Friday, May 24, 2013

One Night in Bangkok ...

The vacation life of an airline employee isn't always champagne in business class. As a staff ticket traveler, you accept a percentage of risk every time you fly. As I always tell Brian - "Remember, we are dirt and the full paying customer is king. If the flight crew tells us to jump, we ask how high." What is all this leading up to?  Our "one night in Bangkok"

We were coming back from our trip to Phuket and had a direct staff ticket on Air Berlin that left at 6:30pm. We got to the airport early and were asked to wait as we had ID90 tickets - this means we got a 90% discount on the full fare, but were flying standby so could only get confirmed once all the other passengers were loaded.  We waited patiently as we had done this before and weren't too concerned. On our flight out, we got bumped from business class and had to travel cattle ... oops, I mean economy, but we got on the flight so no worries.

A bit later, the ground staff agent came by and said, "Ma'am, I'm so sorry, the flight is completely full so we're checking with the pilot to see if the jump seat is available for you. Please wait a few more minutes."

What?! The jump seat? For those who don't know, the jump seat is the little fold down seat the flight crew use during take off and landing. Definitely not appropriate for us yahoos and not at all comfortable for an 8 hour flight to Abu Dhabi! But, before I could process all of this and tell her not to bother, she was off to check with the pilot.

Luckily, the pilot refused. Unluckily, this meant we were stuck in Phuket until the next available flight which was the following evening. I know at first glance that sounds like good news, but Brian was leaving for a work trip to the US in 2 days and he really didn't want to get off an 8 hour flight and only have a few hours before a 15 hour flight to the US. We headed to the bar to find some wifi (and yes, a beer - we had a feeling this might be a long night).

After a lot of web searching and some running around the airport to the various ticket agents, we decided to book a full fare ticket on Bangkok Air from Phuket to Bangkok and then catch an Etihad flight from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi the next morning. No business class champagne in sight, but at least we were going to make it home and only about 12 hours later than originally planned. All I can say is thank God Al Gore invented the internet!

This change of plans also meant we needed to spend the night in Bangkok. Well, not the whole night - we arrived after midnight and had to be on our way to the airport again by 5:30am so yes, it was "one night in Bangkok", but a very short one!

Extra airfare? = 1000 AED
Hotel stay in Bangkok? = 500 AED
The adventure and the story to tell? = priceless

One Night in Bangkok Music Video

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I'm not sure how many of you are completely clear on what I do here. I work for the National Airline of the UAE, Etihad Airways and am one of their managers of UAE Talent Development. This means I oversee a couple of development programs designed to give young fresh Emirati university graduates the opportunity to develop their business and aviation skills and upon graduation, be offered an entry level leadership role in the organization.

Our selection process is tough - we aim to be the best airline in the world so we look for the best Emirati graduates that show potential to be our senior leaders of the future. English proficiency, leadership potential and exceptional communication and teamwork skills are what we look for in our interview process. Once selected, we decide which program best suits the candidate and they begin a 12-36 month program, depending on their area of focus. In addition to the programs I run, we offer programs for potential contact center agents, technical engineers and cadet pilots. It's our primary growth strategy for the airline so our Emirati talent is absolutely critical to our success. At present, we have more than 500 trainees across the various programs!

Recently, we organized a graduation ceremony for 237 graduating employees in contact center, cadet pilot, general management and finance. It was quite an event with speeches from the grads, a video put together by our Corporate Communications team, an address from our President and CEO and of course, the traditional presentation of the graduation certificates. Here are a few photos of the event and the last link is a local newspaper article. I have to be a bit careful with the photos as I don't have permission from any of the graduates to use their photos in public.
This is part of my awesome team who spent hours sorting the certificates into the correct order for the ceremony. Remember what I've told you about Emirati names? The sorting process was not an easy one!
 Getting the ballroom prepped for the ceremony. We had a staff roadshow earlier in the day so the chairs and stage were ready to go, but the Visual Communications team had to replace all the roadshow banners and signs with those for the graduation - quite a process.
Cabin crew are the ushers and support for all of our events. Here they are going through their instructions and plan for the ceremony.
And here's the proud group. 237 Emiratis and Omanis from 4 different programs. They are not all pictured here actually for two reasons: 1) some had to stay behind in our contact center for operational reasons, and 2) some of the ladies did not want to be included in any photos.
Part of the video shown during the ceremony.
Our CEO and my fellow Manager, UAE Talent Development who was our MC. Thank goodness I didn't have to try and read those Arabic names as they crossed the stage!!

Graduation Newspaper Article

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Road Trip: Phuket, Thailand - Part 2

On to the afternoon of our Phuket road trip. We stopped for lunch at a fish restaurant on the coast and then headed up the mountain to see the Big Buddha. For my US readers, the Big Buddha is a bit like the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota. The construction is all funded by donation and as a result is taking years and years to complete. We then visited a few different overlooks to get some gorgeous views of the island's coast and we topped off our fabulous day with one of the best massages of our lives. More in the photo captions below.
 The view from our table at lunch. The tide was out and I can imagine it would be even more stunning with the water higher.
 On our way to the Big Buddha, we passed this group of monks getting ready to enter the zoo. They're all reaching for drinks here before heading in.

 Gorgeous view from the top of the Big Buddha.
 Along the way were strung hundreds of bells. Our guide said that people hang these to represent a wish. The scarves or ribbons signify that the individual believes an ancestor's spirit inhabits this tree.
 Construction on the Big Buddha is done primarily by Burmese laborers. This kind of work is rarely done by Thai.
 Our guide said this god was covered until the whole project is finished. There will be an unveiling ceremony at that time and the god will be allowed to 'see'.
 Absolutely stunning views of Phuket coastline.

 This is an elephant shrine at the top of one of the lookout points. Our guide explained that the elephants aren't strictly part of Buddhism, but more likely inherited from such close ties with India.

After a bit of hiking and viewing, we headed to Patong Beach for massages (a must when in Thailand). We each had a one hour mixed Thai and Oil massage and it was honestly one of the best I've ever had. Now it's possible that this had something to do with the price tag. For the two of us, our total bill was $23.50. We decided that if we lived in Thailand, we'd get massages a couple of times each week!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Road Trip: Phuket, Thailand - Part 1

During our last trip to Phuket, we missed out on a lot the island had to offer so this time around, we decided to hire a car and tour guide. It was a wise investment. We saw at least double what we would have accomplished on our own and we got a bit of commentary along the way. Here are the highlights of our morning.

 Our first stop was one of the many gorgeous Buddhist temples. See how this statue almost looks like it's flaking? These are small pieces of gold foil that worshipers attach to the statue as they make their wishes.
 There's a whole story behind this Buddha that is submerged. Apparently, it was completely submerged long ago and a farmer tied his cow to it, not realizing it was a golden Buddha. The cow was found dead the next morning and they started digging out the statue. This is as far as they are able to uncover the Buddha - every time they tried to dig deeper the hole would fill with water and soil. So they built the temple around the submerged relic.
 If you look closely, you'll see a cup of what looks like pick-up sticks. Worshipers shake the sticks while kneeling in front of this altar until one of the sticks falls out. They then take the stick to a cabinet full of paper fortunes in another area of the temple and match the number of the stick with the fortune. Kind of like fortune cookies with a bit of extra work.
Brian, the engineer, took this photo because he was a bit concerned about using bamboo as scaffolding. Here they are repairing part of the temple.
 Our next stop was to the Lemongrass House, which is a retail shop for homemade spa products. All of their stock is less than 3 months old and completely made from scratch in Thailand. We came away with some nice shower gels, handwash and a lemongrass diffuser to remind us of Thailand back in the sand box.
 Outside Lemongrass house, we got an up close view of what the Thai call spirit houses. You see them everywhere outside of residences and businesses. They are houses built to honor the spirits of the gods and sometimes your ancestors. The house on the left (higher) is for the gods and the house on the right (lower) is for grandfather and grandmother. Incense, fruits and flowers are given each day as offerings.
 No, these aren't real elephants, though we had to do a double-take. Pretty amazing statues and just random along one of the highways.

This is a good time to share our traveling music for our road trip. When we got in the van, we worked with the tour guide to set our itinerary and then headed off. Soon after, she rummaged through a stack of CDs and popped one into the player. For the rest of the morning, we were serenaded by ...

 Our next stop was a cashew factory, which was actually just a huge store, mad packed with people and a tiny room in the back where you could see the processing steps. Each cashew comes from a separate cashew fruit, which is about the size and shape of a small green pepper. The first step is to boil the end of the fruit that contains the nut for 20 minutes. Without the boiling process, the cashew nut it toxic. Then, as you'll see in the photos, they use this machine to pierce each single nut and then a pick to separate the nut from the shell. We tried to ask if they now have automated machines to do this, but no clear answer.
 Then, the nuts get roasted and another woman scrapes away the skin to leave a whole cashew (when she doesn't break it). If the process is seriously this manual, I can completely understand why cashews are so expensive!
 Our final stop of the morning was Wat Chalong, which is the most popular of the Buddhist temples in Phuket and I think the largest.
 We walked up three sets of stairs to this area protected in glass. Apparently, inside the glass globe is a tooth from the Buddha, which is considered extremely sacred.
 Here's a view of the gardens from the top.
 Inside the first floor of the temple are many many Buddha statues. Our understanding is that they are memorials from worshipers who have died.
 When a Buddhist has been blessed with really good fortune, he celebrates and gives thanks by lighting firecrackers. This chimney of sorts is for that purpose. It happened twice while we were visiting and was super loud. Must have been some really good fortune!

And that was our morning. I'll give you a break and talk about the afternoon in a future post.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thai Cooking Class

The resort offered a cooking class complete with a trip to a local Thai market. I took some photos of the market, but was too busy cooking to get any photos of the class. Made some really yummy stuff that we've already tried again at home. A very fun experience. And, we found out our chef lived and worked in Dubai at one of the hotels for a few years - such a small world!
 This is our chef showing us a concoction of fish oils and spices they use for flavor.
 Thai take out - just cook this up with a little curry and voila!
 And here's the curry.
 Beautiful basket 'o chilies
 Our chef taught us how to tell if the fish was really fresh - clear eyes and pink underneath the gills. Unfortunately, most of the fish he showed us wasn't all that fresh. Fortunately, the resort doesn't purchase their fish from this market.
 Fresh shrimps (do you know I think we're  the only ones who say shrimp - around the world, we see and hear them called shrimps) are clear in color - once they start to turn pink, they are going bad.
 I'll be honest, I stopped paying attention because I don't need to know what a fresh squid or octopus looks like ... cuz I ain't never gonna cook one!
Yes, baby octopus. Ewwwww.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Happy Hour Interrupted

Like most vacationers, we look forward to happy hour where we can relax, watch the sunset and sample a cocktail of some kind. On this particular afternoon, we settled in near the pool for the two for one drinks to watch the sunset over the beach.

But our peach and tranquility were interrupted ... take a look.

 Nice place to watch the sunset.
 What's that in the distance?
 A baby elephant!
 Cute little guy who didn't mind photos a bit.
 But wait, what's that you're drinking? Can I have some?
Too bad - too young to have any cocktails.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dive Log: Similan Islands, Thailand

Of course we had to spend at least one day diving. This time, we went in the opposite direction from our last trip and dove the Similan islands off the coast of Thailand. Specifically, we dove islands 5 and 6. 1-3 are restricted from diver's to protect the sea life and turtles. It was a beautiful place and some really nice diving. Very easy current, warm water and LOTS of fish. You literally feel like you're swimming in an aquarium - too bad we're not underwater photographers. But here are a few shots from the boat - just as beautiful on the surface as underneathe.