Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Greetings from America...

Winter in the Rockies,
black-and-white style
... and happy 2012 to everyone. Apparently, this year marks the end of the world, so let's make sure it's a good one. Ha ha.

So here I am, home for the holidays back in Colorado. Christmas has come and gone, and now, all the New Year's festivities are behind us, too, so I thought I'd write and kind of give an update on the trip so far. I've been here almost two weeks now and have a few more days before leaving the Rocky Mountain state and flying back to Malaysia.

The flight over was pretty uneventful, a marked difference from the dreadful China Southern flight home two Christmases ago. The layover was much shorter, and the airplane was newer. But they still have a ways to go. In 2009, I didn't even get a boarding pass for the second leg of the flight (Guangzhou to L.A.) until I actually arrived in Guangzhou, an issue that caused quite a kerfuffle. This time, I got both of my boarding passes upon check-in at the counter in KL, but once we arrived in China, a mob of transit passengers was still required to stand in a lengthy immigration queue. Apparently, the fine people in Guangzhou still haven't sorted out what "transit" means. At every other airport I've transited through (Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, etc.), all transit passengers just get herded to the transit area. There's no passport inspection, no checking of documents, you're just passing through. So after the lengthy wait to clear immigration (for whatever reason), I proceeded up an escalator to an even slower line... for security screening. Never mind that we had just gotten off an international flight, hundreds of people had to be shoehorned through ONE security gate. Every person was metal-detected, hand-wanded, and their belongings x-rayed. Keep in mind there was only one line for this, and it took forever. Seriously, transiting in Guangzhou still sucks. The only reason I chose China Southern again was just the huge difference in fare price ($1,000 USD vs. about $1,600 and up for every other airline).

So once I finally cleared security, there I was, on that same hellish concourse from two years ago where I languished for 20 hours in total on two epic layovers. I didn't have long to wait this time, but WiFi is still frustratingly absent there. Numerous people were wandering around in a techno-daze with their smartphones and laptops held out plaintively, searching in vain for working WiFi signals. I finally found one at one of the tea/coffee shops, and felt compelled to pay a whopping $6 USD for a cup of admittedly very nice tikuanyin tea just to use their network guilt-free. But by that time, my flight was already about to board, and the tea shop was completely chaotic, so I was very pressed for time. I somehow managed to hurriedly book a room at the Radisson hotel near LAX using my little iPod and a hotel app I had just downloaded. Since I'd be overnighting upon arrival in L.A., booking the hotel gave me a great sense of relief, knowing I wouldn't be adrift in the airport there from 6 p.m. until 6:30 the following morning. So off we flew... and funnily enough, we actually landed in California earlier (by local time) than when we departed!

So I got to L.A. and cleared immigration and customs easily and efficiently. The airport in L.A. still sucks, but they are definitely making strides in improvement, particularly in the international terminal. It's loads better than it was 3-4 years ago, so props to them for that. I still prefer flying into other ports of entry into America, though. I got my luggage and found the free shuttle bus to the Radisson and headed off into the California evening. I was really surprised that I was able to get such a nice hotel right next to LAX for only $58... it was a mobile-only promo on some iPhone app, so I was happy to get that rate. I wouldn't expect to get much more than a budget motel for around $50 in Los Angeles, but this was a solid 3-star-plus hotel. The room was great, the bed was huge and very comfortable, and I got to enjoy a long soak in a hot bath... total bliss after a 13-hour trans-Pacific flight (which itself followed a 4-hour flight and 3-hour layover for a grand total of 20 hours of transit). There was a Subway just nearby, so I walked down in the surprisingly chilly night air (mid-40s -- I didn't know L.A. ever got that cold) and got a footlong Italian sub and took it back to my room and devoured it. So tasty!
This is the morning after the snow
began -- we got a bit more, but this
shows the majority of the snowfall

The next morning, December 22nd, I flew to Denver and within hours of my arrival, snow began falling, continued at a fairly heavy rate throughout the night and until around lunchtime the next day. When it finally stopped, we had around 10" (25 cm), a hefty snowfall for the city in December. With this much snow on the 23rd, a White Christmas was virtually guaranteed! The following day, Christmas Eve, we had a spectacular, cloudless blue Colorado sky, and the fresh blanket of snow really made it easy to get into a holiday mood!

I'll stop here and write more once I get back to Malaysia, along with a lot more pictures, but here are a couple to get you started... the one from my mom's back porch here is interesting because of the expanse of deep snow on the hillside in the background. It doesn't provide much contrast with the snow on the table, but you can sort it all out. It was a nice, deep snowfall, for sure!

To be continued...

Midday on Christmas Eve just near my mother's house...
definitely click on this one to enlarge!

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