From Borneo... to Qatar
First to Dubai
Do you recall Michael Jackson’s Black & White video where teenager Macaulay Culkin blasts his un-cool dad (George Wendt) who is still sitting on his reclining chair, into the stratosphere and back down to some African desert? Well, that’s what I have just done to myself, I have launched myself from my doorstep all the way to the dunes of the Arabian desert; figuratively anyway, since I left my reclining chair in our TV room back home and used Malaysian Airlines to fly to Dubai.
Now that I find myself sitting alone at the back of a taxi, I am scanning the road side, anxiously looking out for a sign or any clue for that matter that would reassure me that this indeed is the way to Dubai airport’s Terminal 2 where I am supposed to catch my connection flight to Doha. For fear he finds out that I don’t have even a clue of where I am right now, I dare not inquire with the driver: “How far is Terminal 2?” As if he wouldn’t have guessed the very second I spoke to him that I’ve never been here before! It is three o’clock in the morning , I have just flown in from Kuala Lumpur, and earlier from Kuching, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.
Lack of sleep and change of time zone can play tricks on the mind and I realize now that for the last hour or so, I have been acting on auto mode, intent on following the list of instructions given to me by the Terminal 1 transit officer, to first clear the immigration (French passport holders do not require a Dubai visa), then collect my luggage before grabbing a cab to proceed to Terminal 2 to catch the Fly Dubai connection to Doha.
This part of the journey is where the unknown begins and although this is not quite “The Amazing Race”, right now, anxiety is sinking in and I can hear myself silently whining “What on earth am I doing here?”
It all started just over a month ago really, when I checked my Face Book and noticed that my friend Tsung Ping (she likes to introduce herself as TP) had posted pictures of racing Camels. I wrote a few smart comments and concluded my message with “Really, I must come to visit you while you’re still in Doha”. This, of course, prompted a wild exchange of emails that eventually led to my booking flights from Kuching to Doha, Qatar via Dubai (i.e. the Arabian Gulf) for the second half of April. Once done, I suddenly remembered that I suffer from anxiety of traveling alone!
I wasn’t always like that, worrying that I will not be able to make it on departure day, once everything has been booked and paid for; in fact I used to be quite the opposite.
The proverbial travel bug must have bitten me shortly after my birth and I could safely say that it was purposely planted in my baby cot by my dad, a sea-faring captain by family tradition (my Corsican grand pa’ was the first captain of the first brig-schooner ever to sail off the port of Marseilles) and happily for him, by sheer vocation.
From a young age, I was always a bit of a weird one: I loved going to school (absolutely!). This, however, would not stop me from fretting with impatience days ahead of the holidays, to the extent that I’d lose the ability to sleep. When the day finally came for me to join Dad on board his ship, I’d check myself into the captain’s suite as if it was my own, ready to turn into an absolute nuisance from galley to bridge. The ship would call at Ajaccio, Tunis, Sphax, Delphi or even Athens and although we never left the Mediterranean Sea, at every port I felt as if I had reached Xanadu!
On my sixteenth summer, I was literally expedited from sunny Provence to cloudy England, care of a studious holiday camp. My parents gingerly hoped that a home stay with a British family would help improve my most pathetic English grades. My older brother had promised me that sixteen was the best year, ever in a life time, for everyone; so I was seriously concerned with the turn of events. Fortunately I soon found out that I was not the only one to board the train to London via Paris Gare du Nord; by the time our carriage rolled out of the station, leaving teary parents standing on the platform and waving pathetic goodbyes, a bunch of us had already figured out that a few hundred teenagers for a handful of supervisors was the perfect ratio for a long, long night of fun that would take us all the way to London!
The trip to England was very successful; the Wood family was charming, especially Shirley, the mum who allowed me go out every night (I still haven’t told MY mum). I made many friends both French and English, I got myself a tan (in Kent, yes!), fell in love with Christopher and most importantly for my parents I came back quite fluent (although unknown to them, yet certainly thanks to Christopher).
To date, July 1971 still remains my best ever holiday; it is also the holiday when I found out how much fun it can be to travel alone, without knowing anyone prior to the journey. I made numerous trips to England, as often as my parents would let me and later as often as time and finances allowed me I traveled across Europe by train, and once on a big bike from Scotland to Marseilles and one day, to everyone’s surprise even mine) I actually flew to Borneo to meet my future husband’s family. By chance Swee Ann was a marine engineer whom I was able to join for about a year, as his spouse, on board a magnificent Scandutch container carrier on the Sweden to Japan run.
Naturally, when our two sons were born, I did what my father had done for me: I deviously placed the travel bug inside their cot.
Every year we would fly to the south of France and that’s where we were when the new century finally came and Y2K didn’t. What should have been an exceptional as well as historical trip turned into a misery. My back was seriously aching and by the time the four of us were thankfully back home in Kuching, it had become a real torture for me to walk, sit or even lie down. When the month of July came again, I had undergone two major surgeries that left me in agonizing pain for more than six months. It took me about five years to recover almost normal sensations on the whole right side of my body.
The experience was a mixed of blessings (of family love together with the discovery that life is beautiful despite and beyond physical pain) and of trauma. In the year 2000 I traded my confidence for anxiety; I stopped being able to make appointments or any sort of commitments and sadly I became fearful of traveling, especially on long journeys, all by fear of not being able to show up at the last minute. Had anxiety killed the travel bug? I truly thought so as I would not go anywhere alone; instead I’d follow the likes of Samantha Brown, Jennifer Adams or Ian Wright on our TV screen, telling Hubby that one day we should go, to which he would reply “When I retire”. I understood then that I needed to commit an act of bravery, I needed to stop dreaming over other people’s travels and go back to doing my own again. What I really needed was to drag myself out of my house, away from the “Travel & Living” channel; if necessary I needed to catapult myself out of home; I needed a doorstep launching.
As I am remembering all this while on my Dubai taxi ride, I can finally hear the old me scolding: “Well, you’re here now so take it like a Woman, girl!” Filled with renewed confidence I look ahead, to my right where I can see a great big sign indicating “TERMINAL 2”.
|And on to Qatar on flydubai|