Back in the arctic

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Well I have arrived in the frozen wastelands of Alaska and let me tell you it's fucking cold up here.  I think that this is the coldest I have seen it up here at this time of year.  We were driving from anchorage to homer and were going across a small mountain pass that for the last 3 years had a little bit of snow on the ground when I came at the same time of year.  This time the snow was about chest deep and was f'ing freezing.  There were at least 10 old avalanches that you could see had fallen within the last few weeks with the piles of snow coming right up to the side of the road in some cases.  Ah yes welcome back Neal, get comfortable.

The trip from Thailand started good enough and had no sign of the utter shittiness that was to come.  I had left my bags in the dive shop office off of khao san road and went and got a drink with my friends Toby and Dave who had the unenviable distinction of working in the dive industry but being based in Bangkok.  My shuttle bus to the airport was leaving at 11pm so when the time arrived we all headed over to the shop, got my bags and then went to the designated pick up spot.  I waited for about 20 seconds and then the bus showed up...20 minutes early.  Thank god I had gotten there a few minutes early or I would have had to pay some astronomical taxi fee to get to the airport.

My first flight was only a half hour leaving the ground which isn't too bad and didn't really affect our arrival time all that much.  I had the standard kick ass onboard entertainment system but everything was in Korean which hampers my enjoyment.  Luckily the plane was amazingly empty and I had an entire middle row all to myself.  Four glorious seats to spread out on and pass the hell out.  I slept through most of the flight and only woke when they decided to pass out some crazy Asian breakfast consisting of noodles and shrimp.  Arriving in Seoul I had 9 hours to kill and there was a 4 hour day trip tour of the city so I figured what the hell why not?  Also this would allow me to list Korea as one of the countries that I have visited since you can't put it on your list if you have never left the airport.  I'm a big fan of collecting countries so off I went.  To tell the truth, it wasn't much of an adventure and Seoul did not seem all that great but it at least killed off a few hours and I arrived with about 4 hours left on my layover.  I quickly found a deserted lounge  (not airline lounge....I don't have that kind of money or flight status) and put two chairs together and proceeded to pass the hell out for the duration of my stay in Korea.

Flight number 2 was from Seoul to Seattle and was a 10 hour duration and left on time.  Again I had a middle row and at least had the seat next to me empty so I had some elbow room to spread my wings and relax.  The entertainment on this flight was much better and much more western and I ended up watching 5 movies during the flight.  I had steak and white wine for dinner and a nice shrimp breakfast.  I like flying international, they definitely treat you much better than the cattle approach of the domestic routes in America.

Seattle is where everything went to hell and where once again was reminded of why I hate coming back to this country for any reason.  I made it through the initial passport control easy enough (first in line) and then proceeded to the baggage claim.  At the baggage claim there were 5 or 6 border security officers mingling about in the crowd asking various questions about where you have been and if you have any fruit and vegetables.  In the first 10 minutes all 6 of them had made their way over to me and asked me their various questions.  Now please keep in mind that I have been in transit for something like 30 hours by now.....I have changed continents, I have flown over the biggest body of water on the planet and had somehow time traveled and was now in yesterday.  To say that I was getting annoyed would be an understatement. 

My bag finally made an appearance and greatly relieved me since I had been started formulating back up plans in case my bag had been lost.  I mean all my clothes and all my toiletries are in that bag.  To say that I would have been totally screwed while waiting for the airline to hunt down my bag in Iceland would be pretty accurate.  Well the bag showed up thank god and proceeded to the customs counter.  Now I knew that I was probably in for a bit of questioning, I always am, that's just the way things go for a guy who has Thailand and Cambodia and Malaysia on his form and has been gone for 9 months.  These sort of things seem to raise flags and ring alarm bells with these people who man our borders.  Questioning is one thing but what I was about to experience was really above and beyond. 

After my bag belched forth from the conveyer belt I walked over to the awaiting customs dude who was waiving everyone through without pause.  Of course he looks at my bags (worn ass backpacks) and my passport (filled to the brim with stamps all over Asia) and I get the "please follow the blue line" treatment. The blue line led of course to the little cordoned off section where the border patrol proceeds to dig through all of your shit.  So of course the questions begin
 "what were you doing in Thailand?"
"I live in Thailand."
"you live in Thailand?"
"yes sir I live in Thailand."
"what are you doing in America?"
"I work in Alaska for 3 months and live in Thailand for 9"
"you work in Alaska for 3 months?  What do you do in Thailand?"
"nothing.....I work for 3 months in Alaska."
This was the beginning of the sticking point.  I think that a lot of the homeland security/border guards get pissed off for some unknown reason when I tell them that I live I no longer live in America.  They seem to take it as a personal affront.  Add to that the fact that I only work for a few months a year and they automatically assume that I'm a drug runner or human trafficker.
"so you only work for 3 months?"
"what do you do?"
"I cook at a resort."
"what kind of job lets you only work for 3 months and then leave?"
"its Alaska, it's all seasonal"
"and you make enough money in 3 months?"
"how is that possible?  I couldn't do that"
"well that's what I do, sorry"
After this run around there were questions about visas and technicalities that I won't bother you with other than to say that the god damn moron would not listen to my answers fully and I actually had to say "sir will you please LISTEN to what I'm saying" because although I was speaking clearly the man was just not hearing what I was saying.  You could tell that he had already made up his mind that whatever I was saying was not the truth.  Now please remember that I have been traveling for about 30 hours now and I was not in the best of moods. I was tired and sore and I'm pretty sure that my ass was still somewhere over the pacific because I couldn't feel it.
My entire experience took 2 hours.  The man wanted to know why I hadn't declared a Raman noodle in my bag.  When I explained that the noodles cost 5 cents he said that it didn't matter and I was supposed to declare EVERYTHING.  At this point I lost it. 
"are you fucking serious?  Its 5 fucking cents.....are you really fucking serious?"
"do not swear at me sir."
"are you fucking serious (voice rising)?  Just throw them away for Christ's sake"
"we can't do that.  I'll have to call the agriculture department"
"oh for fucks sake"
This went on for about another 20 minutes.  Our dispute over a cup of noodles was a thing of pure artistic beauty and pain.  If you watched it on TV you would shake your head and laugh but when it happens to you it just aggravates you to no end.  This is why I hate being in America so much and I started to state my displeasure.
"god this is why I fucking hate coming back to this country.  I fucking hate this shit, I hate this country, I hate this fucking bullshit"
Of course this only put the guy in the better mood and when he found my laptop that is when the real pleasure began.  Having come from Thailand and Cambodia I understand that there is a pedophilia and child porn problem and I am more than happy to cooperate for  a random search of photos and such but this crazy fucker wanted to look through ALL my photos.  There are 9000 photos on my computer at the moment and he looked through every single one.  I really kind of felt violated by the whole process.  He was looking through my college photos where there is a bit of nudity and wanted to know how old the girls were.  I mean come on you have to be fucking joking.  Thankfully I passed his tests and other then some nasty comments he typed into his computer nothing adverse happened to me and I was admitted into the country of my birth.
So a bit of a side story.  I have a habit of trying to help friends who are stuck in a rut in life etc and my project this year is my ex girlfriend from college.  She is a very girlie girl and not the rugged type at all but sure enough she bought an airplane ticket into anchorage that arrived an hour before mine.   My friend Walt was all set up to pick us up from the airport so all plans were a go upon my arrival into anchorage.  Unfortunately when I landed and got my bag, neither the girl nor my ride were anywhere in site.  How hard is it to pick up a brother from the airport?  Jesus man this trip is just never going to end........
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