Made it safe and sound to Israel! Heart of the Middle East.
Boy, was it a long flight – a bit over twelve hours to be exact. My flight to the Middle East via Central Asia was what I expected; much wind and cities whose names I have never heard of, not to mention pronounce.
El Al was super secure. I was interrogated about the purpose of my trip to Israel, what I was doing in Hong Kong, names of my friend who was getting married etc. Every passenger goes through this process so I have no complaints. The bright side is that the airline is doing there jobs and doing it well. I went through Hong Kong immigration without issues and walked towards my flight gate.
We boarded the plane, a Boeing 777, capable of flying up to 5400 miles. The diversity of the passengers was awesome! Many native Israelis returning home, a group of Vietnamese students on an exchange program with Israel, various other Asians (I’m in this group) visiting Israel. If you don’t know, summer time is rainy season in Hong Kong with chances for typhoons. Unsurprisingly, the Captain came over the intercom and announced a 45 minute delay due to the weather. Yikes, I thought to myself, now I’m going to arrive late! After much agitation of all the passengers we finally took off in the light rainy Hong Kong afternoon.
When the plane reached a healthy altitude, we started to cruise. Flight attendants and their drink and food carts came out in full force – serving and pleasing passengers. El Al served two meals, breakfast and dinner. The food was alright taste-wise, but it was certified kosher by Rabbi Avtzon, whom I’m familiar with, of the Chabad of Hong Kong. I plugged in my headphones, turned the audio to traditional Israeli music, and dozed off.
Why are people clapping? Without realizing that I fell asleep towards our descent into Ben Gurion, noise of claps jolted me awake. Apparently, passengers clap when a flight lands in Israel safely. So the Israeli expectation is that it will NOT land safely? I may be missing something that only native Israelis are able to understand… I gathered my suitcase and bags, stepped off the plane, and into Israel.
The walkway to the airport exit was long and full of turns and shopping opportunities. (similar to Hong Kong) I love taking the horizontal escalators, they take me to where I need to go in half the time. I noticed arrivals were on the second floor when I saw departing passenger in the lower floors. It seemed like a never-ending walkway, I followed the crowd instead of reading the direction signs.
Something I wasn’t prepared for was how long and tedious the immigration checkpoint was. I was lucky and was not selected randomly for additional questioning. Would like to suggest that Ben Gurion airport open all immigration windows – not just half of them. There were elders, women, and children waiting over one hour to pass immigration – and I don’t think there was air conditioning…
Next step was to get in a taxi and drive into my accommodation. My driver was so friendly and helpful, we talked about some sights for Tel Aviv and my first trip to Israel. It was already 2 in the morning by this time. He turned on his GPS system, entered the address, and off we went.
In the heat of the night, Tel Aviv looks like any other modern and developed country. Wide and smooth highway system, new cars, and lights from high-rise buildings buzzing in the blackness. After what seems like eternity to a person who is still awake at 5 am (Hong Kong timezone) without any sleep, we made an exit of the eternal highway and entered suburbia. Our search for the address ended at our destination. I pulled out the brand new Shekel bills I got from the airport ATM machine and said my farewell to the driver. Lifted my suitcase and started my climb up several flights of stairs to my apartment. I sank into the comfy bed and fell asleep.
Next morning, the rays of the sun entered my room, piercing me to awake. My first full day in Israel, I thought to myself! Excited! Got ready and out I went in Tel Aviv. First order of the day, take care of my tummy and get some breakfast. I’ve read and heard about Israel’s famous breakfast so decided to try that out at a local neighborhood cafe. An Israeli breakfast, going by what I had this morning, consists of two eggs, Israeli salad (tomatoes and cucumbers), various types of cheeses, tahini and bread. It was like a vegetarian meal as no meat was served. According to Jewish food laws, meat and dairy should never be served together. It kind of makes sense now that I think about it. That’s just too much animal at one time! ;-P
In the middle of my culinary experience, a random man came in held up a piece of paper and ask for a donation from me. The “paper” that he showed me says that he is a deaf man and needs ten Shekels. I reached for my wallet, took out a ten Shekel coin and handed it over to him. It was only afterwards that I learned this man comes to the cafe all the time. The server tells me matter-of-factly, “he’s always here”. I had a quick chat with the server afterwards, I told him I’m from China. He didn’t know where Hong Kong was, maybe I was saying it wrong. (Note to self: start learning Hebrew)
After my tummy was filled, I ventured around my Tel Aviv neighborhood. Strolled through many small mom and pop shops and boutiques and bought a straw sun hat to shield my skin from the glaring Israeli sun. Instead of the hunger I felt earlier, now I felt thirst. My body carried itself to a grocery store for replenishing. The varieties of olives, yogurt, and fruits from all colors of the rainbow distracted me from my goal of getting water. Thirst called out louder, I had to adapt and went to the water aisle.
Now, I’m planning my Israel adventure for tomorrow. :-)