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Halfway Around The World

Halfway Around The World

I took my first flight when I was about 10, during one of our annual family camping trips. 

We were on the road in Maine, hauling a camper behind our rusty Dodge station wagon, when my dad spied a billboard advertising plane rides for $10. 

“Who wants to fly in an airplane?” he shouted, turning into a dirt road without waiting for an answer.

“I do! I do!” my brother and I chorused.

My mother shook her head.

None of us had ever flown and Mom was terrified.

“Someone has to drive the dog home if the plane crashes,” she declared, lighting a Pall Mall.

So my father, brother and I climbed aboard a single engine plane with the pilot while my mother stood on the grass airstrip, holding our Irish setter’s leash in one hand and waving with the other as we circled overhead and the pilot dipped a wing in her direction.

I’ve flown scores of times since, but THAT was the single most memorable flight of my life. Probably because my father, who struggled all his life with depression, was filled with pure unadulterated joy for one exhilarating half hour. He grinned and pointed to landmarks in the rolling countryside below. He was so happy.

For some reason, I clearly remember miniature two-Chicklet gum boxes in the armrests of each seat. The gum was to keep our ears from popping, the pilot said, and ordered us to start chewing.

It would be decades before anyone in my family flew again. By then my mother had resigned herself to air travel, although my dad said that she white-knuckled every flight they ever took together.

Leaving Seoul, heading to Hanoi. Photo by Bryn.

Leaving Seoul, heading to Hanoi. Photo by Bryn.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Baby Boomer, old enough to remember when air travel was a novelty, something available only to the very rich, but I’m still awed by the miracle of flight. 

During the 18-hour leg of our trip that began Monday afternoon at Dulles and ended Tuesday evening in Seoul, I found myself compulsively switching my TV screen to the “Your Trip” mode to track our progress. We flew dead north out of Washington, over Canada to the top of the world, before turning south over the Bering Sea. We crossed Russia and China before gently landing in Korea.

For a time, the “landscape camera” on the aircraft showed nothing but endless ice fields. Breathtaking. 

It’s easy to complain about the misery of air travel - the tiny seats, the lack of legroom,  the impossibly small lavatories - but the truth is when you fly you’re sitting on a soft seat, in a controlled environment, at 35,000 feet on a journey that a hundred years ago would have taken months and probably killed you.

Amazing, no?

Beyond that, I’m writing this on a tray table as we pass to the west of Hong Kong on our way to Hanoi. A destination no American who grew up in the 1960s ever dreamed they’d visit for pleasure. Or wanted to. Except Jane Fonda, I guess.

Oh, right, I promised an update on the airline candy gambit:

As it turns out, little boxes of Godiva chocolates will not get you upgraded from lawn chairs to luxurious cubicles with beds. (Dang, first class - or Prestige Class, as it’s called on Korean Airlines - looks lovely as you squeeze by, on your way to coach.) But the airline employees seemed genuinely delighted by the little lagniappes.

My daughter and I did get to sit together for the marathon flight. So there’s that. And we’re side by side again on the shorter, 4-hour trip to Hanoi.

During our brief layover in Seoul we were stunned by news of the conflagration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This being Holy Week, the tragedy seems to hold some deeper meaning that my jet-lagged brain can’t quite absorb. 

I caught a cellphone video of stricken French people singing hymns in the streets of Paris as flames shot skyward in the distance.

In the words of Yeats, a terrible beauty. 

I’ve read many times that France - once a feverishly Catholic country -  has fewer and fewer churchgoers. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a Christian to feel a profound sense of loss over the burning of an 800-year-old cathedral full of artwork, history and relics.

Speaking of history and relics, we’ll set out to explore Hanoi tomorrow, after attending a traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony at the bride’s parents’ house in the morning.

Sorry if this is disjointed. I’ll be slightly more coherent with a night’s sleep. I hope.

See you back here tomorrow. 

Hanoi: Motor Scooter Madness

A Wing, A Prayer And Three Boxes Of Chocolates