June 23, 2009
Less than two weeks before my flight to Japan, WHO declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic. By then, the A(H1N1) virus had circled the Pacific Rim, having started in Mexico and now spreading like a viral Susan Boyle video in the Asia-Pacific region.
Friends were dissuading me from travelling, but that swine bug proved no match to the travel bug. So it came to pass that on June 23rd I found myself on a Cebu Pacific flight to Osaka with my travel companion, Cindy.
The flight was rather bumpy as it traversed Japanese airspace notorious for aircraft-jerking turbulence. Our little Airbus staggered mid-air like a bus on a dirt road, which I had expected. But the strange engine noises were disconcerting. It sounded like a sputtering car that stubbornly refused to run after repeated flicks of the ignition. Definitely not a sound you’d like to hear 30,000 feet up.
There were other disturbing sounds. Constant coughing of some passengers made us don surgical masks. Media reports of tourists dropping like flies certainly fed our paranoia, although I had serious doubts about the virus-deflecting effectiveness of a flimsy mask.
Thankfully, it was a short flight: three and a half hours. At KIX, Kansai International Airport, we had our first taste of Japanese modern technology, efficiency and civility, as well as Japan-style superlatives. KIX had the longest terminal in the world, but I hardly noticed its gargantuan size. After deplaning, we hopped into the Wing Shuttle, the train-like people mover hanging at the side of the terminal, that whisked us in no time to the immigration area.
We were greeted by smiling assistants, mostly middle-aged men (not nubile young things you might expect for this kind of job), who checked our forms and gave directions. No running back to collect a form forgotten by yours truly. More importantly, these father figures acquainted us to the habit of bowing, which I would see and do quite often in Japan.
And so, despite the swine flu scare and my perennially limited budget, I made it to Japan.