Travel

Detours

Stepping out of the vestibule Thursday upon arrival into Singapore, I headed straight to my favorite Changi Airport spot: a cafe that flaunts buttery puff pastries, quiches, chocolate and cheesecakes, where I once bought a red tea flask in which I have never drank tea.

To my disappointment, there was a Starbucks standing in place of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf where I usually grab something iced, creamy, and super sugary to drink. I was about to order a java chip frappuccino when instead, the words out of my mouth to the barista were: “Wasn’t there a Coffee Bean here?”

“It’s still here, just further into the terminal,” he said.

And with that, I headed in the direction to which he was pointing.

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I am a creature of habit. I like doing the same things I’ve done at the same places I’ve visited. It provides me a sense of security and stability, plus I’m sentimental and nostalgic like that, perhaps traits I inherited from my father.

That’s also probably why when I was ready for my India trip on Sunday, waiting to be checked in at the Atlanta Delta counter, I did not think for a second that my Indian visa would have been expired. For the last 25 years, I have had no visa issues. For the last 25 years, my airline tickets, passport, visas and international travel documents have always been squared away so perfectly so as to allow me to simply get on a plane to fly to wherever I need to be (thanks, Dad). When I was trying to check in Sunday, I thought my biggest worry would be to get my bags checked in all the way to Chennai. Little did I know that I would have to fly to and spend two days in Houston, unfamiliar to me, and spend several hours waiting outside the visa office to get a new one issued to me.

The lady at the counter informed me I didn’t have a valid Indian visa, that it had expired just a couple weeks ago. And now the wonderful vacation I was ready to embark upon would have to be delayed.

Knowing that I would have to be in Houston a couple of days, I tried to search my mobile Facebook app for friends I knew who were living in Houston, but somehow I couldn’t get the mobile app to do it. So I decided to just spend two nights at a hotel and explore Houston on my own.

I was at the Houston zoo on my first day after having shuttled between the Indian consulate and Travisa offices, posting photos of a limping Malayan tiger, when my phone buzzed with a message from an old school friend from high school.

“What?? CALL ME!” She posted on my wall.

A Malayan tiger paces at Houston Zoo.
A Malayan tiger paces at Houston Zoo.

Heather Tran-Son-Tay-Burleson and I had been friends since middle school, when we both attended French Congres and baked quiche for our French class. Back then, she was just Heather Tran-Son-Tay, but she had married her high school sweetheart, Daniel, and the two of them were now living in Houston. Heather was a kindergarten teacher, and Daniel was working on his Ph.D. in civil engineering.

“Of course!” I thought when I saw her message, excited now at the prospect of meeting up with a school friend whose wedding I had been unable to attend, and whom I hadn’t seen in four years.

That night, the three of us met up at a tex-mex restaurant, Chuy’s, where we caught up and enjoyed nachos, tacos, and the like. Heather insisted I stay with her the following night and attend a Christmas party along with her. I didn’t refuse because I was happy to see her again and wanted to spend more time with her.

Heather, Daniel and I at Chuy's tex-mex restaurant in Houston, Texas. Reunions=turning layovers into vacat
Heather, Daniel and I at Chuy’s tex-mex restaurant in Houston, Texas. Reunions=turning layovers into vacations.

The next night, I met up with Heather and Daniel for the Christmas party, which was a “white elephant” party for which guests each bring a gift, pick numbers to choose from the pile of gifts in the order of the numbers they selected, and those with the higher numbers can swap out gifts with others as the game progresses.

When it came to my turn, No. 12, I was left to choose between the very gift that I had brought, a lavender and chamomile-scented microwavable healing wrap, and what seemed like a rather large gift I didn’t want to have to carry in my luggage. Still, I went for the larger bag so as to leave my present for someone else.

It was a white volleyball, with a brown hand-print-turned-into-a-face painted on it. The rest of the guests laughed and thought it was a great gift, but I didn’t get it, because I’ve never seen the movie “Cast Away” in which apparently this volleyball face is somewhat of a main character.

“You can swap the gift out,” the hostess suggested, knowing that I had to travel, but also hoping to retain the gift among the group of friends who understood the reference.

One girl offered up a small porcelain teacup filled with French biscuits and tea packets that she had selected from the pile.

Heather seemed disappointed that the girl was offering it to trade, so it became apparent it was the gift that Heather had contributed for the party.

I took it. And suddenly this inconvenient detour to unfamiliar Houston, this loss in vacation time, had turned into a cherishable gift.

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