rock, and then a little green vegetation, don't see any trees



This was the next official snack we got. 



It took exactly 8 hours and 4,167 miles to get to the international date line. I took this picture just now.  I have been staying up for this moment.  I left at 12:15pm and it is 8:15pm Dallas time now. I am 1/2 way to Hong Kong.




I am comfy and cozy and stretched out. 





It took a long time to cross Japan



Time to eat again.


It is 2:45am Wednesday and it sort of strange eating steak and potatoes at this time but there was an omelette too.  Excellent dessert.  I am so stuffed with food. Couldn't eat the salad

Should be landing in 1 hour and 20 min

Finished watching Breakfast at Tiffany's. I have never seen it. 


Over Taiwan now, 58 minutes to landing. 

Landed at 5:15pm. Exited plane. One exit / entry is for 1st / business class, the other is for behind the curtain

And here is the nose of our airplane that brought me here safely

Went through immigration, then skipped baggage claim as I don't check bags (usually) and through customs and out to area B. They have desks set up for major hotels. I waited 10 min then was taken outside by hotel staff to a van and a short 5 min ride took me to the hotel.

It is the Marriott at the airport. As an Elite member, they whisked me past the front desk and up to the 12th floor executive lounge where they checked me in and gave me a free upgrade to a suite overlooking the runway approach.  One might think it would be noisy but I heard nothing. The windows were not only double pain but there is an extra set of windows as well. Zero noise. 







This has two bathrooms, this bathroom is when you first come in to the living room

And this one, note rain shower head is on ceiling




Tons of amenities as well as purple bath salts in a little tea-pot-like container. 


Ok so the plan was to drop the bag in the room and take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Island and find a place to eat.

But I am ready to pass out. I am exhausted. I decided to eat in the Executive Lounge. It looks good but when I bite into it, it is stiff and awful. I will stay and eat what I can and then sleep and wake at 5, shower in my lovely bathroom. Hard decision: shower in tub or shower in shower. 

Please leave a comment. 

Thursday September 25
Had a fabulous night of sleep in a very comfortable bed. Woke up at 4 AM (3pm Dallas time) and took a shower and got ready and I'm ready to go eat breakfast right now at 6 AM

It is still hazy outside and I am glad I did not go into Hong Kong Island yesterday because it was very hazy.  

Executive Lounge sign said open at 6 but once inside at 6, it says breakfast starts at 6:30, so I waited

Cereals 

Croissants 

Woofed it down and caught the 6:40am shuttle.


They drive British-style

Quick trip to terminal with Wright-flyer suspended from ceiling


On this leg, I am flying economy and I have no upgrade and no privileges and no status. 

Being Exective Platinum has many more benefits.  For example, I saw the line to checkin at Cathay Pacific for economy was very long.  I looked at Business.  Still people in line.  I looked over there, yonder, at First Class.  Empty.  I wandered over there.  I said I am OneWorld Emerald.  They said welcome <>.  Please.  Come here.  Let us check you in.

The password.


They even gave me a exclusive invitation to their First Class Lounge.  Not the Business Class Lounge.  There is no Economy Lounge. The First Class Lounge.

Look at this place.

What is all this. My goodness. I have arrived.  Black marble and black lacquer everywhere. 







I saw a place that looked like a restaurant and there was this menu and I said how much?


He looked at me wierd.  He said no charge.  I was so embarrassed.  

You can tell I am just a poor boy. What am I doing here. 

You can pick anything on the buffet or you can order off the menu.  No charge.  Wow.  The life of first class.



If I knew I would get this, I would have skipped the Executive Lounge at the hotel, gotten here earlier, and lounged around.

Congee with stuff to add

Jams, jellies, croissants, breads...

Since I was stuffed, I ordered oatmeal and coffee.  Put the raisins and brown sugar in with some milk, yum, yummy.  

Suppose you were in a hurry, you could just come here to the ledge and grab a quick bite



Then I saw the sign for showers, I am like, what is that?  Take a look at how the rich live.  And travel.

This is a cabana
Yes, that is a very large tub
On the right is a couch / bed
Yes, a family of 4 could easily fit in this huge space. Move in. Live here. Put some partitions in and there could be privacy.  If I knew this was here, I would have gotten here two hours earlier so I could sit in the tub and then take a shower. I could even pretend to put make up on.  So many little amenities to open and try out. 

I MUST come back


Yes, that is a large bath tub. Large. 
Counter on the right to work or whatever.

And a shower

Vanity with mirror on the bathtub side

Yes, I was really here

This is the view at the vanity, large mirror, sink, lotions, underneath are lots more amenities 

Toilet has enclosed door

Closet with essentials, slippers, bathrobe, etc. Actually two closets. 

You can tell this is truly first class. There is a small sign and is says "The Peninsula", which is the best hotel in Hong Kong. They run this place (Cabana). They have 12 Rolls Royces that chauffeur people around. Those people are the people that use this place.  Everything here is absolute perfection.

This is the size of a studio apartment. 


Now if the Cabanas are full, which they usually are, you can "settle" for a shower suite. But you are downgrading only a little




Shower head in ceiling




Ok, time to leave. If you look over the ledge to the left, the boarding area for my gate 1 is immediately below. 

Here is our plane, a 777-300ER



So I get to the gate and see a large line of people waiting to board


I go up to the counter and try my luck at The Password. I said I am OneWorld Emerald. I showed my boarding pass and it said Emerald and it also said Economy.  Oh <>, please come this way.  They had me stand up front and bypass everyone. They had me board first. Through the first class door.  I am not even in Firdt Class. 

The Password. Very powerful.

Here is Cathay Pacific First Class


You could fit a whole family in this space


Families in 3rd world countries live in a space like this


I kept walking and I got to Business Class which looks a lot like the AA Business Class seats


Keep walking. Then there is Premium Economy 


Keep walking. We get to the Economy. That is where I am sitting. Yes. Behind the curtain. That first row is row 39 and only has two seats. 39A is me. That is the best they would do for me. I have no status. 

At check in at First Class, I asked if an upgrade was possible and she looked and said the flight is not full so an upgrade is not possible. 

Huh?

Is there a language issue?  Should I ask what did she just say because it makes no sense. 

No I kept quiet. Be nice. Don't feel entitled. Accept it and be humble and walk away happy. At least you got lounge access. 


Got food in cardboard boxes: juice, muffin, fruit and noodles with mushrooms for breakfast. 


Looking outside the window, it is still very hazy, can barely see the sun or even the 2,000 ft cliffs just 2 miles away


This is the sun rise from the hotel: look at 10 o'clock from the orange lamp, you can barely make out the sun

There is a camera mounted under the plane and you can watch in real-time, here is the front landing gear as we were approaching Ho Chi Minh City after a short 2-hr flight.



When you get out the plane, go through immigration and once through, look immediately to the right and exchange currency here as there is no service charge.

Go down the escalator and get your bags then put your bags on the customs scanner belt, and then grab your bag.  Before you exit the building you will see taxi and other service counters.  Don't stop.  The Vinasun taxi stand here will charge you 240,000 Dong.  It is cheaper outside.  Exit outside.

Be informed.  It will be a zoo outside.  Hot and humid and a ton of people standing and sitting around waiting for their person to come out.  It is an Asian thing to come to the airport in an entourage to welcome your person.

Don't get a taxi here.

Turn left and go to the end of the building and there is an entrance marked Departures.  Take the elevator or escaltor up two levels to Departures.  Walk to the other end of the building.  There is a taxi stand.  Several taxi guys will wave you down.  Ignore them.  Go to to the Vinasun attendant, he will give you a slip of paper with the taxi number on it.  Make sure you take a picture of the meter and taxi 4-digit number.  Downtown will cost you around 140,000 Dong.

Got to my hotel.  Millions of Vespa scooters everywhere.  People have NO regard for direction of traffic.  One way streets, they drive both directions.  They drive on sidewalks.  Total disregard for pedesterians.

Also, don't trust anything in your hotel room.  If there is a safe, use it but put something on it and take a picture and when you come back, take another picture, compare so see if it moved.

Same with the suitcase.  Arrange the zipper handles in a pattern.  Take a picture.

When you come back, take a picture and compare.

See if anyone came in and opened your suitcase if the zipper handles have changed configuration.


FRIDAY September 26, 2014
Woke early and called downstairs and they said breakfast starts at 7AM.  Came down at 6:55AM and the place was packed already with people eating.  Go figure.  There is no breakfast.  It is all beef strogenoff, vegetables, etc. etc.  Lunch / Dinner stuff.  So confusing.  I asked where is the eggs?  They said we can make that for you.  No menu.  Omlette came out but it was full of stuff I didn't want.  My expectations were one thing and what I got was something else.  The coffee seemed to have chocolate in it.  It wasn't coffee.

So I remembered a coffee shop on the corner, ordered coffee with cream for 40,000 Dong ($2).  It came out 15 min later.  What took so long?  They said they had to make it.  Then he said you need to let it sit for 5 min.  I said where is the cream?  They used the spoon and put it in the cup all the way in the bottom and pulled up something creamy looking.  I stirred.  Never got less dark as it should if there is cream in it.  I asked for cream.  He brought me cream.  What it is, is condensed milk.  Very sweet.  I tasted the coffee.  It was awful.  I put more cream in it.  Still awful.  I asked for the check and left.  Again, my expectation for coffee and what I got were two very different things.

Walked around.  Ben Thanh market is just a block away.  Big tourist trap.  They are not shy.  They will be very aggressive.  They will follow behind you.  They will stand in front of you and walk backwards.  They will tap you on the shoulder.  They will tug at your shirt.  Way too much invading of my space.  Again, my expectations of space and privacy and what I experienced, two totally different things.


Very hot and humid and walk ways very narrow.

These Vespa scooters have been very irritating all day.

Finally found a place to eat, was starving.  42,000 Dong ($2) for all this:

Paid 200,000 Dong ($10) and took a ride to the 49th floor of the highest building in Vietnam.  There is a helipad sticking out at floor 53.


Picture from long time ago.

And pictures from today





Crochet for sale




Here is the helipad above


Here is the helipad view from the ground


Almost got killed / hit by many motorcyles today.  Not happy with their total disregard for the rules.  Interesting. My beliefs are motorcyles are not allowed on sidewalks.  Coming from behind me.  Coming at me in the wrong direction.  But the rules here are different.  I can't change them.  I need to let it go.


I was going to go to ChinaTown at 4pm and then to the O Show (sort of like Cirque de Soleil) at 8pm.  I checked with a travel agency next to my hotel and looked at my ticket and it said 6pm weekdays and 8pm weekends.  Friday to me is a weekend.  It just occured to me.  I better ask.  I said is the show at 6 or 8?  She called and they said 6pm.  Again, What my expectation vs what the rules are here.  Friday is a weekday not a weekend.  So I had to figure out where to eat quickly and be at the show by 6.  Ate at the Saigon Grill, on the roof-top of a building.  He cooked the beef in front of me with charcoal.



I had about 10 min to eat and then run to the Saigon Opera House.  Just made it.  The show was loud and one hour and not very good.  Here is the ceiling and part of the stage.



Off to sleep.  I booked a tour that departs at 7:45AM and returns at 7:00PM down the river.



Saturday September 26
One hour to get out of the city. Speeds are basically 15 to 25 miles per hour. Then we met up with 8 other tour busses and we were put on the right busses. Then two more hours. Finally got to our boat (the one on the right).  If your order online with, for example, Viator.com, it is $120 for this tour.  Same price at my hotel.  I went to a travel agent next door and the price was $35.  Lesson: ask questions.  You work hard for your money. Why give your hard earned money away?  

I bought this hat for $1 (20,000 Dong).  Original price was 40,000 Dong. 

This is a market on the Mekong Delta. This is one boat. There is a stick at the front of the boat. There is something hanging from it. That is the product for sale. Wholesale. There were boats with just turnips for sale. Watermelons. And so on. Merchants come and bargain and buy 100 or 200 or the whole load. They then sell it to retailers who sell it to us. 

Look how people live on the river. Very primitive. Laundry is hanging everywhere.



The whole family lives on the boat. 

We stopped for a tour. This is how to make rice wine. We had a taste test of 30 proof. 

Here is how rice is made. The seed is brought here and separated from the chaff and then heated for a minute in this very hot wok and it starts to pop like pop corn. We could eat it right away. 

Next stop was a stop at an island, here we approached it.

We had to switch to 4 people in a boat


Very primitive and edge is just 6 inches above very muddy and filthy water 







Walked 15 back to boat through market.

Zoom in the middle to the item in black: a fly. There are many on this fresh chicken. No refrigerators anywhere out here. 


Grueling 3.5 hr bus ride back, didn't drop us at our hotels, but in the center of town. Ate dinner at Tokyo Deli. Why can't I find any good food?

Went for a 30 min back massage, negotiationed for 50,000 Dong ($2.50). Took tshirt off, laid on table. When done, lady just straightened out towel and sheet for next person. No new sheet. That is when I realized I was on a filthy seat and wiped down with a filthy towel. 

Again. Expectations. I have expectations of a clean sheet and towel and hygiene, but here it is obviously different. 

Took $2 can home ASAP and showered ASAP.  Yuk. 


Sunday September 28
Up early, didn't eat at hotel. They don't understand what coffee is or what breakfast is. Their breakfast buffet is BBQ pork ribs, vegetables, fried rice, Mac and Cheese, and so on. 

170,000 Dong to airport. Reasonable. Make sure you use Vinasun Taxi and he uses meter and have a map printout so you can make sure you know the way and he is going the right way. 


Hot here too early. 7:00AM. Restaurant only serves noodles. That is what is eaten for breakfast. Went outside to Burger King and got sausage egg croissant and coffee. Sausage was tough and hard to eat. Dumped it. Coffee was so so.  Got coffee from restaurant also. 79,000 Dong plus 7,000 Dong for milk. I was able to dump every single last Dong from my pocket. Definitely not coming back. Ever. 

Counter opened, they were extra nice to me and gave me free upgrade. No, not to 1st or business clas, but to Premium Economy, just two rows ahead of where I sat coming down here but much better seat, headphones, etc but same cardboard food: shrimp fried rice

I did get access to the Rose Lounge, not very good, but better than nothing. Internet didn't work. 

I like their boarding area, sit in this area if you these seat numbers.  








Monday September 29, 2014
Heading from HKG to DFW

Woke early, didn't eat at hotel, walked randomly at 7:00 AM in the street till I happened upon a McDonald's and got a coffee, which tasted better than any coffee I have had on the trip.  Walked a little further and ran into a bake shop, which is what I was after.  Got a little banana bread and muffin.  Perfect.  Very few people out on a Monday morning.  Why are people not out heading to work?  Went to hotel, packed and checked out.  Went down to look for bus at  8:30 AM.  First double decker bus came.  Packed.  Second.  Packed.  Third.  Forth.  Finally squeezed into the fifth one.  It went only about 1/2 mile and then we were told something and everyone got off.  I tried to talk to the driver but all he could say is term.  He said it 5 different times and 5 different ways.  Finally I realized he said terminus.  I translated it to end of the line.  Streets were deserted.  Now what.  No busses, trams, cars, nothing.  People started walking into the middle of the street and taking a picture looking one way, then turn and taking a picture the other way of the totally empty street.  Could not figure out what was going on.

View to the north

View to the south

I walked into a bank at 9:00 AM when they opened to get change so I could use it on the bus.  I had my suitcase with me.  Surprised no one stopped me.  Who knew what I had in there.  I went to the teller and got 20 one Hong Kong dollar coins (worth $2.57) for the bus ($2.30 fare = 29 cents).  But no bus.  Saw people walking.

So I started walking dragging my suitcase.  Here is a panoramic view

Building that says 1940 on it and then right next to it a giant sky scraper

 Another large bank



Was walking and then security guards started pulling tape across the sidewalk, so we all had to stop and turn around and find another path



Famous Bank of China building.  See the spire at the very top?

If you look towards the island, you it gets steep very quickly and lots of buildings.




Then I saw this.  That is when I realized ohh, this is the protesters.  There, in the background, to the right.  Look.  You can see them sitting.




Later I found out what I was looking at was the southern part of the protesters.  I walked along the highlighted blue areas (the pictures you just saw above), area 1 on the picture.  Most of the larger protests were just above me in the red area around the big Government Headquarters building.  The pictures you see on TV are in this big building area.

Another graphic

Police were present in a pack of three on motorcycles (3rd is hidden from view in photo).

One policeman walked from here to the car in the middle of the street and checked it out, no one was inside it.  It was in the middle of the road.  He used his right finger to point to it and used his left hand fingers like he had a phone in his hand and he was signaling to his two colleagues to pick up the phone and call this car in and have it towed away.

Also in this picture you can see three people dragging a large metal container.  The students had moved it to the street as a barrier.  These people were dragging it back to the sidewalk where it was.  


 View looking south, that is the famous Bank of China building on the left

And view looking north

The night before, police were in caravans (10 or 12 vans in this one).  I was riding on the Ding Ding (they call the trolley a Ding Ding because the bell rings ding ding)

See if this video works.  If not, let me know.

video

Then this caravan had 8 vans





By the way, click here
to see a graphic proposed by China to connect via high speed train.



The flight home:
I met several people in the back "behind the curtain" who are Executive Platinum" like me and on a mileage run like me and who used their System Wide Upgrade but did not get upgraded. There were 33 people on the upgrade list who never got it. The only thing we can think is they bought their tickets a month ago for and I bought mine in May. So I am very lucky I got upgraded. Key is buy early and hope.