Vietnam Airlines, I Love You Still

(I clicked "publish post" before I finished writing. Sorry for the inconvenience. This time it's final.)

Nha Trang, January 2nd 2011

As if my trip in this country hadn't be adventurous enough, Vietnam Airlines provided us with another unexpected, unwanted, uninteresting adventure. First, 2 days ago I got an email notice telling that our flight would be delayed to one hour and five minutes. Luckily Lamy Hotel provided free computer and internet access to use. Luckily I checked my email. Or else, our unexpected adventure at Nha Trang Airport would have taken longer. Let me tell you about that later. That's the biggest story.

From Lamy Hotel we took a taxi to Nha Trang Airport. It was a rather long ride. We seemed sheering away from the coastline into the hills over a highway. No hotels, no restaurants, no houses, no one but cars only were in sight. The hills stood dashing on our left and right side. The romantic beach of Nha Trang was far behind us.

And here we are now in Nha Trang Airport. It was quiet but clean. The building architecture wasn't as sophisticated as Dalat Airport. I pulled out my Nokia and made a shot.
Speaking about architecture and not to mention about size, Nha Trang Airport far matches my international airport in my country. However, I feel more comfortable here, because it's bright. If it weren't for the bright lighting and interior, the unexpected adventure we would have later would have been terribly unbearable.

It turned out that we still had plenty of time before the check in. So Wiwik and Gabe took their dinner at a European style restaurant not far from the spot in this picture. I finished my last Vina Milk's yoghurt for I didn't want the check-in-security staff take it away. And, I still could feel the taste of macaroni from Le Petit Bistro under my tongue. Yummyyy!

From the restaurant where Wiwik and Gabe had their dinner we could see the check in counters. None of the signs written above the counters said "Sai Gon".

"That's weird," Wiwik said. "It's already half an hour to boarding time."

So I approached a lady in uniform near the counter. I showed my ticket and asked where I should check in. She pointed to the counter in front of her. "Here," she replied.

"Here?" I asked back. The sign on top said "Ha Noi".

"Yes, here."

"Sai Gon? Here?"

"Yes, here."

I went back to where Wiwik and Gabe were sitting and told them. Then, after checking in Gabe's luggage I noticed the sign on top has been changed from "Ha Noi" to "Sai Gon". The next moment people were swarming in to form a long queue behind us. Some were dragging their suitcases with a frantic look. No wonder. Our flight was scheduled to take off at 10:00 PM and it was already 9:30 PM.

Done with the check in process, we half ran to the boarding room which was on the second floor. It was actually not a room, but a hall filled with plenty aluminum chairs. At one end of the hall was a souvenir counter and on the opposite was a snack and beverage counter. In the middle was a small cafe shop.

I sat with my back straight thinking that we will soon be boarding the plane. But, we just sat and sat. 5 minutes to 10 we were still sitting. I sat back. 10 past 5. 10 past 10. 10 past 15. I sank myself into the chair. As far as I can recall, it was about 11:00 PM when we boarded the plane. Hahhh... at last, I thought to myself.

The plane was very crowded. It seemed that not a seat was empty. Some passengers had a tough time trying to push their luggage into the cabin. I sat back and watched them all... until everyone was finally in their seat. We sat, and sat.

A Vietnamese baby in front of me started to cry. Her father (seemed so) handed her to her mother. She tried to calm her baby down but her baby cried louder instead. A Western guy on the opposite row was looking obviously disturbed. He looked at the baby and frowned. The other passenger next to him also turned his head to the baby. A Western woman (the plane seemed full with Westerners) behind me from the opposite row had a mixed look: bothered but concerned. Conscious of the Western eyes, the baby's mother stood up with her baby in her arms. She tried harder to soothe her baby. She rocked her left and right. The baby's cry stopped.

Her mother held her closer to her bosom as to prepare her for a good-night's sleep, and then sat down. Just a few seconds later the baby's cry filled the aircraft again. Her mother stood up again but sat down not long after. Maybe the staring eyes of other passengers made her feel uneasy. Well... it was midnight. Everyone must have been tired. They just wanted to sit back, get some sleep, and fly. The noise of a crying baby just made matters worse.

Suddenly we felt our plane moving. The baby stopped crying in an instance.

"Oh, she just wanted to move on." The Western woman behind commented.

However, I heard a rather weird sound from the plane engine behind. Our plane was moving backwards. And then... stopped. The baby started crying again. She was clearly restless. My mood turned from bothered to worried. Infants sometimes have a sixth sense. Maybe she senses that something is going wrong with the plane...

Much to my relief, about a quarter of an hour later, we heard an announcement from the pilot that something has gone wrong with the engine. Therefore all passengers were instructed to get off.

Back in the airport building everything seemed chaotic. Any man in uniform wasn't left in peace. They got surrounded and questioned, in Vietnamese and in English. It looked like a politician surrounded by reporters. While Wiwik and Gabe sat on the floor leaning on the wall, she kept herself informed by me about what the officers in that green uniforms said. It was not easy at all for me. First, because the officer nearly said a thing. Second, I was like an ant standing among elephants. That made it harder for me to grasp the officer's words which were indeed few.

Then a Japanese passenger returned to his group. Apparently the others in his group didn't understand English. This Japanese guy told his friends what he had heard.

"There, Japanese guy," Wiwik said. "Find out what he is telling his friends."

I turned to the Japanese group, and listened. I felt like somehow already back to work.

Nevertheless, the information I got from the Japanese guy was no much different from what I've heard before. That is: Our flight is delayed to an unknown schedule.

Suddenly we saw the pilot walking across the hall. Wow! Everyone came after him just like he was a film star. He was a Westerner, not Vietnamese. What I heard the pilot said was: "We are waiting for the mechanics to fix the engine(?). I'm with you all. I'm staying here. I'm not going home."

Next we received an announcement that we were to move to the 2nd floor. Ah... it was the boarding-waiting room, errr... hall. Chaotic continued. Men in uniform were still not safe from being chased and interrogated. I joint in.

"So are we just to wait without knowing until when, without nothing to eat, even to drink?" I asked, in high tone.

To that, all the other passengers standing around, Westerners mostly, retorted. They seemed to have found courage. I left.

Inside the hall people went to the snack bar's refrigerator which apparently was not locked. One took a bottle of drink. Then came a  couple. Then 2 kids. Then 3 young men. I went forward.

"Get us some, too!" Wiwik required.

But right when my turn came, a man in uniform approached. None of his words I understood. But for sure, he was angry because people took the drinks.

I made my camera backpack my pillow and laid down on the aluminum chair sideways, 3 seats to myself. Although the refrigerator still wasn't locked, nobody came to get drinks out of it. The shelves of many kinds of snacks, souvenirs, and toys, to my amazement, remained safe.

When I was just about to fall asleep, I heard people rushing to the other side of the hall. I got up. Oh! Something is being handed out. I followed.

A man in uniform held a box of mineral water bottles. I asked for 3 bottles. When I returned to my seat and gave the 2 bottles to Wiwik and Gabe, Wiwik asked,

"Why are some holding soft drink bottles?"

"I don't know. Maybe they got it from the other refrigerator over there. I'm sure there wasn't nothing else than mineral water just now. Or maybe the soft drinks had already ran out and I was too late."

Finally we heard an announcement telling that our flight would be at 2:00 AM.

"Shouldn't you call Spring Hotel and tell them that we are not canceling our booking?" Wiwik suggested.

That's right. I reached out for the list of contacts of all hotels we were using during the trip. A man's voice over there ensured me that our booking was kept.

Before boarding the flight, I managed to get more than half an hour sleep. Thanks to the Vietnamese silk shawl that kept me warm under the blowing aircon. That was the only place where I could get 3 seats for myself and lie down straight.

It was my first time boarding a plane past midnight. The baby in front of me was fast asleep. The other passengers seemed to be much more silent. I guess nobody cared more than to be in Sai Gon soon.

For this 5 hours of delay, from Vietnam Airlines, I received nothing but a small bottle of mineral water.

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