I left South Korea and moved back to Vancouver last month.
Just before my glorious return to the west I embarked on a marathon 31-hour trip (anything for cheap airfare), flying with what I can only hope is the worst airline I will ever have to experience.
An array of complaints:
- Tiny chairs. I was stuck in the middle seat for both flights; I assume I must have done something to incur the wrath of the airline check-in attendant.
- The timeless airline question “chicken or beef?” was made erroneous as the planes ran out of chicken during both flights. The beef tasted like mold and the stewardess forgot to give me my bun because she was too busy arguing with the lady next to me about the lack of chicken.
- The first plane’s entertainment system was a throwback to 90s travel, with screens that made a loud whirring noise as they rotated down from the ceiling. The movies shown back-to-back were a Kung Fu flick with hilariously bad English subtitles, followed by a British rom-com about fish starring Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor (the fish had the most chemistry).
- The next plane had modern TV screens on the back of each seat, but the microphone jack had been ripped out of my seat, so there was no audio. The subtitles, obviously, were in Chinese. The airline made up for this by intermittently blasting the movie’s audio over the PA for 30 seconds or so every 5 minutes… for the entire duration of the movie.
About an hour into the scattered remnants of The Avengers, a glass and a half of wine, and an unhealthy side of self-pity, I got to thinking about an exhibit I saw in the Australian National Maritime Museum on immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Back then, people wanting to travel would spend their savings on long, epic, life-endangering tickets of passage across the world and into the great unknown.
This is exactly what my grandfather did in the 1920s when he immigrated to rural western Canada as a young man (although, by then the passage was not quite life-endangering as much as it was arduous and life-altering). When he boarded the ship that would take him across the Pacific, his mother gave him a Bible as a farewell gift, both of them knowing it was the last gift they’d exchange in person as it would likely be the last time they would ever see each other. For third-class immigrants back then, transcontinental travel was often a permanent, one-way journey into the unknown.
As Thor’s booming voice suddenly crackled over the plane’s PA system, I thought about this.
We are lucky. We traverse continents in mere hours. We can “stopover” in any myriad array of cultures and locales on the way to and from home, always unquestioningly assuming the ease with which we will be able to do so. If we want to visit a city or country on the opposite side of the planet — even live or work there for one or several years — we can do it.
We think we are giving up our previous lives, everything we have known and understood, but this is untrue. We span continents as if we are walking our fingers across a map on a table. We have the incredible ability, the wonderful privilege, of being able to go back whenever we want.
I may not ever fly with China Southern Airlines again, but the miracle of travel in the modern world still manages to amaze me. I hope it always will.