I have decided to be cheerful. My resolve has been tested. At dinner at a noodle place in HK airport, I ordered a deep-fried pancake with red bean paste. A single drop of red bean paste landed on my left pinky and set it on fire. I applied ice to the tiny burn, but every time I took the ice off the pain would start all over again, and let me tell you, between physical pain and emotional pain, I can deal with the latter better. At least it’s poetic, whereas whining about a tiny scald is just infantile. Fortunately the lady from the Bulletin was carrying a full first-aid kit with a gel for bruises. Two applications and the pain went away. I knew someone who got third-degree burns from the filling of a Belgian waffle. Food is dangerous.
Despite the stupid injury dinner turned out to be an excellent idea, because the flight to London was delayed to 3am, and all the shops and restaurants in the airport closed at 11.30pm. After that, sections of the airport turn into international refugee camps—stranded passengers sprawled on the seats, families with small children huddled under jackets. I killed the extra two and a half hours easily enough—free wifi and a long walk.
At 2.30am we boarded the plane and the pilot apologized for the wait—it was an engineering problem. We would take off in 15 minutes. Fifteen minutes later the pilot apologized again because their other plane to London had also developed an engineering problem, and now they were moving as many passengers from that flight onto our flight. Ten minutes later another apology, which now struck me as fake. If the airline were really sorry, they would give us free tickets.
Also they would advise their flight attendants not to throw the food trays at the passengers. Why are they grumpy, we’re the ones who had to wait three hours. At take-off I passed out, was awakened for the dinner I didn’t eat, passed out again, woke up five hours later, then passed out until breakfast. I had to ask for coffee because they didn’t serve it.
We landed in London at 9.15am, cleared immigration in 40 minutes, claimed our luggage and got to the Sheraton Skyline near the airport before 11am. The weather is sunny but a cool 16-22 degrees. Of course our rooms were not ready, check-in was at 2pm. We could look for the other media group, which was doing a day tour of London, or have lunch nearby. Two options: McDonald’s or the local pub.
The local pub is called The Pheasant. It is old-fashioned, picturesque, and popular among the natives, who started arriving for the Portugal-North Korea World Cup match. Two men were explaining to a woman the difference between football and rugby. I suspect she already knew but was making them feel useful. One must do this around Y-chromosomes. The staff at The Pheasant is pleasant, the service efficient, the food. . .well the portions are huge. I ordered a grilled lamb burger, and after ten minutes of chewing I still hadn’t made a dent on the serving.
1pm we returned to the Sheraton Skyline and more waiting. 2pm came, rooms still not ready. The desk gave us complimentary coffees at the bar, which was tended by Ms Clarinda of Batac, Ilocos Norte, who has lived in the UK for 23 years.
Dorski texted that Roger Federer was trailing in his first-round match at Wimbledon, two sets to love. Three other people texted the dire news. I knew what I had to do. When the room key was finally handed over at around 3pm, I told the organizers that I would skip the day tour; I would prefer to meet London when I had showered and brushed my teeth. (We had been in transit for nearly 36 hours. Yucch.)
I dashed to the room, turned on the TV, and saw the Fed about to lose his serve at 4-4 in the third, what the hell was going on. Lately Roger has been losing matches he would usually win without breaking a sweat—I blame it on contentment. Personal happiness is not a great motivator; what a competitor needs is rage and hunger. Otherwise pride will have to do. I watched the game until Roger got out of the pit, and when I figured he was safe I went and showered off the 36-hour journey. (Recycled air. Yucch.)
When I got out, Falla was serving for the match in the fourth set. What! Clearly I would have to sit down and pay attention to every point. Roger was making too many errors but the real problem was Falla, who was playing insanely well. Every time Roger recovered, Falla refused to be demoralized. He wasn’t going away; the Fed would have to show up. The fourth set went to a tiebreak, then Fed finally showed up—3 hours late, but just in time. The fifth set was a bagel.
And that was my first day in London.
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Din, the answer is: It’s free.
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This just in: The cruise will be delayed for 8 hours. Still strangely cheerful.