South East Asia on a Hamstring – March 13
Homeward Bound – March 13, 2000
I said goodbye to my pal Lochie and flew to Bangkok. I was on a frequent flyer ticket and hadn’t gotten quite the itinerary I’d wanted and so I signed up to fly standby on the next flight to Hong Kong.
If I missed this flight, I’d certainly be spending the night in Hong Kong instead of going on to Los Angeles.
I devoured a Whopper Jr. (I regretted it later – exotic food and water doesn’t make me sick but you don’t want to hear what the Whopper did to me) in the Bangkok Airport Burger King and then waited anxiously, hoping for my name to be called.
I was called up and then the supervisor at Cathay Pacific realized that she was wrong – there were no seats left on the plane. She sent me back to sit on my luggage cart, where I dejectedly considered Plans B and C.
Then she motioned me back – I’d gotten the very last seat on the plane and I had to run to the gate right now!
I did run and breathlessly got onto the plane. There was someone in my seat.
“Were you assigned this seat too?” asked the woman in 45D, a coveted aisle seat. “So were we.” She motioned at two other people around her.
The flight attendants were in a tizzy trying to figure out where to seat us all. I was temporarily in a fold-down jumpseat but finally the other three people disappeared and I was put in 45D, as a result of smiling when the others were bitching. Tom from Missouri sat nearby and I could hear him chewing off some poor man’s ear about all the water puppets he’d purchased in Hanoi, and about the two-and-a-half foot water buffalo statue he’d picked up in Siem Reap.
In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific got me onto the last seat on the plane again. Smiling got me nowhere this time – I was scrunched between two large men, and performed acrobatics to get around them while they slept. Eleven hours after leaving Hong Kong, I arrived in Los Angeles two hours before I’d left Asia, due to that pesky Date Line stuff.
The last I saw of Tom from Missouri was him and his water buffalo being waved into the Red Lane by Customs. I was asked a few questions and sent on through the Green Lane.
“Where are you coming from?” asked the bored young immigration officer.
“Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand…” he interrupted me before I reeled off the whole list.
“Damn, girl, those are fourth and fifth world countries. Are you an environmentalist or something?”
My friend Steve was waiting for me outside Customs. He swooped up my backpacker gear and 28-new-tailored-items and deposited them and me in his black Toyota Celica. We drove through Los Angeles, past icons of normalcy such as Citibank and McDonald’s (which in the U.S. is considered merely a fast food joint and not the American Embassy, as it is in the rest of the world). We went to Mel’s Diner on Sunset Boulevard and spent two week’s Cambodian salary on a turkey sandwich.
The next day, we celebrated my return to the US with a trip to Disneyland. We went through “It’s a Small World” twice to get the right photos of me in front of the dorky Thailand exhibit, and it was excruciatingly shrill and irritating. The ending features a big conglomerate world – where all races are mixed and fashions are equal in countries. The MTV/satellite television revolution is either realizing this ultimate melting-pot dream or culturally destroying other nations, depending on your viewpoint and values.
We went through Toon Town and the updated Tomorrowland and took a ride on a space-shuttlecraft to a remote moon of Endor. Later, I sat in the Tiki Hut and watched all the animatronic birds sing in French and German accents, while a little girl with light-up sneakers gazed delightedly, not realizing how totally strange and excessive it all was. Every single thing that I saw that day was bizarre – much weirder and more indulgent than anything I have ever seen in any other country.
But that is fitting. Because in the rest of the world, they have a saying. It is not usually said in front of Americans, but I have overheard it whispered enough times to make it out.
“Only in America,” they say. “Only in America.”
(If you made it this far, thanks for bearing with me and yes, I am home in New York City now, March 17, 2000.)