First Hours

This piece was originally published in April, 2013 as a part of World Nomads’ 2013 Travel Scholarship.


There’s nothing like that moment when the cabin doors finally open. You draw a mouthful of fresh, unrecycled air for the first time in hours. You look at your watch, and you’re hours behind, or ahead maybe, you don’t know.  You just knows these are the first hours in a new city.  The morning light is harsh, and you rifle clumsily through your carry-on for the sunglasses you’re sure you packed. You look around at the other passengers – trying to figure out who’s on holiday, and who’s just returning home. It’s always so conflicting, the somberness of leaving an old life behind and the excitement of finding the next. You take in another breath of air and swear you taste the ocean. As you step through the terminal doors and towards the baggage carousel, you think about how nobody ever picks up the first bag. The lonely blue bag, with its three letter airport code.  You push through the flight-weary crowd and pull your own bag from the conveyer.

As the shuttle bus pulls away from the airport, you want to wave goodbye – but to whom? The runway, the woman serving latte, after latte, after latte, after latte… Your old life? You’re so tired on the bus, but you’re determined not to close your eyes, even for a moment. Even blinking feels traitorous – there’s too much to see. The way the road signs are a strange shade of blue and not dark green like the ones at home, the embossed yellow strips along pedestrian walkways, the brown and white number places with their state-specific taglines. You scribble rapid notes in one of the little pads you tucked into your pocket before the flight, and there’s this burning feeling that you’ll never get it all down. An overwhelming sense of nowness – like if you lift your pen from the page for one second, the moment will flee.

But the moment isn’t through the tinted windows of an airport shuttle bus, and it’s not in any amount of blue ink, it’s in every thought and every feeling. It’s in the hint of coffee on a stranger’s breath, and the way the sunlight ricochets off a passing train. It’s in the indescribable hum of the CBD intersection, and the realisation that tonight’s sunset is over the hills and not the ocean. Because a moment isn’t something you can ever catch – it’s something that catches you.

For a story about being stuck in a Chinese airport.