I've seen 'Eat Pray Love' - I know what to expect, says Derek Cheng.
It's insufferable. The slow drawl of time. The onslaught of boredom. The sheer disruption of life itself, amid the maddening chatter of the airport PA. Don't they know that I have things to do? Places to be? Important social media to update?
The flight delay is the worst - especially on the way back from a developing country, where discomfort levels have already been sorely tested.
Sometimes flight delays lag into the next day, and I have to endure a night in a hotel and a free meal - often not particularly nutritious, might I add. But even if the delay is only hours, the hardship leaves me on the brink of an airport implosion.
At least the media is not blind to this misery - the fourth estate can be a force for change, in the name of what is right and just and true. In between stories about famine, political struggles or war, viewers in non-delayed bliss can actually catch a glimpse of delayed passengers slouched in cushioned chairs, hiding their torment in wi-fi devices or, in desperate situations, in conversation with each other.
But the anger people feel over delayed flights is a symptom of a wider issue. Travelling to poor countries has become such a trial. There was this one time, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when I got out of my air-conditioned taxi to this horrific humidity. It was gross. I was sweating instantly. And then, without a warning of any kind, at least five moto-drivers approached and asked me if I needed a ride. To the royal palace, maybe?
one driver asked in barely understandable English.
To the food market? suggested another. I realise it is an overcrowded profession, but can't they have the respect and decency to organise themselves in an orderly fashion, and have one driver approach one tourist? Preferably with a translator, so we can discuss prices with someone fluent in our own language. I haven't travelled this far to an exciting, new part of the world just to be inconvenienced.
And that's another thing. Haggling. Why should I have to pay $2 for a silk shirt, when I know it only costs $1.50 to make? Or pay $3 for a ride that locals only pay $2 for? One time, in Chennai, India, a driver actually threatened to stop short of my destination if I didn't pay him a sum far greater than what my guidebook suggested was a fair price.
It's abhorrent. Blatantly unjust. They do not seem to understand that trying to get as much money as possible from every unit of production is offensive to my first-world sensitivities.
In Uyuni, Bolivia, they have become so uncivilised they don't even form queues. Which makes them oblivious to the orderly lines that tourists form when waiting to buy, for example, first-class train tickets. Just because it's not part of your culture doesn't give you licence to be blind to my culture. A queue is visually obvious. Get to the back.
And I haven't even begun on the sorts of food safety practices I have been subjected to in Yangon, Myanmar, or Essaouira, Morocco, or Havana, Cuba. Even one time in Cancun, Mexico - the land of fabulous, all-inclusive beach resorts, with staff trained in the type of deferential customer service that normal people expect - I once found a hair. A dark one. Touching the edge of my taco.
That would never happen in a safe, sterile restaurant at home.
It has become such a problem now that I can barely stomach the anxiety, the onset of panic, that comes with any approaching trip to one of the more "exotic" countries. I used to be inspired, hopeful such journeys would lead to an epiphany of sorts, a widening of perspectives, perhaps a window into a new way of living, or finding happiness. I've seen Eat Pray Love, after all.
But now, the mere thought of such travel is a crippling blow to my mental well-being.
Next time I consider seeking some refreshing culture and overseas exploration, I think I'll just head to Sydney. Just as long as the flight isn't delayed.