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The flight in the dark tunnel.
By Yeoh Siew Hoon - SHY Ventures
Tuesday, 5th April 2005
 
Yeoh Siew Hoon thanks Steve Jobs and Pope John Paul II for keeping her company in a flight through a dark tunnel - them  and the captain - as well....

I knew it wasn't going to be good news when the captain came on the PA system.

We had begun our descent into Penang and there was no reason really for him to make any other announcement – other than the fact that the sky was pitch black outside, filled with the meanest, darkest cumulus nimbuses I had ever seen.

Perhaps it was also the meanest darkest CBs the Singapore Airlines captain had ever seen, but he wasn't telling us that.

Instead he said in one of those well-modulated tones I suspect that lunatic asylums use to calm down patients, something that went like this – "Ladies and gentlemen, we are 50 miles from Penang. However, we have been advised to keep our holding pattern. Apparently, the weather in Penang is not too good and, as you can see on the right, the clouds are pretty thick."

From the way he said it, I thought I would be looking at Ayers Rock or something equally monumentally beautiful but no, it was a bank of thick clouds that you wouldn't want to get too intimate with.

He droned on in the same tone which would ordinarily make my skin tingle but, in this instance, gave me the shivers. "Thank you for your patience. I will come back to you as soon as we get further notice."

I could only applaud his irony.

There you are, several thousand feet in the air, in the midst of the angriest thunderstorm I had ever seen in my flying life, with nowhere to go but down and he, the only person you can count on to bring you there, is advising you to be patient.

Yet, as someone who is usually allergic to advice, let me tell you, this is the best advice for moments such as these – moments when you are suspended between heaven and earth and trust me, there is no Shangri-La in between from where you are sitting, only an angry sky bursting with lightning and pent-up negative energy.

The alternative is to do what my next-seat neighbour was doing – clench your teeth, drum your fingers and every other second, look outside at the clouds and swear.

This is not a good idea especially when the clouds are not disappearing and instead are getting darker and forming bigger, more menacing shapes. And in the meantime, you are being bumped around.

I could feel the tension spread among the passengers.

It was interesting observing reactions as we each dealt with our inner voices.

A Caucasian man moved from the aisle to the window seat to better watch the storm, I suspect. It was an awesome sight. Nature's fury has beauty. Through the narrow crevices of light between the dark clouds, one could see red streaks of a sunset in the distance.

Is this what they mean when they say "light at the end of a tunnel", I wondered?

It certainly felt like we were going in circles in a very dark tunnel. The question was, when would we get to see the light and if we would…

At this point, I'd like to thank Steve Jobs for inventing the iPOD – for wrapping me up in a musical cocoon and rendering me oblivious to the dark forces out there.

I'd also like to thank Pope John Paul II. In his death, he kept me focused on life as I wondered when and if I would make it safely home to commemorate the tenth anniversary of my father's passing.

One article, in particular, in the Asian Wall Street Journal had me riveted throughout the journey in the dark tunnel.

Written by George Weigel, and titled "Changing History to Empower Millions", the article was heart-felt and, at once, thought-provoking. It takes a special writer to move you and at the same time, make you think.

On a personal note, he wrote, "John Paul II was the most visible human being in history, having been seen by more men and women than any other man who ever lived … millions of people, who saw him only at a great distance, will think they lost a friend.

"Those who knew him more intimately experience today a profound sense of personal loss at the death of a man who was so wonderfully, thoroughly, engagingly human – a man of intelligence and wit and courage whose humanity breathed integrity and sanctity."

It made me feel I too had lost a friend.

The article talked about his "relentless" preaching of "genuine tolerance": "not the tolerance of indifference, as if differences over the good didn't matter, but the real tolerance of differences engaged, explored and debated within a profound respect for the humanity of the other".

It made me feel that the world had indeed lost a good friend.

I was only jolted back to reality when I felt the aircraft's wheels come down. Having flown on these machines many times, I have become fairly intimate with their parts, moving or not.

The captain hadn't come back to us as he had said but instead, was going to take us down to land.

Let's just say it was a very wet, dark and bumpy approach but when the wheels hit the ground, screeching, you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief. The light at the end of the tunnel were the lights at Penang airport.

As my fellow passengers were disembarking, I decided I wanted to have a word with the captain. Blame it on Steve Jobs or the Pope but I felt I needed to thank him for a job well done.

You could tell it wasn't a usual request. When I asked the chief steward for an audience with the captain, he shot me a suspicious look and asked, "Who are you?"

You should have seen his face when I said, "I am just a passenger who wants to say thank you to the captain."

He made his call, ushered me into the cockpit and I promptly shook the hands of the two men at the controls.

They probably thought I was a lunatic escaped from the asylum they had been trained to look after but I didn't care.

Think about this. Each time we fly, we entrust our lives to someone. Isn't it better we know them and thank them, than take them for granted?



The SHY Report
A regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry by one of
Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, Yeoh Siew Hoon.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her company's mission is "Content, Communication, Connection". She is a writer, speaker, facilitator, trainer and events producer. She is also an author, having published "Around
Asia In 1 Hr: Tales of Condoms, Chillies & Curries". Her motto is ‘free to do, and be'.
Contacts: Tel: 65-63424934,
Mobile: 65-96801460

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