The Struggle Continues - Part 1 - The Reunion - 4 - The Dark Airport
Kai Tak was rightly famous for the dangerous approach, where on one runway pilots flew between the high buildings of Kowloon, before sharply turning right to complete the landing. Almost aerobatics with a 747 full of paying passengers! But this unusual and highly spectacular approach actually meant that because of all the extra training and required competence needed, it was very safe. Is there a lesson there? We shall never know as the airport is now closed. But the statistics show it to have been extremely safe, with only one landing accident in which injuries were only very slight in 1994. And this in an area not noted for the best of weather at all times!
I had always marvelled at the approach as I'd come in first with good old and sadly missed British Caledonian and later with BA. But if I did have any cause for concern, it should probably have been on the departure, as statistics show that these are often more prone to serious accidents than landing. All that high power and fuel! In fact in recent times, this had certainly been the case at Kai Tak, where six had died on a Hercules repatriating boat people a few years before.
That night as always when I fly, I had no such worries. I was escorted to the airport by Jacinta in the back of a chauffered Mercedes limousine. Typically, this is probably was the most dangerous leg of any journey by air! 'To us! May all our systems have happy memories!' I raised a glass of champagne. 'You shouldn't have done all this! I could have taken a taxi!'
Jacinta cuddled me. 'Don't worry! Stanley told me to do it. Not the hugging, but the limo! The Bank is paying! We certainly aren't!' She giggled. Stanley was the local director of the Bank, who had reluctantly agreed that the same system that was used in London, be installed in Hong Kong. We had not got on as well as we should, partly because of the orders from London but mainly it was due to a clash of two egos. I worried as he was also the man who signed my cheque. So it was either a good omen he'd organised the transport or did he want to make sure I got out before he put his signature to a large amount of the Bank's money!
The terminal at Kai Tak always struck me as dark. This may have been because I had always left for a very late flight after the sun had gone down. But it was probably also due to the old design and the very crowded nature of the terminal, which was soon to be replaced when the new airport on Lantau at Chek Lap Kok opened. So the new airport would be bigger, supposedly safer, lighter, more spacious, have more shops, but in some ways it wouldn't have the thrill and atmosphere of the unique Kai Tak. Above all, it just felt like a proper gateway to the mysterious East.
'Can you wait a minute? Sir!' The man on the check-in had taken my ticket and passport before dissappearing quickly through a door behind the desk.
'What's up?' Jacinta asked the question.
'Oh I suspect it's nothing!' I hoped it was. 'Usually I get stopped coming in to Hong Kong.' I waved my hands with a mild gesture of exasperation. 'Makes a change to get stopped going out! Is there any point to that?'
'Do you want me to do anything?' She replied. 'I could call Stanley! He's well connected to everybody! He seems to be able to sort most things!'
'I don't think he would be very happy to be bothered at this hour. Even by you! Also, what would be in it for Stanley?' I put my arms round her. 'I know you like him, but Stanley and I didn't hit it off well. So wait, I'm sure they'll sort it out. They'll be back in a few minutes and say sorry! It's what always happens!'
Five long minutes or so later, the clerk returned with a uniformed sergeant, who handed my passport back to me. 'Sorry, Sir! Everything is OK!'
'Thank you!' I smiled at the routine. 'Can I ask why I got the special treatment?' I knew the answer I'd get.
'Your passport was flagged by the computer!' He was being very friendly, but they always were in this situation. 'There is probably a computer mistake.' They always blamed the inanimate computer, who couldn't answer back. 'We're very sorry!'
'Thank you!' I had been stopped three times in Hong Kong airport now. 'Could you please correct it? I've been stopped so many times. Much as I like it here, I wouldn't want to be locked up or thrown out!'
'Of course not! I will make a report to my superiors, Sir!' He smiled at me. 'But I suspect, nothing will happen. Have a good trip!' He looked and repeated the smile at Jacinta. 'And I hope we'll all see you again soon.'
At the time, I used to find this mix-up with an unknown man with a similar name and obviously different appearance funny. But it was ceasing to be a joke, however polite everyone was. Since the events on September the eleventh, I don't find it funny anymore.
'Can you come with me now? Sir!' The check-in clerk had taken the smaller of my two bags and was carrying it quickly down the line of desks. 'It appears that there is a late change to your ticket!'
'I tend to think, that things might be getting better!' I turned to Jacinta, who just smiled as she wheeled my larger case. 'You needn't lug that about! Let me!'
'No!' She refused to let me take it from her. 'You have a long journey ahead and you need all your energy! You've worked very hard lately!' She giggled.
We continued down the line of check-ins, past the two Club counters and on to that for First at the end of the line. Things were definitely getting better. 'Is this your doing? Jacinta!'
She just continued giggling. 'No! Stanley told me he'd arranged it.' Perhaps, he did like me after all! 'Apparently, BA are after the Bank's business so he asked rather firmly for a favour for one of our esteemed and most respected consultants!'
Firm wasn't a word that would describe Stanley adequately. I doubt he'd have used esteemed either about anybody, let alone me! I suspected it was all some fiendish device so he could take most of the real price of the ticket off my bill! I laughed and Jacinta probably read my thoughts and laughed back. We all knew Stanley to be the hardest sort of Chinese businessman, who I would suspect had had an interesting discussion and negotiation with BA.
Now he was setting me up for the return of a favour in the future!
But at least I did have a future with the Bank in Hong Kong. I laughed uncontrollably!
The flight was slightly delayed and so it was just after midnight, that I sat down in seat 1A at the front of the 747. I certainly wouldn't survive if the plane nose-dived into the ground, but at least death would be instantaneous.
After all of the usual choreographed and rather cold formalities of greeting, coat removal, champagne and hot towel had been completed, I laid back and waited to see if I'd have two sumptuous seats to myself. I doubted it as I'd seen one First Class passenger who had been very angry at being bumped. How did I get the double upgrade then?
Just as I went through to board the plane, Jacinta had given me a small beautifully-patterned and be-dragoned carrier to take onboard. She ordered me not to look until I was seated on the plane, as it would bring bad luck. And no more kisses! Now that I was sitting very comfortably, I decided it would be safe to break the seal and open the bag. It contained a small flat parcel, wrapped in immaculate red paper and an official looking envelope with the Bank's name on it. To the Chinese red is the colour of weddings and as the label on the parcel confirmed, it was a present for Josh and Lucinda. It felt like a framed picture, but of course I didn't check further. Now that is being sweet! But I wasn't sure how well it would go down with Alice!
The letter was addressed to me and the envelope looked very formal. I opened it carefully by tearing the flap and unfolded the paper inside. It was not a letter, but the cheque for the work in Hong Kong. Stanley had added a well done and thank you on a compliments slip and when I checked the amount he had not made any deductions either!
'That looks good!' It was the woman who spoke as she arrived at the seat next to me. 'There seems a lot of noughts on that cheque! Sorry, if I'm being nosy and rude!' She smiled at me. 'We could have a lot of fun with that!'
'Not nosy at all! Unless you are from the Inland Revenue!' I smiled as I doubted that, as she was too well-dressed and good looking. Nothing was out of place from a pair of black patent stilettos to her immaculate blond hair.
'Of course not!' She revealed a beautiful and perfect smile. 'I suspect I have the same views about them as you!'
I decided it was time to properly introduce myself. 'I'm Ewart! As of six o'clock this evening, I'm a reasonably well off, unemployed IT consultant.'
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