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Your First International Flight: A Step by Step Guide

I wrote this for someone going on their first international flight alone and so I thought I’d share it with you. What I found surprising was the number of steps involved, steps that we seasoned travellers take for granted but may not be obvious to a first timer. I do hope that you’ll pass it on to whoever might need it.

  1. BEFORE TRAVELLING
    1. Weeks before you travel, make sure your passport has at least 6 months validity from the date you arrive in the foreign country. Some countries require a Visa, so check if you need to apply for one. You should also obtain some foreign currency, checking to see where you can obtain the best rates. If you intend to use your ATM card overseas, you may need to tell the bank which country or countries you’re travelling to and dates you’ll be there.
    2. Pack your stuff. Learn to travel light. It makes travelling so much more bearable. Check the maximum weight for your check in baggage and don’t exceed it. You may have purchased the baggage weight or it maybe included free in your flight which may be 20kg or more. Make sure you pack your passport and a pen in your carry-on luggage or handbag. 
    3. You can check-in online if that’s available. Otherwise, don’t worry, as it can still be done at the airport.
    4. With your mobile phone, take a photo of (i) your flight details including the flight booking number (ii) the personal information page of your passport and (iii) any other important travel documents, such as a visa.
    5. Make arrangements to get to the airport on time. Make sure you’ll be going to the correct terminal. Some cities use different terminals for different airlines. Check the confirmation email from the airlines for terminal details. Set your alarm if you’re on a morning flight.
  1. ARRIVE EARLY
    1. Arrive early for your flight, especially if it’s your first time. Make sure you’re at the international terminal for an international flight. Get to the terminal at least 2 hours before an international flight. Some airports may require more than 2 hours so it’s worth checking before hand. Give yourself extra time during busy periods, such as holidays.
    2. Sometimes there’s security to get into the airport itself. So, go through Security if you have to. Make sure you put everything in your clothes pockets (wallet, phone etc) into your handbag / carry-on luggage. You may have to bring out your laptop and put in on a tray. Sometimes you may even have to take off your belt and/or shoes.
  1. DEPARTURE AREA & CHECK-IN
  1. Once in the airport Departure Area, check the flight information screen for your flight. Make sure you’re looking at flight departures rather than flight arrivals! Knowing your flight time you can easily find your flight if you’re confronted with a long list. It should tell you which row to go to to check-in or bag-drop. If there’s no screen, which may be the case for smaller airports, then wander down the check-in area and look for the check-in counter for the airlines you’re flying with. Always ask the airport staff if you’re unsure.
  2. Check-In/Bag-Drop Counters usually open 2-3 hours before your flight. (i) If you’ve checked-in online then go to the Bag Drop Counter. This is only for those who have checked in online. (ii) If you haven’t checked in on-line, then you can use one of the Check-In Machines (if they have one) which will issue you with a boarding pass and luggage tag and then proceed to the Bag Drop Counter. This is where having a photo of your flight details and booking number on your phone comes in handy as the machine will require this information. You may also need to scan your passport here. You can also go to the Check-In Counter which should be beside the Bag Drop Counter. Some airlines at certain airports may only have Check-In Machines so you’ll need to use them. If in doubt always ask the airport / flight staff.
  3. Once you’ve checked in, you’ll be given a boarding pass. Keep both you passport and boarding pass safe and easily accessible. 
  4. Transfers: If you have to get onto another flight after this one, make sure that (i) you have been given a 2nd boarding pass for this next flight and (ii) your check-in luggage will be sent to your final destination. If not, you may have to go through passport control at the next airport, collect your luggage and check-in again. Make sure you use the correct boarding pass for each flight!
  1. SECURITY & PASSPORT CONTROL 
  1. Next, you’ll head to through Security (see 2b above). You’ll need to show your passport and boarding pass to enter this area.
  2. After Security, you’ll go through Passport Control. Some counters may be for locals and some for foreigners. Again you’ll need to show your passport and boarding pass. At some airports there will be no immigration staff, so you will go through an electronic gate. In that case, just follow the instructions and watch those people ahead of you to see what they’re doing.
  3. At some airports, Passport Control comes before Security.
  1. DEPARTURE HALL
  1. After Passport Control, you are now in the Departure Hall. Check the screens to find out the Gate Number for your flight. 
  2. The Gate Number should also be on your boarding pass but not always. Check to make sure that the Gate Number on the boarding pass and on the screen are the same. If not, follow the one on the screen as sometimes the Gate Number is changed. If in doubt, always ask the airport staff.
  3. Your boarding pass and the screen should also tell you what time you need to be at the Gate. This Boarding Time will be much earlier than your flight. 
  4. Ensure that you get to the Gate before the Boarding Time. Be aware that in some large airports, the Gate may well be a long walk away or you may even have to catch a shuttle bus or airport train. So give yourself plenty of time.
  5. You may have some free time now to look at the shops or even have a meal. Ensure that you’re at the Gate before the Boarding Time. Check the screen again to ensure that Gate hasn’t been changed or the flight hasn’t been delayed and that there is a new Boarding Time.
  1. AT THE GATE
  1. Once at the Gate, check the signage to make sure that this gate is for your flight. You may again have to pass through Security. Find a seat and wait for boarding. This may take awhile as the plane may be late coming in or there may be other delays. But often, boarding takes place promptly. 
  2. You will have to show your passport and boarding pass to board the plane. Take note of your seat number on the boarding pass.
  3. First Class and Business Class board first. For Economy Class, sometimes, boarding proceeds by row numbers, so knowing your seat number may be important.
  1. ON THE PLANE 
  1. Once on the plane, the flight attendant should direct you as to which row you should go down to find your seat. 
  2. Once you’ve found your seat, take out the essentials you need for your flight. Make sure you have a pen, your mobile phone and boarding pass on you. Then place your cabin luggage in the overhead compartment or, if it’s small enough, under the seat in front of you. You may also want to lock your cabin luggage as thefts have occurred on flights.
  3. During the flight, the flight attendant will give out Arrival Cards for the country you’re getting off the flight. Some countries may also require a Customs Declaration card. Fill these accurately and truthfully. Some countries, like Malaysia, have no Arrival Cards. Using the photo of your passport on your phone, you can easily fill out the form. This means that if your passport is in your bag in the overhead compartment then you don’t need to grab it from there. Fill these in accurately and truthfully as early as you can so that you don’t have to worry about it later.
  1. AT THE DESTINATION AIRPORT (TRANSFERS)
  1. Once you arrive at the destination airport, and having checked that you’ve left nothing behind, exit the plane and follow the Transfers signage to the Departures Area. Follow the Domestic Transfers signage or International Transfers signage depending on whether you have a domestic of international transfer. You may have to go through Immigration and Security but these will be in a separate section for transfer passengers only. Next, check the screens to find out the Gate Number for your next flight. Your check-in baggage should be automatically transferred to your next flight. 
  2. If you have not been given the boarding pass for your next flight, go to the Transfers Desk to obtain your boarding pass or for more information. 
  3. Some airlines do not allow transfers. So you will need to to through arrivals (as in the section below), go through immigration, collect your baggage and then check-in again for your next flight.
  1. AT THE DESTINATION AIRPORT (ARRIVALS)
  1. Once you arrive at the destination airport, and having checked that you’ve left nothing behind, exit the plane and follow the line of passengers but always ensure you look for the appropriate signage. 
  2. If this airport is your destination, follow the Arrivals or Passport Control signage. Show your Passport and the filled-in Arrivals Card at the Passport Control counter. There will probably be different counters for locals and foreigners. The Immigration staff may need to take your photo or ask you to place your fingers on a machine to be scanned.
  3. After Passport Control, check the screens for your flight number to find out what Carousel you need to go to get your check-in luggage. Smaller airports may not have this, so proceed to the Carousel area to find the correct carousel.
  4. Collect your cabin luggage. You will now pass through Customs. If you have no goods to declare, follow the green “Nothing to Declare” line. Some airports will screen your luggage at Customs Control.
  5. Once you’re in the Arrivals area, you may wish to buy a local SIM card. Always keep your eye on your luggage as the Arrivals area can be a higher-risk theft location. If you need local currency then go to one of the Currency Exchange counters. Rates here may be expensive so you may not want to change a large amount.
  6. Follow the signs to your chosen mode of transport (taxis, buses, trains etc) to your hotel / accommodation. If you’re travelling by taxi, you should find out if it’s a fixed rate or metered. Avoid touts who may come up to you offer you a taxi. They are unlicensed and will cheat you. If you now have a local SIM card with data, you may also opt for a driver service such as Uber or Grab if it is available.

That’s it!

It’s rather detailed but a lot of it is common sense. Don’t worry about your first international flight. Stay focused and you’ll be fine.

Going through airports can be tedious but the rewards are new experiences in a new destination. So enjoy the journey!

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“What a time to be alive!”

A college student messaged her father, “What a time to be alive!”

“I feel like weeping!” messages someone else.

To call it an historic moment might even be an understatement. 

After 61 years in power, what was once called the Alliance and, later, Barisan Nasional, has lost its political mandate. What is also incredible is that Tun Mahathir, Prime Minister for 22 years, has at 92 become the Prime Minister again, making him the oldest premier in the world. Pakatan Harapan, a political alliance formed just 3 years ago, now takes the helm of leading Malaysia.

When the euphoria has died down we may well ask: where can the country go from here? 

Can corruption be eradicated? Will money politics be stymied? Will Islamic fundamentalism be curtailed? Can the various races be brought closer again?

Other than those key issues, greater equality between rich and poor, better education, press freedom, independence of the judiciary and government accountability are principles which the new Mahathir government should champion.

For indeed the people have spoken. And they want change.

They want a new Malaysia.

On Audio: Biggest Baddest Bomoh

I wrote a short story “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” 21 years ago. I don’t have an actor’s voice or talent but decided sometime back to record my reading of it, throwing caution to the wind and facing the outcome, however bleak!
 
Today, after some hesitation, especially since I cringe whenever I listen to my recorded voice, I’ve decided to share it with you.
 
The audio story is 22 minutes long and I hope you get to listen to it …
 

Can Kids be Wise?

How do you teach your kids wisdom? Maybe they’re excelling at school, know their gadgets backwards … but are they wise?

In the old days, which means those pre-internet, pre-screen addiction times, bored kids sometimes came across these strange things called books. Some of them were books of proverbs.

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Many screen-dazzled kids today are not familiar with such idioms and what each one means. For why would they, if their attention is being stolen by non-stop communication and distraction?

Not all proverbs are wise, but most are. So it’s worth sharing these with your kids.

Here are some I know:

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me

When in Rome do as the Romans do

The grass is always greener on the other side

Charity begins at home

Blood is thicker than water

Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Be careful of what you wish for

A journey of 10000 miles begins with a single step

Don’t cry over spilt milk

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

The eyes are windows to the soul

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

Sometimes the best answer is silence

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealth and wise

The early bird catches the worm

Too many cooks spoilt the soup

Two heads are better than one

There’s more than one way to skin a cat

Prevention is better than cure

Curiosity killed the cat

No man is an island

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.

Don’t make an encyclopedia out of a nursery rhyme.

KISS: Keep it super simple. (Keep it simple, stupid! is insulting)

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

The love of money is the root of all evil

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Evil happens because good people do nothing

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

One man’s meat is another man’s poison

The more things change the more things remain the same

History repeats itself

You reap what you sow

You make your bed you lie in it

Stop and smell the roses

Have your cake and eat it too

A place for everything and everything in its place

Save your pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves

One man’s meat is another man’s poison

Half a loaf of bread is better than none

A miss is as good as a mile

Better late than never

It’s the journey, not the destination

Slow and steady wins the race

Strike whilst the iron is hot

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

The pot calling the kettle black

Patience is a virtue

Waiting for the kettle to boil

Time waits for no man

Birds of a feather flock together

Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

No pain, no gain

A leopard never changes its spots

What is good for the goose is good for the gander

Empty vessels make the most noise

The squeaky wheel makes the most noise

When there’s a will, there’s a way

Casting pearls before swine

Idle hands do the devil’s work

Silence is golden

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Spare the rod and spoil the child

Birds of a feather flock together

Cut your nose to spite your face

Forewarned is forearmed

You can find more proverbs here:

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/proverbs.html

First Horror Novels

Stephen King lived in a caravan.  When his first novel, Carrie, which came out in 1974, he got at an advance of US$400,000. A lot of money back then and still a huge amount of money now. Then came the movie. And there was no stopping him.

 

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I read his novel as a teenager and later watched the movie, never dreaming that I would or even could write my own horror novel. My first one, Dark Demon Rising, came out 20 years ago. I’m glad to say the newly revised 20th anniversary edition is hot off the press. I don’t think Stephen King got a chance to revise Carrie but then why would he? Not many novelists get a chance to revise their published work, especially a first novel, so I’m awfully lucky. I have to thank my publisher for letting this happen: a 20th anniversary edition.

I love the new cover too. So very different from the original.

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I hope you like it and, if you haven’t read the novel, I hope you like it too.

Thai / Malay Words

I am in Chiang Mai again. Been here 2 months now.

You don’t hear much Thai language being spoken here, but rather Chiang Mai Thai or Lanna. This is a northern language, not a dialect, because a Thai speaker cannot understand the Lanna language. The two are so different.

“Khun suai mak,” means you’re very pretty in Thai, but in Lanna, they would say: “Tua ngam kanad.” There’s no similarity there.

As for the Malay and Thai language, I previously posted that the only common word I could find was Ngiap and Senyap. But, of course, I missed the obvious. ‘Ini’ and ‘Ani’ are both mean here. Some Malays will use noon for there, just like the Thais.

There’s also phaasaa and bahasa for language, even though the two come from a different family of languages.

There’ll are other similar words, for example “chincok” for “chicak”,”‘gunjay” for “kunci”, “sabu” for “sabun” and, of course, “wau” for “wau”!

I’m sure I’ll unearth more of them.

Unfriendly Malaysians!

“Malaysians are unfriendly!” scoffed the Englishman.

“Oh?” I said.

Perhaps I knew the reason why he thought this.

“Maybe the people you met weren’t Malaysian,” I said. “The ones you met in the restaurants and eateries were probably foreigners from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines. They’re not likely to be happy working in Malaysia with poor pay, bad conditions and missing their families. We, Malaysians, are actually very friendly.”

“I didn’t know you had so many foreign workers.”

There may be as many as 5 million foreign workers in Malaysia and, unless you’re a local, you can easily mistake them for Malaysians. I wonder how many other tourists shared the same thoughts about these “unfriendly Malaysians”. Of course, I’ve met friendly foreign workers too, but they seemed to be in the minority.

“We’re multiracial,” I said. “So we’re very tolerant to foreigners and those of other cultures. So we’re mostly very friendly. And, of course, we speak English too!”

“Yes. That’s a real plus.”

“It is.”

But then, as I took my leave, with all the stuff going on in Malaysia, I wondered how friendly we would continue to be.

Trump Victory – The Beginning of the End?

So Trump has won.

Arriving at KLIA from Sydney last night, I saw the ungodly news. As I wheeled my luggage to the taxi counter, I wondered what this would mean for all of us. Has the US, like Malaysia, hit its lowest point or can both countries still plumb lower, fouler depths?

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As I sat in the rickety taxi, I imagined his irritating smug face on screen. What inane rhetoric and lies will this racist, bigot, anti-Muslim, misogynist, sexual predator and climate-change denier spew in his victory speech? Oh America, I wanted to moan, what have you done?

This ill-tempered man now has his finger on the nuclear button. If not war, will this bring about a new world order? A meaner, unkind place where the downtrodden are further crushed?

There is the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

Times, unfortunately, have become very interesting indeed.

Why I Wrote “So Fat Lah!”

My book talk is on today.

So why the heck did I write “So Fat Lah!” – a weight-loss book?

A fellow writer calls me “Horror-man” … so shouldn’t I be writing more dark tales, so that my gnarled fingers can probe the softest, most vulnerable parts of your brain?

In fact, the first book I ever wrote, back in 1991, was a self-help book on how to buy condos. So my start in writing was in the non-fiction arena.

I like to think that I’ve always had one foot in the fiction and the other in the non-fiction world. I think that’s okay, because I haven’t fallen over yet!

About six years ago, then living in Australia, I could literally see that obesity is a huge problem and would be a growing world-wide one. I worked out a lot then and had certain strong views: eat as much as you like, as long as you can exercise it off.

So I started writing a book based on the simple premise of energy in / energy out. But as I began to research the subject, my views began to change and ended up altering quite drastically.

I wrote and re-wrote and researched the book over several years. And when it was finally ready, I hated it.

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Yes, it contained all the weight-loss information one needed. But it was boring. It was lecturing and not unlike a text book. I would dread having it published.

So I put it away.

Then sometime last year, I hit on the idea of re-writing it just for Malaysians.

As I re-wrote it, I knew this was the right thing to do. I finished it within 2 months. This was the book that I’d always wanted to write.

“You wrote it for all of us,” a friend mentioned after she had ready it.

Yes, I did.

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