I must be relieved to get through baggage control as I am sitting there quite content, even though I have four hours until my flight. Usually, airports and aeroplanes are places where I can not help taking instant dislikes to people, where I don’t cut them the slack that I would in everyday life when I would normally conclude that maybe they are having a bad day, maybe their mother is sick or their house is about to be repossessed etc etc. At airports, I readily (silently) condemn people for cutting me up when they walk in front of me, curse them for letting their three your old kid run ahead squealing and make snap-judgements about what they have chosen to wear for a flight.
Tonight, however, I am content. Not sufficiently de-stressed to eradicate the pressure of the past few months, but content enough to know that there’s little I can do to rectify things at the moment so I might as well sit back, relax and listen to the sound of my new headphones.
I CAN NOT SLEEP ON PLANES
I decided to treat myself to some Bose headphones QC35 which set me back about £280 but I am repaid within a few hours as they deliver music to my ears without all the outside noise which includes the incessant hum of the plane engines. This is a good distraction as I am wedged in between two girls in seat J. I mostly spend the seven hours, standing up and so when I arrive in Dubai, I have been awake for 21 hours and am due another 2 hours in transit before I catch my flight to Vietnam.
As a transit passenger, I have to once more go through screening to get through to the departure lounges and I have a sealed litre of duty free and a half drunk bottle of iced tea so I expect some investigation but these are ignored by the guards monitoring the scanners. There are border guards and then there are border guards…..
The second leg of my journey is Economy Flying Heaven which happens only very very occasionally — the middle four seats all to myself. I lie down and maybe nap for an hour or so which is as much as I can ever expect to do.
I stir and look at the flight times — 3 hours and 41 minutes to go and it is then that, for the first time, I start to get excited. The films I have chosen to see me through the flight do not get watched. Has anyone noticed how the movies have changed over the years? You used to be able to see things that hadn’t yet or had only just reached the cinemas. That doesn’t happen anymore so the last month I spent avoiding films in London in order to watch them on the plane was all in vain. I decide to watch the last ever episodes of Friends as I can’t remember what happened and soon the tears are rolling down my face but I am not crying for the characters, but for a whole host of reasons.
The Vietnamese Embassy’s website in UK is a bit confusing which meant that I had to actually email them to clarify that I did not need a visa, whereas the Australian friends that I am meeting had already said that they had to get one. So, I am quite laidback at Ho Chi Minh border control. But the guards seem to be taking forever, even with the Vietnamese (looking). I step forward with my passport. “How long are you staying in Vietnam?”
“Just six days”
“Where is your confirmation of your departure flight?”
And then I realise that I don’t have it printed off. Or it may be printed off but it’s somewhere buried in my big suitcase and I don’t even know where to start looking. I start to panic. The man in his military uniform takes on the air of a character from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. “I can go online and show you,” I offer and he waves me to the back of the arrivals lounge with a look that suggests that he doesn’t want to see me again until I have sorted my shit out.
I am standing in the middle of the terminal, booting my laptop up and growling to myself like Muttley the dog. The wifi that I can access is “not secure” and I have warning messages flashing up, but I have to access the email, so I have no choice. When I line up again, I am fifth or sixth in the queue and he spots me and even cracks a smile but he doesn’t beckon me forward to jump the queue, so I wait my turn and when I finally get to him, I am outwardly apologetic, though grumpy inside.
The bonus of getting waylaid is that my suitcase is spinning round the carousel smiling at me so I grab it but before I am released, there is just one more queue — customs, and the need to load all your luggage up to go through the scanner again. Really?
The arrivals hall is empty as seemingly people who are not travelling are not allowed into the terminal. So I walk outside into the furnace of Ho Chi Minh city and amongst the throng of people waiting, I spot the taxi driver who I have booked to drive me to the villa for 500,000 dong (£20). The sign says Nigel Bunch but that’s close enough for me. The girls I am meeting who arrived 24 hours earlier have already warned me that the driver doesn’t speak English so I don’t try. He signals for me to wait at the kerb while he goes to retrieve the car. When he returns, he gets and shows me the Nigel Bunch card again. I am not sure whether this is to reassure me or because he thinks that all foreigners look the same and he wants to make sure he picks up the right passenger. Off into the steamy Ho Chi Minh heat we disappear.