Of Airline Bento: To Heathrow!

One thing that I dislike the most about travelling is, well, travelling itself.  Thoughts of hauling heavy luggage up and down, running into unexpected delays, and eating lousy sandwiches at stations are enough to turn me into the world’s grumpiest person.

(And to warn you, I am a grumpy person to begin with.) (笑)

Our grand voyage across the Atlantic began with a two-hour delay.  Because we had arrived at the airport extra early to be safe, we found ourselves having too much time on our hands.  So the two of us passed time by eating some overly sweet lemon pie. 

We also pondered about the nature of airports: can airports become more pleasant spaces?  Better architectural and interior design?  More interesting shops and restaurants?  My own understanding is that visits to airports are structured to be temporary and liminal.  For the ordinary traveller, they are a means to an end, but rarely an end in themselves.  Cognitively, one interprets it as a stage that one must overcome before achieving one’s goal (i.e. reaching the destination, seeing one’s family and friends).  This obligatory status diminishes the potential intrinsic allure of an airport.  Once it becomes a routine part of your itinerary, it is often a place of boredom and irritation.  

If we step back from this practical view, airports can be a poetic and symbolic space.  Among my favourite writings on travelling are those by Alain de Botton:

Nowhere is the appeal of the airport more concentrated than in the television screens which hang in rows from terminal ceilings announcing the departure and arrival of flights…. Tokyo, Amsterdam, Istanbul.  Warsaw, Singapore, Rio.  The screens bear all the poetic resonance of the last line of James Joyce’s Ulysses: at once a record of where the novel was written, and no less importantly, a symbol of the cosmopolitan spirit behind its composition: “Trieste, Zurich, Paris.”  The constant calls of the screens, some accompanied by the impatient pulsing of a cursor, suggest with what ease our seemingly entrenched lives might be altered, were we to walk down a corridor and on to a craft that in a few hours would land us in a place of which we had no memories and where no one knew our names.  How pleasant to hold in mind, through the crevasses of our moods, at three in the afternoon when lassitude and despair threaten, that there is always a plane taking off for somewhere. — from “On Going to the Airport,” On Seeing and Noticing

If travelling is what I dislike the most about travelling, then it is also my favourite thing.  It is about removing myself physically from my rut so that I can acquire new perspectives about both the unfamiliar and the familiar.  It is like stepping into your apartment after going away for a long time and thinking to yourself: “Hmm, so that’s the smell of my apartment!”

(On the note of Mr. de Botton, I think Justin would be intrigued by his other book, if he hasn’t encountered it already.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

After waiting by the gate for two hours, we finally boarded our plane.  When it comes to flying, Justin and I are a tragic duo.  While I am mildly scared of flying, he gets nauseous and prefers to put himself out of his misery with antihistamines.

The best thing to do during an overnight flight is either to sleep or to read.  Unfortunately, I am not one of those lucky souls who can fall asleep sitting in an upright position.  A traumatic experience with unexpected turbulence had also left me hypersensitive to any signs of irregular movements.  Subsequently, I often spend my time wondering when the plane will start to shake and plunge:

“So what if our plane crashes and we die?” I asked.

“Well, if it happens, then it happens,” replied Justin.

“But there is so much that I still have to do!”

“There is nothing that you can do about it.”

“I guess.  Well, at least we are dying together.”

Perhaps this is just one of the peculiarities of human memory, but plane rides used to be a lot more pleasant back when I was just a child.  I mean, didn’t we use to get those play-sets with crayons and a book full of games?

Well, it was not all that miserable: I did manage to nap a little with the aid of Justin’s shoulder and my pillow.  And I was pleasantly surprised by the food offered in this flight.  The chicken this time was actually flavourful and juicy (read: not bland and overcooked)!  Aside from the main meal, I also liked the snack box that they handed out during the last few hours of the journey.  Its packaging (plastic green gingham cloth wrapped around a rectangular paper tray, secured with a white band) resembled a bento box so much that I could not resist taking photos.

I am sure that we all have one or two anecdotes on plane food and have wondered why the food services cannot come up with better, more sensible menus (i.e. see Chubby Hubby’s post).  For those of us who pack bentos, plane food is an especially relevant subject since we are also into well-balanced, on-the-go meals that retain their taste hours after the initial preparation.  Sometimes I wished that the meal planners would check out our bento communities and pick up a few tips.

(Getting conceited, aren’t we?)

Personally, I prefer something light over the saucy dishes that catering companies usually include as the main course.  If I can choose, I would much rather have kimbap, cereal (Vector), and a lot of fruit salad.  Nothing fancy, nothing too flavourful…  What about you?

But I suppose we should cut the catering companies some slack.  I remember talking to one of my professors, who had worked briefly for an European airline, about plane food.  According to him, the reason why plane food tastes bland is because high altitude changes the way our sensory receptors interpret taste.  Moreover, high altitude also effects the way our intestines functions, leaving them swollen and dry.  The bottom line is, a plane soaring through the sky at 30,000 feet above ground is not the best place for dining.

<< Prologue :: Day One >>

(Sorry about the slow speed at which this narrative is approaching the “meat” of the story.  I promise, we will land in Europe next week!)

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4 comments

  1. Justin

    haha, I see the pixelation has returned as my hair.

  2. Reading this gave me flashbacks to the many homecomings we give my father at the airport. I kept picturing photos I have yet to develop (it’s a strange feeling imagining if your photos flopped or not). & while for him, traveling is a regular part of his work, the novelty has far from worn off for me so traveling feels like going to Disneyland, only with less ice-cream and nostalgia.

    “Hmm, so that’s the smell of my apartment!”
    I giggled. I’ve wondered this so many tmes ^-^*

    Did you keep the food package? It’s darling :)

  3. Justin: Well mister, you can make my job easier by changing your hairstyle into a more definitive one.

    Melissa: I also keep wondering how photos will turn out, if I bring along my shady vintage cameras (those things are…. temperamental).

    I think we never know how our apartment smells until we part with it. My previous apartment smelled more like my roommate than myself, because he always liked to use scents.

    And no, I didn’t keep the food package (a lame attempt to stop clutter from building up in my apartment).

  4. HAHAHA. the drugged Justin looks utterly cute.

    awww. that airline bento looks cute. i would eat it lick clean for it’s gingham wrapper and white band :)

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