Happy 2016!

It’s been a busy year so far for me, and I haven’t posted much, but highlights of the year include:

  • watching old home videos of my Grandma and other family members in Germany
  • hearing my Dad bring joy to people in various care facilities by playing his guitar
  • getting to be in Boston with Diveena

A few fun things I’ve done while in Boston:

  • checked out the show floor at the American Library Association
  • saw the play Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar (what a play!)

More photos and other thoughts to come about my travels – for now, I’m focused on work, life, and enjoying time with Diveena!

Economic impacts of confusing baggage / security policies (or) how I didn’t know what I could buy at the duty free shop in Narita and neither did the duty free employee

Johnnie Walker Platinum bottle in hand, I waited in line at the Narita airport Duty Free shop, ready to purchase it as a Christmas gift for my Dad. The cashier stopped me, pointing out that since I arrived in the USA in Denver, but had a domestic USA connecting flight to Bismarck, I couldn’t carry this one liter bottle of distilled goodness between Denver and Bismarck as a carry on, since I have to go through security again. 

Good point. 

But wait, I’ll get my checked luggage when I enter the USA, right? 

I always have in the past… but I’ve rarely had a connection to another domestic airport after I arrive in the USA. I haven’t flown internationally *that* much in my life. Usually I arrive from overseas to Minneapolis (MSP) or Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and then drive to wherever I’m going, so I get my luggage and leave. 
So, hmm, I’m questioning whether I’ll get my luggage when I arrive in Denver, or when I arrive in Bismarck. 

Further compounding my confusion: the nice service I had while flying out of the USA. 

When I flew from Los Angeles (LAX) to Auckland (AKL), New Zealand, my checked bag went all the way from LAX to AKL, even though I had a stop in both Taipei and Sydney.

So… do you know definitively, off the top of my head, if I can buy duty free in Tokyo and get that bottle home?

I’ll wait for your guess. 

Turns out yes, I could!

Even though I have another flight into BIS – an international airport – I do indeed have to wait to grab my checked luggage at Denver. Then I wheel it through to a little room beyond the baggage pickup, dropping it off with another person to send on to its final destination of Bismarck. 

In between there, I could have unzipped the checked bag, put my whiskey bottle in there, and had it in Bismarck. 

But the rules were confusing enough that I didn’t know, and although I don’t travel internationally too frequently, I try to go at least once a year, which I suspect is more than the average us citizen… Todo: citation needed. 

My backup plan, in light of the information at the Narita duty free shop, was to buy a bottle at the US duty free shop. When I could show my international boarding pass, they’d see I just got into the USA, and let me buy duty free. 

Any guess whether that was possible?

Nope. It’s not allowed. 

The guy at the duty free in the USA (which also had that bottle of Johnnie Platinum!) informed me that duty free is only outgoing from the USA. 

So… Here I am, no bottle to give my Dad. Guess I’ll buy something in Bismarck. 
The result: I had to pay tax on the bottle. Good for whoever is taxing it, not good for me as a consumer. 

There is zero incentive for the government to streamline, simplify, or clarify this process, since the end result is more tax money for them… unless they truly want to inform more than increase revenue. I can hope for the former, but expect the latter doesn’t make anyone in the government too unhappy. I admit, it’s a cynical viewpoint. 
That’s the story of the Christmas gift that ended up costing me a few dollars more – and in fact, Johnnie Walker Platinum was only available in duty free stores for awhile, so I have no guarantee I can even get it in Bismarck. 

Hopefully this post can help anyone else facing a similar on-the-spot question like I experienced in Narita! If anyone knows if either of my yes/no answers above aren’t always that way, please post in the comments!

United Airlines UA 138

I got about 5 hours of sleep on a 9 hour flight – that can summarize the goodness of this flight. 

There was wifi onboard for $17 (which I skipped), a nice movie selection including a couple films I didn’t see on any other flight recently (Whiplash and Mad Max: Fury Road), and decent food (but not as nice as Nippon!). 

I was lucky enough to have an empty seat beside me, so I could spread out some, move the backpack for extra leg room, and generally get as comfy as one can in economy class. An eye mask and a Betty White audiobook carried me off to dreamland – although the Betty White book is read by her, and is pretty good, the bit I heard!

Nippon Airlines NH 816

Very impressed with Nippon Airlines. Took off from Kuala Lumpur and ended up in Narita. A thorough meal (pictured below), good movie selection (lots of new stuff, and for a limited time, all six Star Wars films were available for free!), and plenty of room to walk around. Nice bonus that perhaps is TMI: a bidet in the bathroom (yessss).

The only bad part: it had both Fantastic Four films available for free. #superheroMovieSlam

The flight had wifi onboard. I considered getting it, but the signup page mentioned the Internet could not be used for about half the flight, because we would be over Chinese land and water. Surprising… I wonder if this is a technical limitation, or political?


Last run in New Zealand

I’ve been in Malaysia since Tuesday, but I got one last run in before I left New Zealand. 

Queenstown is on the South Island. I flew there after talking with many people who encouraged me to not miss the South Island – and I agree, it’s spectacular! Very different from the north island, although I didn’t spend too much time there. 
This run was only going to be 5 miles, but then I kept going and explored some parts of Queenstown’s cozy downtown.  

Late night run with the sun still up

One surprisingly great part of living in New Zealand but working in sync with the US central time zone is that nighttime still has sun. I frequently go to the gym late in the day, and many times I have been stopped by a gym’s (completely reasonable) closing time of 10pm or midnight. And I don’t relish running in any city during the dark; a little more chance of crime, more hazards that I cannot see, and cars have a harder time seeing me. No bueno. 

Here’s a friendly family that lives near where I’m staying.  

Run + wine tour

I went on a nice wine tour yesterday, seeing magnetic, iron-filled black sand beaches west of Auckland, a waterfall featured in Xena: Warrior Princess (both it and Hercules were filmed in NZ!), and the empty bottom of many wine glasses. 

Before that, though, I wanted to get a little sweat in, so I ran near my place for ten days in Ponsonby, a pretty fashionable part of Auckland. So fashionable that they have a place called Wisconsin Burger, right next to this:

Lots of interesting people watching in Ponsonby!

One hospital visit, two bills

I went to dinner the other night, ordered a nice steak and salad, and a glass of fine wine. Once the bill arrived, my eyes grew slightly and my eyebrows creeped up and away from the table. The price was not the shocker; the two individual bills, one labeled “food prep,” another labeled “food service,” confused me.

I don’t see my waiter, so I grab the attention of another waiter, asking, “Excuse me, but I think you brought out someone else’s check with mine.”

“Sorry about that, sir. Which item didn’t you receive – the steak, salad, or wine?”

“I received them all – they were delicious.”

“Great. Glad we cleared up the confusion then. Shall I take your credit card?” the waiter replied, with no confusion over the two bills each with different amounts of money on them.

“Well, hold on… I think I got someone else’s bill. I only ordered the meal for myself, so I should have one bill.”

My waiter gave me the expression of a patient grade school teacher, explaining, “The restaurant bills you for the ingredients for your meal, storage of the ingredients and tools to cook your meal, and the time it took to cook your food and prepare your meal. Your waiter, however, is an independent contractor, and bills you separately.”

I sat there, fairly confused.

“So… I have to pay each of you separately? You can’t just combine it and split it yourself?”

“No sir.”

“Huh… can I speak with a manager?”

“Certainly, sir.” A manager came over shortly, reiterated that’s how the restaurant does business, and I eventually ended the meal by paying two bills. The strangest restaurant paying system I’ve ever encountered!

Okay, confession time: the above didn’t happen.

But the below did, and it’s essentially the same scenario.

I went to the hospital earlier this year.

Later, I got the bill. I got MANY bills.

I paid the bills, but over time I kept getting more bills. And I was confused, since I paid these already.

Turns out I was indeed billed twice for one single hospital visit.

Bill 1: for the doctors and staff directly employed by the hospital.
Bill 2: for a doctor who is on contract to the hospital.

All the doctors (I saw 4 of them in one evening!) looked the same.
All of the equipment was in the same room.
Yet one of those doctors was not a regular employee of the hospital, but somehow was a contractor.

Why is this happening in health care? And will it be coming to other businesses soon?