When up is away.
Stephen bid me farewell as I headed toward the gate at Toronto’s Pearson airport. He was very supportive of my decision to buck work and responsibility for the beauty and grander of the Himalayas, but I detected a certain melancholy in his demeanor upon my departure. He would miss me as I would miss him, but there was little we could do about that. So I did what I could at the time, which was text my friend, Dejan, to enlist his help in alleviating what I imagined was Stephen’s crippling emotional turmoil:
From Me to Dejan:
About to board the place. One thought: can you take Stephen to Hooters or something to cheer him up? He’s a little down. Also, tell him I was kidding about the Sherpas. OR WAS I??? See y’all when I get back 🙂 03/15/11, 5:54PM.
From Dejan to Me:
You’re rude. But funny. Have a good trip!!! 03/15/11, 5:55PM.
To save a few dollars (actually a few hundred dollars), I booked a rather meandering and dawdling flight to Kathmandu. It started with a 7 hour and 20 minute flight from Toronto to Brussels, plus a 2-hour layover. Then it was a 7 hour 55 minute flight from Brussels to New Delhi, followed by a disorienting 9-hour layover at the ultra-chic New Delhi airport. From there, it was a mere 1 hour and 35 minute flight to Shangri la itself, Kathmandu.
As I sat by Gate 171, legs thrust out confidently in front of me and hands folded jauntily at the belly, I began to muse about the adventure before me. I thought about how fucking awesome I was, headed into the unknown, facing head-on the challenges that were sure to come my way, of the people I would meet and the places I would see and, of course, of all the amazing food I was sure to encounter…
…MOMOS! Those delicious steamed or lightly fried dumplings that come with a sweet n’ sour spicy red sauce perfect for dipping MOMOS. A traditional delicacy native to Tibet, Nepal, West Bengal and Other Places, I had had momos (WONDERFUL MOMOS!) during my last day in India – devoured them, actually, from a street-side cart where the vendor shook his head in bemusement at my insatiable gullet. I gave him many rupees and he gave me many, many momos, and it was GLORIOUS.
But in Nepal…
…in Nepal, I had heard, there were momos of all shapes and sizes, of all robust plumpness and delightful bounce, all savory delicious in their own way. More than that. You could get them in the streets. You could get them in the mountains. You could get them stuffed with yak cheese!
And I did.
As I daydreamed and fantasized and whetted my appetitive in grand anticipation of ADVENTURE, my immediate surroundings faded in and out of conscious thought. One minute, I was expertly navigating my way across bamboo suspension bridges and prodding bravely on while others collapsed at my feet due to altitude sickness and weak characters. Another moment, and my backpack was poking me sharply in the spine as I slumped in my chair. I saw the awed faces of the folks back home as I regaled them with stories of momos (MOMOS!!!) and snow leopards and yaks, and irritably wrenched my eyes open to check the clock above the airport bathroom to see if the plane would be boarding soon. Then I heard it.
My mother’s voice.
“Ngọc! You sure you are at the right gate? Are you SURE? ALWAYS CHECK. You need to check. Check now…check now…NOW.”
It was more than mere coincidence. My mom and I have travelled many Places together, and it is always at the airport – on arrival and departure – that we very nearly unravel as a mother-daugther pair. It’s the planes. My mom, she’s terrified that they will leave without her – she is convinced, in fact, they are trying to leave without her – and in her single-minded drive to beat the planes at their own game, she will abuse airport staff, cut lines and DESTROY fellow travellers should they by some poor, cruel twist of luck get the slightest bit in her way.
These are Things I know.
And yet, I still don’t know any better. Because I always try to defuse my airport Mom-Bomb by yelling at her to “RELAX, CALM DOWN, NOOOO, PUT IT DOWN!!!, and this has always and will always end with me feeling ashamed and guilty and her basking in total validation at my eventual apology.
So as I waited for my plane I tried, REALLY TRIED, to ignore The Voice. But it was an exercise in ultimate and utter futility.
“…always… ….check… …always…
NOOO! I AM at the right gate. Of COURSE I’m at the right gate! Gate 171. I’m sure, o.k?
Sure as sure.
Well, fairly sure…
Endgame. There was no point in arguing with the me that was my mom in me any more than it was trying, however heroically and massively, to ignore it. I sighed, reached for the travel wallet that was hanging around my neck, and proceeded to (double) check my boarding pass.
Jet Airways. Check!
Flight 229. Check!
7:25 PM. Check!
Gate 179. Check.
Below are my actual, real notes of my reaction, given to you in their entirety:
March 15th, 2011
HOLY FUCK! IT WAS GATE 179!!!
(see above!) Jesus GOD! Rookie mistake. Made it just in time, thanks to frantic
running, Tilley hat bashing against my pack as I flew. Lesson here: ALWAYS
check. Only way to be sure.
The me that was my mom in me did a victory dance that day.
Hours later, in Brussels, I parked myself at Gate B33 and waited with bated stupor for the plane, making sure to check and re-check the gate every two minutes during my two hours at the airport. It was a Herculean task in concentration. 8:00AM in Brussels meant 5:00AM in Toronto.
In travel time, this meant that from my perspective it was daylight out instead of dark and there were people about instead of none, and there was a sense of purpose in the air instead of listlessness. My body was confused, aching and thirsty, but my mind disregarded all physical discomfort in order to focus on this one mantra:
…Gate B33…Gate B33…Gate B33…
 Travel wallets are dorky and lame. They are. I admit that. However, they are terrifically convenient in busy airports, especially when you’re trying to stow away wayward liquids and gels, untying and re-tying your shoes, getting patted down by someone who, frankly, should have tried harder in life, and when you’re required to keep both your boarding pass and passport at the ready while dragging along your carry-on. So there.