The running letters flooded the big screen at Helsinki Airport from left to right. “Boarding” flashed the top 8 rows in green characters. Only the very top line was red, “GATE 36 Beijing New information at 18.05”. There was a technical issue with my flight to Beijing. Later, the process was repeated with a new time limit. After a few hours we got value checks for food from the canteen next to the gate. I got some hot fast-food and a bottle of water and sat down next to a young student from Beijing. Both of us hammering intensively on our computers, only interrupted by a bite every now and then. Time passed and new time limits passed. I realised that I needed to reschedule the connecting flight to Kunming and called the travel agency. Unfortunately, the next three connections were fully booked but I was now rescheduled for a new flight, in more than 24 hours time. At the second round of food checks I kept an eye on the Chinese students computer while he got his food and he kept his eye on mine. One don’t want to leave a good spot with charging facilities for the computer at occasions like this. I left for some snacks. Unlike, my habits, I felt I deserved a coffee under the circumstances.
After some more hours we came to speak. The student recently graduated at university in Germany, Nurnberg, if I recall correctly. As most students he was short of money. He collected some plastic bottles. In Finland like in Sweden you get some refund to secure the recycling of PET bottles. Twelve bottles should be just enough to pay for a coffee. He got my empty water bottle too. Later he returned with a disappointed look on his face. The canteen did not accept to pay the refund. Curious about this I made a mind note to remember to check if the Airport Restaurants in Helsinki are excluded from the refund system or if some one else in the value chain cashed in the money. Well, I suppose I will probably not get the time for this Sherlock activity and thereby never get the answer, unless, the “environmental Interpol” is alarmed by this my flask post into cyber space.
At, 00.15 we got the notice that the plane was now repaired but that a minor test activity was to take place. At 01.15 we were informed that the flight tests were successful! Good thing. The alternative would probably not have been nice for the pilots involved. We boarded and the plane started short after 02.00, in the morning. The air plane made the trip toBeijing, successfully, as well.
When we landed, my new flight for Kunming was about to leave in some 6 hours. Good thing that the first three connections were full. I would barely have made it anyway. Customs, transfer between terminals and some excellent you-get-what-you-pay-for tea at the Terminal 2 and I was ready to check in. I was one of the first to get benched at the gate and browsed one of the magazines at the stand next to the gate. Suddenly, a young lady approached the seat next to me with firm steps. Why, that seat next to me when the hall was more or less full of empty seats? She was soon followed by a small duplicate of her self and then one more, a small boy and group of boys and girls appeared from behind the row of pillars that pushed the curved ceiling in the hall towards the sky.
Speaking quietly to one another they seemed to discuss which UFO brought me to the planet. It later turned out that I was the only European on the flight to Kunming. As the tea brought some spirit to my body the computer paged my attention. I spent some time catching up with some news letters on environmental legislation and soon the noise level raised, slowly. A small head peeked from behind my shoulder and a series of words in Chinese filled the space. A vivid discussion started behind my back. I could not believe the Chinese twelve year olds are taught about the European emission legislation. There must have been something else that caught their interest. Possibly noises sounding like Computer, Windows and Internet, were used. Were they surprised to find that life from my planet also applied the same base elements for computer applications? Could be. When the phone called, no doubt a chorus exclaimed HTC. This was too much for them; the UFO stranger used the very same phone brand as they did. The kids became lively and started to run back and forth, small groups were formed and dissolved again. They noise level raised and im sure I heard the crescendo of Grieg’s, Peer Gynt, “In the Hall of the Mountain king” as the symphonic sounds broke. I imagined the maestro in front of his orchestra euphorically directing the chorus of Chinese trolls in the hall.
-Where-are-you-from? The brave young girl next too me spoke loud and clear.
The hall went completely silent. All the kids first stared at the girl then at me. My imaginary maestro froze, signing complete silence to his orchestra. Only the vague sounds from the ventilation system, wloff, wloff wloff broke the silence.
-Where-are-you-from? She repeated, this time slower and even more loud and clear, looking seriously into my eyes.
-Ahum, I cleared my throat.
-I am from Sweden, I continued. -Where are you from?
She broke up in a smile she had made contact!
-I am from Kunming, she said.
The maestro started the orchestra again now with the weak fine tones of the “Morning Mode”, where the trolls are slowly waking up again. The kids started whispering, One by one to the nearest friend. More girls gathered around me and a number of questions followed from each one of them.
-Where are you going?
-I am going to Kunming. Where are you going? I answered.
-What is your name?
-My name is Edward Jobson, what is your name?
-Did you visit Beijing?
-No, I came from Finland and I am now changing to another aeroplane to go to Kunming.
-How old are you?
Were those the same questions as put by the migration officer I just passed? I disregarded the thought. Of course those are the very first questions every English class around the world learn, … or was I getting confused… I’m too tired I thought.
-I just had my 50th birthday, I said.
They all smiled and as on a sign the closest group started singing “Happy birthday to you”.
I was about to say that it actually was a couple of months ago, but just a:
-Thank you, left my lips.
The flight left on time and shortly before midnight we landed in Kunming, some 40 hours after I started my trip.
In 1927 the Gothenburg born, Karin Boye, wrote the poem “In Motion” and the following excerpt has become a saying in my hometown:
Yes, there is goal and meaning in our path –
but it’s the way that is the labour’s worth.
Translation: David Mc Duffs
Torn out of the context, but still: Which words can better explain the joy of small incidences and interactions with other cultures under circumstances that normally would be a stress?