Dateline: Somewhere over the very fucking large Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California.
It used to seem so miraculous to me. The idea that we could cross oceans via the air and within a day or so be in a completely different country that we would only otherwise get to experience on television filled me with a sort of wonder.
As a younger man living in Australia, the ability to travel internationally was akin to mastering the secrets of the universe. It was a means of controlling time. Flying from Melbourne to LA and arriving 5 hours before I left became a bragging point. "I will travel into the past and fascinate people with my knowledge of the future," I'd say, joking to my friends. Actually I was probably boring my friends because, let's face it, travelling backwards over the international dateline is:
- Nothing special; and
- Merely the spatial manipulation of the arbitrary labeling given to ease our tiny minds into a construct paradoxically and simultaneously abstract and very real: ie TIme.
Still, it seemed largely magical to me. Especially the first time it went smoothly. Flying from Melbourne to Greece via Singapore when I was 22 gave me my sense of wonder about air travel. Before then I'd travelled to New York on the worst route possible (Melbourne -> Auckland -> Honolulu -> San Francisco -> New York, a forty hour trip of little to no sleep and a mix-up with the meals leaving me both hungry and slightly food-poisoned) and London via Bangkok where the plane's hull was damaged by someone driving one of those luggage trolleys directly into it and my grandfather, who spoke very little English, displayed his frustration by muttering "shit, shit, shit, shit" and shaking his head ever-so slightly.
On that flight to Greece I sat next to a Korean man and we made conversation the whole way to Singapore. To this day I speak almost no Korean and I'm sure he hasn't made much progress beyond the zero English he spoke. Through the magic of air-travel we had quite a marvelous conversation about our home countries and other things that fail to come to mind. By the time we parted in Singapore, we had exchanged phone numbers and addresses. I've never heard from him again but didn't really expect to.
In Singapore I ate noodles with roast duck before catching my connecting flight to Athens and I was like Marco Polo discovering the orient and bringing its secrets back to Europe.
My parents immigrated to Australia, arriving by boat after months of travel. When they spoke of France and Italy, Poland and Russia, these places seemed unreachable due to their distance. Months they spent on boats to come to Australia, battling illness and cultural barriers, and I make the return journey in less than a day. That's amazing.
At least, it was amazing. Now it seems like the most ridiculous thing ever. It's taking me 20 hours to get to New York. Almost an entire day of travel to get between two first-world nations. That just doesn't make any sense to me anymore. It feels so primitive despite the fact that I KNOW there's no faster way to get there.
Eleven hours into the fourteen that make up the first leg, Melbourne -> L.A. and I feel beastly. I'm looking around the cabin wondering what kind of thin line there is between everybody sitting patiently in their seats and some horrible prison riot-type scene where passengers start burning their own seats.
We've been stuck in our assigned positions for so long that we remember no past and are aware of no future. I am now, have always been and will always be 70B.
Technology allows us to use microwaves to defrost lasagne in a matter of minutes but it still takes me 20 hours to travel to New York and, more to the point, I'm still too poor to afford one of those airline seats that convert into a bed. The world continues to be a mystery.