Jesus on a Jeepney (Part 2)
I had finished mopping at my face and body with the warm towel and was faced with the age-old economy class problem – what to do with the towel when it’s gone cold and I have no more use for it? Being a person who learns by example, I looked around me to see what the other passengers were doing with their cold warm towels. It’s amazing how creative people can be when they’re faced with a challenge for which there are no rules or clear examples. Some stuffed the towel into the gap between the armrest and cushion of the seat in front. Others draped them over the top of the seat in front while still others seemed to make the towels disappear as if by magic. Perhaps they thought it was an airline snack and ate it. Some sort of bland egg-roll perhaps. Some people will eat anything, particularly if it’s free.
I reached for my breath mints to prevent my fellow passengers from being subjected to my camel breath. I felt I should comb my hair, but reminded myself that there was no-one in Kuala Lumpur airport who would care one way or the other if my hair was standing up in manicured spikes on my head or shaved off monk-style. At the same time there was a sense both of poignancy, that no-one would be there to greet me, and of freedom in that I could do whatever I liked and there would be no consequence unless, of course, I dropped my trousers in the middle of the arrival hall and flashed the people waiting there. I had heard that one could be arrested, in some parts of the Middle East, simply for farting in the arrival hall. I decided that I should be on my best behaviour just in case.
Breakfast service followed shortly after the hot towels. Thankfully one of the stewards passed by with a tray gingerly picking up used towels with his tongs as if he thought he would contract some hideous disease if one of the towels happened to touch his skin. I tried to hear what the stewardess in charge of the breakfast trolley was telling the passengers towards the front of the economy class corral.
“Omelette or beef noodles” seemed to be the choice of breakfast dishes. Taking stock of the passengers in the cabin around me I could see mostly Europeans and was damn sure that none of them would be choosing beef noodles for breakfast. I saw that even those among us who would typically eat noodles for breakfast were opting for the omelette. Sure enough, when the breakfast cart eventually reached me, there were no more omelettes available. I refused the meal partly because I couldn’t bear the thought of noodles for breakfast, but partly in a childish display of petulance. The stewardess seemed genuinely distressed that she couldn’t find something to tempt me. She promised to search the kitchen for another omelette after which she disappeared, never to be seen again – at least not by me. I couldn’t be upset with her, as I had used similar tactics myself when doing my national service in the army. The policy of ‘out of sight is out of mind’ worked well for me. It’s otherwise known as ‘hiding’. If they can’t find you they can’t ask you to do anything.
The sun was rising over Malaysia as the plane descended towards Kuala Lumpur. I congratulated myself on mentally reprogramming my mind, shortly after takeoff from England, to think in Malaysian time. Doing this has ensured that I have never suffered from the jet lag that travellers seem to complain about after long-distance flights. Looking out of the window I could see the lush greenery of the Malaysian countryside. Of course from that height it could have been anywhere in the world…unless there had been a Statue of Liberty, an Eiffel Tower, or a Sphinx, but I’m sure you understand the concept. Just as one city looks the same as any another, after all the travelling I have done in my life, most countries look the same from the air.
The cabin attendants had cleared away the remnants of breakfast and were cruelly confiscating all the headphones, leaving the passengers at the mercy of the awful ‘Just for laughs’ comedy program where viewers are encouraged to laugh at the misfortune of others. Those who are ‘pranked’ by the team are then supposed to put on a game face when the hidden camera is revealed. Just once I would like to see the pranksters savagely beaten with a handbag or laid low with some cleverly aimed karate kicks. It never ceases to amaze me how financial reward seems to compensate even the most sensitive among us after having been publicly humiliated on film. I chose to close my eyes as we lined up for final approach to the runway. I do this not from a fear of flying, but from a meditative perspective before having to face the madness of the crowds and procedures in an airport. A ‘last gasp’ of relaxation if you will.
The big jet lumbered heavily onto the runway and we taxied to the gate. It was then that the thought hit me that, after 50 years of life on the planet, I had arrived in Asia for the very first time. I was almost at a point where my trepidation at being in Asia was outweighed by excitement at what lay ahead. Almost…but not quite.
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