It’s 5pm, Tokyo time. Mind you, that’s 1am Seattle time. I have a brief snooze on the plane, watch Slumdog Millionaire, You, Me and Marley (nice pet movie with a marriage to watch over the dog), and another so memorable I’ve already forgotten it. Oh yeah, Benjamin Button. The vegan meals are dreadful – a supper of soggy rice with indifferent, tasteless vegetable curry, and a tiny bowl of whole wheat cheerios with soy milk for breakfast. The fruit doesn’t look fresh so I don’t touch it. I drink eight or nine glasses of water and four cups of green tea. So there’s good reason to stretch my legs every few hours.
As we are touching down after ten hours, the flight attendant asks, “What are you doing going to Singapore instead of directly to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)? It’s only seven hours from here.” I have no answer for her. “Hardly anyone goes that long way around, especially with a multi-hour layover in Singapore.” We pause to think about it.
“Did you book online?” the attendant asks. We did.
“That’s how you got an extra night’s runaround. Booking online, people zig and zag all over the world. You may not be tired now, but it will hit you in Singapore. They have an airport hotel where you can sleep by the hour. If you had gone direct, you would be in KL by midnight.” Sad. I’ll have to talk to my booking agent about that for next time.
I might try the hotel. I’m planning to pop a little blue sleeping pill on the way to Singapore, right after we eat breakfast…which will probably show up as an Asian supper. After a seven hour flight, I have a five hour layover in the middle of the Singapore night (1.30-6.50am). I’m scheduled to reach KL an hour later. Like Hopefully they won’t have a big itinerary planned. I need to do some class prep for tomorrow (lost a day on the flight) and get some rest. The teaching schedule is brutal: I have a 12 hour class to teach: eight hours on Saturday and four on Sunday.
The rice paddies glisten in the afternoon sunlight as we drift into Japan. The harbor is lined with walls to hold salt water out of the straight-edged fields. The Tokyo airport is clean. Security is quick and efficient – we don’t have to take our shoes off or computers out of their cases. I have no trouble finding the gate two hours before my flight to Singapore.
The bathrooms are tiny, but some of them have built-in bidets. Not mine. I also avoid the squat-hole type typical for old-fashioned installations. A young mom pushes a high-tech stroller past the attendants who are setting up to check in passengers. Japanese babies complain in high-pitched tones. Slowly passengers start to drift over to the gate. CNN drones throughout the terminal, so I sit as far away from the monitors as possible.
The sleeping pill takes hold as I stretch across four seats on the way to Singapore. “Only 90 passengers in a 300 seat airplane. This is bad for business,” moans the flight attendant. Later I have time to talk to him about his faith. He’s a Buddhist Thai who went to Sunday School and church and made a profession of faith in his teens. He hasn’t studied scripture or done more than go to church occasionally to listen to the pastor. When he tells me he did a science undergraduate degree in San Francisco, I ask if he passed the exams by getting all his information from class lectures or if he had to read the assigned textbooks. “It’s the same for growing in faith – you have to read and study the text, which is the Bible.” We talk about his marriage, kids, Bible translations, where to start reading, the meaning of life, and God’s provision for an uncertain future in the airline industry.
I catch up on email after we land in Singapore at 1a.m. By the time I’m done, the hotel rooms are fully booked. I stretch out on a three-foot wide window ledge and sleep fitfully for a few hours. The person in the next window well snores steadily. Loudly. People come and go. The cleaners dust the counters. At 5a.m. I get up.
My next divine appointment is in the lady’s restroom with Karin, a Buddhist who is an IT trainer. She says hi as I’m washing my hands and somehow we start a conversation about the meaning of life and inner peace. She’s a workaholic who contracts out all around the globe. Karin’s on her way home from Australia for her sister’s wedding in KL.
In the past two weeks, she has had serious questions about life’s purpose and the dissatisfaction of working too many hours with little appreciation from her bosses and no time for personal growth.
I tell her I’m happy to be the person God has sent across her path to invite her to a relationship with himself. We contrast the emptiness that is Buddhism’s goal with the Christian emptying of self so God can fill us with his love and peace. We talk about setting boundaries so there is time to renew the inner person and feed the soul.
After an hour, the bathroom gets crowded with women applying makeup, so we move outside and I pray for her in the main corridor. She fiercely hugs and thanks me – it is such a natural and joyful conversation. Karin’s father went to RC schools and has given her permission to explore any faith she likes, including Christianity. (She also has an aunt who is a Christian legalist – the whole family is irritated with the aunt for giving away 15 (or was it 50?) percent of all income as a tithe, regardless if her family goes hungry. Her siblings are tired of giving her money that she promptly gives to the church. “The church demands it,” she tells them.)
Karin has never opened the Bible she received from a work colleague five years ago, but thinks she may slow down enough to explore it when she returns home. She follows me in to the gate for our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She asks if I mind if she sits with me and continues the conversation. She is absolutely open, astonished by God’s care of her to put us together for these hours. I don’t see her after we touch down in KL, but we have exchanged emails and she promises to update me on her spiritual journey.
One box of literature takes forever to arrive at the KL airport. I’m the last one from our flight who goes past the green lane of customs (nothing to declare). There are no hassles crossing security all along the way, for which I am grateful. Tracy and Yuen, the Malaysian ladies picking me up, are waiting. We stop for roti parata and chicken curry. Yum!!! A banana leaf wrapped around rice (almost too spicy for the Malaysians), a bowl of dal (flavored lentils) and a tea-o (tea without milk) completes the meal. Simply delicious. Tastes like coming home.
I’ve hoped to rest when I get to the church apartment, a beautiful kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, and bath with a huge shower. I’m the only one in the building at night – the classroom where I’ll be teaching is just across the hall. The women give me an envelope with phone numbers and information on it in case I have to talk to someone before they return to the office in the morning. Our travel phone is dead – the battery heats up but the phone doesn’t power up, so the IT guys promise to try to find me another cell phone.
I end up spending a few hours revising student notes for duplication, which turns out to be a complicated affair. We have to turn the document into a PDF because parts of it won’t otherwise print.
Yuen takes me for a late lunch at the mall – we have noodles with curry before stopping at a local Tesco grocer. Fruit, nuts, oatmeal, fruit juice are the making of a good breakfast muesli. Instead of taking me out each morning they’ve decided I should get groceries and relax in the mornings. Fruit and baked goods are dropped into a bag and weighed, labeled, and sealed at a separate counter before we put it in the shopping cart.
Pam (who runs the educational program) drops by for a few minutes to say hello, tells me not to bother coming to the church prayer meeting tonight (a relief with eight hours of teaching tomorrow!), and leaves. We were going to go for lunch, but she had another appointment which ran long. She asks if I’m ok having supper on my own – sure, I’ll have fruit and cookies if I’m hungry. At the moment, I’m still stuffed with lunch.
I guzzle some water when I get back to my flat, my first water since landing. I’ll have to stay hydrated, but the city’s heat is a relief after the cool Seattle winter. It’s probably 90- 95o and sunny. I relish the light. It warms my bones. The car is air-con’d to an ice cube, so we all put our sweaters on while we drive around. Traffic weaves in and out but stays in its lanes (unlike Jakarta, Indonesia, where five cars stretch across three lanes of traffic in constant movement from side to side as well as forward.)
By the time I settle down to blog, it’s 5pm (2am Seattle time). I’ll probably eat a bit and pop another sleeping pill around 8pm after I look over my notes for tomorrow. God is good. And I’m happy to be in Malaysia. If W were here, we’d be out and about tonight. I miss him already. I’m going to stay in and rest. (“Please don’t wander onto any other floors. People might wonder what you are doing in the building,” said the staff as they left.) Soon I have the four storey complex all to myself. Aaaah. Luxury.