Waiting for my plane in Brussels, I knew I was in for a long journey, by modern standards. It would take me almost a full day to get from the capital of Europe to that skyscraping hive of people in the Orient. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, if I have to be honest. For one, I can’t sleep on planes. Sitting upright, closing eyes and then drowsing off? Nope, that does not work for me. I’m very conservative when it comes to resting: you need a bed. To make matters worse, my booking reference had the ominous code “37loki”. Just what I needed, the Nordic trickster. I suspected it wasn’t indicating a crash or anything too perilous, but I foresaw a bunch of delays and other shit along the way to piss me off and make the archetypical joker cynically laugh at my misfortune. And I got them.
There was nothing particularly inauspicious going on at first. The flight from Brussels to Copenhagen was so smooth it almost felt like the plane was carried by the previously mentioned Lord of this year His angels. No turbulence at all. Next to that my fellow passengers all seemed to come straight out of James Bond’s Casino Royal. That was the first association I made. This is how Hollywood would depict the other folks on the special agent’s flight to Scandinavia. Not too sharply dressed, but that shirt was more worth than those in my luggage. They were all above 30. I couldn’t spot a single 20-year old, or s/he must have already grown up and given up on that identity she calls a ‘phase’ now.
Most of them were Scandinavian, as it was a Scandinavian Airlines flight and we were heading to such a country. I’ve never been to any Scandinavian country, so I can’t really judge, but they seemed to be serious people. The jokes they crack are probably not of the New Yorker-kind, but they’ll probably come close. Their eyes, although mostly fixated on their fancy tablets, phones and business related magazines, beamed the many years of dealing with the important things of the world. Not all equally as wealthy, probably, but equally as involved with the same world. That, of course, made their life important, made those aforementioned things important. Sitting next to them, I sensed their approach to life was one of a slight hurry, to get things done quickly and effectively. I noticed the relaxed demeanour they now oozed was a welcoming effect of the flight. Being up in the air, they, for a moment, could literally levitate far above the concerns of that very world that lent them importance, significance, but also weighed on them. They had become, somewhat, like the detached sage, who also levitates above the world, whose aim is to levitate above it. Not theirs though. This is a pause. It is not the very goal of their lives, but it is welcomed. Siddharta’s stuff, a nice fix once in a while.
In any case, I very much doubted these men and women of status were joining me to Beijing. We shared nothing beyond the same flight. We all knew. And we all kept quiet.
The flight attendants had dimmed the light in the plane, even though it was only 6PM. I guess they wanted us to rest, by signalling it was already night, and so we would not bother them too much.
An empty seat separated me and the guy next to me, an early 30’s looking bloke, who took off his wholecut shoes by rubbing them from his feet. He played with them and slipped his feet sometimes back into the pair of toys they had now become. No need to unlace them. As if greased with butter they just fell right off. This wouldn’t be the first time I saw far from comfy shoes being taken off next to me.
Besides this triviality that caught my attention, there wasn’t much to spot around me. I had a window seat, but only a void was to be seen through the small gap. Every now and then I could spot cities in the distance, their lights indicating habitation, functional structures, operating societies. They lit up like lava stroking on the Earth’s surface after an eruption. I could see, high up there, how extremely telluric the modern world actually is.
Arriving in Copenhagen, I quickly learnt my flight got delayed for over 5 hours. I had to keep myself busy in this airport and I had not a single Danish krone on me. The entertaining part wouldn’t be hard, since I had Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation close by. That’s a big enough bone to gnaw and keep myself distracted. Schopenhauer could be said to have further ‘popularized’ eastern thought, even though he was far from popular in his own time ( in contrast with Hegel, who he greatly despised and all too often scolds in his writings as being a ‘sophist’ ). But regardless of that, the metaphysics of the Orient had been studied and analysed, but never really picked up and systematized in a personal philosophy. Schopenhauer brought it out of the up-until-then mostly specialist circles and led it into an at least somewhat greater light. The world wasn’t that unfamiliar with the East anymore, but it had not really picked up the ideas as much as it did spices and porcelain.
In regards to the lack of money, a few euro coins were all I had left, which they did not accept in any store.
As a compensation for this big delay, Scandinavian Airlines gave me a coupon to get some free food. It wasn’t much: 15 euro’s total. Enough for a quick snack in this part of the world. So I picked that up and searched for a place to get something for that exact price.
The transfer area of Copenhagen Airport did not feel like an airport. This could be said about the one in Brussels too, but it was much more true for this one. I was forcibly led through dozens of shops in order to get to my gate. There was no escape. If you land and stay in transfer, you just end up in a shopping mall. The nodes of the world are where you’ll find the true power of that world in its fullest bloom.
I stumbled upon this British franchise of sushi restaurants called “YO! Sushi”. I got myself some of that and in doing so I further enhanced my skills in the use of chopsticks, as I wouldn’t be seeing much forks and knives anymore. It was set up like a kaiten-zushi, only the food on the conveyor belt passing was never yours, but an extra bite to buy.
Technically, I was a little closer to Asia that way, but not really. It’s just like being closer to Taiwan by having a “Made In Taiwan” item nearby. In a decade where the world’s transactions are supposed to resemble those of a village and its entire archive of knowledge pocket-sized, the very products and information seeping from all corners around the world do not offer the same sort of exhilaration for its exoticism. What a pineapple did to the elite of 17th and 18th century England, it would never do to us. The extreme commonality of it all, the cheap price we all pursue, but which we always associate with a lack of an actual inherent value. We can try to counter that by trying out childlike curiosity for cheap stuff, but how long does that work? A day or two and we’re back to our old routine.
(Charles II presented with a pineapple, 1677)
One could say that I was still able to pay stuff with the cards I had on me, but I was stupid and already went through the security check after that snack. The only thing in the next hallway, which was strikingly different from the last ones: empty. At the gates, no shopping. You had to empty your wallets before. Your loss.
There was only this 7/11 store and this other shop which had a peculiar offer of wine, bottles of water and candy bars. My Visa did not work at the 7/11 and the lady showed a strange interest in my very card, as did the gentleman with the reflector lights ( obviously working at the airport as well ) next to me. Maybe they were more estranged by a guy with a hoodie and a black cap on and his non-functioning card than I was by them. I left for my final option, the cabinet of curiosities on the other side of the hall. The lady at the counter was kind enough to accept my euro coins, as she saw I was desperate for a drink. Praise be to her and the fact she saved me from a drinkless 5 hours.
So then I waited, for a very long time, and read a bit of Schopenhauer. I had some Wi-Fi, every now and then, so I could also check up on all the happenings on my social media. I stayed in contact with some friends and family over the nothing-goings-on at the airport and then I picked up my flight to Beijing. Before that, I had a short talk with a 19-year old girl from France who studied in Norway ( political science if I remember correctly ) and was going to Beijing to see some friends for the coming 2 weeks. She was visibly upset over the delay and looked on her phone for all the ways she could get an extra buck as compensation for the lost time.
I do not remember much from the flight, even though it was quite long, 8 hours total. I only recall that we all descended upon our meals like hungry wolves and how I tried to rest on the plane. I think I faintly succeeded, as I was in a murky twilight zone of falling asleep and being wide awake. I’m not sure if I actually caught any sleep, but time went by rather fast. The last hour I just looked at the satellite image of my plane getting closer and closer to the capital of China.
There I would only be on the ground in the Middle Kingdom, but never outside of the transfer zone. I never really ‘felt’ like I was in China, to be quite honest. Only the ethnic difference of the staff, and most of the people around, and the more stringent security checks, indicated I was in another place. Still, an airport, again, lacks any features that evoke a specific culture. They’re by definition cosmopolitan and therefore extremely boring. The departure and arrival hubs of our world do not have an identity, for how could they? I could see in places like this how a world citizen is a hollow term and means nothing but being in constant transit. Only then do you belong to the ‘world’. Dealings with the ‘world’ are then nothing more but keeping those shops in business in those bazaars as harbours, or harbours as bazaars. By being on and active in the trade routes. I merely used them to lead me to the place of destination. I was not engaged in any trade. Maybe a craft, one I’m not sure what to call it yet.
After rebooking my flight to Hong Kong, as it had already left when my delayed flight arrived, I was followed around by an old Swede who went by the name ‘Terry’. He was very familiar with Asia, having been here dozens of times, and had seen virtually all the nations it has. Terry told me the story of Yamashita’s gold, after we talked about Southeast Asia and hearing I studied history. He knew the tale in great detail and believed it to still be, somewhere, in the Philippines. I couldn’t help but recall the treasure hunting days I had on my PC, back in the day when Tomb Raider got as big as Nintendo’s Mario. Magical artefacts and other hidden riches, it was what led me to the study of history, of Asia and the whole causal chain on to this very journey.
When we exited the bus that brought us to the plane, the wind was truly Siberian in origin. I could feel it piercing through every fabric on me. Inside, the instruction videos were nothing like those in the West. A cute and clumsy panda put on his seatbelt and did everything else that’s needed in an emergency situation. I was entertained, moreso than by the men and women of status on the ads back home do.
My flight took off and I set forth for Hong Kong. A Chinese lady next to me, seperated by an empty seat, rubbed off her shoes.