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Old 6th November 2008, 11:34   #1
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Default My Canada experience


My first ship inspection as a superintendent

Leg 1: Mumbai ~ Paris ~ Montreal ~ Sydney

It started off quietly. As usual, I left behind my worried wife who after all these years has still not come to terms with my traveling but tries to be stoic about it; and my inconsolable daughter for whom I am the only playmate, friend and god.

It’s always like this when I leave my home. The atmosphere is very somber and one can hear sniffles and sobs, and if you listen intently, a lot of unspoken words.

A quiet hug, some kisses, and that’s it. Now is the time when two thoughts are zipping around the minds of my wife and daughter. Just two. The first one, a desperate hope that the world would stop right now and my trip would get cancelled and I would thus stay back home; and the second, the usual wish of coming along with me to the ends of the world. These are the moments in life when deep silence shouts loudly.

I step out the door and turn around. The faces of my family say everything that they do not want to say - ‘Don’t Go’ - More a prayer than a plea! Of course, it has never worked.

I take a taxi around 10 p.m. and reached the airport. And then…..

Déjà vu!!!

How many times in my life have I passed these portals? And how many times have I reminded myself – ‘No more’.

And yet here I am.
Another airport, another crossing, another trip!

For some, traveling is fun. The excitement, adventure and the novelty of it is enough to drive away all unpleasant experiences and obstacles faced through the journey. Only when this traveling becomes a chore you begin to hate it.

I enjoyed traveling in my childhood days. I remember, every alternate summer during the school holidays my family would go to our native place – to south India – by train, a journey that would take at least a day and a half.

And we always took the train. Those days we had to plan well ahead for such trips and even book the tickets two months in advance. The trains were always full in the holidays.

I loved it when the engine would be coupled to the bogies. And then after a while, the whole train would pull out of the station. My excitement would start building up from that moment onwards. People on the platforms would be waving goodbyes, some running with the train by the windows saying last minute farewells and reminders. We would then leave the hustle and din of the station. The adjoining tracks would all seemingly merge into one. Slowly the city would melt into the suburbs and the suburbs would give way to villages.

And suddenly all you could see was just land, sometimes barren, sometimes lush with vegetation. Occasionally a wayward road would appear winding its way like a snake and just as swiftly disappear. At other times, the train would rumble over bridges built over dry, parched, non-existent rivers. The best was when the train would abruptly thunder into tunnels. You could hear moans, screeches, and other loud noises ricocheting off the tunnel walls. It would be scary at times. There would be darkness everywhere except for the dull glow coming off the lights inside the compartments. At random, some lonely bulb fitted in the recesses of the tunnel walls would alleviate the darkness. And just as suddenly, we would be out in the bright sunlight. Such was the excitement!

The sight of the land passing by the rectangular window of the compartment would keep me sitting there for hours. And I would have my head against the iron bars of the window - as if they would spread open if I pushed them hard enough – trying to get glimpses of the locomotive engine, far ahead, pulling the coaches behind it. If we were in a coach right behind the locomotive, I would be looking at the end coaches wondering if they would ever catch up with the locomotive. And if I were somewhere far behind then I would keep looking for the engine; and for that eternity, I would be the engine driver.

Unmindful of the dull ache caused by bars of the window I would happily be looking outside. The soot from the engine blowing past the window would blacken my face, the dust would get into my eyes, the heat would give my face a good tan, but I would still be there with my head against the window, eyes wide and streaming.

And I remember having meals on board the train. Mostly we would bring our own meals in well packed ‘tiffin dabbas’ – stacked steel containers secured by a handle on top. Each unit of the stack would contain a different food item. When the ‘dabba’ is opened, the delicious aroma of home-cooked food would permeate the stuffy surroundings in the train. Different smells would waft in, doing ample justice to the variety of Indian cuisine.

There was also the Indian Railways catering department’s food parcel service. Meals would be served on rectangular steel dishes, irregularly sectioned off to contain the various items of food such as rice, dal (lentils), curd, pickles, cooked vegetables, etc. They were like heaven sent manna for the weary traveler. How the railways could conquer the logistics of supplying a nation full of hungry travelers is still beyond my grasp, but it is a shining example of exemplary co-ordination in the largest railway network in the world.

As I grew up I found myself traveling less frequently by train, eventually completely avoiding it. Nowadays I frequent the airport more than the railway station. The more I traveled, the less I began to enjoy the travel. It seemed to me that I left behind a part of my soul on every journey. Now there isn’t much to leave behind. The excitement is gone. The thrill is no longer there. Every time I board a flight it is just another trip now. Another trip, that’s all.

I checked in for my flight for Paris and boarded it. After a while we were airborne.

Over the years I have begun to sympathize with claustrophobics. An airplane is not a very big place. There is very little room to move about and the air inside is always stuffy and stale. The noise levels of the engines are uncomfortable, so are the seats especially in the economy class.

I always prefer an aisle seat - lets me stretch my legs a bit, at least that’s what I like to think. Truth is, no seat in the economy class is ever comfortable. But then we are used to ‘adjusting’. Sometimes I get lucky; I get the seat next to the emergency exit which has ample legroom.

It was late in the night and we were flying with time. Within moments, almost everybody had switched off their spotlights and curled up awkwardly, trying to catch up on their sleep.

I can never sleep well on a journey but I try every time. Looking around for kindred souls such as me who couldn’t catch their winks on a plane, I somehow tried to tune off my mind and body, difficult tasks to accomplish, given the monotonous drone of the jet engines, the insipid coldness within the airplane and the fact that my thoughts were still back there at home.

The next I knew, the man beside me was tapping me, trying to wake me up.

I woke with a jerk, my thoughts still lost in limbo - I had dozed off. The man wanted to go to the wash room. Only then did I see that a lot of other people were also moving around. I also saw a small crowd near the toilets. My fuddled brain finally put things into perspective and I realized that we were nearing our destination.

Then there was the usual hustle and the announcements, slowly the lights and sounds within the aircraft grew noticeably.

We landed in Paris.

The first thing to hit me was the cold. I was not prepared for it. Nonetheless, I walked all the way to the proper terminal for catching my next flight.

One good feature found in most of the well managed airports such as Frankfurt, Paris, Singapore, KL, etc, is that the signboards are so user friendly. One need not ask for directions at all. Yet one finds many lost travelers.

In Indian airports, we can never have such effective sign boards. Getting from one place to another without pestering others, without letting the world know that we are doing it and occasionally breaking some minor laws is a kind of art that we have perfected and is unique to us Indians.

Nowadays one sees a lot of elderly travelers, mostly from the first world countries. They usually have a superior air around them as if telling the world – ‘hey look, I’ve done my time working, now I’m having a good time’. Point made and taken.

Most of the airports in the world seem to have the same look – functional, and devoid of spirit, the airport claims notwithstanding. The Duty-free shops, the kiosks, the washrooms, the high-ceilings, the waxed polished floors; it’s the same. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

I finally made it to my gate and boarded my flight to Montreal. This leg of my journey was as long as my previous one – eight and half hours. And I was already tired. I tried watching the in-flight movie, the latest episode in the Indiana Jones sequels. What an awful storyline, a big disappointment, compared to the earlier films. So here I was, again, trying to put myself to sleep unsuccessfully.

Some of the long distance carriers treat all passengers well, including those in the economy class. Extra leg-room, personal TV screen, better food, etc. are small mercies, hugely appreciated. However, this particular flight wasn’t too great on such benevolence. By the time I reached Montreal, I was a wreck.

I was standing in the line for customs clearance as I called up my company agent for further travel instructions and was told that I would be met by someone outside who would be carrying the tickets for my further flight to Sydney, Nova Scotia. I met that person, collected my ticket and came back into the airport again, this time in the departure section.

The terminal for domestic services is sparsely serviced and attended. The largest section of the terminal other than the waiting areas is the toilet. Other than vending machines, one could not find any other outlet for eats.

This time the wait was very boring indeed. There were a handful of passengers taking this flight, including me. I lay on a row of seats, as did a few others, willing myself to stay awake. Eventually the flight was called. I boarded it and promptly fell asleep on my seat.

When I got down from the flight into Sydney terminal, I was meet by an agent, who it turned out was also owner of a boat. He was to take me on his boat out into the channel where we would rendezvous with the ship that I was supposed to visit.

The boat ride was pleasant, the waters were calm and the air was cool. It was refreshingly a nice, short ride and I wished that I could do something like this on a boat of my own at my own time with people I love.
We closed in on the ship and eventually came alongside. I climbed up the pilot ladder and waved my goodbyes to the boat captain and Sydney, not knowing if I would see them again.

Leg 2: Montreal ~ Sorel

The ship had reached Montreal. I had been on board now for a week now. Sometime towards the end of my stay I had shifted to a hotel downtown and was commuting daily to the ship. Just as other cities commuter traffic during peak hours was a drag but there seemed to be a lot of order in the chaos.

A couple of days later, the ship sailed away to Sorel and I was left waiting in my hotel for further instructions. Rightly enough, I received my instructions the very next day. I was to go to Sorel to go back on the same ship.

Sorel is an hour’s drive from Montreal towards the north-east. Given the time of the year, it was a beautiful drive up the St.Lawrence River. Autumn was just setting in. The leaves of the Maple trees were displaying a range of colours – green, yellow, orange, red, and brown. Amazing scenery spread before ones eyes, it was breathtaking! I was so lost in taking in the sights; I forgot to capture the sights on film.

Sorel is a town, with a couple of big industries. The ambience is decidedly French; the people are friendly and helpful.

I reached the port and once again boarded another boat to reach the ship which was anchored in the middle of the river along with many other vessels.

Leg 3: Sorel ~ Montreal ~ Cleveland ~ Lorain

By now I had spent more than three weeks away from home. And my work on board the ship was also over. I was getting restless. The travelers bug in me was acting up again. I wanted to go home.

But that was not how it was meant to be. I received new instructions to go two other ships, one at Port Alfred and the other at Lorain. Given the ship’s schedule, I would not be able to make it to Port Albert. However, a trip to Lorain seemed viable.

I got off the ship at anchorage, once again took a boat to reach the shore where a waiting bus carried me off towards Montreal, where I could catch my plane to Cleveland. This time I did manage to shoot a couple of pics through the window glass of the speeding bus. There was only me and the driver in the bus and we talked, mostly about him and his life.

We reached the agent’s office in Montreal and a cup of coffee. After a while we took a car to the airport. Once again, the driver regaling me with tales of Montreal city and its life.

I checked in. The lady at the counter, a sweet Pakistani, gave me some sound advice regarding immigration formalities. We had a laugh about the similarities between the people living across our north-west border and the differences between us and the goras.

I thanked her for her help, went to a desk to fill my U.S.immigration papers. After that I went in for immigration clearance. The officer at the desk took my papers and my passport and wanted to know why I was in the country and what the purpose of my visit was. I managed to satisfactorily convinced him that I was here for some legitimate business. At the end he took fingerprints of both my index fingers and glibly remarked “Sir, don’t commit any crime while you are here. We now have your findgerprints. You can be easily traced.”.

I was shocked and felt insulted. Here I was well-dressed, spoke reasonably better English than most people from the sub-continent and possibly a greater part of the non-english speaking world, visiting the country for a perfectly legit reason and having average next door guy looks; and all the immigration officer can think of telling me is “Sir, don’t commit a crime”!

Why he chose to utter this remark is not very difficult to understand given that nation’s obsessive apprehension towards visitors, bordering on resentment and their history of intolerance towards people of different races. That instant, I was glad that I was only a visitor and not an immigrant. I sympathized with those who gave up their lives, belongings, relations and pretty much everything just so that they could follow their dreams in this country within such a supercilious attitude.

After having traveled the world for so many years, this alone is enough to make me quit.

So I made it through the checkpoints and took my flight to Cleveland. It was a commuter flight with very little head room. I spent my time reading a book which I had picked up in Montreal airport. Very soon we had reached Cleveland.

More surprises waited for me here.

There was nobody to receive me. So I took a taxi to the hotel where I was supposedly booked. The drive was a long one and it was quite late in the night. At last I made it to the hotel – Fairfield Inn & Suites, in Avon.

After a bath I went down to get some food and was told that there was no restaurant in the hotel. I was taken aback and asked the receptionist where I could get a couple of bites. She suggested walking all the way to McDonald’s down the street or the gas station across the road, neither of which fancied me at that time. Then she said I could ring up some pizza joints and ask for door delivery, and gave me menu charts of some of the places which sold pizzas. I finally did just that and called for a pizza.

It was very late into the night by the time I hit the bed.

In the morning I woke up very early and went down for a quick breakfast and told the receptionist to call me a cab. Another surprise awaited me. There was only one cab company in Avon and they had very few cabs and today being a working day, it would have to wait at least an hour for the cab to arrive. If only I had known I would have slept longer. Anyway I told her to call a cab for me and let me know when it came.

An hour later I was sitting in the cab being driven down to Lorain on the 6-11 on a rainy, wet day. I had to get to the Jonnick Docks where I had to visit the next ship. The cab reached the dock and I found to my horror that there was no jetty. The place was at the end of a very small river and the ship was tied to pontoons at a couple of places along the bank. There was no access to the ship; the gangway was still secured in place. A Jacob’s ladder was rigged halfway down and a shore gangway was raked up against the shipside. I had to do an acrobatic feat to get onboard the ship. I eventually managed to climb over the gunwale in one piece and conduct my inspection.

Leg 4: Lorain ~ Cleveland ~ Washington ~ Doha ~ Mumbai

At last the day dawned when I could pack up and leave for home.

I took a taxi from the hotel to Cleveland airport. The taxi driver was a woman, and this was her first trip to the airport. As we neared Cleveland airport, she took a wrong exit and then had to make a roundabout to return to the place where we lost our way. Once inside, I checked in and began my first leg of a marathon flight to home.

I landed in Washington and tried to do some window shopping in the Duty-free. Strangely though, there wasn’t much of that. So I ended up whiling away my time sitting on my backside.

And now the fun began.

Leopards do not change their spots. Nor do Indians.

A Gujju family was sitting near me – talking loudly, generally remarking on how expensive the food was in the airport. Suddenly I heard a grunting noise. I looked around and saw, one man from the group was standing next to the dustbins and spitting into it. True Indian Style! The least he could have done was go to the toilet and do it which was right across.

Then an old man came along on a wheelchair pushed by an attendant. He got up from the chair, paid some money to the attendant and sat down near us. Promptly he opened his bag, removed a plastic carry-all, took out a plastic box from within, opened it and right in front of everyone started having his lunch from the box, eating with his hands – true Indian style.

And then there was the lady who got up from the seat where she was sitting to ask something of the attendant at the check-in counter. Seeing the empty seat, a man was about to sit on it when all of a sudden she came rushing back and gestured vehemently that the seat was hers to sit and no one else’s. When the man apologized and left, she immediately took out her handkerchief and put it on the seat as if marking her territory – reminded me of those times when we would mark our seats on buses during our college days.

One often sees the elderly being helped at airports by the airport staff. Other passengers also come forward to assist. But not us Indians! No matter how small a favor it may be, we will not help unless it benefits us in some way. No selflessness for us Indians.

At last the flight was called.

This flight from Washington to Doha would take almost thirteen hours. All I wanted to do was sleep. But then I can never sleep on an airplane.

I watched a couple of in-flight movies, ate all that they offered, and somehow made it through to Doha.

Another long wait at Doha airport!

My next flight to Mumbai was probably the most awaited by me. As soon as the plane touched down on Indian soil, I could feel the tension lift off my shoulders.

On my way back home by taxi, I couldn’t help singing my all time favorite song


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Old 6th November 2008, 18:21   #2
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Very well written bro. Straight from the heart. Travel is a lot of fun but as they say too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing.

Would be nice to see some pics too. Please do post them if possible.
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Old 6th November 2008, 18:54   #3
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Hey Nice Write up man we can imagine how restless u were to reach Home....Pictures are missing!!!
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Old 6th November 2008, 19:55   #4
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Good writeup albeit without pics, but engrossing nevertheless, you have given us a picture of a travel weary person in sharp contrast to people who look forward to travel.
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Old 6th November 2008, 20:22   #5
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Here for once I am going to appreciate a tgravelogue in my life for the quality of writing, it had me just in place as you travelled around. Will definitely love to read more of your posts.
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Old 6th November 2008, 20:45   #6
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Wow - nicely narrated. I couldn't stop reading once I started. It was engrossing - without pictures too.
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Old 6th November 2008, 21:05   #7
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Hey buddy, that made for an excellent read. Minus the pics you still took us on a trip to Canada and back. Hats off man .
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Old 7th November 2008, 10:21   #8
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Good write-up dude ! For a moment I thought of Sydney in australia. Montreal to sysdney in aus would've been right across the globe ! I have a relative who lived major part of his life as a marine engineer, and he used to share his experience on board a ship for weeks on the high seas. Does your job include sailing with the ship? I was a mechanical engineer myself (now turned to IT) and happened to work in Cochin Port Trust harbour workshops as an apprentice. Came across a lot of fellow mech engineers aspiring for marine careers, and they all had one motive: Travel the world and being paid for it. BTW, seeing those marine engines was hell of an experience ! I used to stand in front of that monster of an engine with jaw-dropping awe.

Pics (from inside the ship, if you can) will be highly appreciated.
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Old 7th November 2008, 12:21   #9
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Man, this is like reading a book - you write extremely well. Your attention to detail is amazing. Just loved the way you captured 'railway nostalgia' at the airport.
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Old 7th November 2008, 12:46   #10
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Excellent writing. You were able to hold the reader's attention from start to finish. Thank you for that interesting tale, I enjoyed it very much.
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Old 7th November 2008, 13:54   #11
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Originally Posted by aabidansari View Post

I was glad that I was only a visitor and not an immigrant. I sympathized with those who gave up their lives, belongings, relations and pretty much everything just so that they could follow their dreams in this country within such a supercilious attitude.
With the changing times and all the comforts and material things available right here in our country and the added joy of staying with our near and dear, why go and settle somewhere abroad and feel lost.
I can see more and more Indians are realizing this and having a better and complete life in India itself.
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Old 7th November 2008, 14:33   #12
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Wow very nice write up.. Got confused only when you were explanning the part where the jetty was not available. So how frequently do u do this>
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Old 7th November 2008, 14:54   #13
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Excellent travelogue, man. Really enjoyed it.
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Old 7th November 2008, 14:56   #14
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Superb narration of events, man! You have the traits of a good writer. Keep 'em comin', dude! Do post some pics also.
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Old 8th November 2008, 11:56   #15
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Thanx a lot all you BHPians for appreciating my write-up.
I knew I could share my experiences with you.
Sorry about the fotos thought.
Will do better next time.
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