I remember back to nearly ten years ago when I was sat, stranded, waiting for a connecting flight in Hong Kong. Glancing out of the window, rows of planes were lined up in front of the barely visible runway, thanks to a mini-typhoon that had all but shut the airport down.
I stretched back in my seat trying to shake off pins and needles that, after a few hours of sitting motionless in a waiting area, were cramping my legs. The air-conditioning was spluttering out warm and humid air. A woman sitting opposite me was fanning her face with a newspaper. Announcements echoed apologies for delayed flights down the endlessly long corridors.
I watched as the rain cascaded in heavy drops, bouncing down. I could see pools of water forming on the runway. The wind was howling and the sea surrounding the airport was spilling white, diamond-tipped waves violently in all directions. I watched the few flights that were taking off ascending shakily as I exchanged promises with god over the safety of my own flight.
I shuffled in my seat as a girl sat down next to me. “Hi, my name is Kim. I am from Manila. Where are you going?” she asked.
I looked up. Smiling back at me was a petite woman in her mid 20’s dressed in a bright pink jogging suit, with equally pink matching painted lips and waves of black curls bouncing down to her shoulders. Big golden hoops hung from her ears.
Kim explained that she was going to London to visit her brother who was studying there. “This is the second time I have been to London’ she announced proudly. “I will go to the place, at Bucking’.
I laughed. “Do you mean Buckingham Palace?” I asked.
“Yes, this is the one” she exclaimed.
Kim whipped out her phone, which was also pink and covered in glitter that sprinkled off onto her fingers. She tapped into it and beamed as she showed me pictures of her and her brother stood next to a variety of famous London landmarks.
She told me that she liked tea and Britney Spears. I told her that I liked coffee and Billie Holliday.
We both agreed that we liked the ocean and sunsets.
After disappearing for ten minutes, Kim returned with 2 boxes of food (filled with fish, steamed rice, and green vegetables). We were famished and dug in.
Kim described pieces of paradise of remote islands sitting in the southern Philippine archipelago. I exchanged stories of the tourist resorts and the not-quite-so beautiful beaches that dotted the Yorkshire coast. Kim told me that she wanted to go to Bridlington and eat fish and chips. I told her that I wanted to swim in the ocean off the tropical coast of Mindano.
Kim took her flight to London and I took mine. I sometimes wonder what she’s doing all these years later.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found something curiously exciting about airports. They get under my skin. There’s something about the hustle and bustle of people connecting to the world’s vast and remote corners.
I’ve crossed paths with all kinds of people in airports over the years – Buddhist monks journeying to central China, a man returning to his family in Iraq, an Indonesian lady travelling as a domestic worker to the Middle-East, an elderly couple returning home to Bangladesh, who shared their boiled sweets with me, as they told me about their grand-daughter’s wedding, students travelling to Europe. Everyone’s moving for a myriad of reasons. Each travelling with a unique life story printed upon their soul – holiday makers seeking sun chill outs, people moving to reunite with their family or loved-ones, to see friends, for work, to start a new life, to seek new opportunities, adventure seekers or others who are running away from something. All displaced – some from what’s comfortable and others from what’s routine. Our paths crossing.
There’s also something strange about airports. These are places, where, despite all the movement, you’re essentially stuck in the middle of nowhere. A pseudo reality. Impersonal. Marbled floors, perfume filled duty free counters and endless halls, filled with rows of chairs, where the venue never really discloses much about its destination of origin. Sitting at LAX (where Donna Karen’s trying to sell you her duty free American Dream) probably doesn’t feel that dissimilar to sitting at CDG airport, despite being thousands of miles apart.
Years later, when I think back to the girl dressed in pink and gold earrings, I realise that we were both, for that moment, caught in nowhere. We were connected, for a brief moment, in a world which tries its best not to disconnect us from the bubble of all but that which is familiar. But what’s wrong with the unfamiliar? Nothing at all. I think we should all, occasionally, seek to disconnect from what’s familiar and make a connection with the unfamiliar.