Long haul to Bali

If you have to go to Bali at short notice but lack access to a high-powered boat fitted with supplementary vodka tanks, supersonic stabilisers and three depraved Scandinavian contortionists, you should probably fly Singapore Airlines. My contortionists were in for repairs so I decided to fly.

OR Tambo International Airport is nothing like the man. For a start, it lacks his outward sense of calm and order. Ironic, though, to name an airport after a man whose lexicon included regular use of a word that may not, under pain of imprisonment, be uttered in an airport. For the slow-witted, I’m talking about the word bomb.

I suppose I could’ve flown South African Airways. It would have been the patriotic thing to do. Then again, not allowing an immigrant family from Uttar Pradesh to ransack our state owned enterprises and loot the treasury would also have been the patriotic thing to do. Flying SAA is about as patriotic as giving Jacob Zuma a third term.

Singapore Airlines is everything that SAA isn’t. It runs on time, gives people free drinks and, unlike the rand, hardly ever crashes. The ten hour flight to Singapore was a pleasure. The pilot wasn’t even a little bit drunk. I have experienced more turbulence in hotel rooms. And their meals make SAA look like a soup kitchen for homeless war criminals.

Singapore is one of the many airlines that don’t fly from King Shaka International Airport. Hadedas barely fly from King Shaka. Most of them depart from the tree outside my bedroom window at 5.30am. Hadedas have the worst air traffic control in the world, shouting at each other whenever they take off or land. Or even just sit there.

To get to Singapore Airlines I had to fly from Durban to Joburg. I managed to get myself an emergency exit seat by weeping openly at the check-in counter while standing on my tip-toes, which brought my height to around three metres. I need extra leg room like sharks need to keep moving.

The cabin attendant pretended to give me instructions on what to do in the event of what she coyly described as a forced landing and I pretended to listen. We both knew that in the history of aviation, nobody in my position had ever swung that lever up, kicked the door open and helped his fellow passengers onto the wing.

The attendant then told me, with a straight face, that in the event of a water landing I should swim to the front of the plane where I’d find the life vests. So there was a chance we’d come down in the Umgeni River, then. Or maybe Zoo Lake? It was like a triathlon. Fly, swim, crawl to hospital.

Waiters in an airport bar took me hostage and only released me when they heard my name being called. Weaving off to the gate severely handicapped by a belly distended with beer, I made it just in time.

“Where were you, sir. We’ve been calling you,” said a gatekeeper with the face of a rejected kidney.

“I thought that was the voice of God,” I said.

This conversation might have taken place in my head. Living alone as I do, a fierce amount of conversations take place in my head.

It wasn’t long before I was on nodding terms with the onboard medication. But there comes a time on any long-haul flight when the airline treats its passengers as one would a bunch of parrots. They’ve barely fed and watered you when the blinds come down and the lights go off. It’s the equivalent of putting a blanket over a cage.

“More gin and tonic, air slave!”

“Sir, now is sleepy time, not drinky time.”

“What? This is an outrage! Drinky time has barely begun and you expect …”

“Sir, it is 2am in Singapore. Not drinky time at all.”

“Rubbish. It’s 6pm and it’s still light outside. Look.” I went to raise the plastic shutter thing.

“Mr Parrot, do not touch the fittings or we will have you shot.”

Singapore, you will remember, is the country that destroyed Helen Zille’s career. I shudder to think what their airline is capable of doing. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that Singapore is a country at all. I think it’s just a giant airport with travelators instead of roads, planes instead of trains and sliding glass doors instead of borders. I’ve visited smaller countries than Changi Airport, which appears to have a GDP considerably higher than most African states. Another reason I don’t think Singapore is a real country is their idea of what constitutes crime.

A teaser emblazoned on the front page of last week’s Singapore Sunday Times screamed, “The ugly side of bike sharing!” I assumed “bike sharing” was a polite euphemism for one or other less than salubrious activity. Human trafficking, perhaps. My brain salivating at the idea of receiving a dose of fresh filth, I flipped the paper open. The page two lead story was headlined, “LTA moves against badly parked bikes.” Ramming home the full horror, four photographs showed bicycles parked willy-nilly, some obstructing doorways, others partially blocking a staircase. A few have already been impounded. It was too terrible. I had to bite down hard on my knuckles so as not to cry out at the inhumanity of it all. But, despite the brutally indiscriminate parking of bicycles, Singapore will rebuild. Je suis Singapore.

To reach my connecting flight to Bali, I had to cross several topographical zones within the Singaporean People’s Republic of Changi. Across the temperate highlands of Duty Free through the megalopolis of pharmacies to the glittering cornucopia of Gucci, I soldiered bravely on. Rebel controlled roadblocks slowed my progress but, after handing over bottles of water, I was allowed to continue on my way.

I spent the flight with my knees around my ears, eating with T-Rex arms and shooting death stares at parents who think it’s somehow acceptable for their children to carry on like malfunctioning air raid sirens.

Black-gloved gunmen were waiting for me at Denpasar Airport. Were they to release me into the wilds of Bali with my bottle of rum and my bottle of gin, I would quite clearly be unable to resist the urge to violently overthrow the Indonesian government. They gave me a choice.

“Rum or gin,” said a beautiful combatant with sloe eyes and a quick draw. It was a vicious and cruel choice to have to make.

“Eat prey, love,” I muttered, handing over the gin before walking out into a thick soup of tropical humidity, Australian accents and seven billion motorbikes.

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