A short piece I did for The Singapore Sun Festival 2007 Travel-Writing Contest
BUN AND GAMES
Brandishing a Visa credit card like a shuriken, Jackie Chan aimed a flying-kick through a plate-glass window. 'Your ticket to the 2008 Beijing Olympics', proclaimed the slogan on the poster. Despite Jackie Chan wreaking martial arts havoc above me, the departure lounge at terminal one of Hong Kong International Airport was peaceful. Walkways conveyed passengers to their flights, while other travelers reposed in cast aluminium seats. Flat-screen monitors displayed flight information in several languages. Every thirty seconds, the same four dulcet ascending notes chime over the PA to herald an announcement in English or Chinese. Passengers are cocooned in routine and serenity.
The international airport is more than a facility for the departure and arrival of airplanes: travelers enter and leave with the first and last impressions of its country of origin. The modern Asian airport strives for ultra-modernity and efficiency whilst being representative of its country's culture.
Perhaps travelers are lead to believe that the international Asian airport embodies the ideals of Asia in the 21st Century. In spite of numerous disasters, natural or man-made: the haze, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, renegade viruses, economic downturns or political upheavals, Asian countries always manage. Not only that, countries go through cycles of achievement, ruination, and recovery. From Angkor Watt and the Great Wall of China, to the region's airports, towers, luxury hotels and stadiums, Asia constructs mega-structures.
After a three-day trip in Hong Kong, the Starbucks outlet among the duty-free shops was too plebeian for me. At the newsagent, I picked up a copy of Hong Kong's English language broadsheet, 'The South China Morning Post'. It announced the annual Bun Festival, celebrated on the Hong Kong island of Cheng Chau. A highlight of the celebrations is a race to climb up giant sixty-foot tall bamboo towers to obtain the most number of buns.
Preparation for the Olympics was pervasive. I detected shades of the Olympian motto, "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." in the Bun Festival article. The airport ramp stretched out beyond the windows of the departure lounge, like a piste for giant athletes. I passed by a small café to buy a bun. The roar of a plane's take-off was still audible because the high-tech soundproofing subdued but did not eliminate noise.
Tearing away from their parents' tour groups, young children from various Asian countries rushed to the windows to view the planes. The kids thudded against the reinforced glass, resilient like ping-pong balls. They did not see the glass. Now the runway is beyond their reach. One day, they will smash through, run ahead to soar and raise their own mega structures.