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James Hong

Friday, September 28, 2007

A lesson on life...

This post is being written more for myself than for anyone who reads this blog.

Work has been pretty stressful lately as we had to make the unfortunate decision to undo going free. There are a bunch of other massive changes that have happened to compound the stress, but i won't go into that here.

What I do want to write about is the story of a trip i took 3 years ago with my friend Camilla. What I learned from that trip is something I don't ever want to forget, and at stressful times like these, it's good for me to remind myself of it.

Camilla and I both pride ourselves on being impromptu adventure travelers. Three years ago, Camilla said she was going to have 4 days off and wanted to know if i was up for a quick trip somewhere. We quickly honed in on Cuba as the destination of choice, bought our lonely planet guide books, and got housing arranged. All was good to go, the plan was for me to meet up with Camilla in Toronto and fly together to Cuba on Air Canada (you can't fly directly from the US to Cuba).

When we got to the Air Canada counter, they had bad news for us. The flight was oversold, and presumably because we had really cheap fares, we were being bumped. The conversation went like this:

"We have another flight available tomorrow that you can go on. In exchange for the inconvenience, we are prepared to give you a $300 Flight Voucher"

"Tomorrow!?!? Tomorrow is no good! We don't want a voucher, we want to get on this plane. It's not our fault that you oversold the flight, and why didn't you OFFER this voucher to other people instead of just forcing it on us???"

"Sir, it's $300! That's a lot of money!"

"I don't care if it's $30,000, we only have 4 days of vacation time, and you are going to make it 3! That's not worth any amount of money to us!"

"Well I'm sorry, but we can't get you on this plane."

"Ok, what other planes do you have going out to that region today?"

"The last one is a flight leaving for the Bahamas, but it leaves in 20 minutes, you won't make it"

"We'll make it, just do it!!"

In reality, the conversation was much more difficult than that. Getting the Air Canada people to do ANYTHING was a nightmare, and every step of the way they were rude and antagonistic. (I have a lot of canadian friends who are really cool so i'm not going to make blanket statements about an entire country.. but i will say that i got an eerie feeling the Toronto Airport does NOT like Asian people. When I returned later, I was forced to go through a higher level of immigration security, and i noticed that everyone else in there was Asian too. But that's another story)

Anyway, out of breath, we got to the plane just as they were closing the door.. we were off to the Bahamas! No plans. No arrangements. Not even a guidebook. Once we were on the plane, Camilla and I agreed that even though things were not going as planned, we would maintain a positive outlook and try to make lemons out of lemonade. We decided at that point that the theme of our trip would be "Go with the flow", having no idea how many more times on the trip we'd have to repeat that mantra.

Once on the plane, we borrowed someone else's guidebook and found that the city we were landing at, Nassau, was NOT where we wanted to be. We wanted to go somewhere with more culture, and less strip malls and resorts catering to tourists. So we decided that as soon as we got off the plane, we would try to fly to a different island.

We ran to the ticketing counters only to find that all the flights were full, and we were like #20 on the waiting list for an already TINY plane.

Unwavering in our resolve to maintain a positive attitude, we talked to the nice lady at the ticket counter and made friends with her. What should we do instead, we asked her? We told her about our situation of not having any plans because we were supposed to be in Cuba but got screwed by Air Canada. We made a lot of small talk with her.

After at least an hour of just standing around, not quite sure what we would do, the ticket counter lady called us over and whispered, "hey, you know what, i am going to get you on this plane. I think some people are not showing up, and i am going to get you there!" This was amazing, this complete stranger basically decided to scrap the waiting list entirely and just give the seats to us. "Go with the flow!" Everything was working out.

So we end up on a flight that landed roughly around dusk. When we landed we started calling every hotel on the island.. everyone was sold out, as it was a holiday weekend. crap.

finally we found one that said they had room. we rushed over in a cab and tried to check in.

"I am sorry, but we do not have any rooms."

"What!??! we just called though!!"

"I do not know.. who did you talk to? they were mistaken because we don't have any rooms available.. but if you would like to use our phone to call other hotels, you are welcome to do so."

It wasn't a huge island, and we quickly came to the conclusion after 15 minutes of calling that we were screwed. By this time, it was like 9pm. We were tired, a bit exasperated from all the changes, but again... we kept telling ourselves that this was part of the adventure. Maybe it might be fun to camp out on the beach or something?

All the roadblocks we'd been hitting all day were becoming almost comical to us at this point, like we were the protagonists of a bad movie where everything goes wrong. The fact that we were somehow stranded on some random island we'd never heard of instead of drinking mojitos at a specific hotel in Havana was a bit surreal.

Then the hotel manager came back.

"It appears that some people did not make their flight here, so we DO have a room available."

Amazing. By good fortune, we had happened to go to the same hotel that was booked by the people that missed the plane, which opened their seats up for us. We were essentially living out their vacation.

In the end, there were a few other things that happened over the trip that did not go as planned, and just like magic, things always ended up working out really well. If we hadn't been so determined to keep our spirits high, I'm pretty certain that trip could have become one of my worst vacations ever.. but instead, it became one of the best ever.

So just remember.. when life is not going as you planned, don't stress out too much over the unexpected. No matter what happens make a conscious decision to go with the flow and have fun, because life may not always go as planned... but that is precisely what makes it such a great adventure.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hey James,

I couldn't find any email address and also didn't manage to contact you through your website, so I'm using this comment section to drop you my story.

Thank you so much for your post. It really moved me. You might not have been aware of it when you posted it but I'm sure you posted it for me. Something made you post it and it was no coincidence that you posted it now.

I just talked to my ex-girlfriend for the last time. We had a wonderful time and I was certain, for the first time in my entire life, that she is the one. There were loads of problems (in the past but also in the present, which had nothing to do with the relationship) that made us split up after a long time. We were in this difficult state in which we didn't know if we were together or not for about a year now. It was the hardest time in my life. She realized that she does not want to continue our relationship and I had to tell her tonight that we cannot stay in contact anymore because it has been hurting me too much.

After crying and writing her a last letter, the first thing I did was opening my rss feed reader (I know it sounds weird ;-) and I saw your one new post.

"So just remember.. when life is not going as you planned, don't stress out too much over the unexpected. No matter what happens make a conscious decision to go with the flow and have fun, because life may not always go as planned... but that is precisely what makes it such a great adventure."

As I said, I believe that you posted it for me, even though we don't know each other.

Thank you so much ...

Keep posting and stay entrepreneurial ...

Yours Timo

4:39 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

great post james, stuff is actually deep. i prefer to live by this because life can be really tough, i recently lost my father to a 2 year battle with cancer and learned that these things happen in life. you cannot always expect to be partying, just go with the flow and always remember that life has its downs but also has it amazing ups.
keep up the work, and smile, there will always be better days you just have to be patient (i suck at this but who cares, i just have to go with the flow ;-) )

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story. Worth telling. I believe it because you say it but if I read it on a magazine somewhere I'd think this person was making up the list of worst possible travel nightmares and putting them all in one story.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, this is a great post. Your story brought back a lot of memories of nightmarish travels that my wife and I have gone on. Rather than going down a path of despair and 'woe is us' attitudes, we've always tried to have a similar, positive attitude and make the best of any situation that life throws at us. Next week we celebrate 8 years, and I have to say that this attitude has helped make them a wonderful 8 years.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Air Canada screws over everyone, it's not just a racial thing. they have a horrible rep in how they treat their customers and their staff

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. while the others thought your post was deep, i thought you were a dick. the point of your post was lost on me.

all i kept thinking (despite the fact that you said you got cheap tickets) was that you two have too much money to waste on being "care-free". and, that you stole someone elses happy memory.

sure, it was the ticket lady that got you on the plane, but you knew that you were stealing someone elses vacation when you took the tickets and skipped in line.

maybe you two had so much trouble getting your care-free adventures started because you have so much bad karma stored up. maybe thats the real lesson on life here.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Albert said...

I guess things worked out all right in the end. Eh James? =)

BTW: fwiw, being Asian AND Canadian, I've never found Air Canada to be particularly rude ... nor the border people...

- Albert

3:35 PM  
Blogger james said...

no, you misread the story. Whoever missed the flight missed their flight on their own, we had nothing to do with that. The wait list was clearly discretionary, and we simply won that lottery to get their unused seats thanks to the airline lady taking pity on us. We didn't take anyone else's vacation away from them.

2:40 PM  

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