The genesis for this odyssey lies of course with our talented Anna Grace, who successfully auditioned for this year’s international schools honor orchestra. The competition is intense; more than 500 students vie for 150 chairs.  The event rotates between European, Asian, and Middle Eastern schools for the concert location; this year the host was the Singapore American School, and the performance piece was Dvorak’s entire Symphony No. 8.

Only after Anna Grace received the exciting news could the flurry of travel planning commence, naturally. At first the holiday was to be only Singapore. Then friends in Tokyo messaged, “Our guest room is always open—we’d love to see you!” and I was further inspired to check in with a Vienna friend who now lives in Seoul to see if they would be around. Tony muttered something about “the office,” but suggested I carry on to visit our friends since, after all, we would be practically next door. He is practical like that. And that is how five days in Singapore grew into sixteen days across Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

According to SkyTrax I flew through or otherwise spent time in three of the “best” airports in the world:  Singapore Changi; Incheon International; and Narita International. I really can not speak much to NRT because the inefficiency of the Japan Rail office is probably beyond their control (on my inbound); and I checked in with just enough time to board my flight on the outbound.

ICN’s Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 are so far apart they could be separate airports, but for the most part my transit was pleasant, with more than shopping to help pass layover time.  SIN knows how to treat transit passengers who aren’t certain what time it is or what country they are in. Or maybe it was that since everything was in English I did not feel so lost in translation.

No mention was made of Dubai International on this list, and nor should it have been mentioned. That I survived my outbound layover in Terminal Purgatory between the hours of 2300 and 0130 and its sea of humanity either sleeping in chairs and along the walls or pacing like bewildered insomniacs, about sums up the experience.

My attempt for culinary respite at Dubai’s  “Food Court” was mostly an exercise in sadness: McDonald’s to the right, “A Taste of India” to the left. Warm naan and a plastic cup of tamarind chutney, though, pulled me through this darkest hour of my layover.  The inbound three hours at DXB was a step improved, I suppose. Terminal Shopping Mall at least kept me busy, and a “Paul” patisserie came through with a chocolate raspberry tarte and gratis people watching.

The Chopstick Diaries Fleet

Emirates (A380). Exceptional service and comfort in Economy; I can only wonder about the service afforded the folks who pay $7,000 for their First Class Suite ticket. Worth-eating meals! 3,000 channels of entertainment (including the Cockpit Cam) and large lavatories you actually don’t mind using. No falcons on either flight to/from Dubai, though. Major disappointment.

Korean Air (A380).  As with Emirates, exceptional comfort and service. Outstanding-by-airline-standards meals, too. Gochujang in personal-sized squeeze tubes for the Bebimbap was a nice touch.

Jin Air. KAL’s budget carrier, and perfectly pleasant for the 2-hour hop from Seoul to Tokyo. Hilarious 15kg baggage limit. Impossibly thin cabin crew. Good Onigiri like the kind one finds in Asian 7-Eleven’s.

So, so much could have gone wrong. Anna Grace departed three days before we to sightsee before rehearsals began; and Tony and I flew separately because he timed his return with Anna Grace’s. I alone had eight flight segments across two separate tickets, the combination of which could have been the perfect algorithm for disaster. Yet, nothing at all went awry; AND only twice did I even have a passenger seated next to me! I fear I have used all of my good flight karma and am now worried that my standards for flying have been set too high, but thankfully I have an upcoming pond-hop on a Delta airbus back to the U.S. in three weeks to readjust my altitude. Pun intended.

In-flight Movies Watched

Victoria and Abdul; A Passage to India; The Last Recipe; Wonder Woman; and…The Sound of Music. Because I have seen this movie so many, many, many times, I turned it on for white noise while I was sleeping on my final leg home. I fell asleep just after Maria introduced herself to the Butler and then awoke during the end credits. So, technically, I probably played the entire movie in my subconscious.

Kilometers Walked. 151.2

Finally, one of the first signs I saw when arriving in Singapore. So welcoming; like a big, modern, civilized-world hug.