Time-Killing Fields

Hanoi, May 15th 2010

I arrived at Noi Bai Airport almost 3 hours prior to my departure flight to Kuala Lumpur. For the first time I realized that Noi Bai Airport of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is actually not so big. Although it was not my first time at all, I just realized that domestic and international terminal are located in the same building.

Okay, so what to do now? Ah, wash my face and fresh up. I spotted the rest room next to a small office where passengers can keep their luggage. Hmmm, good thing to keep in mind in case one day I happen to arrive in Hanoi just for a stop over. I don't like Hanoi so much, so I won't come to Hanoi unless I can't avoid it from my travel map.

I have always wondered why is a rest room called a "rest room" when there's no place else to take a rest except on the closet. I appreciate that the closet and the washbasin in Noi Bai Airport are kept clean. I found a corner to myself. I kept my travel bag and my camera bag on the floor between the wall and my legs. I took out my small plastic cosmetic bag containing small bottles of cleansing milk, face tonic, face soap, day cream, night cream, eye cream, body shower, shampoo, hand cream, foot cream, sunblock, cologne, and then mini tooth brush, mini tooth paste, in a mini glass. I pulled out the last cotton pad which I had counted precisely upon packing and started the process of cleaning my face. I'm happy to be woman, because being a woman gives me lot of things to do to kill the time.

I did every detail with great leisure. My face must have been so pleased as it was its first time since it has been living on me that I put so much attention on it. Women when in and out. Mostly Vietnamese. A Vietnamese woman leaned on the other wall talking while watching. At first I thought she was talking to her friend who was inside the chamber. You know, that's a woman thing inside toilets. But everyone seemed to have gone in and out, yet she was still talking. Through the wide mirror in front of me, it was obvious she was talking to me and not to anyone else unless she saw another shadow on the mirror. Hiyyy.

I didn't bother at all. She didn't look angry but opposite to that. Good thing, then. Okay, next process. I took out another small bag made of batik. This one I always carry with me wherever I go: to work, to church, to parties, and to foreign lands. The contents are lipstick, face powder, concealer, a mini bottle (again) of hairspray, tissue paper, oil control film, nail clipper, nail file, and safety pins. I made two three strokes with a comb on my short straight hair and done. There's not much I can do on it, because it always falls straight down under all circumstances: under the shower, inside the pool, under the sun, under a hat, or under a wind storm. Because it always falls straight down, I need a little hairspray on the bangs so that it won't fall straight down my eyes. That's why I always have a mini bottle of hairspray handy.

This sweet Vietnamese woman was still leaning on the wall, smiling, ... and talking to me. I started to feel rude to neglect her. She must have thought I am Vietnamese also. I turned my head to her and said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Vietnamese. Do you speak English?"

Obviously she looked shocked. I felt worse. She step forward and pointed to my mini bottles lining up around the washbasin like kindergarten kids ready to jump into the pool. Still with a sweet smile on her face, she spoke something in Vietnamese, laughed gently at my kids... eh, mini bottles, and then went out. I really wished I knew how to say sorry to her in Vietnamese.

Now, what next? Okay, breakfast. When I returned from Halong Bay during my first trip to Vietnam, I had breakfast on the third floor. I thought I would like to try a different place. I wanted a different place, but not a luxurious one for I was running short already. I took the capsule elevator and searched every floor of Noi Bai Airport. Apparently choices weren't plenty. The restaurant I had breakfast in half a year ago was the most budget restaurant. I had beef noodle a.k.a. pho bo, there and got a small (not mini) glass of plain water. No refill. "Pay, pay," said the waitress that time. Hmmm, I'm not coming back there again.

Back on the first floor, I finally settled down on a cafe with a small bar. For sure, this cafe serves meals besides "cafe". I picked out the lowest-cost item from the menu: "Yellow Noodle with Chicken". Since it says "yellow noodle", it must be different from pho bo, I thought.

In my homeland we call this "Indomie rebus" which is instant noodle. Hahaha.... if I weren't alone, I would have laughed out loud at the sight of this yellow noodle. 20.000 dongs or approx 10.000 rupiahs for "Indomie rebus pakai ayam" (instant noodle with chicken). Anyway, the chicken meat was fresh. And instead of putting mustard greens (daun sawi) like most instant noodle vendors do in Indonesia, I got lots of leeks (daun bawang) as the topping of my so called "yellow noodle". I love leeks. It's still much better than the instant noodle my friend bought when we were on a trip in Sikuai Island, West Sumatera. She had to pay 35.000 rupiah for a bowl of "indomie rebus" with egg but no fresh chicken. She was, and I was too, shocked, when being presented the bill. I guess I'll always have a memory of instant noodle. Even now, while writing this story, I can't help not to giggle myself.

While savoring on my yellow noodle, I spotted a basket of tangerines near the table bar. I know it must be for tangerine juice. The first time I went to Vietnam, I bought Mom tangerines and she said they tasted and smelled very sweet. The second time I went, I failed. Mom said they were very sour! Okay, so maybe this time I'd be lucky.

Having done with all the mustard greens, I reached for my own can of Nescafe brought from home. Had been paying $17 for taxi fare from Hanoi Train Station to Noi Bai Airport left no more space in my budget account for another glass of Vietnamese coffee. My habit after drinking coffee is to get a few gulps of plain water. Thanks to the bottle of mineral water I insisted to carry along.

After paying my bill (this time I didn't forget.), I went straight to the table where the basket of tangerines laid. To my astonishment, the price of 1 tangerine was regarded the same as 1 glass of tangerine juice, which was thirty thousand dongs! No way! The tangerines didn't look ripe anyway.

Now, what next? Oh ya! I should check my flight schedule and make sure it's not delayed. That's important, because my next flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta will be only 3 hours after landing in Kuala Lumpur.

"AK871 - 9:20 - Gate Open". Perfect.

Checking in, done.

The second floor of the boarding area was a little bit more glamorous. There were a few souvenir shops and plenty of aluminum benches. I checked out all the shops. Hmmm, more expensive than the stuffs I bought at Old Quarter. Well, that's a common thing in any airport. I took another turn, and then stopped at a souvenir shops which had several long racks of books. Most of them were written in Vietnamese. The rest were in English and French. I almost bought a photography book about life on several places in Vietnam. The photos were printed in black and white which suited the theme very well. Suddenly I realized that I was broke. Okay, fine. Someday I'll make those photos myself.

My shoulders started to feel sore. So I sat on the aluminum bench and took out my last Vietnamese strawberry yogurt cup and my Insight Guide Vietnam. While sipping my yogurt, I searched for the photo of Ban Gioc Waterfall printed on 2 full pages. Gorgeous. Fantastic. Numb. Mr. Hiep, my tour guide on my first day in Sapa told me that it was a waterfall that lays on the border of Vietnam and China. Oh, I definitely must see this. It would be at least during my 5th trip to Vietnam for the 4th one is already planned. In that photograph there was a sheltered raft on left bottom. I felt like I was sitting on that raft and could feel the waterfall sprinkling on my face. I started to doze.

What?! 9:05?! I snatched my camera backpack and ran to my flight's gate. Security check, done. I was told to go left which was a passage surrounded by glass. It had been raining. Oh, that's my plane. Hmmm... wait a minute. I took out my cellphone from my handbag and made a snapshot. Done.

The plane was crowded and my seat ...? Hey! Where's my boarding pass?! Oh, no!

I pushed back. In a hurriedly I told the stewardess standing by the door that I had to go back to look for my boarding pass. I was sure I dropped it when I took my cellphone out, because I surely still had it when I went through the security check. Otherwise I would not be able to be here either. The stewardess seemed to understand that, too, and thus seemed to take the matter easily. She told me to take a seat anywhere and then look carefully again in my bag. She said that it doesn't matter that if I don't have it. She reminded me that I might not be able to return to the plane, instead.

I told her that I had already checked my bag and I must have dropped it not far from there, because I had taken a picture and.... and ah, that sounded so silly. So I just ran out. For a moment I felt like the stewardesses and maybe a co-pilot, were about to grab my arm. I was panicked not because I was afraid that I would not get a seat, but because I would have to pay fine. I'm broke, I'm broke!

I stood still on the very spot I had taken the picture of Air Asia and looked down. Nothing. All was silvery. There was nothing white which has the least resemblance of a little piece of paper. I ran back to the plane, desperate. Paying some extra dollars for a taxi fare, because of careless planning was already regretful. But paying fine because of loosing a boarding pass while taking a picture of Air Asia? That's silly.

But right when I was about to step into the plane, I felt something sticky in my bag. Big numbers were printed on it. What?? That's my boarding pass!! How embarrassing it was to fine my lost boarding pass inside my bag in front of the stewardesses.

"I told you to check your bag again," said the stewardess from whom I had escaped.

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