Saturday, April 12th, 2014

And just like that, it was the final day in Lahore. What a ride. Our hosts were keen to show us more of Lahore, and we were keen to see the Border Ceremony between India & Pakistan. We loitered around the hotel in the morning and afternoon, filling out postcards in between eating meals and packing our suitcases. Rolf got talking to a fellow hotel patron and found himself signed up as the Australian representative for the Afghanistan MMA Team. Anything for more media opportunities I suppose. I spent the morning negotiating a final trade – I hadn’t been able to find someone from the India team that was able to swap tops with me at the Closing Ceremony, but I was determined to get my hands on one. The India team seemed to have 4 different uniforms, all one-day cricket inspired. Surely they were willing to give one up for a prized Aussie top. Finally I found someone willing to trade, and a dark blue India top complete with retro shooting stars graphic was mine.

Eventually, we checked out and hopped on the bus. We waved goodbye to the twelve or so policemen that had acted as personal security for our stay, then realised they would probably be coming with us anyway. As we got closer to the border, VJ and Hasan jumped on the bus with Hasan’s two kids – Qasim and Hashim. Qasim seemed to have perfect English, and riddled me with questions as the bus drove on. He grilled me about assorted American 80’s and 90’s action movie stars. I knew all of them, and then some. He was impressed with my knowledge of Hollywood facts. He then asked me if I knew who Louis Pasteur was. The name sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure. Was he some kind latino action movie star? I was stumped. “He discovered pasteurisation,” Qasim informed me. I knew that, but I felt mislead by his previous category of questions. Probably a deliberate tactic. Smart kid. We toured the outside of the arena before heading in to join the crowds.

If you’re not familiar with the Border Ceremony, I recommend looking it up on YouTube. It’s an impressive event, performed every single day to a packed house, with its single intent to try and look more impressive than the neighbouring country. It’s an elaborately choreographed sequence filled with power marching, flexing and high kicks that turn into stomps, all while wearing impressively fanned hats. It’s peacocking at its best. Just as impressive is the crowd. Several thousand pack into the stands on each side just to cheer and dance and be as loud as they can. Watching these people in action, it’s hard not to be amazed that none of them are drunk. It’s all from nothing but pure patriotism. The outcome of the event is that the flags in mutual ground at the border are lowered and removed, and one country unofficially “won”. It’s one hell of a spectacle. While we were forced to sit in seats away from most of the action, Rolf was treated to presidential treatment and moved away from the plebs to courtside seats right at the front. It will only be a matter of time before he begins referring to us as “his people”.

After the ceremony and a few dozen more photos with random Pakistanis, our hosts took us to a country club for our final meal in Lahore. Appropriately it was a mix of Pakistani food and western food. I appreciated the French fries. However, the time had come to depart, and we needed to get to the airport. As we were dropped off, we thanked everyone for the incredible event and the seemingly never-ending preferential treatment that we had received. Appropriately, as I started to move towards the doorway, my arm was grabbed one last time and a photo was requested. I had to knock him back – “I’m sorry mate, I have a plane to catch”. We made our way through the three security checks before we got to our check in.

Immediately it became clear that something was not going smoothly for Thai Airways this evening. A line had banked up, and there was little movement. An employee got our attention and helped organise the check in. Once we returned to Rolf and Lee (who had to wait another two hours to check in as they were going to Dubai instead) the same employee came over and said “so… tip?” as he fiddled away on his mobile phone. Jim and Eric were disgusted. “You want a tip for doing what we were capable of doing on our own? Not a chance”. In fairness, we thought he was a legitimate employee, trying to speed up the check-in process, not a hustler. We said goodbye to Rolf and Lee, and moved into the departure lounge. After 2 hours of waiting, in became apparent that our flight would not be leaving on time. Not great news, as we only had a 2-hour lay over in Bangkok.

Once the flight finally took to the skies, Richard cornered an attendant and asked whether we would make our connecting flight in time. We were 2 hours behind schedule, so it wasn’t looking good. Closer to the end of our flight, he came over again and told us that he had called ahead and that the flight to Melbourne would wait for us as long as it could. Once we landed, the PA asked everyone to stay seated so that the people trying to catch the connecting flights to Melbourne and Sydney could depart the plane quickly. Everybody stood up.  I’ve never understood the “everybody stand in the aisle while we wait” strategy, and in this particular moment it was extra frustrating. We burrowed our way through the disobedient crowd and got to the end of the jetbridge, where a Thai Airways attendant stood holding a “Melbourne” card. “The flight left,” he told us. Great. He gave us two options, and we took the one that got us home earlier, via Singapore. We demanded an upgrade to business class for the inconvenience; after all it was their stuff up at Lahore that caused the delay. He spoke to the supervisor, who denied the request. We demanded to know whether it was because there were no seats left, or because they just didn’t want to. We were told it was because there were no seats left. We suspected they were lying.  We were gifted some airport food and a short hotel nap before getting on the flight to Singapore. Getting on the flight, Richard asked an attendant if there were any business class seats available. “Yes,” she said, “four seats are free.” Liars.

We got into Melbourne at 6am on Monday, 26 hours after we left Lahore and we were happy to be home. Jim had to run off to tutor some uni kids, Eric had to run home to get changed for an Adelaide flight later that day and Richard had 90 minutes to get home and back for a flight to Brisbane. I had no such plans, I was just going to sleep. And sleep I did.

Thanks for reading! Diary, out. Fist on!

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