Four is considered an unfortunate number in Hong Kong. In much of the East you'd be hard pressed to find a functioning fourth floor. The 13th floor is often entirely missing, leaving folks on the 14th floor baffled by their endless run of bad luck. "Whey-hey, how'd a spaceship just land in my coffee?" Well, call it superstition, or chance but it's really just a matter of time before a spaceship lands in someone's coffee.
Four is unlucky. I haven't been able to get a foursome together for dinner in my new home in three years. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that I can only shoehorn three people into my flat at the same time. But that's the beauty of Hong Kong flats. No in-laws. Thus it was I glanced with some trepidation at my gate number before staggering off through Hong Kong International Airport, to Gate 40, somewhere between gate 30 and Vladivostock.
Hong Kong Airport is big. In 2006, Hong Kong Airport ranked fifth in the world in terms of international passengers using the facility - a little more than 43 million. It was exceeded only by London Heathrow (61 million), Charles de Gaulle (51 million), Amsterdam Schiphol (45 million) and Frankfurt (45 million). Gate 40 lies in the farthest reaches of the satellite terminal of Hong Kong Airport, about 400 metres from the main building. I decided to walk down the sunlit passageway. Still an hour to go until departure at 2.50pm. This was going to be a good day.
I did a leisurely browse of the local newspapers to find nothing of particular interest. Not even news of the Yuen Long crocodile. The croc was rudely ejected from its life of discreet emancipation packed with Korean sitcoms and TV dinners, to a life on the lam in a nearby creek, after the government got wind of the arrangement. No news. But the "tam tam" noodles at the Cathay Lounge, arguably the best in Hong Kong, provided a splendid diversion.
Okay, time to go. I heaved my impedimenta - laptop, bag, video and camera - and marched off. The gate was empty. I checked my boarding pass. Gate 40? Well, close. It was Seat 40H and Gate 2. I set off on a mad sprint back to the main terminal. Gate 2 was empty too. "Where's my 2.50pm flight?" I gasped. "Gone. It left at 2.15pm." Sure enough, the ticket read 2.15pm. I had misheard the time.
I could yet make my Bangkok dinner appointment if I could get on the next flight. I pleaded with the ticket lady and made a secret vow never to carry photos of Dolly the Cloned Sheep in my wallet, not even to wangle a Kiwi passport, if only I got a seat. The lady obliged. Ah, this was going to be a good day. I picked up my increasingly weighty possessions, now burdened by mineral water purloined from the lounge, and dashed back to the distant satellite wing, involving a change in time zone and clothing. Too hot for the blazer. Off it came.
A cavalcade of octogenarians trundled past the gate in wheelchairs. We waited. The line inched forward. And then came to a dead halt. Far ahead we watched an old, expressionless gentleman being slowly carried down the aisle to his seat. Ten minutes passed. I inched forward to find my seat occupied. The old gentleman, still expressionless, chewed on his gums.
"Don't move him," I told the stewardess, "I'll take his aisle seat the other side." "Thank you, sir, it's the middle seat." Right. I contemplated my new perch, a modest sliver barely visible between two Hill-Billy-Man-Mountains. "I'm from Michigan," said one. "I'm from New Delhi and my mother didn't mate with a moose as you can see," I was tempted to respond, but decorum held me back. Or maybe it was the enveloping folds of neighbourly flesh.
As the flight took off my young neighbour across the aisle started coughing. I extricated myself, stepped up to his grandfather, and asked if his son needed help. "What?... wha... aaahhhcchhooo." I wiped the spittle off my face. This could still be a good day, sort of.
As the plane landed the heavens parted. Rain lashed down. I would need an ark. And there was still immigration to contend with. The immigration lady looked up. Oh no. Now what? And then she smiled - a brilliant melt-your-knees 100-kilowatt light-up-Bangladesh kind of smile. "Welcome to Thailand ka." I grinned back foolishly. Yes, this was going to be a good day. I made my dinner. My friend, alas, did not. He was stuck in traffic. So I looked at my coffee and waited for a spaceship to land in it. At least I was smiling. Khop khun khrap Thailand.