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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fast track on the air lane

Jaime R. Vergara

Overcast skies over the Ala Moana skyline. (JAIME VERGARA) Air travel has become so common that traversing miles of air distance hardly evokes the awe and wonder of a previous age. I remember getting into Seoul’s Gimpo (formerly Kimpo) Airport long ago when the place invariably and without apology exuded the spicy aroma of kim chee land. Less obtrusive but also assertive of its local uniqueness was Haneda in Tokyo, and Hongqiao in Shanghai. Now, Seoul international is in Incheon, Tokyo’s is in Narita, and Shanghai’s is in Pudong.

Incheon’s global ambience has become so blandly unobtrusive that the only whiff of kim chee one gasps is in what emanates from the kim chee plate at the kiosk, its scent sucked quickly into the ventilation system that drives the distinctive aroma away from those who take offense from the odiferous offering!

In 1965, we sailed from Manila to San Francisco in one of the President Lines’ ships and the voyage took 20 days. It took only 10 actual flying time to travel from Shenyang to Honolulu via Incheon. When we sailed, the diversity in the passenger manifest showed American students who came to Asia for summer, while the Asian students were heading to schools and universities for the fall. Being the last voyage before the fall semester, the sea lanes heard many student songs.

The polyglot at the airports was just as noticeable even in the regional hub of Shenyang. Ethnic diversity among flyers is a reality in all of the hubs with the only difference being the ethnicity of the terminal’s vendors who tend to be predominantly local. Waiting for my connecting flight in Incheon, the family on my left spoke various shades of Pinoy while the African couple on my right spoke French. Directly in front were sub-Asians of Urdu and Tamil tongues, and the ones behind spoke Arabic. My plane seatmates onward to Honolulu claimed to speak primarily Guangdonghua!

Unless one takes the mid-Pacific route to America via Guam, Saipan passengers connect through Incheon or Narita for the arctic route to the continent. We had a few Chamorro hafa tots running around our terminal wing.

On board Korean Air, stewards and stewardesses clothed their service with hospitable and gracious smiles, in stark contrast to the cold precision of disciplined efficiency often cadenced on airlines of our familiarity from the West. Korean Air prepared us for the Aloha ways of the land of the rainbow connection in Hawaii. The Hangguel saram (Koreans) constitute a substantial portion of the Hawaiian population, and they no longer need to have a visa before alighting on a flight to the United States.

The fast track down O’ahu way is a bit schizoid, following the demand of punctuality that contemporary Western commercial style requires in time and attire (like showing up at a USCIS appointment well ahead of time to pass through security) with the laidback coconut time of the islands that tend to wait for the fruit to ripen before it falls (getting on an unhurried relaxed mode in the open-ended walk down Kalakaua in Waikiki at sundown). The image of tranquility in paradise after all is that of a surfer on firm foothold in the hollow of a wave as it crashes on the beach and the surfer avoids tumbling into the shore. Tranquility in the Pacific is hardly without tension. It is rather about standing at the pivot point of the yin-yang while it swirls to balance life’s natural contradictions.

In a nation that had turned Reagan’s lighthearted “trust and verify” advice to the solemn and serious “suspect, defend, and verify” of current DHS culture, the Hawaii of our familiar (we were briefly in the staff of WorkHawaii in the late ’90s) has become a state under siege by phantom elements that people official (a close associate works for Corrections and his eyes blazes with suspicion) and fear brainwashed citizens’ imagination. It is well for the visitor to decide when it is appropriate to follow which style. Many a Hawaiian vacation hinges on this awareness.

We are on the hula palm sway to visit 92-year-old mother convalescing at a nursing home after a fall in the fall. Having caught a cough in the prolonged cold of winter up Dong Bei (Manchuria) way whose carbon-laden skies had seen blue only twice in the last 30 days, we self-quarantined ourselves from visiting the nursing home so as not to expose the residents to additional possible intruders now that the flu has been seen to be rampant across the country. Mother’s attending physician exuded gratitude upon learning of our intermediate decision.

Mother Nature is not as tranquil. The overcast sky above the famed Ala Moana skyline (taken from the Pagoda Hotel where CNMI medical referrals are usually billeted) has yet to clear since we arrived. Hearing of the tornado watches and path wreckages in the Midwest, along with the rain undrained in unabated floods elsewhere, and the droughts where a drop of rain could sustain life heading toward oblivion, makes us wonder if Gaia has reached her nerves’ end.

The human fast track, however, stays unabated, and Saipan can consider itself lucky to remain in the periphery of “progress” as tremors accompany the world turn.

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