WARNING: LONG (wait...i'm in LA
...make that LAAAAAAAWWWWNNGGG)
WTP Seat 20G
After going through what is endearingly called “The Misery of Hilary” (Hilary Term from January until March, that is), it was time for me to head back to Los Angeles to see my parents, dog and friends before coming back to Oxford to write my Masters project on corporate bond spreads.
Those of you who read my last report will recall that I came back to Oxford on BA
282 on 10 January 2006. Unfortunately, this is simply the return of that flight, so I’ll try to include as many details as possible so that the report is not too boring.
During the two weeks prior to today (24 March) I made Keble College library my home in order to study for my two-term cumulative exams. Well this has probably been two of the most stressful weeks of my life because never have I had to take exams as seriously as I did these! I did undergraduate engineering at USC (Southern California, NOT Carolina) but my course there was set up over four years so one exam wasn’t going to make me or break me. Here at Oxford on our graduate programme we essentially have to pass all these exams if we want to graduate (and therefore not waste £20,000).
I had to write four examination papers – asset pricing, financial econometrics, microeconomics and corporate finance (read: fnnnnance). For those unfamiliar with examination procedures in Oxford, they’re unlike any other university that I know (other than Cambridge, I imagine). First of all, we have to write examinations papers in the Examination Schools, a separate building dedicated to the proctoring of exams. We also have to wear subfusc clothing to take them. That means a black suit, white shirt, white bowtie, black socks, black shoes and black underwear underneath our academic matriculation gown (just joking about the underwear).
In addition, on the first day of exams you’re supposed to wear a white carnation; during the middle exams you wear a pink carnation and for the last exam, a red carnation. (I actually didn’t know about that until I got to the first one, I guess its just a tradition and not actually required). Anyone not complying with the dress code and other exam school regulations will face the wrath of the examiners, or so we were told, but in reality slight deviations from what was the optimal look were allowed (dark grey suit, etc).
For those interested, I think I passed all my exams though I’m not sure how well I did on microeconomics. Might have messed up the classical micro question though. Somehow I still think I’ll pass, which is a relief, because back in December I didn’t see how I was going to pass any of my exams. They weren’t the most technically demanding exams I have had to face but they were definitely the ones I had to take the most seriously. Part of the problem with going on a one year graduate course is that there is just too much to learn and you can’t possibly learn everything. I think the important thing is to get the main ideas of everything and just go into more detail on the things that you find particularly interesting.
Incidentally here is a shot of me in my subfusc exam clothing:
One consequence of the two weeks of hell was that I let my room turn into something of a pig sty as you can see in the photo here. I try to keep my room pretty clean most of the time but this was out of the normal for me. Here is a photo:
Anyway, time to move on to the trip section of the trip report. I booked my ticket on BA
.com back in November for a departure date of 10 January and return of 17 March and about half way through February, found out that my last exam was going to be the 23rd. So I paid the $100 and changed the return to leave on the 24th and selected British Airways’ later departure to Los Angeles, flight 269. I chose the late departure because I thought I’d probably be up late the night before celebrating the end of exams with classmates and wouldn’t want to wake up early the next morning. In addition, the trip to Heathrow from London, while only 60 miles, takes forever on the coach because it stops every 5 seconds picking up passengers before getting on the M40.
I woke up around 10am on the morning of 24 March and decided to shave my beard off so as not to get apprehended at Heathrow airport for looking like a terrorist. (That was another consequence of the exam preparation – I hadn’t bothered to shave in about 2 weeks). I finished packing, had an orange and a piece of bread and headed out of my room around 11:15. I first went to Boots’ on Cornmarket street to buy my dad some soap that he had requested (his favourite kind of soap and not available in the US) and then I took a couple of photos around town. As usual, the skies were grey so the pictures didn’t turn out particularly well. Here’s hoping for better weather in the City of (rotten) Angels.
Here is one photo from around town:
I noticed that there was some sort of an open-air bazaar set up on broad street so I went to have a look and in the meantime took a picture of it.
Then I ran into a friend and classmate of mine, Joe and said that we should take a picture together. Ironically, he was on his way to look for a digital camera himself!
Eventually I headed down to Gloucester Green, the central bus terminal in Oxford. Here is a shot of the Oxford Classics Department on the way over:
And here is Gloucester Green:
Just as I was walking in, the X22 OxfordHeathrow express was pulling in. I got onboard and handed the driver my return ticket from January and took a couple of shots of the cabin.
Seat pitch was 32", better than BA
We soon got underway and as usual, made a million stops. The route took us to the west of Oxford, before we made it around onto St. Aldates Road and passed in front of Christ Church college, turning right onto the High Street and then over the Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin) bridge out towards Headington. For some reason, I thought that we had taken a different turn at the Magdalen Roundabout and wasn’t sure what street we were on. There weren’t any street signs, so I couldn’t figure it out. I saw a Turkish restaurant called “Bar meze” with a telephone number written on it so I called the number from my mobile and asked what street they were on. They said that is was London Road, which is the road that the bus usually takes, so I’m not quite sure what made me think differently this time.
Eventually we reached the final stop (Thornhill Park & Ride) and got onto the M40. The sky was grey for most of the way, but there were the odd bursts of sunlight. I am always taken aback by the beauty of the countryside on the way to Heathrow. It’s just what I would have expected if I didn’t know what it looked like. None of these pictures are going to do any justice to the views that I was treated to, but here is one anyway:
This last term (Hilary Term) I had to go to London three times for job interviews and took the train on each occasion. This afforded me the chance to get a better look at the countryside from another angle and when it is a nice day out, the views are stunning. Well at least in my opinion, but I suppose I might have a skewed view because I grew up in urbanized areas. There are still no leaves on the trees (winter) but I am really looking forward to the springtime here as I imagine it will be lovely.
Recently I have been writing up the trip reports in Word during the coach ride to the airport or on the plane over because this helps me pass the time and saves on precious iPod battery life that I would otherwise be using if I wasn’t writing this. Plus this way I can write everything almost instantaneously, which ensures that I don’t forget something trivial (haha) and also allows me to write more. If I had to sit down at once and write the whole thing I’d get impatient and try to finish it quickly.
On the way over I received an interesting text message from Vodafone, which I understood to be a cheap attempt to get me to send more text messages:
We eventually arrived at Heathrow around 1:15pm (after about 75 minutes of journey time) and I got off the coach, took my bag and proceeded to the Terminal 1 Departures lounge.
Terminal 1 was the usual mess. I was surprised to see that Air Sahara had set up open in Terminal 1 (I would have guessed T3
). I had already checked in online but I wanted to see if it was possible to reassign me to a window seat, so I got into the Self-Service baggage drop queue and asked the check-in lady if I could change seats. She said that that wouldn’t be possible because all of the seats were already taken. I told her that I was going to carry-on, but when she saw my bag she said that it was too big and that I’d have to check it. I was slightly irritated because it was just a standard size carry-on bag but once she weigned it it ended up being too heavy anyway. I suppose that was my fault for not bothering to check how many kilos I was allowed. Anyway, I went to Boots, bought a lock and then checked my bag in.
I then proceeded through immigration and for some reason my bag was red-tagged for further inspection. The security officer took everything out of it and scanned them with some sort of a brush, but eventually let me go.
I had about an hour to burn so I went to WH
Smiths and bought The Economist. I then saw that this month’s What Car? (magazine) issue was a test between the Alfa 159 1.9 JTD, Audi A4
2.0, Lexus IS220D and BMW 320d. Since I have plans to buy an Alfa 159 at some point I decided to pick that one up as well.
Eventually I made my way towards Gate 52, where my flight was waiting. The mother of one of my friends from USC was supposed to be coming to Los Angeles on BA
269 as well, so I checked to see if her flight from Aleppo had landed (which it had) and I spent about 2 minutes trying to figure out who she might be. I’ve never met her, but I thought I could spot her. I narrowed the prospects down to one lady and was going to ask her if she was who I thought she was but then saw that she was carrying an American passport, so I figured that she couldn’t have been my friend’s mother.
I next turned my attention to figuring out which aircraft I was going to be traveling on. For some reason, the tail number wasn’t written on the back of the aircraft so I went to look at the markings on the nose gear door. There was a pole blocking my view, so I walked up a little bit towards Gate 53. I passed a group of about 10 people who looked like they were in a tour group sitting down between Gate 52 and Gate 53. A couple of them were sprawled out across three or four chairs. As I walking past them, one of the guys laying down along the chairs said “hey mon, I’m from Jamaica, it’s the island of love you know.” I said “cool” and he repeated “de island of love.” I nodded my head and kept on walking. He and the people in his group were wearing black t-shirts that read “Israel, Mount Sinai and Cairo, Egypt.” Not sure what they were going to LA
for. I personally thought that Jamaica was the island of weed.
Within about 6 seconds, I got far enough ahead of the aircraft that I could see the nose gear door and squinted to see the markings. To my horror, I saw this:
No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not G-BNLB again! Just my luck…when I came to Oxford I flew on G-CIVA; my return in December was also on G-CIVA. When I came back to Oxford in January, I flew on G-BNLB and now I was going back to Los Angeles on G-BNLB as well! BA
has got 56 747-400s and the chance of my getting BNLB on both legs was (1/56) squared (ceteris paribus). As a wise man (Udo) once said, “there’s nothing worse than flying the same registration twice” and there is a lot of truth to that.
I sat back down to wait for boarding and texted Jkw777 to tell him that I was pissed off that I was going on G-BNLB again. I then chatted with a couple of other friends from Oxford and eventually boarding started.
Here is a shot of the terminal:
And one of G-BNLB:
I waited until the queue died down a bit before getting on myself and once on board, found my way to seat 20G. There was an elderly lady and her husband sitting in 20E and F. I said hello and proceeded to sit down. They soon started speaking to each other in what I recognised to be Syrian Arabic. Then they all of a sudden switched to Armenian. I figured that they must be from Aleppo. The lady folded up her jacket, pointed up and said “7ott” to me (knowing that I wouldn’t understand, or at least she thought) and I put in the overhead bin. I sat down and started making conversation with them. They were Armenians from Aleppo going to visit their daughter in Orange County and were very excited about seeing their newborn grandson.
Whilst talking to the lady (who was sat next to me) I read a bit of the paper (Daily Mail) and then pulled out “The Assassin’s Gate – America in Iraq” which was the book that I borrowed from my Australian Rhodes Scholar friend and neighbour at Keble College to read on the flight. We soon pushed back from the gate and made our way to the northern runway at Heathrow (which one is that again…27R?). Takeoff was smooth and powerful and we were soon in the airborne. Flight time was announced to be a quick 10 hours and 15 minutes.
Drinks were shortly served and the entertainment system was turned on. I put the BBC news on and here is a picture:
I acted as translator between the crew and the couple. They didn’t speak a word of English, but the husband was quite content with pointing at things to make himself understood whereas the lady had me give her a hand. I had a glass of scotch and asked for a glass of water and a glass of orange juice for the lady and her husband respectively. The drinks came with some bag of something or other, not exactly sure what it was but it tasted like Worcestershire sauce:
The one complaint I have to make is that on previous BA
flights, when I’ve asked for a Scotch, the F/A has given me a little personal bottle of Red Label (or whatever) along with a bottle of water for me to put my preferred combinations. No such luck on this flight. The F/A just poured it in and then asked if I wanted any water. Small thing, but I did notice the difference between that and previous flights.
The crew came around with the landing and immigration cards after they collected the drinks and again I acted as translator. The F/A (Helen) asked me what forms they needed and I told her. She asked if they speak English and I said that they didn’t. She said “oh well we’ll have to have someone come round and see if we can fill out the forms for them then.” I said that I would do that myself and she said oh you’re such a sweetheart. I then borrowed a pen and proceeded to fill out the forms.
The Syrian passport is not very well organized in my opinion. In contrast to the Lebanese passport, the Syrian one opens the Arabic way (the front is on the bottom if you’ve got the binding on the left) which is sure to make things more difficult for the immigration officer. In addition, the passport number isn’t actually explicitly written on the cover page! It is just coded at the bottom and I didn’t realise this at first. I initially copied down the issue number onto the arrivals form and then when I turned the page to copy information from the US Visa I saw that the American Embassy had written down a different passport number! So I started all over again.
Shortly after the drinks were collected the crew came round with lunch. The choice was between Chicken Tikka Masala (which for reasons I went into on my last trip report) I refuse to order. I went for the braised beef instead and ordered the same thing for the lady as I figured she probably wouldn’t like the taste of the masala. In explaining the choices to her, I described the chicken as “Indian chicken” to which she replied that she would prefer the beef. Embarrassingly enough, I forgot the word for chicken in Armenian! I guess that happens when you’ve got no one to speak Armenian to at Oxford. I seriously couldn’t believe that I forgotten that though! I asked the lady and when she said “hav” I thought to myself how on earth did I forget that? For those of you who don’t know, my mother is Armenian so that is how I speak some Armenian.
Here is lunch:
Regarding the lunch, I’d have to say that the beef wasn’t particularly good however I did enjoy the apple/blackcurrant tart with custard for dessert. I really like custard, especially when it is cold. After trays were collected I started reading the Assassin’s Gate and got to page 15 or so before deciding to get some rest.
I got my iPod out and put my British Airways acoustic noise-canceling headphones from Concorde on over the iPod earpiece and tried to get some rest. My efforts to sleep were thwarted by the kids in the row behind me who for some reason decided to keep on kicking my the back of my chair for a prolonged period of time. I turned around told them off. Fortunately they stopped doing it but about 5 minutes later they started shouting. Even while listening to Tears in Heaven at maximum volume with another set of headphones on, I was still able to hear them shouting. I think other people started taking note of it and perhaps the parents told the kids to shut their gobs.
Only 10 minutes after the shouting had subsided, the people sitting across the aisle from me started talking and laughing very, very loudly. Between the two of them, I had noticed that they went through 7 bottles of wine (small 375ml bottles) so I thought that they might have been a bit drunk. If I was a crew member I personally wouldn’t have given them that much wine, especially since they had already had a vodka tonic during the first round of drinks. Oh well, I’m sure the crew were aware of the legal limits and took note.
I woke up from having dozed off with about 6 hours of flying time remaining and spent a good hour of it chatting with the lady about random things such as Aleppo and the political situation in Syria. It turns out that she knows my mother’s friend in Aleppo and I took the opportunity to ask her about my friend’s mother. She was surprised that I knew her and said that she was in the back of the plane and would introduce me when we got off, if not sooner.
At some point during the hour-long conversation the a couple of crew members came to fill out the documents for the couple and I said that I had already done so. They said oh what a good man etc etc and one of them told me that she really wanted to go to Beirut one day. In the meantime, the other F/A went into the J class cabin and brought me a Club World washbag and a Twix bar to say thanks. Just for the sake of making conversation, I asked her which aircraft we were traveling on and she said that it was G-BNLG. I didn’t tell her that I thought she was wrong but I am pretty sure we were on BNLB, but I’ll check out www.lhr-lgw.blueyonder.co.uk
in the next couple of days just to make sure.
At this point I would just like to make an aside here to discuss Chicken Tikka Masala. Now, at Oxford, I have friends from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and I almost started World War III with them a couple of weeks ago when I asked all of them at once about which city has the best curries…Delhi, Dhaka or Lahore. That soon spiraled into an argument about where somosas are from and whether particular dishes are Indian or Pakistani.
Let me present the results of my findings and I would love the opinion of A.netters from the subcontinent or otherwise to chime in and correct/add information.
It seems as though there are three main cuisines on the Indian subcontinent: North Indian/Pakistani, South Indian, and East Indian/Bengali/Bangladeshi. Apparently Chicken Tikka Masala hails from Bengal and it has become the number one dish in England because of what can be termed the “contamination effect” of Indian cuisine in the United Kingdom. Basically what he says happens is that Bangladeshi migrants come to the UK and open up restaurants specializing in their own cuisine, but they call their restaurants “India Garden” or “Bombay Garden” because “Bangladesh Garden” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. The contamination effect is that people who don’t know any better start to associate dishes that aren’t Indian per se (such as Chicken Tikka Masala) with India as opposed to Bangladesh.
To make a long story short, it seems as though South Indian food is mostly vegetarian while the dominant feature of North Indian/Pakistani and Bengali cuisine is the curry. Pakistanis seem to think that they invented the somosa, but my friend from Delhi says claims that the somosa is a very Delhi thing. My Bangladeshi friend claims that biryani is from Bengal but the Indian and the Pakistani dispute this heavily. Anyway, I’d love to hear more about this from those in the know.
Moving back to the flight, I decided to get up from my seat with about 5 hours remaining to walk around a bit. I took a couple of photos and hung around door #2L drinking a glass of water. Here one such photo:
I saw that the lady’s husband was standing at door 2R
and I went over to talk. He complained to me that he tried to explain to the F/A that he wanted some ice in the orange juice but that she didn’t understand (not surprising, because he doesn’t know how to say anything in English). He asked me if I could get some ice for him but what I thought he was asking for was ice cream. He was telling me that he wanted “bouza” which I thought was ice cream and I told him that I didn’t think they had any. He said “of course they do” and repeated that he just wanted one in his glass. At that point I thought to myself “ok he probably doesn’t want a scoop of ice cream in the glass of orange juice – oh he must mean ice” at which point I got some ice for him. We headed back to our seats and he followed me, accessing 20E from the right aisle and climbing over his wife. He yelled at the guy in 19G in Arabic, telling him to make his seat upright which I found funny. Again, it wasn’t as though the man in 19G was going to understand.
Talking about the man in 19G, I felt bad for him towards the end of the flight because the passenger in 19F literally got up about 10 times while I was awake. He must have wanted to kill him in the end.
To be honest I was slightly let down by BA
on this flight. Catering aside, I felt as though the attitude of the crew on the whole was a bit disinterested. Service without a smile is what I would call it. On this particular flight the male F/As were particularly abrupt. There were three F/As (all female) who I thought were excellent however. Helen was one of them, Pam was the other and I don’t recall the name of the third (she manned the duty-free trolley). I usually enjoy BA
service and rarely find it to be anything but professional, efficient and friendly and don’t really subscribe to the upright snuffy nosed attitude which others have complained about on this site. The service on this flight was bordering towards the latter. Oh well, everyone’s got their off day and to be fair, there was nothing wrong with the service, its just that I was used to better from them.
After that I spent about 30 minutes taking advantage of British Airways' entertainment system and playing some games.
Here is me playing tetris:
And this is me opening a can of whoop ass on the computer in backgammon:
And here I am playing hangman. See if you can figure out some of these words:
With about two hours to go, the lights were turned on and the snack service was started. The usually British Airways All-Day Deli snack box made its way onto my tray table and it was filled with an awful piece of cake, a ham sandwich, a bag of tasteless fruit and a small cup of water. Here it is up close and personal.
Eventually we started our descent for Los Angeles and since I wasn’t sitting at the window I couldn’t see much of anything, but we came in and landed on 24R. We taxied to the Tom Bradley international terminal and parked next to a Swiss A340-300, HB
-JMD. I deplaned with the lady and one of the F/As thanked me again for my help. We waited outside for my friend’s mother to come out of the plane so that I could meet her and so that the lady could go through customs with her (since my friend’s mother speaks English).
They went through the visitors queue and I went through the US citizens one. I walked out to the baggage collection area. As usual, they split up the bags onto two carousels, which I find really irritating because how are you meant to know which one your bag is coming on? What I usually do is figure that if I am traveling on a BA
744 with the extra business class cabin, my bags will usually come on the second carousel and the first one will be dedicated to the First and Business class passengers. If I am traveling on the BA
747-400 with the reduced Club Class section (which I was today) then I’d expect my bags on the first carousel. As it happened, my suitcase ended up coming on the second. I collected it and then went over to find my friend’s mother to help with the bags and stuff. Unfortunately, hers must have gotten lost but the lady’s suitcases turned up. Since this was the first time that the lady was visiting the US, she was tucked into the INS office somewhere and I helped fill out the forms for her. I was going to stick around and come out with them as soon as the lady had finished with everything but my friend’s mum told me that it was going to take another 45 minutes or so because there was a long queue inside, so she told me that I shouldn’t keep my parents waiting and asked me to tell her son (my friend) that she was on the way went I went outside. I tried to insist but she wouldn’t have it since the rest of the BA
passengers were already long gone, so I said goodbye and then went outside.
I found my parents and then found my friend and told him the story. I introduced him to my parents and we chatted for a couple of minutes before heading out to the car park. It was good to drive a car again (something which I hadn’t done since January) and fortunately the 405 Freeway was pretty fast moving until the 101/405 junction. All in all I was home in about 50 minutes. I parked the car in the garage and ran into the house to greet Snoopy (my Beagle).
Sara, for picture is for you (tell me did you actually bother reading all the way or did you just search for this
And another one:
I had requested that my mother make wara2 3enab for dinner and decided to take a picture of it. Hass this one can be for you
In conclusion, the trip with British Airways was as usual, pretty good, though the service on this flight was a little dryer than what I am used to.
If you’ve bothered reading this far down, please leave some comments! I’m thinking I might have made this one a bit too long! The ironic thing is that I have just ironic thing is that I just wrote 4,900 words with no trouble. I’m going to have to write more than double that for my masters project and don’t even know where to start yet!
Hope you enjoyed the report. Incidentally I tried saving all the pictures "save for web" on Adobe Photoshop so I hope that they loaded quickly for everyone.
PARIS, FRANCE...THE BEIRUT OF EUROPE.