Bangkok, March 2007 – Happiness is not something that you stumble upon by chance, nor is it dropped into your lap by divine providence. No. Happiness is a thing that you pry from the clutches of The Universe by force. It’s very much a cliché, but also a very accurate description of what I experienced today. This morning in Bangkok I woke up with a big fat grin on my face. Not so much because of things to come. The departure of Jeroen and Sig without me. The long long flight on a crowded airliner to Amsterdam that I wasn’t looking forward to. All this didn’t make me happy at all. No, I awoke happy this morning because I suddenly remembered how very fortunate I am.
This type of business that we’re in. Indescribable. The people we work with, one by one singular characters worth writing a book about. And that just makes me happy from time to time. A month in Cambodia. We worked hard, for sure, but above all we had lots of fun. Before that the ferry flight with our small airplane from Holland to Cambodia as Yoeri’s unlicensed copilot. Across deserts and mountains. The stuff heroism is made of. Millions of people in this world never make it passed their dusty office desk in some dreary office surrounded by boring people uttering stale jokes and drinking bad coffee. Purely by chance I became part of an elite group of people. Survey Crews. We fly all over the world and map countries and regions. Airports have become a second home for us. Every now and again we run into fellow members of this same group and talk about things that happened in the months or years that passed since we last met. Jussi, Timo, Joni, Boy. I’ve worked with them again and we talked for hours over a cold beer. When I arrive in Holland I will meet Kari and Ian again, last seen in Rumania and Bangladesh respectively. Weird as weird comes…. It is this that I realized this morning. And not without consequence. Because such a happy state of mind has its influence on the rest of the day. Even the two cockroaches that defiantly stare at me from the bed-stand before scurrying off towards the lampshade can’t ruin my day today.
Downstairs in the lobby I meet with Jeroen, Sigrid and Casper. They will fly our little airplane back to Teuge. I wave them off with mixed feelings but nevertheless walk into the breakfast hall with a happy feeling. The breakfast buffet is immaculate. The effect of my state of mind is visible all around me. I only see people with smiles on their faces. Happiness is taken by force, and these people are my victims. I return to my room, put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door and wake up a couple of hours later. A shower that actually has warm water is a luxury sorely missed during the last four weeks. I turn the knob as hot as I dare and thoroughly enjoy it. Whistling some undefined tune I scrub the Cambodian dust from my body. I get dressed and get ready for a firm walk through Bangkok. Once outside I almost exclusively see cheerful people. Even the beggar near the entrance of the pedestrian bridge shows a faint smile when I walk past him without a donation. The deformed lump of meat where once was his foot glistens naughtily in the afternoon sun.
And this is the moment that I realize that one’s inner feeling has a huge influence on how you perceive the world around you. Now I see a smiling mother playing with her laughing baby daughter. Someone else might only see the dead pigeon against the curb, victim of a tuk-tuk. I continue on and come across a Starbucks so lunch is arranged for the way back. A few blocks further I enter a modern shopping mall where I can use an internet computer for half an hour. The price ? Not even worth mentioning. Once outside, nothing can bother me. The loud roar of the traffic in the busy Sukhomvit district doesn’t annoy me at all today. The tuk-tuks that normally run you off your feet without a second glance all miss me by a fair margin. I receive friendly greetings from their drivers where mumbled death wishes are more commonly heard on any other day. Everywhere I see little stalls where a hundred different snacks are being prepared. I enjoy the smell of the wood fires and Thai spices and the hustle and bustle of the city. On two separate occasions I am met by a tuk-tuk hustler. These guys usually meet you with a welcoming hand extended and a bright smile on their face. ‘How are you today my friend ?’ they will say and start a conversation to lure you into their tuk-tuk for a free ride to some shady shop where you will be encouraged to buy all kinds of stuff that you don’t need. Today I meet his bright smile with an even brighter smile of my own. I ignore the hand extended to me but give him a firm tap on the shoulder with my other hand. ‘Not today my dear friend !’ I tell him cheerfully and walk past him. Not equipped to counter so much cheerfulness he admits defeat and leaves it at that. The second hustler suffers a similar fate as he is crushed by so many positive vibes. Any other day and these guys would have tailed me for hundreds of meters trying to change my mind. But not today.
This same afternoon in my hotel room the writing is progressing successfully. I’m happy with what I managed to get down on paper and the idea to write the story you are now reading takes shape. In the elevator towards dinner I start an idle chat with an Australian guy. Turns out he’s a pilot for an aid organization that is going to transfer food and shelter to people hit in the recent Tsunami disaster. A fellow aviator so we decide to have dinner together and talk about our jobs and adventures.
After dinner I polish my writings a little more. I repack my suitcase and this time I have room to spare. I walk down to reception whistling. How she did it I have no idea, but within 10 seconds my bill is ready. Near the entrance the smiling porter tries to part me from a small fortune for transportation to the airport. With an equally kind smile I tell him he can stuff his limousine in a dark and smelly place and that I will haul a taxi myself. His smile grows even bigger as he charters a normal taxi for me. That turns out to have an operational taxi meter and takes me to the airport in time and for a reasonable fee.
And then there is the flight itself. At this moment I find myself somewhere over India. In a high comfort jump seat in the back of the crammed Boeing. With oceans of legroom. So how did that happen ? Well, right from the beginning I was annoyed by the lack of space in airplanes like this. Maybe I just have extraordinarily long legs. I see that people around me don’t seem to be bothered at all. In front of me I have an asshole that lowers his backrest onto my lap even before the end of the Houdini exercise commonly referred to in aviation as ‘dinner’. Behind me a kid that constantly hangs from my own backrest. And then, out of the blue, the (male and obviously very gay) purser asks me if I would be interested in some extra legroom. Well….sweetie pie, where have you been all my life !! He comes back a little later and leads me to where I am now. A very comfortable chair with two armrests and more legroom than business class could ever offer. Not to mention my own personal reading light above my head. How much happiness can one muster ? I might even be able to sleep a little…..
It is now 8 hours later and we’re somewhere over Germany. I managed to sleep for 5 hours. The backrest could be reclined almost all the way and with my feet on the oxygen storage I could make myself quite comfortable. One red wine down the hatch and Hans was off into la la land. The remaining 3 hours of the flight were spent chatting with my good samaritan purser and the rest of the cabin crew, making sure that the former got well informed about my sexual preference so as to avoid any misconceptions. He seemed a tad disappointed but lightened up when I mentioned that he’d have a place in this story.
So, all in all, I have no idea to what I owe this beautiful day, but the moral of the story must be that it pays to wake up with a smile. To do this more often will be my next new year’s resolution. For sure.