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Trans-Pacifica, Part IV: Date Unknown

Interactive flight map

Interactive flight map of our approach to Sydney Airport.

Our alternate flight on our journey to Jakarta took off on time, departing at 10:50 pm from Gate 92 at San Francisco’s International Terminal. It will be a 14.5-hour flight to Sydney, Australia on one of United Airline’s newest Boeing 787 jets. We were able to upgrade to Economy Plus class for a little extra legroom. Mike said it could be measured in inch-hours – how may extra inches of legroom you get per hour. I said we should make this the Metric Unit of relief from discomfort.

It’s a beautiful airplane, and one with digital screens in the back of the seat, which allow you to choose and watch a wide variety of movies and TV shows. I finished watching the National Geographic “Mars” series and watched “Rogue One” as well as trying to get some sleep. My daughter’s pillow came in handy, or my bum would have been even more sore than it already is. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I got up, used the bathroom, and stretched out my legs. I’m glad I went to the gym and worked my legs out well Wednesday morning.

Sydney flight economy class

The economy class section of our 777 to Sydney. Most passengers are looking at the interactive map as we approach Sydney airport. We followed a great circle route across the Pacific Ocean.

It was interesting to chart our progress. One of the apps showed the current position of the airplane on a world map, alternating between close and worldwide views, and giving constantly updated information on airspeed, wind speed, distance traveled, distance yet to go, and the current time at our destination. Our own current time was a bit relative. It also showed the night and day portions of the world map, and I saw how we were chasing the night, heading southwest. This was the longest night I’ve ever had – about 18 hours all told from sunset in San Francisco to sunrise in Sydney. But as fast as we were going (about 540 mph), the Earth rotates faster. At the equator, it rotates about 25,000 miles in 24 hours, or 1100 miles per hour. At Utah’s latitude, it is more like 700 mph (I worked it out once – a nice problem in geometry for students). That means that even though we were chasing the night, dawn would eventually catch us. I saw how the dawn terminator moved slowly across Utah and California, across the Pacific, gradually but inexorably running us down.

We crossed directly west of Hawaii and headed southwest to Brisbane, then down the coast to Sydney. At some point we crossed over the equator – my first time to the southern hemisphere. I look forward to seeing the Southern Cross for the first time. Isn’t there a song about that? At about the same time, we intersected the International Date Line and lost a day. We’ll get a day back going home, but I will never know Friday, July 14, 2017. Jakarta is 13 hours ahead of Utah, almost halfway around the world and in a different hemisphere entirely.

We arrived on schedule at Sydney, circling around to land from the south as dawn began to brighten a pink-orange eastern sky. We checked our carry-ons through the International terminal and are now waiting for our flight: Garuda Air 714 out of Gate 50 to Jakarta at 11:00, if everything goes well.

Mike looks at map

Mike (center) following our progress on the interactive map.

I tried to talk with a retired law professor from Beijing who is flying with her daughter and two grandsons to Boston. My Mandarin Chinese is rusty, but we made ourselves understood. She has been to Taiwan before, where I lived for two years, and even visited Ah Li Shan there. I’ve been to Ah Li Shan and seen the sunrise over the mountains. It is a thought-provoking coincidence that two people from such distant places and backgrounds could have our lives intersect in these interesting ways. I once wrote a blog post about this – how as teachers we hope to be understood most of the time by our students, but how all individuals live in separate worlds that only intersect occasionally, and trying to communicate through these intersections is like trying to teach someone from another planet. My post is located here: Riding the Shadow Line.

How can I hope to intersect and communicate with students in Borneo, when we are from such different worlds? That is why my guiding question is to look for the commonalities between us, and science will be one such intersection. The laws of science are universal, and many of the words and processes are also universal. I hope to find other intersections, other points of common ground.

Sydney pre dawn

My first view of Australia from Sydney Airport.

Here’s hoping our flight today goes well and we arrive in Jakarta as scheduled. After our adventures over the last day, I won’t take that for granted any more. But then, this whole trip will be one adventure after another. They say adventures are what happen when things don’t go as planned. And they won’t, especially traveling to an unknown place to work with unknown people. Bring the adventure on! More stories to tell!

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