The Joy of Airports

‘Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again…’ – John Denver

As the world starts to open up again, it seems a lifetime ago that I spent so much time in airports, flitting around the world to seek out family and friends, to delve into new cities, to tumble into new adventures. As security has ramped up over the years – bomb threats, the fear of terrorism – and the volume of travellers has risen exponentially, it’s hard to remember a time when queues through airports didn’t extend for days. Nonetheless, there is something magical that stirs my heart at the thought of a boarding pass and a trek down the ramp to the plane door, to find my seat – ‘window or aisle?’ being the biggest decision I’ll make this week – and settle in for a long-haul flight. And I remember those days with nostalgia, as we wait to emerge from this covid chrysalis and drift out into the world again….

When we first moved to the Philippines, I found Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila to have the most exhaustive and exhausting security measures I had ever come across. My last trip back was in October 2018, but I still remember clearly…

Every person you pass needs to see your passport, or your ticket or both.  I have taken my shoes off so many times I wish I had worn flip flops. Luckily, the sheer dreariness of it has driven away the tears that have been bubbling to the surface since two final G&Ts by the pool around four.

I have loved being back in Asia. Even some of those small, daily aggravations – like airports – are amusing now, and positively nostalgic. This time, I can giggle at the brash, blaring, tinny muzak in every shopping mall, the restaurant meals served in every conceivable permutation except entrée, main course, dessert that used to drive me to despair, the ever-present, slightly waxy smell of shopping malls that adheres to your nostrils like glue. Even the slow pace at which everyone walks, four abreast, that used to aggravate when I was in a hurry and could not pass, is a comfortable, fuzzy memory.  There is such deliberation over every retail transaction that it can take hours to buy a packet of socks, as the staff produce invoices and receipts in triplicate, mostly handwritten. Time stops to coo over every round-eyed baby or cute toddler. A thousand shop assistants call out to welcome you ‘sir-ma’am,’ trying to capture your attention, so that a quick trip for coffee results in a four poster bed, two dresses and a set of suitcases. Wherever you go, there is always someone to smile cheerily and offer to help you or sell you something, whether you want it or not.

As we drive out onto EDSA, the main north-south artery of the city, where horns blare, cars, buses trucks and jeepneys twist and weave like some elaborate Scottish reel, I smile at the chaos of this vibrant, unique city. The traffic goes nowhere very, very slowly. ‘It’s very traffic’ means it’s barely moving. ‘It’s really traffic’ means it has come to a standstill and may not move again for days.

I remember how every chore I set out to do had unexpected results. The suspicion that a trip to the bank would take forever and become ridiculously convoluted, meant that it might, in reality, get done in a moment. If it should be simple, it threatens to tie knots in its own tail and leave me in a damp, distressed heap having totally failed to achieve anything.

Yet whatever the chaos and confusion, it’s always served with a smile in the Philippines. Time passes gently, and provided such ‘que sera sera’ doesn’t drive you out of your mind in minutes, it’s the best way to approach this mad, crazy city. I clamber out of the taxi and join the first queue to get through the front door and feel homesick already…

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