After today, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
First of all, it is the first airport I have slept in, twice. Back in 2010 on our first trip to New York, Alexa Lae Michelle and I arrived bleary eyed in the wee hours of the night and got to know HKIA and each other pretty well. We stayed in the airport for 9 whole hours waiting for our connecting flight to JFK and during this time, struggled to stay up by attempting to make whatever small talk our sleep-deprived brains could handle. We also wandered around the HKIA terminals peering through closed shutters but no shops were open at the time. You can image our relief when we finally found a Starbucks near our gate where we could nourish our weary souls with caffeine and bust out our laptops to plan for the upcoming trip ahead. HKIA is a great airport to be stuck in because the airport offers unlimited wifi access.
This year in February, while traveling to Gaoshiung/Tainan for a wedding, I had to transit in HK. (Please don't ask me why I didn't simply fly to Taipei and take the train down to Tainan. SOMEBUDDIE booked the flight SG - HK - Gaoshiung and a train from Gaoshiung to Tainan for me. *looks at Henry C)
There was only one flight from HK to Gaoshiung and it was the first one out at 830 in the morning. Whether it was eagerness to get me to my destination or simply bad flight planning, I arrived the same morning at 0030hr. With time on my hands, I contemplated a visit to Lan Kuai Fong for a couple of solo drinks for the night but decided that the row of airport chairs where other sleeping passengers had set up camp was a much better idea.
So after strategizing the best sleeping position with my rigid travel companions (they are not exactly the most cuddle-able), I found that luggage straps around my two legs, hand carry under my head as a pillow - you gotta make sure you sleep exactly on top of the zippers! -worked best for comfort. I then attempted to catch forty winks without being hookwinked in the process. This left me with 6 fragmented hours sleep while clutching my bags like my life depended on it. And I suppose it actually did, because if someone jacked my passport, I'd be like Tom Hanks in that airport movie - Terminal. Thankfully, I don't think my situation was as terminal as his.
Today, the adventure continues. Our 1230pm flight from HK to San Francisco got delayed until 6pm. But that's not even the best part. The best part was after clearing immigration easily, getting our luggages from the carousel without a hitch and re-packing during a pit stop at the restroom JUST BEFORE exiting the restricted area and then finding out that I had left my phone IN THE AIRPLANE SEAT POCKET. 😡😒😔😱😱😱😭
WHY? Because I had used my phone to take photos of us cruising through absolute white-ness in the sky. It seriously looked like we were flying through snow and/or someone photography studio. Infinite whiteness. My mind must have been in exactly the same blank state as I disembarked the plane. This nothing-ness.
People lose their phones in taxis. I take it to the next level and leave it in an airplane.
Marching straight to the lost-and-found counter and trying to calmly explain that I had just disembarked the airplane and absent-mindedly left my phone in the front pocket was the hardest thing to do. All I wanted to do is run back into the airplane screaming for my phone and then dramatically tear the place apart looking for my phone like I was looking for a lost puppy.
No, I kid. I obviously have watched one too many movies.
Coming back to reality, the lady at the lost and found counter was very helpful and was immediately on her walkie-talkie, mobile phone and office phone - no, not all at the same time - trying to contact whoever it was that helped people like me.
She spoke rapidly on the phone in Cantonese and because I don't speak Cantonese fluently so I tune in and out of the conversation she's having. Nice counter lady eventually puts the phone down and looks up at me, face expression same as when I first told her that I had misplaced my phone, and said, "They found your phone. But you will only be able to collect it 45 minutes later. My colleague is on duty now and will only be able to drop it at the office after he is done. Can you wait?"
Wait? Why, YES. I WANTED TO DANCE WHILE WAITING. I could dance for 45 minutes if you wanted me to! THEY FOUND MY PHONE!
The anxiety of whether someone had taken my phone quickly melted away but was replaced with other worries. 45 minutes before I see my baby again. What if he gets hungry and needs some juice? I hope they treat him well.
Thankfully, 45 minutes passed by in a blink of an eye as we walked from one end of the terminal to the other where the airline offices are. Come to think of it, if 45 minutes flew by so rapidly, perhaps 9 hours walking about the massive HKIA was not that long.
Room 6T100 was where he had been taken to. The offices were located at the back of the airport away from the hustle and bustle of the departure and arrival areas. I walk down long, lonely corridors and finally spot 6T100.
I pop my head into a small office packed with suitcases of all sorts and say to the bespectacled lady at the front, "I am here to pick up my phone."
"Oh yes, come in please. Can I have your passport and boarding pass?"
I rummage through my bag looking for the said boarding pass, but it was clear to her I was having trouble locating it. Instead, I decide to offer her something that no one else could have - my fingerprint. Good thinking, Apple.
She hands me the phone and I hold the phone in my left hand, thumb poised to prove my identity, and the both of us stare at the home screen as my thumb comes into contact with the fingerprint reader.
'Tis a dramatic moment.
A beat later, the screen wobbles as if shaking its head.
Try again, my phone says.
Right, I take it back, Apple. C'mon left thumb, one more time. You are no less better than Mr Right (hand).
Second time. Nada. Not happening.
I quickly change hands lest she thinks I was an spy posing as Valerie Lim; trying to break into this seemingly innocuous phone.
All right. This is it. I can do this.
It was the moment of truth. Again, we peer intently at the home screen waiting for the answer of who I really was. This time, the Empire State on my phone dissolves and reveals my application home screen.
YES! I cracked the code!
She looks at my passport and my unlocked phone screen and says, "Don't worry about the boarding pass. Merry Christmas!"
Yes, all this for a photo of white nothing-ness.
And so here I am sitting at Starbucks using the HKIA's free internet writing this from my phone, heaving a huge sigh of relief.
Cheers to many more travel adventures, everyone. And it's off to LA I go!
Happy holidays and if you are traveling, safe travels! 😝