Duty Free Dreaming and Departure Lounges; the final leg of the long haul flight

Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo.

Al Gore

Another stop, Dubai now, for what was meant to be an hour and a half but I have a sneaking suspicion it has been, and will be, longer than that.

I’m in another departure lounge. I don’t quite understand the use of the word lounge in this context. “Lounge” conjures up all sorts of images, none of which are even remotely like the thing I am sitting in.  It is not that this departure “lounge” is any worse than others I have been trapped in. They’re all pretty much the same. Cheap, heavy-duty carpet with mind-blogging patterns. Vinyl bench seats in a colour scheme which clashes beautifully with the mind-boggling carpet. Big, empty white walls. Big, nasty fluro lights. That constant beep-beep, beep-beep as they recheck boarding passes and passports.

This particular departure lounge is spinning. It could be the carpet. Or the lights. Or the fact I haven’t slept in 24 hours. Probably some sort of combination of the three. The carpets makes 3D shapes which jump into my face whenever I look down.

I should stop looking down.

I feel disgusting but at least I smell nice.

Upon passing through security I was greeted by the bright lights and empty promises of the Duty Free stores. The United Arab Emirates Dirham makes everything look expensive. The US Dollar makes everything look affordable. I wasn’t fooled; Australian Dollars will get you nowhere. So I browsed and attempted to keep that nonchalant I-could-afford-it-if-I-wanted-it expression plastered on my face. I tried to not look guilty every time I passed a security guard. Not that I had anything to feel guilty about – except, possibly, the fact that there was no way in the world I was actually going to buy anything or shoplift anything for that matter. That feeling of guilt for not actually doing anything wrong always happens when I have to show my bag to the security guy at the door of the store or when I walk past a cop … It’s just a thing I think.

Anyway, I tried on some Chanel perfume because Keira Knightley strikes me as a really lovely person and someone I think I could be great friends with one day. (OK, OK, I know – I just completely sucked in to celebrity branding. Gross.) I put on the perfume with my nonchalant expression.

The girl with the nonchalant expression decided she didn’t want the perfume.

The girl within the girl with the nonchalant expression really, really did want it …

But you can’t just buy something so extravagant before your adventure / international experience / holiday even begins, can you? Plus, you know, I am going to Paris so there’s that. Yeah.  Paris.

Meanwhile, back in the departure lounge …

A man in a fluro vest (so he must be official and know what is going on) just made everyone seated in rows 1 to 21 stand, expectantly, to board the bus which will take us to the plane (finally).

So I stood. And waited.

He was wrong.

Despite the fluro vest.

Everyone in seated rows 1 to 21 could sit down again.

Most of them didn’t want to.

I can understand that.

What I don’t understand is why this part of the airport even exists. We got off the plane. Went through security. I wandered around the Duty Free stores. I tried on expensive perfume. Then I had to show my boarding pass, again, and passport, again, and wait in this thing they call a lounge which is more like a holding pen. Or the setting for some bizarre psychology experiment. Stand up. Sit down. Beep-beep. There are no bathrooms here. No water. Not even enough places to sit. Just crazy carpet. And vinyl seats.

And a lonely girl wearing Chanel perfume she cannot really afford.

Roll on Heathrow …

Fluro lights of the departure lounge

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In transit; ramblings from Brunei Airport

It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an airport” appear

Douglas Adams

In the bathroom at Brunei airport the taps were running. I don’t know why. I turned them off. Habit, I suppose. I still don’t know if I was meant to or not. Airports can be confusing places; particularly the bathrooms.

I found the only functioning bathroom in Brunei airport. Due to renovations. I waited at the end of a queue for the western toilet, whilst the squat toilets mocked me; their doors open, empty, ready and waiting. I felt like an idiot. I wish I could have whipped off my tights and straddled the hole in the ground. But, like an arrogant westerner, I waited and tried, desperately, not to look concerned at the water and paper that flooded the floor or the massive hole in the ceiling.

I washed my hands and looked for something to dry them on. A lovely woman understood the international sign for I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-wet-hands and handed me a roll of toilet paper. We smiled. I said thanks and wished I’d taken the time to learn some other thank-yous before embarking on this trip: danke, merci, grazie … I hadn’t even thought about the thank yous I would need in transit. I stood amongst women I couldn’t understand and plaited my hair as they adjusted their headscarves. I felt ashamed of my plait. I applied some moisturiser whilst they did the same. When most of them had left I turned off the taps. I snapped a picture. To remember.

I was confined to Brunei’s damp and humid airport for about two hours. There wasn’t much happening. Due to renovations. There was one little shop selling souvenirs, lollies and water (it only accepted Brunei dollars) and a foreign cash exchange window (clever). 

I really wished that I had learnt more about the place of my two-closer-to-three-hour transit.

As the plane descended into Brunei I pressed my face against the window to get a better look at the landscape. It was beautiful. Green and lush. Mountains and valleys covered in trees upon trees. They all looked like they were pushing each other out of the way; jostling for the best spot or standing on each other’s shoulders like a crowd in a mosh-pit.

Low clouds covered the valley, slowly rolling by … no, no – not rolling – they were really too wispy to be rolling. The clouds reminded me of that stuff Mum and Nan would call “angel’s hair” and spread over the artificial branches of our artificial Christmas tree to create an artificial winter wonderland in the midst of Perth’s very hot summer. The trees here were greener than any of our fake Christmas trees.

The trees thinned out to make way for little pockets of little houses and little driveways that lead up to little doors. The trees fight for space, gathered together in mournful gangs here and there until there are more houses than trees. Still, it is nothing like the roofs and roofs and roofs that cover the aerial view of Melbourne. The roofs as we come into land at Brunei are blue and red and yellow and orange.

There are some spots where the houses look exactly the same; like someone had gone crazy with the copy + paste function – identical blue roofs all in a neat little row, identical triangular houses built around a cleared rectangle. Suddenly one massive house interrupts the pattern – a manor house with a red roof and manicured lawn.

Next time I’d like to leave the musty airport and feel the damp air and humidity against my face and, maybe, meet the people who live in those identical houses. I wonder if those identical houses are part of a new development, an estate, something the people here have been given as some sort of dream they feel they have to aspire to. I hope it never becomes the roof rather than the tree jostling for the best spot.

I want to learn more about Brunei.

I want to know when to join a queue.

I want to know more about clouds.

But, I am in transit …

Being stood-up

SONY DSC

I hate waiting.

And yet here I am.

It is a lot warmer than I thought it would be. The flies are those sticky, needy types that just want to sit on my arms / legs / face no matter how many times I brush them away.  Sweat is running down by back, inside my dress. I hope like hell that no one notices. Sweating is disgusting when not directly related to exercise; even then it’s not very attractive yet more acceptable. Here I am sitting at a café sweating like I’ve just run 5-kilometres or something.  I shouldn’t be sweating like that. Should I? Women don’t talk about sweating so it worries me that it is abnormal or a sign of something abnormal … I didn’t expect it to be so hot.

The flies continue. The sweat continues. I wish I had worn a hat and sunscreen and been sun-smart and slip-slop-slapped. Why didn’t I think of all this before choosing the outdoor table with limited umbrella coverage? If I get skin cancer because he is late I will kill him.

He was meant to be here twenty minutes. We had arranged this coffee catch-up only a couple of days ago. The place was his idea. The time was mine. 10.30am. I texted him as I left my apartment. I texted him when I arrived. There’s been no response.

When I arrived, I told the young woman who called me “ma’am” and made me feel incredibly old, that I was waiting for someone. The people at the other table heard me. The waitress brought out an extra glass of water and an extra menu – “Here you are ma’am, in case your friend wants breakfast” she smiled and added “ma’am”. I wanted to throw the water in her face. But I didn’t. Besides, she’d probably call me ma’am as she cleaned up the mess and offered me another, fresh glass of water and so the cycle would continue …

I sit with the empty chair in front me, the untouched extra glass of water, the unread menu.

Half an hour late.

Now I’ll look like some kind of jilted bride if I up and leave before he arrives. I will look like a complete idiot. I’m sure that couple at the table near mine live in my apartment block. I’m not entirely sure but they did walk from the same direction as me to this spot, look a little familiar and seem to be watching me now and then, sizing me up. Probably wondering if I am the girl from their apartment block. They’ll probably go home and laugh about that neighbour being stood up at the café. I’ll hear them laughing too. You can hear so much in the apartment block; couples’ fights, couples’ make-up sex … and so the cycle continues. They probably think I’m having some sort of secret affair and I’m waiting for my lover who has decided to stand me up on this day after Valentine’s Day. I really, really need my dear, gay friend to turn-up right now so they can see I’m not cheating on my boyfriend, so they can see I’m not some philandering loser.

But he still hasn’t answered his messages.

Maybe he met someone last night. It was Valentine’s Day. Maybe that’s it.

The waitress who called me ma’am just looked at me very apologetically. I don’t know how to make my getaway …

“Would you like a cool drink or something ma’am?”

Shit. She notices the sweat. She can see it. Why else would she ask if I wanted a cool drink. A cool drink? At a café renowned for its coffee …

“I’ll have a peppermint tea.”

Shit. Shit. Why did I ask for peppermint tea? It’s hot. It’s hotter than I had expected.

“Yeah, just the peppermint tea. While I wait. For my friend.”

Shit. Shit. Shit. Why did I say “My Friend”. Friend could mean anything. Anything. I remember when I had my first boyfriend in high-school and if he came over to any family sort of thing, Mum would always refer to him as my “friend” and I hated it. Hated it. It sounded so patronising. Now it just sounds like code for “my lover”.

“Of course ma’am. Right away ma’am” – what the hell is with this ma’am thing? It sounds like she’s the Prissy to my Scarlett O’Hara or something. I’m not looking for a maid. I’m not living in the deep south of 19th Century America. I’m not old enough to be a ma’am, surely?

She moves away with her ma’am and her apologetic look and I keep on looking up and down the street, keep checking my phone, keep writing, looking busy.

Someone else brings me the peppermint tea and this one doesn’t say ma’am. Thank goodness.

The sun is moving so it’s not as sweaty as before. But the flies don’t let up. I should have sat inside … Thirty-five-minutes.

On my first date with boyfriend I must have been half and hour late. Half an hour is a long time. I hope I texted him back then to say I’m just running late, oops, sorry, I’ll be right there. I feel bad imagining him sitting there, waiting, wondering if I was even going to show up. I hope I did text him. I will have to ask him tonight.

Maybe my friend had an accident.

No. I’ll go with the other scenario. He met someone. That’s better.

The couple next to me have finished their organic quinoa salad with soft boiled free-range egg, sumac corn, coriander, pomegranate, avocado, pistachio and citrus dressing … and side of bacon. Somehow bacon just doesn’t seem to fit that equation … Oh well. At least they’ve finished. Once they’ve gone I can go.

He gets up. This could be it.

I think he has gone inside to pay the bill. She is cheating at the crossword they were attempting over breakfast with the assistance of an app on her Smartphone.

He comes back and now she goes inside. Why can’t they just go already so I can leave without looking stupid?

If only I had a dog. That would solve everything. The dog could drink the extra glass of water. He may even sit up on the extra seat. I’d call him Dave or Corey or something and order him his own side of bacon.

The dog I would call Dave or Corey or something …

A woman in exercise gear (the brunch uniform even if it looks like you haven’t actually exercised in the gear ever) has just tied her dog up near me. I can’t claim this one as mine; the guy at the table saw the exercise-gear-woman tie it up and wander inside for her skinny latte. Now the guy, clearly deflated by his girlfriend’s successful completion of the shared crossword, comes over to pat the recently abandoned dog. I think he wants to see what I’m writing. You can read it on my blog, I want to tell him. But I don’t. I just do that not so subtle arm across the page thing, like the super-smart kid in math class who didn’t want anybody riding her mathlete coattails.

11.15am. That’s 45-minutes. I can’t wait an hour, especially as I’ve heard no word that he is even coming. No word that he is actually OK and not lying in a coma in the local hospital … no, he has met someone. I am sure that is it. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.

An overweight, shirtless man with a vast collection of tattoos stalks past me, muttering something about the dangers of choppers. Or coppers? I don’t like to ask him to clarify. I don’t think he’d like me to ask him to clarify. My dress sticks to my back. My once straightened hair is shoved into one of those cool messy buns all the girls do now, except mine is more mess and less cool.

Finally, my maybe neighbours leave.

47-minutes.

Still no response.

I am going to get up, hold my head up high, march inside and pay for this overpriced peppermint tea. The other teas here sound amazing: Silver Fox, Genmaiche, Ancient Moonlight … No, don’t hide in the menu – get inside. Go.

11.25am. Peppermint tea finished. Operation head-up-high, this-was-not-a-date-and-I-haven’t-been-stood-up-at-all-my-friend-is-just-busy-or-hung-over-or-madly-in-love-or-in-hospital-or-something is about to take place …

I pay without one sympathetic, questioning, judgemental look.

I leave –

“Thank you ma’am,” the waitress smiles weakly as she picks up the still full extra glass of water from my table for one …