The People Are The Only Difference: Notes From Places Between 33,000 Feet Above Sea-Level and Ground Reality

28 August 2017:

Just arrived in Singapore for the Asia Pacific Aviation Training Symposium (APATS) and the moment I sat in the taxi to get to the hotel, I started planning and organising my thoughts and tasks for the next four days.

Once in the room, I kept my bags on the floor near the work desk, took out my chargers, laptop, iPad, phone and plugged them in. Then, I made a big cup of black coffee, poured three sachets of white sugar into the cup, and had just ambled over to stand at the only window in the room, looking out into the city, when a little voice sprung into my head: “This is all that I see.”

I stood there, breathing in deep, taking long swallows of the bitter-sweet black coffee, at peace with the realisation. I have travelled to cities and towns in Asia, Middle East, Europe and The United States of America, and, the tale is the same on all my travels for work.

Most of my friends, acquaintances, and family think I am having the time of my life, visiting awesome places, staying in great hotels, eating exotic foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, seeing all the historical and modern monuments, using the latest technology, and travelling all over the world in the best airlines.

Most of the time when I call someone, they ask: “Are you back in India? In Pune?”

Most of the time when someone calls me, they ask: “Where are you? Hong Kong? USA? Dubai? What time is it there?”

I don’t travel all that much, not any more anyway. And here’s what all of my trips look like:

  1. Home to Airport
  2. Work and movie on the flight
  3. Airport to hotel
  4. Work and coffee while movies or BBC are on on the TV
  5. Hotel to exhibition centre or client site or partner office or Group company office, work and coffee and meetings
  6. Back to the hotel, more coffee, more work, photos of the city from the hotel window, dinner from room service, more coffee, TV, sleep;
  7. Repeat next day, all days, till it is time to go to the airport, and then Repeat Step 2.
  8. If I have company (colleagues or clients), then a social night out with an unwinding of sorts, with a few sights around town is in order.

There is precious little that I see beyond hotels, airports, and restaurants on my work travels. And based on what I have learned from personal conversations, many Pilots, Cabin Crew, Business Development people, and business folks (among others), have a similar travel-life – the watering holes and food experiences varying as per individual taste and inclination.

I enjoy my work, thrive on it even. I meet a lot of people when I am travelling and that includes cabin crew, pilots, ground staff at airports, hotel employees, musicians and entertainers, chefs, cab drivers, restaurant owners and staff, government officials, security and immigration people, retail counter staff, small business owners, corporate managers … and I talk to all of them and learn about their lives, and work, and where they come from, what their dreams are, what they want to do, what they think of the world, and a million other things.

And that for me is a meaningful reason to travel apart from work – to meet different people from different walks of life, nationalities, cultures and to interact with them. Quite honestly, the age that we live in is a bit odd. Different cities have to start to feel and look the same. Or similar, eerily similar. Tall glittering towers, swanky highways, shimmering city lights, same or similar brands everywhere, similar music, similar entertainment, similar vices and temptations, similar highs, similar lows, similar experiences … all airports are starting to look and feel the same. Hotels have similar offerings, menus, even the same antiseptic approach to service. Corporate buildings, public places, retail stores … same same. I don’t see the point of a selfie with a changing background. And so, I focus on my work and the people I meet.

The people are the only difference.

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