Signs of our times

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

Two Ja­panese chaps are seated side-by-side at Sin­ga­pore Changi with signs around their necks. They are proper signs, on strings, and don’t ap­pear to be brand-new. The let­ter­ing is clear and po­lite. Would passers-by wake them if they hear a cer­tain flight num­ber to Tokyo be­ing called. It looks as if there are lay­ers of par­tially erased flight num­bers below the most re­cent. There is a “please look af­ter” Padding­ton Bear as­pect to it all and clearly it must work. I hang around hop­ing I hear their flight an­nounced but mine is ear­lier. I feel sure they were res­cued in time.

Peo­ple in air­ports gen­er­ally are kind, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, maybe to do with the bonded shar­ing of all that hor­ror: jan­gly colours, ro­tat­ing boards, acres of gar­ish car­pets and those re­lent­less spruik­ers spritz­ing you with per­fume in the duty-free em­po­ri­ums. You would need to be a nasty soul to leave a fel­low trav­eller stranded when all you had to do was gen­tly prod them awake.

I’ve had a few air­port mo­ments re­cently, such as a toe­nail in­jury, cour­tesy of a half-asleep pedi­curist, and most re­cently, the ap­par­ent dis­ap­pear­ance of my flight. It was de­layed by five hours, the de­par­ture board was never up­dated and so the de­tails just whooshed off, to be re­placed by later flights that were not just op­er­ated by more ef­fi­cient air­lines, but bound for more ex­otic places than my own pre­dictable des­ti­na­tion. I am not even sure I could find Cape Verde on a map, but sud­denly I wanted to go there. The flight was board­ing and ev­ery­one seemed ridicu­lously merry. I was very en­vi­ous in­deed.

I am in­trigued by the IATA three-let­ter codes for air- ports, a few of which have be­come more amus­ing, thanks to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of tex­ting (sorry, SMS) ab­bre­vi­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, OMG is Omega in Namibia; DOH is Doha, cap­i­tal of Qatar; LOL is Love­lock City, Ne­vada; and BTW is Batu Llicin in Kal­i­man­tan, In­done­sia. Iowa’s Sioux City is SUX, but at least I don’t think there is a FFS. Then there are the tit­ter-wor­thy ones such as BOG for Bogota, Colom­bia, and SIN for Sin­ga­pore, but those are a bit old hat.

While I am stand­ing around, wor­ry­ing about the Ja­panese men sleep­ing, I no­tice their brief­cases in full sight, just there for the tak­ing. Rob­bery is rare in Ja­pan but not at this des­ti­na­tion. Now what? Should I push the bags out of sight but risk look­ing like a thief? I de­cide to do noth­ing, re­minded as I am by the ar­rival of my Ja­panese daugh­ter-in-law’s aunty at Syd­ney air­port last year. She left her purse, con­tain­ing all her crisp new Aus­tralian cur­rency, in the toi­let near the bag­gage claim area and didn’t no­tice un­til she was through the exit. So off we went to find Lost Property. Aunty was con­vinced it would be safely there; we other two were not.

It did turn up, how­ever, in the hands of a bor­der se­cu­rity of­fi­cer. Once she had stopped re­turn­ing Aunty’s deep bows and could straighten her spine, she said the purse had been screened, but not det­o­nated.

Oh, I see, no one makes off with other peo­ple’s be­long­ings at air­ports in case there is a de­vice in­side that has some­how es­caped the at­ten­tion of who knows how many se­cu­rity checks and screen­ing cu­bi­cles. So that is a bonus.

And, what’s more, I am mak­ing my­self a sign.

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