The call of flannel bedding - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

February 15, 2024

The call of flannel bedding

Bangkok to Portland

Dear little friends,

Usually the night before a big transition of some kind my mildly disordered sleep becomes pathologically disordered. Not this time, I slept remarkably well on my plastic-y mattress with the rootin’-tootin’ traffic 6 floors below our funky balcony. I think I know why. I really wanted to go home, and sleeping would make that happen sooner.

Let’s be real here, I’ve been the Debbie Downer on this trip. And it’s not because I dislike anything about the travel part of this adventure, the biking, the food, the people, the dodgy little accommodations. It’s because out of 88 days of the trip, 83 of them were at least ten degrees hotter than normal. It’s been too hot for me, and that has simply worn me out and turned me off. That’s not news to any of you faithful readers. It’s not safe for me to be this hot day after day. And you know what else? It’s not fun.

So when I woke up at the crack of dawn of a very, very long travel day, turning uncomfortably with the vinyl crackling beneath me, all I could think of was my own bed, with the clean flannel sheets and the awesome down comforter and a mattress that I love. My pillows. Oh, my sweet, sweet pillows. 

Outside, the sunrise over Bangkok was even later and darker red than the preceding days. The smoke and hot season is here with a vengeance, the air is crappy, man it’s time to go home to my pillows. I vaulted out of bed and showered. We descended to the last buffet breakfast, so early we had to wait in the lobby for a couple of minutes first. Looking through the glass doors, the traffic outside on the street was stopped up like concrete. Our van to the airport was to arrive at ten thirty.  But it would clear up by then, right? Certainly. Certainly.

When the billboard is brighter than the rising sun, it's time to blow this smoky joint.
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Gregory GarceauHoly crap! The last time (only time) I've seen a sun and sky like that was in Spokane, where the Air Quality Index was an incredible 483. I still remember that number because it set some kind of record for the State of Washington. How lucky was I that I just happened to be visiting the in-laws during that record-setting time? There were forest fires all around Spokane, and somehow the winds were carrying the smoke in from every direction. What was going on around Bangkok?
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Gregory GarceauWas that in September of 2020? We had the same numbers here in Portland because of forest fires, it was quite traumatic. Air quality in SE Asia gets really terrible as the dry season progresses. Rice fields are burned after harvest and those who slash-and-burn in the mountains of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia add to the mess. It's a real problem and those governments have not done anything serious about it. We also have heard that corn growers are drying their crops with 10x Roundup products so they can harvest it in the field using combines. Then they burn the stubble and stalks, now laced with glysophates, so the resulting smoke is extra toxic. It's an awful situation.
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2 months ago
Gregory GarceauTo Andrea BrownYes, that's exactly right--September of 2020.
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekYeah that looks like Sept 2020. Argh.
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1 month ago

Breakfast was great, as usual. You’ve heard a lot about this breakfast already, I don’t need to elaborate. We enjoyed it with great relish.

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Upstairs again, we had some time to tuck the last things into our duffel bags. Bruce had taped up the bike boxes the previous day, and this time it wasn’t the late night screeching plastic packing tape thing that has happened to us before, tape screeching loud enough to wake our neighbors. Bike boxes shuttled down to the lobby last night, duffels packed. We had put little wire rings on the zippers to keep them closed and to slow down anybody who might take a passing interest  in their contents. Wire rings secured. Ready for takeoff. We had some time still, I lay down for a little resting stretch before the 24 hours of upright travel. The next time I would be horizontal would be on my own bed. What a ridiculous premise that seemed to be.

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Traffic check from our balcony. The motorbikes are doing Frogger maneuvers around the stopped vehicles.
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At ten we headed to the lobby to see what was what. You know what? The traffic was still virtually at a standstill. It’s a one-way street out there, there are no alternative routes. Looks like we may be leaving later than optimal. There are a multitude of steps on a long flight itinerary with bicycles that I’d been thinking about for a couple of weeks, so this was just going to be stressor number 458 out of a thousand others, waiting for our ride to show up and get us to the airport with enough time to check in, go through security, go through immigration, and sneer past a hundred stupid luxury goods shops to our departure gate.

Waiting in the lobby.
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The hotel staff who had booked the van for us were looking out the lobby doors and at each other and then at us waiting quietly. A guy that seemed to be the day janitor was talking on the phone to somebody, describing our bike boxes. That didn’t seem to bode well. Finally, around 20 minutes after our scheduled van arrival time, the driver showed up, pulled in, he and Bruce wrestled the bikes in, we dumped the duffels and myself in the middle seat, Bruce in front, and off we went. Well, we went about ten feet. Then twenty. One car length per traffic light change. Our driver spoke little English but sensed our tension, which he attempted to relieve by putting a Tom and Jerry cartoon on his front screen. I appreciated that small gesture. It really did help.

We are parked directly in front of the hotel and will be for another ten minutes. The driver is scrolling through YouTube for some choice content for us.
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Gregory GarceauTom & Jerry, Heckle & Jeckle, Bugs Bunny & Elmer Fudd, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, Popeye and Bluto, Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau--it's all the same slapstick action. I LOVE ALL THOSE CARTOONS. I'm glad you got some sense of relief from the driver's Tom & Jerry efforts.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Gregory GarceauTom and Jerry and Mister Bean are so popular in SE Asia that long haul buses will put pictures of them on their doors to let people know what will be on offer on the video screen inside. We've seen hill tribe kids on buses who have seen the Christmas Mister Bean so many times that they start laughing in anticipation even before each little skit starts, which is so baffling because what in the world would these kids know about Britain or Christmas or anything else they see on the video?
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2 months ago

He wasn’t tense at all. He got us through that traffic light and then suddenly darted down a back street, then another back street, roared through a medium street, turned onto a major highway, stopped, paid the toll, vroomed onto another major highway, and just like that, we were sailing to the airport. Tom and Jerry played cruel and funny tricks on each other. Bruce looked out the window. Goodbye, smoky hot Bangkok.

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Bangkok is a city on the move, up into the air.
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What a great driver! We disembarked and he helped us load our bikes vertically onto our carts. He knew that we wouldn’t fit through the entrance doors if we put them on horizontally. He was a peach of a fellow. Let’s check that stressor off and move on to the next one.

Do you know what it’s like to push a cart into a crowd of thousands of people when you can’t see a thing? It’s very exciting, that’s what. We located our check-in desk, tried to enter a line that we were not supposed to be in, China Air employees looking at us crosswise. It was a really long line. It was really crowded. We had these tall bike boxes and somehow we were supposed to get through this scrum. 

Now, after our flights to Ho Chi Minh City in November, we were pretty down on China Air and in fact determined we would not fly on them ever again. But on this leg, China Air did us a solid, and in fact, more than once, as our story continues.

As we gazed hopelessly at the line and our awkward boxes that posed a danger to all near them, two young smiling China Air employees waved us out of there with a “follow us” gesture, they parted the seas of people, directed us out of the line and to the completely other side of the check in lanes, like completely around, where there were no people at all. I still managed to take out one of those crowd control rope stand thingies, and barely missed people who apparently didn’t see a vertical bike box careening towards them. But nobody was injured, and on the other side we got VIP treatment checking in our stuff, no questions asked. Well, they did ask one question, they asked if we took the air out of our tires. Yep, we did. There really is no logical reason to do this but we had done it anyway, just in case.

Even with the smaller boxes we’ve used before, we’ve always had to take them to the Oversized Luggage machine, this was the case today, too. It’s not far away, it’s no big deal, but there is more careening involved and more near-misses. Whew. It’s an awesome moment when luggage disappears at check-in and we are free to skip off toward the next tedious travel tiresomeness. Suvarnabhumi has the damnedest flow plan when you leave the country. I mean, we’ve had worse, actually, but still. It’s a fairly new airport and yet you still do meaningless things just to get through immigration. First you go up an escalator and go through security. Then you go DOWN another escalator and line up for immigration departure, in the foreign passport holder line. 

This is right next to the oversized baggage area. The two tall boxy things are air conditioners. They really weren't up to the job.
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Now remember, back in Prachuap Khiri Khan we rode ten or eleven miles uphill in baking heat to get our visa extensions at this little backwater building that was so unofficial looking that we rode right by it at first. There we paid a bunch of money to get our visas extended and all we got for that was this funky blue paper stapled in the back of our passports. It looked like a folded up grocery list. So now was the test of our funky blue paper, in the hands of bored looking immigration officers who have seen and heard it all. Bruce went first, I stood behind him, anticipating some sort of fracas, with one finger holding my passport open at my photo page, the other at the departure form that we filled out last night, and one more finger on the blue grocery list page.

Bored guy in uniform spent a fair bit of time leafing through Bruce’s busy little passport. Then he kind of woke up and said sternly, “YOU OVERSTAY”. Bruce told him he had an extension. For some reason the grocery list was hiding in his passport and the guy was looking  more and more stern as he searched in vain. I held up my passport so he could see my grocery list flapping around. Oh, I’m looking for a blue piece of paper, ah, here it is. All smiles now he stamped Bruce out and barely glanced at my passport, stamped it, and we were done. Out of Thailand, baby.

At this point I’m just mentally ticking off one more stressor and am giddy with the sudden fetter loss of a huge bike box and a clunky red-and-white IKEA duffel. So was Bruce. He had some baht burning a hole in his pocket though, and wanted to buy something with it. There wasn’t quite enough for some Tiffany bling or Prada crap so he settled on some deluxe Thai tea from the King Power shop. I parked myself as he shopped and was forced to witness two Chinese tourists, a young couple, have a hissing and screaming spat that made no attempt at discretion. Nearby Thais cringed at the rudeness and discomfort generated to roil the peace of the crowded airport. I cringed too, those people were gross. 

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Eventually we were on our flight to Taipei. Our meal was great, it seemed to go fast, and we weren’t even able to finish watching “Oppenheimer” before we were descending again. No worries, we had an 11 hour flight ahead to get back to it again. 

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All I wish for is some sleep.
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The Taipei airport has always been sort of huge and boring and sterile. There’s a new terminal now and that meant finding the shuttle train thing that takes you there, us and a small crowd of other travelers, some of whom had been on our flight from Bangkok. Signage was deficient, let’s just say. We were supposed to head to Gate F, but the train didn’t say Gates A-M or anything else informative. So when it stopped, we all hesitated en masse, and it closed its doors again and reversed course and we all went back to where we started. Ooooooh. People entering the train looked at our slightly embarrassed faces and then it took us back to where we should have gotten off the first time. 

“Okay, everybody,” I said, in a rare public attempt at comedy, “Let’s make a break for it!” We all detrained and hustled onward. 

Onward was also poorly signed. A janitor told us to go that way, not this way. Honestly, Taipei Airport, figure out your logistics. We could see Gate F right there!!! But nope, another security check, another downstairs, a long long hallway, an upstairs, a long long hallway. Back at Gate F. Yay.

11 hours is a long flight. Our food was good this time, too. I had a blanket and a pillow and a window seat. You can’t open the window shade because we’re supposed to be sleeping and it’s a long, long, long sunny day out there as we skip nighttime over the international dateline and February 15 starts over again and continues on and on. We finished “Oppenheimer” and also, “Emma” which was delightful. I didn’t sleep. Bruce didn’t sleep. We’re getting too old for these flights, is all I can say.

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When we told people we were flying into Ontario, they delicately asked, “Um. Ontario? Like, Canada?” No, there’s an Ontario Airport in the Los Angeles suburbs, oh, sorry Ontario INTERNATIONAL Airport. It’s a tiny airport compared to LAX and the three international airlines that use it are from Colombia, Mexico, and, yo, Taiwan. 

We had a one-hour layover there. One hour, to deplane, go through immigration, grab our bike and duffel baggage, go through customs, recheck those, and make our flight to Portland. As far as I could discover there was only one terminal and we didn’t have to go anywhere far. Turns out I was wrong.

Firstly, it was taking forever to deplane this vessel. What the hell was going on up there? Were people crawling out of the plane? Were they stopping at the door and having a cigarette? Tick, tick, tick. There had been some kind of buzzy announcement directing people with connecting flights to contact China Air personnel. Well, if I see any China Air personnel back here in steerage I’ll be happy to contact them, I thought to myself, or maybe I said it aloud to Bruce and nearby sufferers. 

It turns out that this airport is so small that the big planes like ours are deplaned the Mandalay way, with an aluminum ramp pulled up to the plane door and folks trying not to stumble down it. Hence the slow deplane. Then we got on a shuttle and went to the terminal, where there were hundreds of people standing in the immigration line. All were told sternly and repeatedly that there was no toilet after the immigration so you’d better pee now but you’d better not leave the line to do that. This looked terrible, and of course I also had to pee. 

Don’t think about peeing. Don’t think about peeing.

But, look, there was a lady in a red-and-gray uniform speaking Mandarin and English. Hmm. Perhaps this was the mythical China Air staff I heard tell of? I flagged her down and explained our dire situation. We have bikes. We are catching a flight to Portland in an hour. Her eyes widened. Her name tag said “Sidney”. Sidney was suddenly afire. She looked very very concerned and now I was even more concerned. She told us that we have to take a shuttle to another terminal. But at that other terminal there are no baggage carts. Or, rather, we would have to pay $6 each for a cart. That was unhappy news to me. Bruce had run off to pee but was back now and I relayed this dismaying development. Well, we’d just have to drop $12 for a three minute haul, yay us. The last time I tried to pay for an airport baggage cart with a credit card it refused the card and a kind fellow passenger paid for our cart, so let's add a few more stressors to  my list.

Sidney, meanwhile, had darted up to immigration, cleared a path for us, and scooped us up to skip the line and get cleared to re-enter the United States of America. Done and dusted.

Meanwhile, in the toilet-free baggage carousel area, our bikes were nowhere to be seen yet. It was right next to immigration, and I could hear an officer haranguing a visitor about her plans in the USA. Her answers were vague and stuttering and terrified. A kind stranger came up and translated for her. It sounded bad.  

I still had to pee.

Then the bikes arrived, we put them upright on the provided FREE carts, careening once again, once again endangering innocent passengers and their stroller babies. Sidney was at our side, no, she ran off ahead of us! She ran out to the curb, waved at the shuttle driver, “Wait! Wait!”. Sidney, our hero! The driver waited, in fact he got out of his shuttle and hefted our bike boxes aboard. We thanked our Sainted Lady of Hapless Travelers and on to the next terminal we went. There our boxes and duffel were de-shuttled and we were castaways in front of a large deserted building with few cars, no pedestrians, no baggage, just us and our four bulky, heavy items. We could look inside the building and see the Alaska desk RIGHT THERE. It’s a federal offense to leave unattended baggage. But of course, that’s what we had to do. There are advantages to this unpopulated airport terminal, no pesky security to glare at your dangerous lonely baggage. I mean, our baggage is more dangerous on the cart, to be honest. Bruce darted in with a duffel, handed them his passport, and came back for me. I had one duffel, my hand luggage, Bruce’s pannier, and my passport. Bruce carried the terrorist bomb-filled bike boxes in one at a time. What an ordeal.

We have to get these items across that street and inside the door. Six-dollar carts are over there, mocking us.
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All went well from there, we got our boarding passes, bikes went into the oversize thingie which was also RIGHT THERE. Later when we got to Portland we discovered that TSA had opened them in Ontario, which is pretty strange but I guess they don’t have a lot to do at that airport, they were big boxes from Thailand, might as well take a gander inside at all that bubble wrap. Oh, and our flight to Portland was delayed by quite a bit so we were texting Scott Anderson, our chauffeur awaiting our arrival. But now I had plenty of time to pee, at least. More than once, in fact.

There were some fun texts flying back and forth now that I had my US SIM card back in my phone. My son was going to have burritos delivered to the house for us, do you want pastor or chile relleño? I wouldn’t fit into Scott’s car with the bikes and the menfolk so Judah was arranging an Uber for me since he was home with a sleeping baby and my daughter-in-law had a mandatory work dinner and neither of them could take me, the excess passenger. They don’t live far from the airport, in fact their house is right on the way for us. 

“Chile relleño, please.” 

“I’ll have the Uber stop at my house so you can pick up your house key.” 

“There’s one at home but it’s hidden in the xxxxxxxxxxx [wait, did you think I’m going to announce where the house key is hidden, you criminals? Jeez.]” 

“It’s raining. Do you want to hunt for the key in the rain?” 

“Yeah, naw, I’ll stop by and get yours.” 

Meanwhile, my flannel sheets, my pillow are calling to me across the miles, no cell service needed. We’re simmering in a semi-comatose soup of no sleep, culture shock, jet lag. We wait for our delayed flight. All around us people are speaking English, which is at first delightful because we can understand what they’re saying and then is horrible because we realize that we can understand what they’re saying. The entire flight to Portland two women sat behind us, each taking up two seats apiece and crocheting, talking loudly across the aisle to each other, nonstop. Nonstop. I put my noise canceling headphones on. Bruce held his face in his hands. Do you know what vocal fry is? Look it up. Nonstop.

Heading home.
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It was indeed raining in Portland. Another deplane down a stairway and across puddles into the terminal. Why, on a rainy night, did Alaska not have a jet bridge? Was it because we were flying in from Ontario?  As I flapped across the tarmac in the cold sting of rain there was a strange sensation in my left Keen sandal. What the actual hell? The sole of my shoe had suddenly separated and was hanging on by a thread. After 88 days of travel, 6 flights, 1257 miles of biking, three trains, countless ferries, one boat, two minivans, bridges, potholes, elevators, flyovers, hot sidewalks, hot sand, hot jungle floors, guesthouses, restaurants, and now it’s coming apart? On the very last half hour of the trip?

“Bruce.” 

“Bruce, I’m coming apart,” I croaked. 

I shuffled gingerly on the carpeted ramp up into the warm terminal of home past a hundred indifferent passengers.

“I’m coming apart.”

We scrapped the Uber idea and stuffed Bruce in the back of Scott's car with the bikes and bags. At least I think that's what happened. It's all a blur.
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Comment on this entry Comment 21
Bill ShaneyfeltFun memories... after they have become memories anyway!
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2 months ago
Betsy EvansThank you for the wonderful journal. It was a joy to follow along!
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Bill ShaneyfeltThank you for coming along, Bill. Maybe we'll meet in a garden somewhere someday.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Betsy EvansWe appreciate you coming along, Betsy. Our readers keep us honest and writing, now we have this journal to remind us of these important days. Best to you.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesIt was fun to follow you, through the heat, and be glad it wasn't us, since Dodie also wilts over 30 Celsius. How are your pillows and your fluffy quilt? Wrapping their loving fibres around you, we hope.
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2 months ago
Bill ShaneyfeltTo Andrea BrownSounds good.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Steve Miller/GrampiesMy bed is absolutely lovely. But why is it so cold here? I guess I'm never just in the right temperature zone.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Andrea BrownLike we always said to the kids, about being cold, "you can always put on a sweater." Stay warm, plan your next trip (somewhere), be a happy Andrea.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Steve Miller/GrampiesMy 93-year-old mother knitted me a new red sweater this winter and I wear it every day. All is well.
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2 months ago
Steve Miller/GrampiesTo Andrea BrownExcellent! The love knitted into every stitch, and the colour, add extra warmth.
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2 months ago
Cornelia SchulzI’m so happy you made it home safely. It was such a pleasure to join you on your trip. I was always checking your blog for new stories! Thank you for coloring my German winter!!! I really like your way of telling all those “stories”!
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2 months ago
Bo LeeI had the same thing happen to my very well-worn Keens! While walking in Honolulu Chinatown I kept hearing this slapping noise whenever I took a step but did not immediately recognize it as the sole flapping! Finally went into the nearest store and asked the clerk for some rubber bands for a temp fix. Then I discovered Shoe Goo and the restored Keens made it on our Vietnam trip!
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownShoe Goo to the rescue! Bruce has repaired the errant Keen and it's all lined up and ready for the next trip.
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2 months ago
Carolyn van HoeveAnother fantastic journal! Thank you for sharing. I love your insights and observations about all the smaller things of your every day. So relatable and so beautifully articulated. I’m such a fan.
Enjoy those flannel sheets!
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Carolyn van HoeveThank you for coming along with us! The flannel sheets have been exquisitely comfy in the chill of a Portland February-March.
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2 months ago
Gregory GarceauSurely there are some BruceStats coming up? I just wanted to tell you guys that I really enjoyed your journal. Almost everything I know about S.E. Asia comes from what you've written. I especially liked reading about the excellent (and inexpensive) lodging, the beaches, the food & drink, the kind people, the Swedes, and the pink eggs. Thank you.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Gregory GarceauYou are not the first to inquire on that very very tardy bit of data that we all look forward to. Thank you for the nudge!
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Gregory GarceauGregory, As the main representative of the BruceStats Organization ™ I sincerely apologize for the delay. I forgot how busy my life is when I'm home and it almost makes me want to go back to Asia no matter how hot it is. BruceStats and my Final Thoughts will be forthcoming as soon as I can get my act together. Thank you for wondering about the Pink Eggs especially, but also the Swedes.
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1 month ago
Andrea BrownTo Gregory GarceauSpeaking of the Swedes, we got an email from them the other day! They were packing up to go home too.
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1 month ago
Ron SuchanekWhew! What an ordeal! Thanks for this post, and for all the rest!

And the idea of sitting in a plane for hours listening to loud vocal fryers would make me want to pull the emergency exit door and jump!
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1 month ago
Andrea BrownTo Ron SuchanekYou know, I use my noise-cancelling headphones on the flights to and from Asia, but it's extremely rare for them to get pulled out of the pannier during the trip itself. I am constantly wondering why I bring them along at all. But here you are, I didn't have to jump out of the plane so they are worth the space.
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1 month ago