Leaving Heathrow at 10:30pm. You would think I would be able to sleep. No, of course I stay awake for the next 12 hours. There is a pleasant young woman sitting next to me, and we chat a little, and then she falls asleep. I read for a while, and wish for teletransportation or a stasis pod. I watch the films on the little screen in front of me. Southern China airlines were the cheapest I could get and they are absolutely fine – food, being Chinese, superior to average – but they have fallen down when it comes to films. I could start learning about Chinese opera but I’m only fit for films.
I watch a Russian film called Heat, about 4 young dudes who meet up again having started on their paths of life – one a sailor, one an artist and so on. It’s a bad sentimental film, but because they are Russians has a touch of the exotics. A Russian rapper pretending to be an Afro-American is more interesting than a British one, and the same goes for the Russian skinhead fash who pursue him.
I then watch Hemingway & Gellhorn. Hemingway, who looks like Saddam Hussein, is a total jerk and buffoon. Gellhorn, played by Nicole Kidman, has a nice arse in those loose 30s slacks. She is a foreign correspondent, so there are many scenes of the Spanish Civil War where the two lovers are blended into the footage, in a way which insults the actual participants. It’s disaster tourism. Whoever wrote this should be shot, or taught something about crass vulgariy. I stop it as I can’t bear it any longer and close my eyes. But I can’t sleep.
I open the blind and look down on what I first think are clouds but then see a snowy landscape with irregular dark lines for rivers and straight dark lines for roads. We are flying to Guangzhou (formerly Canton) and it looks as though we are over Siberia. The sun is coming up. However the steward tells me to shut out the light.
We are heading East and after a short day the sun is going down again when we arrive in Guangzhou at 6:30pm. We have a six hour wait. For some reason we’re put in the VIP lounge, so instead of a hard row of plastic chairs we lounge in comfortable arm chairs and instead of trying to buy local snacks with a credit card there is a buffet table of good East and bad West - spicy beef and noodles and seaweed crackers and cheese sandwiches on white sliced bread. It’s a nicely designed place and I take a few photos inside as well as of the view of the airport, betting myself that someone is going to tell me to stop – as they do (there’s no way this could be a security risk so it’s automatic authoritarianism).
My seat neighbor and I go for a walk around the airport. She’s looking for a Chinese conical hat, as worn in paddy fields, I’m looking for trinkets, probably of bamboo. The shops sell jade, ivory (with assurances that it’s made out of mastodons they have dug up), panda key rings and tea, but none of it is attractive, most of it is expensive and I’ve seen similar in stalls in the West. So though I’m willing to spend money with the neo-capitalists, they have not aroused my consumer desires. Their Burberry and Mulberry shops were beyond me. Except for dodging the passenger vehicles which are driven at full speed, there is not much excitement in the airport.
Back on the plane for another 11 hours, and catch up with the rest of Gemingway & Hellhorn. It is gets no better, the shots of an upset Kidman fleeing the sights of Dachau being particularly repulsive. Drink as much red wine that the highly camp steward will give me to put me to sleep. I drop off for 20 minutes. I’ve lost the nice young woman as a companion and have a rather dozy bloke instead (had waited 12 hours in Heathrow as he hadn’t understood the time difference).
Next film, The Lucky One, about an Iraq war veteran with no personality at all whose life is somehow saved by the photograph of an attractive young woman. He seeks her out - she has a kennels, a sassy grandmother, a cute kid, a hostile ex-husband. Utterly shameless but watchable because it’s set in Louisiana among pretty leafy scenery and the attractive young woman is well played by Taylor Schilling.
Watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Pure fantasy of the rape victim’s revenge and a dull detective story – the Girl uses Google and leafs through archives and may as well be a research assistant in a university. Violence extremely nasty. The Girl though is a kind of Aerial spirit who can conjure knowledge out of the air – rather like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is a minor god that the hero must travel to in order to get the magic words.
Still no sleep, the light outside so bright and brilliant off the clouds that I open the blind a crack and shut it again. I have finished the movies and turn to the CSIs. One and a half of these, and then I realize that it’s nearly time to land at 5pm. Auckland airport traffic is moving quickly, the duty free people are overly attentive, untypical of New Zealanders who are not hard sellers. Then into arrivals, my sister is there and we head into Auckland, under a cloudy sky, so I am not hit by the usual bright hard light. My family knows jet lag – they’re all great travellers – and they don’t expect much sense out of me.
I walk around the beautiful garden just so as to touch some plants after being in a totally artificial environment, and then I hit the bed at 9pm, wake at 12.30am for tea and sandwiches, sleep again at 4:30am, wake again for breakfast, then am taken to catch a bus to Turangi – about six hours away, which seems nothing after being incarcerated in the cross-continental capsule for the last two days.