Je ne suis pas Sin­ga­pore or its na­tional air­line

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - ARTS -

gives peo­ple free drinks and, un­like the rand, hardly ever crashes. The 10-hour flight to Sin­ga­pore was a plea­sure. The pilot wasn’t even a lit­tle 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 got an emer­gency exit seat by weep­ing 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 on to the wing.

The at­ten­dant then told me, with a straight face, that in the event of a wa­ter land­ing, I should swim to­wards the front of the plane where I’d find the life vests. So there was a chance we’d come down in the Mgeni River then. Or 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 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 on-board 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 is the coun­try that de­stroyed Helen Zille’s ca­reer. I shud­der to think what their air­line is ca­pa­ble of. Quite frankly, I’m not con­vinced 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 a 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 had 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 on. I spent the flight with my knees around my ears, shoot­ing death stares at par­ents who think it’s ac­cept­able for their chil­dren to carry on like mal­func­tion­ing air­raid 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 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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