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The Perils of Getting on a Plane

mel

This was right after lunch. The airport was in the opposite direction, about an hour away. His watch announced that it 2pm. Mine grumpily said 2:20pm. My flight was at 4pm.

“There will be time,” so Sean, my chauffeur for that day (and friend too, of course) nevertheless insisted. “Tullamarine is not far now. 14 minutes away.”

Princes Highway, Bolte Bridge, the Yarra, and Melbourne City whizzing past. We sped down the highway at 110km/h; I peeked at the speedometer and checked surreptitiously for the speed limits plastered at near every lamp post. (It certainly would embarrass me greatly should he receive a speeding ticket, even if I did miss my flight back home.) Melbourne’s freeways are certainly confusing, especially the horrifying part where he explained we needed to take a highway, get off it when we hit the city, and then get onto a totally different highway once more that will finally bring us to the airport, located in the north of Melbourne. The optimist in me agreed with him when he cheerily pointed out that the highways at least had names and are not incognito and dehumanised with mere alphabets and numbers.

God forbid should there be a transport system that demanded “Now, you get onto the YUCK235, exit at 330Mwuak, and re-enter the GROAN110A before exiting again at GEEZ3209 Southwest”.

Thank goodness. We managed to reach the cooperative counter before it folded its arms and refused to eat any more passengers’ luggage and granted boarding passes.

It was peak period, definitely, the middle of June, where most Asian students returned home after their exams. The flight was full, as I was discovering. It was fun, however, standing in queue picking out characters with bad hair (yellow, red and black – either an imitation of McDonalds or the German Flag), bad fashion sense and the wrong type of dressing that only reveals itself when the humid Singapore climate blows one in the face.

Hey, my fashion sense (if it even exists) is not stellar, so we are truly in good company.

3.15pm.

“You can go in at 3.30,” Sean said. This time I was no longer very anxious. The boarding pass was reassuringly tucked in the passport, the luggage had been rightfully swallowed up and my hands were finally free, save for a huge pillow I decided to bring on board.

“Everyone will be envious when you carry that pillow in.” Sean told me again.

The automatic doors that opened and closed into the restricted passenger area were silver and unfriendly. When I finally did get in, boarding time was nearly over.

With greatest chagrin I found myself sitting next to a man who wore a mismatched suit, who breathed dragon breath out his mouth with every exhale, who drank only red wine throughout, who snored loudly, who never got up once during the 7 hours, who fumbled with the headset a couple of times, before deciding to only put on the right side.

Moving out from the window seat to the toilet took skill, patience, and a lot of apologies when it once resulted in spilt coffee on the carpet. The toilet light, as I trivially noted, had an uncanny ability to highlight all the white in my hair, in places so obvious that I had missed all these years. The temptation to search through whole head was great, but that meant an extended amount of time in cramped space, hindering others who would have used their plastic food knives to slit my throat for hogging a precious lavatory. Still, it gladdened my heart and relieved my hormones that know I found and successfully plucked out 4 silver ones.

The back of the plane had become a meeting place for passengers who ironically huddled together while attempting to stretch their legs and bodies. Poses from yoga, basketball, pilates and post-natal stretching came colourfully on display. There was a woman who stayed there as long as I could remember, chatting up every bewildered passer-by who got accosted by her whenever they needed to use the bathroom.

She beat me to it.

The plane rattled, shook and groaned under the weight of everyone, rocked a bit in the turbulences throughout and the seatbelt sign came on but naught.

The smile and the cool of the famed woman dressed in a Kebaya never faltered once.

Oh, we did have an extravagantly printed menu on quality paper when it came to mealtimes. But it can be summed up, as in most airlines, “Would you like chicken, or fish please?”. For refreshment, it was sandwich with either tuna or greens with meat.

Essentially, it was chicken or fish again.

I do not know whether to be overjoyed or saddened that the vacation is over. The bright and mildly satisfying point, nonetheless, was seeing the sour looks on people who had loved Melbourne weather; everyone took large gulps of the heated, frizzled night air, wishing they had also changed into shorts and T-shirts.

Me too.

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DestinationsDown underNew Zealand

The Good, The Bad, The Cold and The Italians

fwah

“We are told that Franz Josef Glacier has many more things than Fox, ya see. There’s more to do there.” A Brit on holiday chirpily let on en route to the Glaciers, his girlfriend nodding her assent in response. They were caught on in the excitement of it all, prepping their camper van for the long journey north into Franz Josef from Queenstown and hence missing that incredulous look I was sure my face carried.

Oops.

How was I to know? For a brief moment it felt as if I were doomed to suffer the sweeping boredom that would descend over me in Fox Glacier, with the mantra of ‘there is nothing to do’ reverberating through just about everyone’s minds –both me and the other poor unsuspecting inhabitants and tourists. But I have been conditioned from birth to live in a small and busy city that believes wholeheartedly in being in a state of frequent and constant movement and activity; it had always taken (and will always take, I suspect) an adjustment to slow the pace of life down, especially on vacations.

First impressions count, so they say. My narrow pre-impression of Fox Glacier already discoloured by that singular comment, worsened when the coach pulled into Glacier country, where dense rainforests were covered by equally dense cloud covers, and the Glaciers were nowhere in sight. Ah, yes, it was the beginning of June, winter.

“Um…where are the snow mountains and the glaciers?” I inquired politely of the amiable coach driver, who immediately pointed towards that same dense cover of cloud I was looking at with distaste, before taking off in his great vehicle in whistles.

Disbelief and well, more incredulity. The brochure had after all said something akin to the effect of “Admire the snow-topped mountains rising out of the rainforest”.

Well, yes, I did choose to believe it.

Hurrying back as Sunlight fades

My first thought? Ach, that brochure lied – but true enough, the photographs displayed were most likely taken during a cheerful summer day, where people wore shorts up the ice. Between muttering under my breath and looking up in despair at the grey, drizzly sky, I nevertheless booked my half-day Glacier walk in the afternoon of the next day with Alpine Guides. The specific instructions were: to have lunch, bring energy food (chocolate!) and wear warmer clothing; boots, raincoat, crampons provided.

I was vanquished the moment the forbidden word ‘chocolate’ came up. It after all, provided an excuse for me to feast on those things called ‘the food of the gods’.

The rest of the day and the early hours of the morning were spent walking up and down the stairs of my motel, looking at the resident fat cat, and ogling the manager on duty as a desperate measure. The constant flow of rain had changed my mind about walking a mere 6 km down the path to Lake Matheson, where the view of Mt Cook is supposed to be incomparable. Despite the rain, the unnatural quiet made me entertain the idea that it was a quiet that one could accustom oneself to, a slow, pulsing rhythm of living that the busy city heart aches to smile along with.

It turned out to be pleasantly international – the people who signed up for the tour, that is as I found out in the afternoon – Swiss, Americans, Canadians and Italians with a geologist on board. Dutifully, we entered the changing area, tried on heavy boots that fit passably, grabbing large trench coat-sized rain jackets that were either blue, yellow or red. Our guides, Karri and Marius, chic, trendy and fit in red and black, waited as we struggled into our outfits, lumbering awkwardly behind them as we made our way to the Glacier and yet not trying to show it.

Of course, we failed miserably.

“Fox Glacier is unusual…” Karri began with the basic facts. And so it was, as I was beginning to discover. This glacier runs down to nearly 200 metres above sea level, existing with adjacent rain forest, formed, according to Maori Legend, by the running and eternal tears of a girl whose lover fell to his death.

The climb first took us through the drainage area, and then steeply into the rainforest, and slight waterfalls, where well-worn steps were visible, hammered into places by steel bands. Cupping our trembling hands and drinking what we could of the water was nevertheless a thrill. As far as I was concerned, there were no outright groans and complaints, for no one wanted to admit that they were unfit for it.

The Swiss couple was mostly silent throughout, the Canadians spoke quietly among themselves, the others muttered under their breaths in their own near-undistinguishable lingo, the geologist was understandably loud, mostly in argument with the guides about Glacier formation and the Italians…well…the Italians…

The most boisterous of the lot were the Italians, full-blooded, daring and dashing in their attempts to climb sharp precipices when our guides were not looking, just to take a photo of themselves against a backdrop that would have been just as stunning had they stayed in the ‘safer’ area.

“Oh my god! What are you doing?!” One heard this throughout and it was a matter of time before I got used to the constant reactions to their antics from the guides.

Stepping onto the ice proper, the resident geologist squatted down in front of the group, held up a piece of terminal moraine.

“Can anyone tell me what this is?” He questioned in the same manner as a talk-show host challenges his contestants for the grand prize of $1000, expecting an answer worthy of an academic intellectual.

Frequent mutterings in Italian meant that the Italians had quite enough.

“Aaaa Rrrrooock.” One of them drawled. I laughed, and half-hoped that the geologist had the grace to look embarrassed.

It was probably best not to argue any longer with a belligerent Italian who was very determined to stand up for the common man who knew close to nuts about Glaciers and its geological history.

Soon after, I found the guides separated from their climbing axes. The incriminating evidence was such that the axes were near the Italians, who had miraculously carved a horizontal tunnel in a little ice cave, so they could shove each other in it to take unusual shots of each other.

“You guys had better come with me, because you are mostly likely the first to fall off the cliff.” Karri announced when it was time to move off the glacier before the sun went down.

Non capisco…it did take them awhile, before it dawned on them.

“Ahh…Eh…Thhank you verrry much!” They sputtered in great indignation.

The downward trail was harder than we thought, even though we did not need to go through the rainforest trail anymore. The path downwards was made through slippery rock, mud and rivulets of melting ice, passing landscape that was gradually becoming a uniform brownish-grey, save for our colourful jackets, until we were finally ensconced in the bus once again.

It was a time of celebration too. Someone lit a cigarette as a trophy of completion, the Italians turned hyper and bounced about, and there was a louder amount of chatting and perhaps an unspoken camaraderie.

Fox glacier, winked a bluish- white, and disappeared out of sight, into the rapidly descending cold, and our last looks were also our goodbyes to that formidable wonder.

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