In late March and early April 2010, I took my first transpacific trip, down under to New Zealand, to give an invited talk at a dental school research day event.
I am a graduate student, PhD candidate, at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center (since July 2007, hope to finish in summer 2012). Due to my personal experience being born with and living with Treacher Collins syndrome (a rare genetic disorder of embryonic craniofacial development), my research naturally deals with abnormal craniofacial development. Specifically, my dissertation research project studies morphological changes and cellular effects of hypoxia on early embryonic craniofacial development in chick embryos. I previously studied in this field at King's College London (Guy's Hospital), from 2004-2007.
During the course of my PhD studies at UCSF, I have had numerous opportunities to travel to national and international scientific meetings in cities including Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, Washington DC, etc. At these meetings I present my research (poster and oral presentations) to large audiences, as well as "network" or make connections by meeting others in my field (including very well known ones) from all over the world. Craniofacial embryology is a small, but emerging, field.
Well, at my first major scientific meeting in 2009, in Miami, with the International Association for Dental Research (IADR), my UCSF academic/personal advisor (he is a fellow King's College London alumnus) introduced me to his New Zealand colleagues during a mixer/social event. These people were professors at the University of Otago Faculty of Dentistry in Dunedin, New Zealand. We immediately hit it off and started discussing our work. When I told them about my life experience and connection to my craniofacial research, they were impressed and wanted me to consider coming to their institution's next Research Day event.
About a year went by (and I presented at two more conferences that year), and I received an official invitation from the University of Otago dental faculty to come speak at their April 2010 Research Day event in Dunedin, New Zealand. They paid my airfare and half of my hotel accommodation. They encouraged me to stay long enough to give me time to explore the central Otago region as well as the city of Dunedin.
My flights were booked for March 26/27 to April 2. My outbound flights were: SFO
, and AKL
-DUD on NZ
. I was booked at the University Residence hotel (a hotel on the University campus for invited guests).
I bought myself a large green London Fog suitcase that could accommodate a suit, as well as a green Level rollaboard carryon bag that could accommodate both my 17" laptop and my CPAP machine.
OFF TO NEW ZEALAND
Friday, March 26-Sunday, March 28 (accounting for crossing the International Date Line):
1) SFO-LAX AA flight 1943: McDonnell-Douglas MD-80
After spending half of my day at my UCSF laboratory getting last-minute preparations made, I went back to my UCSF Mission Bay student housing studio apartment and collected my luggage for my big adventure. I was taken to the SFO
airport by my church's associate pastor. Upon checking in with AA
in terminal 3 (this was a year before AA
's move to the new terminal 2), my bag was checked through to AKL
since I was flying AA
and Oneworld partner QF
. No baggage fee was charged, since I was going intercontinental. Upon arrival in AKL
, I would need to check in with NZ
(since they are not a OW
partner). My security screening and wait at my gate for my AA MD
-80 flight to LAX
were uneventful. I saw my MD
-80 taxiing into my gate, in front of the still-under-construction SFO
Terminal 2, which would be VX
's new home the next year:
My AA MD
-80 flight down to LAX
that sunny late afternoon/early evening was unremarkable, just another domestic flight down state.
2) LAX-AKL QF flight 26: Boeing 747-400 VH-OJD
flight arrived at LAX
terminal 4 (for AA
, as well as some QF
flights) early that evening; my gate was at the far south end of the terminal (gate 44). My Qantas flight, which would leave at nearly midnight, would be at the far north end (gate 40, if I remember rightly; anyway, it was on the left side). I wandered around the crowded terminal for a few hours and browsed through the Borders outlet for books on New Zealand (specifically, I was looking for what Dunedin would be like).
I shot this photo of a QF
A380 parked at TBIT late that night, with my Canon EOS 450D/XSi set for a night shot (exposure: 56/10 sec, aperture f/5.66, ISO 800):
Not too long after, I saw my Qantas Boeing 747-400, VH
-OJD, parked at my gate. Unfortunately the design of the gate area blocked most of the 747 from sight. But I was able to get this photo of my jumbo's tail, with the same exposure settings on my Canon:
I was so excited to be flying on my all-time favourite aircraft, the 747! Boarding was soon announced, and I walked aboard. I looked longingly up the stairs to the upper deck, but there was no time for me to get up there and see the flight deck like I would have loved to. Someday I want to get on a 747 flight deck, sit in the left seat, and fly the thing!
I found my starboard window seat (60K) in zone E and stowed my green carryon bag (with my laptop and CPAP in it) in the overhead bin. We departed LAX
terminal 5 at one minute before midnight, taxied down to runway 25R, and began our noisy, powerful takeoff roll, all four Rolls-Royce RB211-524G-T engines at full thrust. The LAX
terminals and airfield were lit up like a galaxy in the dark of night. Upon takeoff, we headed straight out over the LA
coast and over the infinite black expanse of the Pacific Ocean, invisible in the night, like flying into deep, dark space.
A few hours later, we had dinner from the Qantas Economy menu (I still have mine). After a tomato and bocconcini salad with balsamic dressing, my entree was seared salmon with sweet barbecue sauce, garlic rice, and sugar snaps, along with cheese and biscuits and chocolate lava cake. Breakfast, at the crack of dawn, was a hot breakfast of bacon and potato frittata with mushrooms and slow cooked tomato, orange juice, fresh fruit, yoghurt, and a croissant with butter.
Crossing the date line, I "skipped" Saturday March 27 and ended up arriving over New Zealand on Sunday March 28. Very groggy, with dried-out eyes, I woke up after a fitful sleep and took these shots: a cabin shot and some wing shots of the early morning sky and landfall over New Zealand duing approach, descent, and landing at AKL
Upon arrival at AKL
's international terminal, I proceeded to NZ
Customs and Immigration. I got the legendary Kiwi welcome from a warm, friendly female immigration officer, who asked me for my purpose for being in New Zealand. I told her of my invitation to speak at the University of Otago dental faculty research day event; she brightened up and stamped my passport and cheerily wished me well and encouraged me to enjoy my time here. I had nothing to declare at customs. After that, I got this photo of the international terminal with my QF
747 (at the far end), an AR
343, a NZ
767-300 with winglets, and a KE
777, at their gates, from the observation deck overlooking the international terminal:
Since I was flying onward to Dunedin via Air New Zealand (not a OW
partner), I walked a sizeable distance from the international terminal to the domestic one and checked in myself (and my bag with me) at the NZ
desk. My NZ
flight would be stopping at WLG
on the way down to DUD, direct with no plane change.
After a wait of a few hours at AKL
domestic, I boarded my NZ
737 for the trip south.
-DUD (direct, no plane change in WLG
flight 439: Boeing 737
737 departed AKL
that early afternoon and headed south for WLG
, then on to DUD. We landed in WLG
, deplaned into the terminal, and went right back to the same gate through a gate-side security checkpoint, before reboarding the same 737 to continue on down to DUD. During approach, descent, and landing at DUD, I shot these photos of the central Otago mountainous countryside and the diminutive DUD airport:
The 737 landed on DUD runway 03, then turned around at the 21 end, before taxiing back along the runway to the single turnoff (near the 03 end) that led to the terminal building. Having only 2 jetbriges, the terminal building is not much larger than the one at my hometown airport, FWA
(Fort Wayne, IN
has 4 jetbridges, in comparison, to the 2 at DUD.
We deplaned at one of the two jetbridges. I came down the escalator to the main level, collected my bag from domestic baggage reclaim, and saw my name flashing across a LED
screen held by one of the chauffeurs and drivers waiting close by the escalator. My chauffeur, holding the LED
sign with my name, was a cheery older woman. She led me out to a beautiful Jaguar sedan. She loaded my baggage and invited me to sit in the passenger (left) seat next to her. She struck up a lively, friendly conversation with me whilst she drove me through the lovely Otago countryside into Dunedin; we talked about my visit to Dunedin, my life experience, and my purpose for being here. She took me to the University of Otago private hotel (University Residence, for invited guests).
Since I arrived on Sunday evening, and had nearly a week before my big keynote talk on Thursday April 1, I had plenty of time to see the city, the university, and the Otago countryside.
PART TWO follows in the next reply
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139:14)