From Chiang mai to Cooperstown:
Traveling by plane abroad was my new experience, especially traveling alone, and, particularly, to the United State of America.
If you are a naïve of English communication, getting on a plane with the entire foreign passengers is the first testing for you. For me it began at the check-in counter. I met lots of tourists who were standing in front and behind me. Smiling is good for a first message to send to the others for Thai people but talking is the second step. Before I bought the air plane ticket, I had taken a private English course for some time, but real English conversation is completely different.
My first chatting was between me and an American couple who had traveled to Thailand with a voluntary task for few weeks. The most frequent word that I used that day was “pardon?”. Yes, it was. I cannot catch 100 percent of the dialogue, maybe only 70 percent. However, they were so nice to me maybe because they knew how to speak understandably for Thai people.
After almost 30 hours flight, finally I arrived Los Angeles. The rush hour for travel was starting, because I had only 3 hours before my plane from LA to NY and I did not know how long the immigration process would be, so this made me feel a bit nervous and excited.
At the immigration counter, “How are you doing?” the officer asked me. “Yeah, I’m good” I told him. (After I have been here for two months I finally found that this is the basic greeting for people) After another conversation about the purpose for staying in USA, and a little background about my job, he asked me “How much money with you now?” “10,000 dollars” I said. “Why did you check in this box, you have money equal or less than 10,000 dollars?” he asked me again. “Umm, that because I think I have 10,000 dollars” that was my last answer about that issue. After that, he changed my status to “Declaration” so that meant I needed at least half an hour to fill some forms of declaration. (Someone told me about this issue, if I do not need to have more immigration processing just say “9,000 dollars or something” but in my opinion, if you travel alone and that is the first time for you, it would be better to keep everything clear. Even though it is your second or third times, you could try.)
At the declaration desk I saw some passengers had to show a lot of their belongings. I saw an old Asian man slowly opened a lot of packages covered by some kind of leaves. It looked like a local Thai sausage which made by pork and herbs. I was sure that all of those things will be thrown away. At LAX, Los Angeles Airport, the terminals are far apart. I needed to walk a long distance to terminal 5 to get another flight to JFK, New York.
The first American domestic flight was amazing for me. Before this flight I had had experiences only Thai domestic flights and from Chiang Mai to LA. I also went with an Asian airline, so the flight attendants were Asian, sweet, always smiling and pleasing. On the contrary, my first American domestic attendants were American, straightaway, and doing everything fast. If you need anything, you should ask them. I liked them but it was different for me.
At John F. Kennedy airport, New York, it was my second time to see my luggage after the first time at LAX, but not I have to drag the two huge luggage to Port-Authority to catch a bus. At the baggage claim, my luggage had come last, so everyone had left already. I tried to ask someone there, two female officers, “Could you please tell me how to go to Port-Autolitee?” she said “What?” “Port’Aotorritee” I confirmed. “Do you mean Port-Authority?” another one asked me back. “Yes, Port-Authority” Finally, I knew how to pronounce that word correctly. “Go to ask the woman at that counter.” She told me.
“bla blab la…” The woman at the information counter told me something about the shuttle bus but I could not understand what she said. Absolutely, it was not her fault; it was mine, my poor English, maybe that I could understand her details only 50 percent but it was not enough. I just knew that the shuttle bus was already gone and I should cross the road and take the subway instead. Before I went to the USA everyone told me that I should get the shuttle bus or subway instead of a taxi, because it is cheaper. Now I have only one choice, the subway.
I had watched a lot of Hollywood movies that have some of scenes about subways, in New York. In my thoughts the New York subway is dark, messy, and scary with a murderer hiding in a corner. That was my experience from movies. So it made me feel nervous to go by subway alone, but it was my luck. I met a woman after I crossed the road in front of the airport. She was so generous. She led me to the ticket machine, helped me dragging my luggage, and told me where the station was that I had to get off to Port-Authority. She changed my view about New York and the subway since then.
Every time when I told American people that it was my first time in US, they would be excited and ask me some questions like, “Where are you from?”, “How long you will stay here?” There questions were good for me. It made me feel comfortable talking. It was my first time in a different culture, different people and totally different language. Some of them were so nice and ready to lend a hand but some of them were apathetic and keep everything private. In my opinion, there are two sides of this issue. Space between people is good, but if there is too much space it becomes ignorance. Also, if a space is too close it becomes uncomfortable.
After 24 hours of 3 flights, 5 hours of sitting at airports, and 4 hours of travelling on a bus, finally I reached Cooperstown, New York, USA. ; The town of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I sent around 33 hours to travel from Chiang Mai to this town. That is the first lesson of mine living in this country. The second, the third and other lessons are waiting for me in front of me now.