Not long ago I get dropped off at the airport for my lengthy flight back to Hong Kong. As I step out of the car something doesn’t feel right. There’s…something in the air…some…noise…it’s something familiar…something vaguely disturbing. A cold chill runs up and down my spine keeping my brain from registering accurately what I’m hearing.
And then it dawns on me…it’s been more than a week since I’ve heard…jabbering. Yeah, that’s what it sounds like…it sounds like jabbering…an ungodly, nasty, amplified jabbering…like an endless torrent of knives and forks stabbing their way down a concrete staircase. It seems to be coming from all directions. I look around. It is coming from all directions.
The drop off zone of the airport is crawling with Chinese mainland tourists & Hong Kongers. I put two and two together and quickly deduce that they’ll…all be on my plane.
I try to be optimistic. Maybe they’ll have exhausted their energy soon. Maybe only some are on my flight…maybe most of them are going to California or something…you know…for the beaches and sunshine. Maybe those kids COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTROL over there are on another flight…and maybe those guys with hair cuts like black cinder blocks are shouting hysterically and pacing and neglecting to blink and chain smoking like that because they’re lost and it’s not Departures but Arrivals they want.
There’s a whole lot of maybes and I entertain them all. But in reality…I know for dead-set certain that…I’m fucked.
I grab my suitcase. I’m going in. The 10 meter walk from the drop off point to the automatic door sees me bumped into 4 times, have both ears screamed in at least twice each, I play sidewalk dodge with 9 people and I also manage to accidentally step on 6 or 7 feet (which is a pretty good effort on my part because there’s feet…fucking…everywhere) ‘Sorry’, I say each time. I’m the only one apologising.
Just inside there’s a Chinese man dressed in black slacks and a black skivvy…every gadget known to man strapped to his belt…he’s on 2 mobile phones. His eyes are darting around the airport like it’s the first time he’s experienced vision. His voice booms throughout the check in halls. I have a premonition of him sitting next to me on the plane. I shake it from my mind. ‘What are the chances of that?!’ I ask myself. I hurry past and make my way to check-in.
Check-in is seething. All I can do is get in line and do my best to protect my ears from the long distance conversations people seem to be having all around me. There’s a woman in line literally 20 feet away from what could be her husband, I don’t know, carrying on an intense conversation with him as if they are the only two in the airport. But they aren’t the only two in the airport (why don’t they know that??) and everybody else is doing exactly what they’re doing…yelling. So to be heard each person has to yell louder than the other. It’s a vicious cycle. I wonder what they’ll all be like in the small confines of the plane. I shudder.
I don’t want to talk about what I experienced in the departure lounge or at the departure gate. It’s too traumatic. I’m not religious, but I do remember praying at one stage.
Fast forward to the plane. 34A. That’s me…34A next to the window so I don’t have to be disturbed by some unpredictable lunatic who may want to get up 19 times an hour for god knows what. I wait right till the end to get on board…hoping by that stage everyone would have taken care of their overhead locker concerns…hoping that everyone would be reasonably settled. Nobody is settled and no overhead locker concerns have been taken care of. The plane’s full. The plane’s a zoo. There’s people gnashing their teeth, yelling, screaming, passing baggage across 4 row sections of seats…ordering noodles…you name it. Everybody on the plane knows each other. Coats, suitcases, magazines, food and useless duty free trash is being swapped, passed around and pawed through. Huge bags that surely must push the limit of ‘carry on’ are wide open and are being ferociously rummaged through…making a mockery of the hour I just spent watching those same bags sit idle while their owners ate, yelled and ate some more at the departure gate. Every flight attendant is already horribly engaged in some terrible half broken conversation about complimentary cushions or sleep masks or some bullshit. Very few people are sitting down and those who are don’t stay down long. It takes me an age to get to my seat.
When I finally get to my seat it’s taken. The guy with the black slacks and black skivvy has it. I wave him out without a word and to his credit he gets up and…slides to the aisle seat 34B. He expects me to squeeze past him to my seat. What a moron. I wave him out. I can tell he’s pissed off now…I’ve really put him out. I slump into 34A and get headphones on as quick as I can. I don’t want to see the chaotic scenes all around me so I shut my eyes. Tap tap tap…when I look up there’s a large Hong Kong woman with her head in my face…tap tap tap…she taps me again even though I’m now looking right at her. She looks like she’s used to getting her own way. Her smile’s faker than a 3 dollar bill. I open my eyes wider as if to say ‘what do you want?’ inviting her to say whatever it is she wants to say.Her: You like take another seat? (Her voice is like a wood saw cutting a metal pipe) Me: …(I’m not given time to reply) Her: You take this seat here (she’s pointing toward the middle 4 seats 2 rows up). Me: Why? Her: You take this seat because the husband want to sit with her wife here. Me: You mean you want me to change from this seat and sit up there in the middle? Her: Yes you move ok. Me: No. .
What a moron. I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask. But it’s probably much nicer to ask when you have a less manipulative, calculating and arrogant demeanour…you know…when you’re polite. All I got from Aunty Fong was an assuming scowl. That fake gaudy blue shine above those dull eyes doesn’t fool me Fong. Just because this plane’s going to Hong Kong, doesn’t mean we are in Hong Kong. Fuck off.
Let me rattle off some pre-flight/ taxiing highlights:
– A HK man in front of me, 33B, gets up and down 8 times to the overhead locker before the plane starts taxiing. He keeps rifling through the same bag. When he gets sick of rifling through his bag he looks down the end of the plane and starts yelling. Judging by the stupendous volume of his voice, I reckon he’s yelling to someone with a hearing disability in row 60.
– My seat is under attack from behind. There’s a very fat Chinese kid writhing and throwing a tantrum directly behind me. He doesn’t like flying…or he’s sick or something. One quick look behind tells me that his seat’s too small and he’s far too big for economy class and he’s probably hungry. I later engage in a pointless discussion with his father who can’t find fault with his son’s stabbing and kicking legs. The best the father can do is to comfort me by saying ‘You move seat forward.’ That’s all he’ll say. Very Hong Kong.
– The guy in the black slacks and the black skivvy has been up and down the aisle a billion times. He crashes back into the seat next to me each time he returns from one of his pre flight long distance barking sessions. At some stage he returns from…well I don’t know where he goes, he just wanders off yelling…somewhere and crashes down into his seat again but this time he has a buddy with him who sits on the aisle hand rest and together they launch into the kind of conversation that makes me wish I was born earless.
– While taxiing…and I’ve come to expect this from Hong Kong and Chinese tourists…nobody obeys the seatbelt instruction. There’s people up and down, again and again to their ridiculously oversized carry on luggage…rummaging around…visiting friends…heading for the bathroom…whatever they want. It takes a series of curt warnings to get them back in their seats.
Anyway…you get the picture. The ‘highlight’ of the actual flight was a competitive game of cards enjoyed by, oh, about 8 people in the center section of seats. The game operated on a couple of food trays while hangers on and players alike milled in the aisle, turned around in their seats kneeling backwards, looking down or just stood up in the rear seats looking over. Judging by all the whooping and hollering, shouting and yelling, they were having a whale of a time. People came from all parts of the plane to join the hysterics. I’ve never seen such a large group of people play cards on a plane with such inhibition…such self-engrossed glee. It was as if they didn’t care who saw or heard. They just didn’t give a damn. It was about 1:00am Greenwich Meantime by the way. Their obliviousness was awesome.
Never flown with, near or among Hong Kong or Chinese tourists?
Check this out:
It’s a nice little taste of what you can expect.
You’re gonna love it jet setters…