Guess Who’s Back
January 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
For those of you who don’t know, I am currently (back) in Hong Kong doing a magazine internship until the end of May.
The first time I traveled to Hong Kong was almost exactly two years ago. This trip is markedly different. For one, I won’t be living the carefree life of a study abroad student; I’ll be working full-time and trying [and failing] to support myself. I won’t have the automatic support system of living in a dorm with other students from abroad, and, having been in this city before, I now know what to expect and hopefully will make fewer mistakes.
Lately, I had been thinking about how it feels to say goodbye. My ruminating led me to conclude that in terms of normal relationships (that is, not death or break-ups), bidding a temporary goodbye is (or can be) harder than a permanent one. When you say goodbye to a friend forever, you leave with what are usually positive memories ingrained in your minds, and you are both free to support each other from afar with the help of technology. There are very few expectations or responsibilities.
A temporary goodbye is quite different. There is the knowledge — often more of a hope — that you will see each other again. That hope is easily crushed should uncontrollable circumstances arise. There are no guarantees, only the substantial expectation that both parties will fulfill the promise to reunite. I suppose all this is to say that I’m going to miss B very much, and I look forward to coming home if only to see him again.
My flight to Hong Kong was my first time flying on Korean Air. It was also the first time in a long time that I’ve ridden an airplane with individual television screens; I think the last time was when my family was flying to either China or Argentina, and I tried watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it bored me so I ended up watching Disney cartoons all night. (I was young! Stop judging me!) These days, in-flight entertainment systems are even touch-screen, which reveals nothing except that I must be a Luddite for finding it all so new and remarkable. Before take-off, one of the flight attendants walked around offering passengers the use of an iPad, which didn’t seem to rouse much interest. “Nobody wants an iPad?” she ventured. I love all these options!
Having flown United for the great majority of my life, I was interested in spotting the differences between the two airlines. For one, Korean Air offers those over-the-ear headphones that people used to use with their Walkmans; I haven’t seen one in forever, and I wondered how many travelers these days would actually neglect to bring their own listening apparatuses. Seeing someone use that style of earphone with a touch-screen device would be so hipster. Each seat also contained a flat package that contained a pair of slippers, earplugs and a toothbrush — how homey!
Dad kindly booked window seats for me, and I sat in a row with two Chinese guys in their 20s. One thing I’d like to do at some point in my life is to make friends with the person next to me on a flight. For most people, flying usually means a time to pop in the earphones to try to drown out the screaming baby in the next row (there’s always a baby), but it would be nice to meet the person you’re sitting next to for 13 hours, wouldn’t it? Alas, I didn’t find out this time.
People always like to read and make lists of “Words You’ll Have To Explain To Future Generations” or “Sounds Your Kids Will Never Hear” because there’s nothing quite like the power of collective nostalgia to make us feel like our lives were worth living. On the flight, I marveled at the freedom we used to have of bringing something as simple as a bottle of water from home onto the plane. I only barely remember those times — these current security measures seem to have been around forever and are now an ingrained part of the travel experience. I wonder what it would take to loosen or even lift them…will our kids ever have the liberty of flying terror-free?!
While flying over Russia, I decided to watch one of the short travel features offered as entertainment. It was called “Miraculous Mirror of the Sky,” about Bolivia’s Unuyi salt flat, which is a huge stretch of salt nestled between the Andes mountain ranges. As the flattest place on Earth (there’s a place flatter than Kansas?), it reflects the sky like a huge mirror when even a centimeter of water collects on its surface. The faux-documentary seemed to have been originally in Japanese, as a young Japanese lady with ridiculously long fake nails played the tour guide. All dialogue was dubbed in English, and the cheesy narrator sounded like he cut his teeth working in a Disney theme park.
As we flew over South Korea, I remembered that the last time I flew to Korea, we were told that overhead photos of the country were prohibited (perhaps as a safeguard against North Korea? I don’t know). That rule wasn’t repeated to us this time, probably because the sun had not yet risen. During the whole 13 hours from Chicago to Korea, I only went to the bathroom once. Being discombobulated from sleeping restlessly, I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings, but on the way out when I passed the particular bathroom I used, I noticed that the door had a sign that said “Ladies Only.” The other three were unisex. How curious!
I arrived in Incheon airport at 4AM Seoul time. B had been telling me about all the fun things that the airport had to offer until he realized that none of them would be open while I was there. Indeed, I read an issue of both Rolling Stone as well as Marie Claire@Work in the four hours between flights after taking a short nap and wandering around in the chilly transfer terminal. I was reminded that one of the reasons I looked forward to going to Hong Kong was because it was so much warmer than Chicago.
The flight to Hong Kong was mercifully uncrowded, and I ended up having a row to myself. I tried to watch a documentary called “Beneath Easter Island,” but it was riddled with bad, “ethnic” re-enactments, the theatrics of which took away from what I was trying to learn from the video. Instead, I browsed through the feature films and found that they had 1911, a Jackie-Chan-produced film about the Chinese revolutions of 1911. I was thrilled to discover it here because I hadn’t been able to locate it either online or in theaters prior to this.
Despite only covering the events of one year, the film seemed epic in scope, introducing many characters right before killing them off. The main three actors were Jackie Chan, Li Bingbing and the guy who played Sun Yat-Sen, but more important that the characters themselves is the film’s main focus: China. And for a movie like this, in which characters are rather underdeveloped and expendable, one can only really enjoy the movie if one cares about China. A story about one person is more effective than a story about many. As I’ve learned in journalism, an article about a statistic — four million deaths, three thousand stranded, etc. — is rarely as compelling as one that details the struggles of one person within that statistic.
Also, I’d like to know why the white people in Asian movies always have such cheesy, laughable acting. It’s as if these people are picked from the most melodramatic of western theater rejects. In any case, I wonder if Chinese people would feel satisfied after watching a movie of this content. Are they happy with where China’s government currently stands? Sure, it’s better than the feudal hegemony of ancient monarchies, but would the current communist-capitalist system make the revolutionaries proud? I wonder.
How’s that for a surprise film review? Anyway, I landed safely in Hong Kong; the rest of the tale will have to wait until the next post!