I receive the travel itinerary in my email and I immediately feel a lump forming in my throat from excitement, but mostly, from trepidation. I’m not the biggest fan of flights. I have nothing against the whole concept of air travel, but there’s something about that stale iron smell in the cabin air, the adorable toddler-sized seating and worst of all, seat neighbour etiquette: Who owns the arm rest? How often can I wake this person up to take a leak? What if we make accidental eye contact super early on in the flight and have to endure the rest of the whole journey with a sense of awkwardness in the air?
Twenty-two hours total travel time, it says. America, you better be worth it.
The United States hadn’t ever been high on my go-to list. There was, however, a time in the 90s when The Dave Matthews Band released Crash Into Me and I was crushing hard on Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty that I thought I’d go over and catch them live. Then, I found out bands actually toured other countries, so that idea became moot very quickly. I was 10.
Fast forward 21 years later and I’m getting ready to board a plane to San Francisco with six other family members. A first time for all of us, except for my sister who had gone a couple of years back to visit her then-fiancé, a Californian native. Kain songket, selendang and songkok packed - we’re heading over for the wedding reception on the groom’s side. We were going to bertandang Bay Area- style.
The flight was thankfully manageable. I was lucky enough to get an aisle seat, which made me the master of my toilet visiting schedule, so I went all out on beverage consumption. I sat next to an older gentleman I suspect was travelling solo for business and from whom I learnt a very valuable lesson: Don’t ever request for a halal meal, instead go for a pescatarian option. To certain parts of the world apparently, Muslims only eat rice, curry (of several denominations), mutton and fruit. While the gentleman next to me ordered the seafood-only meal that consisted of cheese and crackers, a nice-looking baked fish pie and a cream filled cake. Where’s MY cream cake?! I was angry enough to flip the table if only it wasn’t bolted to the chair in front of me.
Nearly 24 hours, one layover in Taiwan and two dodgy mystery meat curry meals (sans cake) later, we finally arrived safely at San Francisco International Airport. One of the first things that hit us was the announcement saying you have to have your passports and travel documents ready for inspection in the thickest Southeast Asian (quite possibly Vietnamese) accent in broken English. Since most of the airport personnel were of Asian descent - while there was barely any Caucasian in sight - it almost felt like we’re back in KL. We’re seasoned travellers and we were aware Asians exist outside of Asia, but San Francisco was something else. I had been so conditioned by what we see on TV that my expectations were clearly not met (a recurring theme throughout the next three weeks).
This story appeared in Chemistry Issue. To continue reading, you can buy print or digital.