My 39-Hour Sunday

For something so expensive and booked so far in advance, it always seems to me that international travel should come with more ceremony. But, instead, it’s just another exercise of matching numbers and names with those on computer files, over-lit hallways, queues and waiting. I give the lady at the desk my Australian passport, then my Canadian, then my duffle bag and head in the direction of the security check.

I’m glad to be leaving Singapore, and I’m glad that Dad’s moving back to Perth soon and that I’ll have no reason to come here again. I buy a postcard and write to Tim. “It’s that constant, pervasive feeling of being inside that gets to me, even when you’re outside, even when it’s raining. Like they’ve got some sort of rain machine attached to the glass dome of a ceiling I’m so sure is up there, with sliding glass doors to let the planes in and out.”

It feels like I’ve been inside for four days – since Tim, Hilary and Eamon walked me from the carpark into the Perth International airport, since leaving home.

I board the plane and we’re in Taiwan in a quick four-and-a-bit hours. There’s no time difference yet – I’m still on Perth time. The airport is shaped like a great big H. The good bit, with the pub and the soaring, metal-laced ceilings and the “Outdoor Smoking Rooms”, forms the horizontal cross-stick, but I don’t discover this part until a few hours into my six-and-a-half hour stay. Instead, I am deposited – via some more corridors and transfer signs and security checks – into one of the long, underpopulated vertical legs of the H, which I wander up and down for a while, trying to figure out how to get on the internet. On the other side of the windows, Sunday fade outs like a screensaver.

There are a lot of very bored shop assistants around. They shuffle and pace, and I try not to enter any of the stores in case they ask me if I want anything. Eventually, I finish wandering and enlist the help of a small fleet of them to help me with the temperamental wireless, so can I get on Skype and kill time talking to far-away people on muddy lines.

The plane finally leaves at 5 minutes to midnight. I switch to my Candadian passport and head through the gate. I have spent some of the remaining time in the “Outdoor Smoking Room”, watching buses and cars stream in and out of the airport, and some more talking to a black guy from Vancouver who said lots of good things about the city. He had an intense, concentrated stare and eyes so dark it was hard to discern his pupils. The whole conversation, I was hyper-aware of how untrusting and fearful I was of him. I was thinking about my passports and my wallet and my laptop – news reports, movies – while he was sitting across from me being friendly and interesting and polite. It reminded me how tired I am of being expected to be afraid of everything, and of this being called things like responsible and street smart.

I sleep a long time on the plane. Every now and again we hit turbulence, and I am woken by the air hostess on the intercom who warns us of “bumpy air”. “Passengers please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts,” she says “because now we are getting some bumpy air.”

When I wake, we’re nearly there. I watch the oversized plane on the flight scanner on the screen in the back of my seat. It moves in tiny increments, like an hour hand on a clock, creeping over over the Pacific, it’s nose nearly touching Vancouver. We’ve travelled nearly 9,000kms in the past nine hours, at a rate of 920km/ph. Humans were never meant to travel that fast. I wonder what it does to our constitution.

The same Sunday is fading again, this time outside the windows of the plane as it taxis over to the terminal. It is roughly 7:30pm – four hours before we departed Taipei. In Australia, it is tomorrow. I’m aware of having travelled to the other side of the world; I know logically how far I am from home, but all I’ve done is sit around in hallways and watch movies from seats in airplanes. Australia doesn’t feel so far away just yet.

Inside, the terminal is like an oversized living-room in a hunting cottage. It’s brown and slightly daggy, but warm and comfortable, and I half expect to see a roaring fireplace in one of the walls, maybe some deer trophies. At the customs desk I present my Canadian passport and the guy asks me questions. I notice how different his accent is to mine. He writes “17 years” in big red letters under the “Time elapsed since departing Canada” section of my arrival card and I get my bags and finally walk outside.


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