Saturday, July 31, 2010

Not so different after all

On my way back from China, I encountered two vignettes, at polar ends, which made me reflect on my journey.

From Shanghai where myself and Geoffrey ( Head of Department) had finessed our networking, culminating in a whirlwind tour of the Expo, I was to find myself on the 8.50 plane bound for Beijing.

I had the outer seat to the window and next to me was Ms Dominatrix, abrasive, loud mouthed and coarse. I was to experience part of this, as she elbowed me, put her drinks on my tray without asking and seemed to summons the air stewards every five minutes.

When the pilot announced some breaking news, she went into Miss Unbearable mode. She may have had a point, because by the time the translations made their way to us non-mandarin speaking, we would be dutifully informed that there was a three to four hour delay in our flight.

Meaning, we would have to sit in the plane for the said duration. My background in boarding school seated in the guard room doing nothing can prepare me for an assortment of mundane tasks, but the prospect of firstly a wait that could end up with me missing my connection, and secondly seated to Miss Urgh filled me with dread.

Still Waiting
At Oneish, having boarded the flight at 8.30 we were due to move. By now I had been reduced to a pulp.

At Beijing, a litany of mis-communications and bad decision making, to me very unChinese-like, would eventually lead me and others to our connecting flight- also delayed.

When we did board, I would be sat next to someone, the equivalent of my mother. She was unfussy and collected. We nodded at each other and then the flight took its course.

It's a long haul so to amuse oneself in -flight entertainment is a pre-requisite, unless you have a good book.

And while I feasted on film after film, I couldn't help but see how abject the woman next to me was.

I finally plucked up the courage and without a word said navigated her through her menu. She seemed amused and surprised.

I'd flick through a range of options and she'd gesture by pressing the icon on the window of the screen. We got it down to a fine art, except almost all the games she pressed were not working.

I found her some music, a Chinese Opera. It seemed agreeable, but she then gestured in the soft manner she had, to move on.

Eventually she gestured with palms open that she'd had enough and I repaired to my own space and another run of Avatar.

Experiential Learning
And then something nice happened which I caught with my periphery vision. She picked up her tuner and begun to navigate herself; she'd been studiously watching me as I tried to help, to the point I'm sure it wasn't that she couldn't find any programmes, she was building up her knowledge of how this tuner contraption worked.

I had tried to show her, but perhaps just like my mother she had not wanted to come across as a nuisance.

Minutes later I had a gentle nudge on my shoulder. I looked around and she, smiling gently, offered her headphones and nodded.

Chinese Classical Music, soothing, arresting and had I not kept my manners about me, might have held onto her headphones.

She smiled triumphantly as she took them back and for the rest of the flight I would notice a content look about her. Occasionally she'd change channels.

After landing, in the baggage room, I would see her again; our confined space now expanded, I swept pass her thinking how much my last encounter with China, embodied something I had witnessed all along while I was there.

A quiet deference and respect... and then just occasionally from earlier on an utterance of intemperance. Perhaps they are one and the same, but the truth, I thought reflecting on my own foibles and mannerism is that really we're not so different after all.

Xie xie