Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced flying ever since I was old enough to understand what the word meant, but I don’t believe I had ever seen a more majestic sight than the one glimpsed while en route to Istanbul from Taipei.

My Turkish Airlines flight took off just after dinner time in Taiwan’s sleepless capital, and by the time we reached the South China Sea, it was nearing midnight and I had already stuffed myself with the in-flight meal.

After a short nap—a routine procedure after a bottle of Chardonnay and my usual post-take-off Bloody Mary—I found myself looking across the empty seat to my left and out the open aeroplane window.

The first things to catch my eye were red and yellow lights in the ocean, which could have been from the outlying islands of any of a number of Southeast Asian nations…or they could have been part of the “Great Sand Wall” being brought to life by the Chinese government. But, of course, the Chinese artificial islands don’t actually exist—they are but a figment of the Western world’s imagination. Wink.

Only one thing could have trumped the feat of engineering being conducted by the PRC government that night in the South China Sea, and that was the pristine night sky, which, from my awkward angle staring out the window, I must admit I rather stumbled across, as opposed to having been looking for it in the first place.

Above the flashing red and yellow island lights, one pale, bright dot drew my gaze—a star. Still dazed from my typically unsatisfactory aeroplane nap, I stared at the dot for several seconds until I realised what it was. Then I saw another, and another, then more, until I gasped and finally understood that I was being given an unhindered view of the entire sky—no, of the cosmos.

Spearing the night at an altitude of 11,564 metres, I really hadn’t seen anything quite like it: the moon in full swing, with all her blemishes and imperfections; the stars large, white, and free of discolouration caused by smog and haze; constellations as clear as any seen in a planetarium rendition, a drink or two away from actually coming to life.

It was the universe in its original form; the Big Bang’s first draft—the way it was meant to be. Whatever that means.

At that moment, I could scarcely think of anything that could elicit such jubilation, save, perhaps, Arsenal’s FA Cup win several days earlier.

As I’m shaken out of my trance by turbulence, I wonder to myself whether anybody else on this flight has seen what I just described. Are you watching, world? The universe is a constant. Its inhabitant, however—or at least the ones on this planet—are as fickle as they come.

If ever you become curious as to the toll travelling takes on people, you need only peek into a transit lounge or visit a stand-by boarding gate.

Two hours before my connecting flight leaves Istanbul for Budapest, I’m sat inside a darkened Gate 221, which is slowly filling up as travellers prepare to board. As morning comes to Turkey, I see minarets appear on the horizon and dozens of transit passengers waking up from their sleep on the boarding gate chairs.

Everybody looks drained; they couldn’t care less about what they look like now: their shoes are off, their hair is a mess, their feet smell, and they’re snoring. New arrivals to the boarding gate are constantly doing double takes to make sure that they’re in the right place, and that they haven’t accidentally stumbled into a makeshift airport hostel, which is exactly what airports are, really—huge hostels.

While buying overpriced airport water—as you do—I was given a courteous reminder of the Turkish accent that I had grown so fond of some 18 months ago when I first visited Istanbul. I’ve missed the distinct intonations and stresses used by the Turkish when speaking English.

It’s a pity that I’m unable to step out into the city. Although given the former capital’s propensity for trapping the unsuspecting in hours-long traffic, it was probably for the best that I stayed in the airport.

The music in my Spotify playlist changes; morning is in full flow in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. The frequency of passing jet engines increases and more and more passengers are coming and going on the travel belts besides the boarding gate.

It’s almost lunch time in Taiwan, which is probably why I am energetic, in spite of it being just past 6 a.m. local time. However, all’s fair in love and in war. The long day ahead will in time fell me as I begin hunting for flats in the Hungarian capital.

Brace, brace, as I prepare for the first day of another adventure.

The young woman sleeping on the chairs next to me has just woken up. Now I wonder if I should have taken a nap too. JSF.

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