The events depicted on this post took place on May 18th, 2009.
(Previously on Ogijima: I took a plane from Paris to Japan, via Hong Kong)
The plane landed in the morning (well, I think it was the morning, I was completely jet lagged and it was only the beginning).
Here I was! For the first time of my life, I was in Asia! In Hong Kong International Airport to be more precise. If you’ve never been, it’s quite far from the city, just like many airports in the world, but I was slightly disappointed. Why was that? Because I had a vague memory of hearing that Hong Kong airport was right in the middle of Kowloon, and only a few days earlier I learned that it was not the case anymore as a new airport had been built in 1998. Not that it really mattered.
So, I was in Asia.
That being said, the airport looked pretty much like any European or American airport: lots of travelers, duty-free shops, televisions with CNN on and Obama on the screen. However, something was different. I was indeed in an unusual place, a far and distant place. It just took me a few minutes to fully become aware of it (I blame the 12 hour-long flight).
It started with the Chinese characters everywhere. Sure, Hong Kong being Hong Kong, English was ubiquitous in the airport, but Chinese was quite common (to be fair, even in the airport, I think that Chinese was a little more common than English). Common enough, but easy to ignore and almost forget, as pretty much everything was bilingual, you know how to tend to not pay attention to what you can’t read, especially when there’s legible text right next to it. Yet, it was the first time of my life I was surrounded by letters other than Roman characters. No, Chinese supermarkets in Paris don’t count. As for Greece, I was quite young when I went (10 years old) and I could more or less read Greek letters anyway, so both experiences are not exactly comparable.
And then, there were the people. Sure, there were Westerners in the airport, but they were a minority and at times (in the little “subway” leading from one part of the airport to another for instance) I was the only non-Asian. It was a first for me (and definitely not a last, as you can imagine). Of course, I expected to be surrounded by Chinese people in Hong Kong Airport, but for some reason what I didn’t expect was the diversity of people around me. I won’t teach you anything when I tell you that HKG is a major international hub. So I quickly met a kind of “internationalism” that I never thought about before, me being an European and all. What I mean is that on top of the Chinese, there also were a lot of Thais, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and people from other countries that I had a harder time to identify (I assume Malays, Cambodians and Indonesians).
Still, even if I was not used to be among Asian people from many different countries, it was not such a big issue either. I mean, at the time of that trip, I lived in Paris, one of the most multicultural cities in Europe, and before that I lived in Florida, quite a multicultural place too, especially the university campus.
However, two things really made me feel like I was in another world. First, there were these two Buddhist monks that walked near me. Sure, I had seen Buddhist monks before, but I first found it very strange is that nobody seemed to be paying attention to them. Two Buddhist monks in an airport! Heads should turn behind them, right? Well, not in Hong Kong. Obviously.
The second thing was the surgeon masks that a certain number of people wore. I thought that SARS ghosts must have been quite vivid for people to be so quick to wear those masks while the H1N1 virus left pretty much everybody indifferent in Europe.
Nothing special happened in the three hours that the flight for Osaka lasted. I just surprised myself jumping on my seat like a little kid when I had my very first glimpse of Japan (namely Kyūshū), quite similarly to the reaction I had the first time I saw North America (well, Greenland really) 12 years earlier.
It shall be noted that a large number of passengers and flight attendants also wore surgical masks. A thing that never ceased to intrigue/amuse/annoy me. As you’ll see soon, this was not going to be the last time (remember, this trip takes place in May 2009).
Soon, we landed.
I was in Japan!