Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Day I became Filipino at 35 Thousand Feet

In the corner of my eye I catch a gray furry thing moving. It’s a dog, the one that looks like Benji. I don’t know what you call that breed. It is kind of strange though. A dog can’t be here. I’m on the plane. Yet there is little Benji trotting down the aisle. It stops right next to where I sit. I peek down and find it looking right up at me. Hello, little doggy. With lightning speed it jumps up on my face. Wet dog smell. I can’t breathe. And before I do anything, it craps in my mouth.
“Are you Filipino?”
I open my eyes. To my right, there sits a comely little Asian lady, looking at me, smiling. I still taste you-know-what in my mouth. My back hurts. My eyes are all gooped up. I hate air travel.
“NO.” I say curtly, and close my eyes again. But I can’t go back to sleep. The jet engine is too deafening. I look at the lady again. She is still eyeing me expectantly.
“I’m Korean.” I say this while half covering my mouth.

“Chicken or beef?” asks a flight attendant. As it is usually the case, the airline food is inedible.
“Chicken?” It doesn’t make any difference to me.
“Chicken,” says the Filipino lady.
“Oh, we are terribly sorry, we have only one chicken left-“
”Just give it to her.” I relay the tray to the lady. She is grateful.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me.” I say.
After a while, they come to collect the trays. The Filipino lady hasn’t touched her chicken. I haven’t touched my presumably beef meal either. We look at each other.

I nod off again. No Benji please. I hear someone crying. Am I dreaming? With this deafening whirring sound, I don’t even know where this sobbing is coming from.

It’s the Filipino lady. I shouldn’t be bothered with other people’s business. But the sobbing continues.
“Are you ok?”
She takes out a photo from her pocket and hands it to me. It’s a photo of a lanky young man in a military camouflage get up, smiling.
“It’s my son…he was in the army.” She wipes her tears with a handkerchief. “There was a helicopter crash and he was killed.”
Well, what do I say in this kind of situation? I really do not know.
“I’m so sorry.”
“He was about your age.”
All sorts of thoughts rush in. I get angry at the military for putting her in a coach seat of a crowded airplane. What the hell, she deserves better than this. She is flying over to the Philippines to her son’s funeral, for godssakes. I hold her hand for a while. She falls asleep. Poor woman.

I’m listening to the radio with a head set. Julian Lennon’s Salt Water is playing and I catch myself singing along. I look at the lady and she is looking at me. Embarrassing.
“You remind me of my son.”
Personally, I think there is no resemblance between tall lanky Filipino guy in the picture and myself. None. But what the hell, I sing along a little louder, for her to hear.