Saturday, 7 July 2012

Slow Bloke To China: 4. Hot Dawn At Delhi, Aroma Of Hong Kong

What do most people do with the complimentary salt, pepper and sugar sachets which are come on the average airline meal tray? I imagine the majority is either eaten or left for the recycling bin. Some old fools, no doubt, like myself must pocket them and stick it in a scrapbook. My scrapbooks are filled with them, with this sachet of sugar being one of the oldest at 33 years old.

Those were the days when you were given some two-tone grey, hard, rigid plastic headphones in a polythene bag by the stewardess at the beginning of the flight. Just before landing, the junior crew member had the unenviable task of collecting up the accoutrements and he or she would be seen heading down the aisle with loads of grey dangling wires, from elbow to floor.

As you can see the entertainment was similar to Sunday night at the Palladium. Humphrey Lyttleton, Victor Borge, The Goons, The Day That They Got Disco In Brazil and Dr Alan Maryon-Davis, known for his 'Stayin Alive' spots on Kid Jensen's Radio 1 show. What more could you ask for?

The flight turned out to be incredibly relaxed. The crew came down and chatted to us, gave us little perks such as the odd bottle of champagne and bits from the First Class cabin. We even went up to the cockpit and sat with the pilots for twenty minutes. Of course hijacking was around, but seemed to be confined to the Middle east flights and the chances were still slim. The movie was pretty average - The Champ with Jon Voight, Faye Dunaway and Ricky Schroder, who made it to number 18 on VH1's 100 Greatest Kid Stars.

By the time the plane reached Delhi at 4am, local time, we hadn't slept a wink. Delhi Airport was a hive of activity at that hour. The plane was emptied while it was given a light clean. Security was tight. Both on our way into the terminal building and out, we were bodily searched. Both times I had a fat security guard who I felt possibly lingered over certain areas longer than he should have done and grinned like a Cheshire cat. But there were so many guards with guns, it was not the time to protest.

It was a magical place. The sounds, the smells, the heat - (it was already 30 degrees at that hour) were all alien and mystical to a seventeen year old's first experience of Asia. Around every corner there was a shopkeeper trying to sell enamel elephants at extreme prices. Some of us illegally snuck into the British Airways First Class Lounge, downed a couple of drinks and biscuits, before being identified and evicted. It was like a momentary island of peace, but bizarrely more exciting to return to the buzz of the outside world and the hot air which envelops you when leaving the air-conditioned bubble.

Getting back into the air gave the false sense of security that you were nearly at your destination. Hong Kong was another 5 1/2 hours away. Landing at Kai Tak Airport was as breathtaking as the pilot had told me earlier:

'Us pilots all love flying into Hong Kong,' he had said, giving a mischievous stare. 'It is a great challenge.'

I had never flown so close to skyscrapers before. So close that I saw people's washing drying in the wind, children waving and an old man with his head in a bowl of noodles. I gripped the armrest as we took a sharp right hander, dropped like a stone and landed, stopping just short of the sea.

'Pity about the plane last month,' I also remembered the piloy saying. 'Mistook the Coca Cola neon sign on top of a block of flats for the airport landing lights and nearly knocked his engine off.'

I exhaled long and hard before breathing in deeply. The cocktail of smells that met the inside of my nostrils was astounding. It was a mix of sewage water, humidity, discarded fish heads, jasmine, fortune cookie and sesame oil. It had permeated through the aircraft skin. I loved it and the heaviness of the humid air. Other passengers were holding their noses and sweating profusely.

'Blimey,' said one of my fellow students.

'Welcome to Hong Kong,' said the crackly voice over the pa system.

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