I have such incredible memories of the three months I spent there working back in 1995 and of subsequent visits to spend time with our friends Diane and Jean-Paul. That first visit was a bit of a pioneering venture: a small group was sent by Air Canada to set up the airport operation for our first route to Asia. We were from various stations and represented each of the departments involved in an airport operation. Though none of us previously knew each other we meshed well as a work team and a social too. It was a great opportunity to get to understand how we all fit in the giant jigsaw puzzle of an airport operation. It meant long days and sometimes longer nights because of the time change and headquarters seeming inability at times to deal with it.
And we were working at an airport that presented challenges on all possible front: Kai Tak.
An outdated and overburdened facility at the edge of the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour it was one of those airports where regardless of how modern the aircraft type or cockpit system the pilots were the ones landing the aircraft on landing not a computer. Nothing was automated. It was visual and manual all the way in – one miscalculation and you either ended up in Kowloon Bay or aborting the landing and going around to try again. The approach was over the city towards Lion Rock Mountain, making a sharp 47º right bank at the Checkerboard, guiding the aircraft through a canyon of apartment buildings so close that you could see what the residents were having for breakfast, calculating the frequent crosswinds and hitting the beginning of a single runway that stretched out into the Harbour. It was known as the “Heart Attack” approach for pilots, passengers and onlookers.
By the time I worked there a facility designed to handle, at the most, 24 million passengers a year was seeing upwards of 30 million making it the third busiest airport in the world. There were only six boarding bridges and everything else was tarmac boarding with buses to the aircraft. As I recall there were no boarding announcements allowed in the terminal only at the gate. It was also a favourite airport for passengers using false documents to enter North America illegally. On the Inaugural flight we stopped seven “sailors” headed for Toronto to take an oil tanker through the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Which was strange as the Seaway had closed early that year due to the premature onset of winter ice. As I said it was an airport that offered challenges on many levels.
It was to be replaced by Hong Kong International Airport on Lantau Island in 1998. After years of discussion and sitting derelict Kai Tak has became a transportation hub once again – the old buildings were demolished and a cruise ship terminal was built on the peninsula that was once the runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour. High rises now block the old flight path from the Checkerboard to Runway 13. And needless to say 22 years of tropical storms have dulled those peeling red Checks to a dull pink.
But back to 1995. The timing for the inaugural flight, December 22, meant that we spent Christmas in Hong Kong. Laurent flew in from Jordan, where he was living at the time, to join me. I met him at the aircraft and told him I’d see him on the other side of Immigration. I can still remember the look on his face when he came through those doors and confronted the hundreds waiting to meet their loved ones. Kai Tak, or Hong Kong for that matter, was not the place for agoraphobics at Christmas time.
We were extremely fortunate that we had two families to spend that Christmas with: our Air Canada family and the Delisles. Our beloved Diana and Jean-Paul are old friends from Cairo days and it was a chance to once again spend the holidays with them. We were to be with them again the Christmas of 2006: that was the Boxing Day when dinner was interrupted by an earthquake and several after shocks. A truly scary experience as we were at Mid-Levels surrounded by high rises. But that is a story for another time. This memory drawer in the archives of what is left of my mind is that Christmas in 1995.
So what caused this particular memory drawer to creak open, you ask? A t-shirt. A t-shirt? Yes, a t-shirt. An Alan Chan t-shirt that Santa Claus (but really I think it was Diane and Jean-Paul) gave me along with a host of other goodies that Christmas Day.
A t-shirt that I took out of the wash only yesterday and is one of my favourites. The colours have only slightly faded and it is as soft and comfortable as only oft washed quality cotton can be. When I put it on it brought back memories of that first visit to Hong Kong: my first taste of Singapore Fried Noddles at KaKaFuk, a dinner on a junk with the gang from the High Commission, watching the enormous Christmas light displays taking shape each night on Victoria Island across the harbour from my hotel window, my first tailor-made blazer and dress shirts by Mr. Wani, the old Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon, the gaggle of Philippina maids in the park at Central, the mad confusion and elation of that first departure, Christmas Eve with my Air Canada family, and Christmas Day with our dear Diane, Jean-Paul and their youngest Marc-André.
All those memories came tumbling out of that drawer – and what opened it was that treasured t-shirt. And it reminded once again that I have been granted a life filled with friends, family, adventure, travel, laughter and joy.
The word for July 16th is:
Memory /ˈmɛm(ə)ri/: [noun]
1.1 The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.
1.2 The mind regarded as a store of things remembered.
1.3 Something remembered from the past.
1.4 The remembering or commemoration of a dead person.
1.5 The length of time over which a person or event continues to be remembered.
1.6 The part of a computer in which data or program instructions can be stored for retrieval.
1. 7 A computer’s capacity for storing information.
Middle English from Old French memorie, from Latin memoria, from memor ‘mindful, remembering’.
I find 1.2 is starting to make 1.5 of 1.3 question 1.1!!!!