The tradition started in Europe, when we headed to Croatia for a dear friend’s wedding and made a short pit stop in Italy (where our father’s family is from) to go hiking in Cinque Terre, pretend we were rich and famous in Portofino, and head down to Bari to take the ferry to Dubrovnik.
During last year’s trip, by far the most exotic yet, we went to Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. A first for both of us, only one thing stood between us and our adventure in the early days of planning: we’re both afraid of flying.
I can fairly easily get on a shorter flight – one hour is a piece of cake, two hours a little more taxing on the nerves, three hours is a little more anxiety-inducing…. you catch my drift. For my sister, it’s the unpleasant sensation caused by turbulence that makes her apprehensive. For me, it’s the thought of falling out of the sky like a ton of bricks that tortures me for days before my travel, and for AT LEAST a few hours after take-off during every flight.
Have I mentioned before I’m also claustrophobic? I probably have. Multiple times.
Our trip to Asia – via Narita and SFO – would require two six hour flights and a monster eleven hour trek from San Francisco to Tokyo. My sister – who at the time lived in Mexico City, would meet up with me in San Francisco so we could tackle that part of the trip together.
The days prior to purchasing our tickets were interesting to say the least. Both of us, in our own ways, were trying to to control the outcome of our trip to the best of our ability. I wanted to choose flights that weren’t too full so I wouldn’t feel cramped and confined. My sister, on the other hand, wanted to pick flights that were as full as possible, since she thought a full flight would (for some reason) be less likely to crash.
Despite all the excuses we threw back and forth at each other, we ended up – fortuitously – on a 747 as big as a house, sitting in emergency row seats in front of the bulkhead that made me feel like I was chilling out in my own living room rather than confined to a flying bucket of bolts. I made this observation to my sister, since it made me feel infinitely more at ease about the journey. She covered her ears and cringed, a clear indication that the image of sitting for 11 hours on a soaring house did not have the same calming effect on her as it did on me.
Our flight attendant, God bless her soul, was probably the best thing about the trip (aside from each other’s company). Something about the pathetic looks on our faces made her take pity on us, and she started making conversation from her jump seat across the “hall” from us. About how long she’d been flying. About the crazy passengers she’d encountered in her days. About how she’d be taking the very same plane back from Tokyo two days later.
She brought us Champagne from First Class, and promised to take us on a tour of the upstairs area of the airplane, since my sister and I had never seen anything like it. She took our picture. On and off, I thought about my son, and how he would miss me if I never saw him again. I put on a brave face, whenever my sister looked nervous. And we had a few drinks, took full advantage of the Wifi on board, and managed to find a little peace (sometimes yes, sometimes no) throughout the trip until our plane touched down in Tokyo.
The Tokyo airport alone was worth every minute of anxiety before and during our flight. So much so that I was tempted to miss our next flight and spend an unplanned night in Tokyo. My dangerously low energy levels (and serious lack of funding) prevailed, and after a few hours of shopping for sake and chopsticks at every Duty Free at the airport, we hopped on a flight to Singapore.
I didn’t sleep on my first two flights – I can rarely get comfortable enough on an airplane – so the next few hours are a bit of a blur to me. My sister complains, to this day, that on the next leg of our trip (between Tokyo and Singapore) I snored and drooled away from our cramped seats while she looked anxiously out the window at the thunder storm that had developed outside.
We made it safely to Singapore, of course. And to Malaysia and Hong Kong after. And then we made it home safe and on schedule, despite having seriously considered taking a boat back when we learned about the fate of Asiana flight 214, which crashed in San Francisco just two days before we were meant to land there.
It’s experiences like these – having seen what I saw, learned what I learned, and shared what I shared with my only sister – that make life worth living. We could have played it safe, I guess, and not put ourselves through the twenty hours of misery this trip required. But aren’t trips like this one what living is for anyway?