Confessions of a lousy business traveller

We check our watches, lean back against the cushions and take a moment to gather our thoughts, watching from the window the milling crowds in the mall going about their weeknight shopping.

The restaurant has stylishly tall ceilings, ornate chandeliers with warm lighting and a pretty water feature bubbling alongside the plush fabric of  banquette seats and formally set tables with starched black napkins.

The waiter bustles about filling our glasses and arranging the appropriate cutlery for our orders in a manner so elaborate, it’s amusing to watch.
He places a platter of crispy pappadum topped with chopped onions, tomatoes and spices in the centre of the table and invites us to begin our meal.

It’s all wonderful.
But really, I’m pretty sure neither of us wants to be here.

It is 9.45pm, fourteen hours since we all first started out the work day, and the effects of being cooped up in back-to-back meetings is showing its toll on all our faces.

My female colleagues and I, we chat a little about how dinner times are different between Singapore and India and the United States – dinner is typically at around nine in India…this is bedtime to the Singaporeans and Americans.

Halfway through the conversation, one seated beside me, excuses herself to answer her mobile phone.
She speaks animatedly, and even though I don’t know the language, it’s not too difficult to make out that she’s assuring her little girl that she’ll be home real soon.

We turn our attention back to the business dinner conversation at hand.
But not before a candid, spontaneous exchange of smiles and words – from one working mom to another – about how culture and language and location may be different, but challenges are similar wherever one is, in the world.

Similar challenges of planning logistics and arrangements when having to leave home earlier in the morning to attend first-thing-in-the-morning meetings.
Similar phone conversations, in any language, of why we can’t be home yet and yes, we’ll be home soon as we can.
Similar polite excuses to leave the dinner earlier to attend to the needs of home and husband’s dinner and children’s bedtimes.

And in the pensive car ride back to the hotel, I think about these similarities.

About how I can’t be home yet and how badly I’m wanting to be, as soon as I can.

And the differences.

Hers, a twenty-minute commute. Mine, a thirty-three hour countdown and two thousand five hundred miles in between now and then.

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