What you are about to read is not your regular travelogue. And most definitely, it is not a descriptive adventurous story of a couple of friends. It is something even more confounding ‘A chance encounter with a knucklehead’. Read on to find out more…
I slept till late in the morning. It was 9 a.m. which is quite late for me, as I am used to getting up around 6 a.m. There was so much to do. In fact, I hadn’t prepared myself for travel. Nothing was packed. There was no time either. I can’t possibly be late for office today, for I had decided to leave early, as early as possible.
I thought that I would spend a sleepless night rolling in my bed. On the contrary, I got 10 efficient hours of much-needed sleep. After getting out of bed, my grandfather asked me, “What happened, Vivian? Why are you up so late?” I just said, “I won’t sleep for the next eight days. So I tried my best to get the sleep of my dreams.” He was, of course, taken aback by my reply.
I felt strayed today: I was unable to concentrate on anything. It was an uncalled-for state of affairs. With so much on my mind, I should have taken a leave today. But how could I? I was going to be on leave for the next whole week.
I failed to mention about the weather. Let me remind you, that it was a bright, sunny day. Though, there was a chance of thunderstorms in the evening. I hoped that nothing would disrupt our flight schedule, or cause any other kind of inconvenience. I wasted about five precious minutes of my morning: gawking at aeroplanes, visible from my bedroom. What was I thinking?
I had goosebumps with all the excitement creeping inside me. It was, after all, my first foreign visit to a land unknown and undiscovered by me. My visa was done beforehand, even though there was an option of on-arrival. I was lucky enough to get a good conversion rate from a travel agency. I had converted 40k Indian rupees into 19.7k baht, with 550 rupees as conversion charges. It was a good deal.
I came back from office at seven in the evening with hurried steps. My friend was supposed to arrive at my place around that particular time. There was a slight issue regarding him. He had lost his mobile phone a few days prior to our journey. So, I couldn’t reach him and ascertain his current position. After having a guava and an apple, I started wrapping up my belongings for the journey. I spent more time on deciding what to take with me, rather than doing some substantial work. It was quite a pain. Packing up stuff is definitely not my mug of café.
I was in dire straits. There was no time to ponder. I took a backpack as I had shopping plans in Bangkok. Finally, my friend showed up at 8 o’clock. I kept my clothes in his petite, red suitcase. After having tea, we sat for dinner. It was 9 p.m. We decided to leave by 9.30 p.m. I was restless throughout the day unable to perform even menial tasks with dexterity.
With high spirits, we rolled out and hailed a cab to the airport. The taxi driver charged us 300 Indian rupees. I asked him, “Let the meter decide the fare…” He gave me a nasty look and replied: “I will have to return empty-handed from the airport. So, it would be a loss for me.” Nothing would have changed his mind. I liked his no-bullshit attitude.
We arrived at the international terminal of the airport in no time. I was about to barge through the entrance, but my friend stopped me.
He said, “First, take out your passport and ticket.” He was right. It’s just that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
My friend Arup, on the other hand, is calm and self-composed: always thinking before acting. I felt really safe with him accompanying me. He is like a big brother: always looking after me. He’s just 34 and has already got his head full of grey hair. His hair looks like that of a zebra, with black and grey alternating stripes.
There was a haphazard queue in front of the entrance. I couldn’t figure out as to how many queues were actually there; seemed like four-five to me. I stood in the first that came my way.
The security personnel, right in front of the automated door, was in military uniform with a rifle slinging around his huge left shoulder. He took my e-ticket and passport to cross-reference the flight details and my identity. It took him just a few glances, and we were in.
Christ! We had no clue. We were in an alien territory. I said: “What do we do now? Should we get our boarding passes or get our luggage scanned?”
Arup was skeptical, to say the least. He started shuffling around in the same location, moving his head all over the place.
We, finally went to the Air Asia counter, where it was scrupulously mentioned:” Now everyone can fly!” I stood in a queue, while mon ami asked the attendant about the check-in procedure.
We needed to scan our luggage first and then proceed with the check-in.
A single luggage scanner for all the airlines at the Kolkata International Terminal. What a pity! Needless to say, we had to get behind a long, never-ending queue of passengers.
A bald guy, a most probable gangster was standing right behind us. His twitching eyes got me all the more apprehensive. He was eyeing me. I was apprehensive about the aftermath. His sturdiness was well complemented with his get up: pierced ears, leather jacket, rough jeans with pockets around the knees; and leather boots. He definitely looked a total badass. A worthy mention…
After a few bizarre, tense minutes, he asked, “Where are you going?”
I said, “Thailand…uh…Bangkok,” with a sigh of relief. A relief actually, as he was polite and friendly.
He, again, asked with a whacky grin, “You traveling for work or pleasure.”
I said, “I am on vacation for eight days. What about you?”
He replied, “I am going to China.”
“No, I work there. I am the chef. I cook. I cook.”
He was a chef graduated from some institute in Durgapur, West Bengal. His pompous attitude was not quite inviting. I knew I was getting too jovial and friendly with him after I caught Arup’s stare. He was not keen on having a friendly chat with a total stranger. He is against disclosure of personal information. I took his cue but went along matching steps with the friendly stranger.
I said, “Oh! You are a chef. How interesting! Tell me all about your profession.”
“I work in the restaurant of a big hotel. I am the chef…”
He told me about the region where the hotel is located. It is about a two-hour flight from Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China.
He displayed a sense of pride in everything he told us. Damn! Pride…
He was chewing gum, which made his facial muscles twitch. His right cheek kept moving inside-out. Was he proud of having that bubble gum inside his mouth? Oh! Pride again. Why not? He is, after all, the chef of the restaurant of a big hotel.
I asked, “What’s your salary like?”
“You want to know about my income? Oh la la! Are you sure?”
“Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you.”
“Of course. Of course. Pardon, my humor. I earn 7,000.”
“In Chinese currency, huh…”
“You fucking kidding me. It’s a joke, right? 7,000 dollars. You fuck…”
“All right. Wow! That’s great. You are paid in dollars…You got a good income.”
“Of course, I do. I am the chef.”
I wondered whether “I am the chef” is his tagline. Something that defines him, completes his identity.
I asked: “Why are you paid in dollars? Can you use it in China?”
“Dollar is the best currency in the world. Simply the best. You can use it anywhere.”
Pride in dollars… I didn’t get the hang of it.
His intriguing nature got over my nerves: he boasts of his life, his career and moreover his fucking choices. He hailed his university as the best, ahead of others in India. I never asked him for an explanation. Still, he was adamant.
Meanwhile, we reached the baggage scanner. Arup placed his suitcase on the conveyor belt and got a paper tag denoting that the luggage was scanned.
We went our separate ways. The Indo-Chinese guy was headed towards some Chinese airline, while we went to Air Asia.
Air Asia, so cheap that everyone can fly. Seriously!
We, again, got into a long queue. Yes, it was the night of queue dance. We kept on moving from one queue to the next. I realized that there was a queue for everything: currency conversion, information desk, ATM, food, drinks, even the unanticipated toilet. We were in a queue, beside a queue, and were targeting for the next queue in the flight boarding sequence. What a turnaround of events!
Next, we proceeded to the immigration check. I got into the third queue out of eight queues. People around me had their passports in different languages: Thai, Mandarin, French…
After checking all the credentials, the immigration officer placed a stamp mark near the visa in my passport. It took him just a minute.
We headed towards a full body scan. We dropped our backpacks in the conveyor belt for scanning.
My whole body was squeezed by the security personnel from head to toe, in search of anything malicious. There wasn’t any. I stepped forward towards Arup. He gave me a daunting look and said: “Hey! Grab your bag first. You ignorant bastard.”
I knew he was vexed with me. Why wouldn’t he be? I was being careless, ignorant of common sense. Maybe, due to his company, as he was looking after everything including me.
I called my mother to tell her that I had successfully checked in. It was 11.20 p.m. We had another 85 minutes before our flight.
Out of the blue, the Indo-Chinese bloke appeared in front of us. He started, “I am so glad that we meet again.”
“Yes, I…uh…I am glad as well,” I replied.
“I was charged for extra luggage at the baggage check-in counter. It was eight kilos over the desired limit. They fucking don’t know me. I am a frequent traveler. I am the chef. But they didn’t believe me. So I showed them my fucking card. I told them, ‘You come to China and call me. I will let you stay in the hotel for free. I am the chef.’ There was a heated dispute…”
“So what happened at last?”
“They fucking don’t know me. I am the chef. They charged me for three kilos only after they verified my identity.”
“Man, you are quite a big shot. I know you are.”
Arup jumped in, “You should have shown your middle finger to them. Fucking assholes.”
Damn! I never heard Arup swear before in my life. What in the world just happened? Was it for real? I was dumbstruck for a moment. Oh my God! What a turnaround of events!
I asked the egg-head, “What is your specialty? I mean what kind of food do you cook?”
“I…I cook everything: Mongolian, American, Italian, Indian, Chinese…”
“Of course, you do. You are the chef. Do you speak Chinese?”
“Yes, I can speak Chinese a little bit. I have been working in China for seven years.”
“What about orthography? Can you write?”
“I heard that there are about 10,000 symbols in the mandarin language. Right?”
“Fuck, no! 10,000…How can you say so? There are 100,000…100,000.”
“Of course, it is. How can you expect me to read and write in Mandarin? I can just write my name. My name is Ravinder but in Chinese, it’s Christian.”
Arup said, “I feel like having a smoke. Do you know where the smoking room is?”
Ravinder replied, “Of course, I know. Let me take you there.”
By this time, I realized that Ravinder knows everything. He’s an omniscient egg-head, ridiculing everyone around him while continuously, without fail, showing deeply rooted pride in himself.
I told my friend Arup to beware of this knucklehead in the smoking area.
The smoking room was jam-packed, but still, they were able to get inside. Arup asked for a cigarette from one of the smokers.
I sat in front of the smoking room, guarding our hand luggage. All of them looked so happy. All of them, smokers. I don’t get it. How can inhaling a foul-smelling gaseous matter make one happy? How can it be? Am I missing something? Maybe, I am. I never understood the love for smoking. What is it about tobacco that makes people happy, really happy?
I tried to get to the bottom of it once…guess what. I didn’t like it at all. I felt nauseating and dizzy. Something was burning inside me. I couldn’t figure it out. Maybe, just maybe, I was a lousy smoker. I didn’t have it in me to smoke. It was a shame. I had disgraced myself and my friends due to my inability to smoke. I was living a dull life, a life full of smokers around me.
I was oblivious to the fact that it’s a smoker’s world. Do I really need to consider smoking as a viable option? I almost retched at the simple thought. Couldn’t help it.
Allan Pease (the body language expert) said that we, as babies, are used to sucking our mother’s breast. It provides us with food and nutrition for the first six months or so. Consider babies who weren’t breast-fed. They feel a need for sucking and care. So, they end up smoking. It has the same effect. It is nothing, but a self-comfort gesture. I wonder if it’s true…
Smoking is carcinogenic. It deprives one of good health. So, it is a taboo for me. Firstly, it tastes bad, really bad. Secondly, it is malicious, bearing illness and untimely death.
I stopped grimacing about this morbid thought, as soon as they returned back. They were reeking of smoke. What in hell could be worse than that foul smell? I wondered…
I said: “I can smell cigs everywhere. The smoking room is not enclosed.”
Ravinder replied, “Oh! Yes. Fucking smoke.” and started laughing, adding more smoke to the air.
We went through a food store filled with imported chocolates. I heard a grown-up man shouting: “I found it! I found it!”
Was he glad of finding his favorite chocolate? A freak…
Ravinder asked us, “Are you going to China?”
I was quite sure that we had informed him earlier about our destination. Still, I said, “No, we are going to Bangkok.”
Arup said, “It is time for us to get near the boarding gate. It’s midnight.”
We, finally, parted our ways bidding farewell and wishing each other a nice, comfortable journey.