“Ladies and gentleman, as we will be landing shortly, please fasten your seat belts, stow your tray table and put your seat in upright position. The temperature in Hong Kong is…..”.
The in-flight announcement wakes me up from my short nap. I am on Cathy Pacific flight from Bangkok en route to Macau in China. The flight was early and so I had dozed off after we took off from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
I open the window and look out. We are descending down the towering chunks of thick clouds over the South China Sea. Intermittently I get glimpses of some little spots down below that are actually large ships floating in the vast ocean. Few minutes later the aircraft descends below the cloud line and I get a better view. More ships in the sea and in the distance I see some coastline mountains that I presume is Mainland China.
The landing is smooth. The aircraft taxis to an apron. I buckle off and I go for my carry-on luggage and we slowly baby-step along the aisle. I am behind an Indian businessman who is already talking (read as shouting) on the phone. The air hostess at the exit door bids me goodbye in Japanese. I am always mistaken for my wife’s nationality.
I hit the main terminal building. As I walk I look out. The Boeing 777 that I was on is now getting refuelled and checked while bags and suitcases file out from the bottom side door on to a conveyor belt. “Welcome to Hong Kong,” I say to myself, “and now get to the ferry terminal for Macau – as fast as you can.” Hong Kong Airport is the only airport that I have been to where one could get off from a plane and get on to a boat. There are regular services to Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Guangzhou on the Mainland and to Macau, which is a Special Administrative Region of China – under the Chinese government’s One-Country-Two-System arrangement.
Three hours and hot noodle lunch later I am on a large speedboat docking off and slowly heading for the open sea. Above us, an Airbus 380 bearing the Emirates logo is slowly approaching the runway with its landing gear down.
Thankfully the sea is calm today and the much-dreaded motion sickness that I occasionally suffer from does not show up. And after undulating for an hour I see Macau’s iconic tower in the horizon and slowly the whole city comes into the view. Macau is a small island on the Pearl River delta bordering with Zhuhai city in Guangdong province. It was a Portuguese colony till 1999.
The Immigration officer takes my passport and asks me how long I was staying this time. Apparently he has records of my 3 previous visits. “Very long,” I tell him, “I am starting off my PhD at the University of Macau.” I reply as I wave at him the acceptance letter from the university. He gives a lukewarm endorsement but no further questions. My passport is stamped. I am admitted to stay for 60 days within which I have to renew my visa after the admission procedures at the university are completed. A 30-minute ride in a taxi passing by some of the world’s largest gambling hotels gets me to the new campus of the university. My professor had arranged another PhD student, Marilyn from China, to assist me with the check-in formalities at the Post Graduate Housing.
But the reception has some problem getting me a roommate – probably because of my age and so Marilyn takes me out for dinner while they sort things out. When we are back to the office again, I am asked to follow a staff to my room on the 4th floor. I am introduced to my roommate – another PhD student from China, Mo Dazie – who is just 28.
As I check my room I find that my bed has a mattress but no pillow, blanket or bed sheet. “Where can I buy them?” I ask my new-found friend. “Come,” Mo says. We get along almost instantly. I follow him and we head out to a large store inside the campus. The campus is busy with students and professors moving in all directions. I look around, take a deep breath and smile, “So I am really back to college. I can’t believe it,” I tell myself.
“How old are you?” Mo breaks my thoughts. “49,” I reply. “49? Why you study?” Mo is rather dazzled. “I have been also asking myself. I don’t know,” I joke. We have a good laugh.
After getting my bed ready, I brush my teeth, wash my face and I crash. I don’t have the energy to even open my suitcase. It’s been a long day. As the world dims on me, I ask myself again, “What am I doing here? Why do I need to study?”
But I am too tired to ponder on these serious questions.