Epiphany on a 747
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Posted by David Chan on 2008-Feb-27 01:04
We sat in rows like worshippers at some service. The constant thrum of the jets underlays a carpet of constancy. Some have fallen in to slumbers no doubt dreaming in this half sleeping state. Others, like worshippers displaying their devotion, stare at the small screens straining to keep up with the film. Yet others observe the silent throng half awake half hypnotised.
It is five in the morning. We are flying across the desert following the route of the old Silk Road. I am flying back to the place I came from forty seven and a half years ago. Forty seven and a half seems to be a propitious number. Not quite triple sixteen yet semi-divisible by five. That's enough of this semi-numerology.
It seems somehow appropriate that I should come back after so many years. I say come back but it feels like going forward. The Hong Kong I knew as a child now badly remembered as an adult was destroyed years ago. Now three generations of property development has left few if any recognisable landmarks. But, that is the real truth; the landscape of our memories have all been destroyed through the ravages of time; losses to the God of modernisation. So realising this, I view the visit as a looking forward rather than a reaching back.
Strange that this journey is so quick. My last trip forty seven and a half years ago journeyed in the opposite direction. Rather than taking fourteen hours, the voyage took three days with sleepovers in two places. In 1960, my journey was featured in the Hong Kong newspapers. It was the first time that a seven year old has bet off on such a journey on his own. Like Paddington Bear, I boarded the aeroplane with a label showing my destination and my name. Memories of the childhood flight flutter back. The embarrassment in not knowing how to write Coca Cola resulting in endless cups of orange juice. The strangeness of being on an aeroplane with people who I could not understand. The abrupt ending of the runway in Hong Kong as the plane took off over the sea. Yet these images are not the ones that prevail.
I look across the darken cabin. Shades of Douglas Adam's Golgafrinchams haunt me. No, we are not on a timeless journey suspended in stasis. We are dynamic, riding the turbulence and winging our way to South East Asia, I recall somewhere an academic saying that the Jumbo-jet is our equivalent of the Medieval Cathedral. Yes building one of these planes would be our equivalent to constructing a Chartres or a Lincoln Carthedral? I wonder whether the constructors of the Cathedrals apply a the same reverence to their work as the Boeing workers? It is an thought.