Old Friends, New Realizations

Last night Lime and I met up with a couple of Clarion Westies (Guy and Tinatsu) and their respective spouses, and slept at Guy’s place. It was so wonderful to hang out, and Guy and I had another one of our long late-night talks, just like the talks we had in Seattle.

It’s funny I call these classmates from Seattle “old friends” since we’ve only known one another since July 2006… but I guess shared baptism by fire tends to lend a depth to relationships that may otherwise require a lot of time to build up. Once again, Lime is surprised and pleased to discover how nice, thoughtful, and intelligent my friends in Canada have turned out to be.

Meanwhile, I have been shocked at how much more commercialized everything in Canada is becoming. Crappy internet access on crappy terminals is commercialized in the worst way. I’m talking $6/hour for the kind of access you wouldn’t even pay for in Korea. We signed into a nice hotel — the kind of nice hotel that would, in Korea, provide you with a breakfast and free internet access, but here charges you an extra $25/day for net access and about the same for breakfast.

And Air Canada Jazz flights, with their pathetic claim to be cutting costs by eliminating almost all services–you can buy a cruddy, moist little 6″ Subway sandwich for $5 in mid-flight, and even the little snacks that are normally free cost a buck or two–is belied by the kind of service you can get on other airlines in other countries, where nobody would dream of charging $5 for a bad outsourced lunch on a flight that cost a person twenty to forty times that price. Breakfast on my Beijing-to-Shanghai flight was awful, but only because I didn’t like the food. It was still a hot meal, and still free, even though it cost me only $50 to fly between those two cities. This creation of a new commercial niche by treating the consumer like crap, it’s insulting, if you ask me.

This, on top of the downright annoying, tedious, and ever-changing game of make-believe security that determines consumers of flight tickets are treated like criminals with every visit to the airport. And if you think about it, this is the only place that everyone can at least expect to be patted down. As if I, with my bags of books and a bottle of sealed, duty-free liquor, look like a criminal or a terrorist? And as if the duty-free bottle I carried onto an Air Canada flight in Tokyo, but couldn’t carry onto a connecting Air Canada flight in Vancouver, had suddenly become dangerous? More dangerous than it was for the last five years? Have they just figured out that alcohol catches flame, or that a 1L glass bottle makes a great melee club? How bloody stupid. I’m all for catching the bastards who are out to blow up planes. But there’s sensible approaches, and stupidity. The thing that kills me is that people simply accept it. They accept, mostly without asking why, how come containers of fluid or gel under 100ml are okay, but not a tube of toothpaste or a container of body butter. “These are all waaaaaay over the limit,” the officious officer in the Vancouver airport told us, as if we were ridiculous for thinking that what was allowed on an international flight would be allowed on the connecting domestic flight. But of course, 100ml sample packets are important to business and commerce, so heaven forbid that those kinds of samples ever get interfered with.

There’s something about that state of affairs that just seems downright uncivilized to me. Korea might, as so many people point out, have a developing-world mentality about a lot of things, but on the other hand, it seems to me that the free-market-full-on-capitalist mode, especially with this growing tendency to authoritarianism, is profoundly uncivilized in other ways. There’s some kind of respect for the consumer that’s lost when everything, absolutely everything from the need to check email after a long flight, to the hunger a traveler feels in the morning, is turned into a commercial niche, and where every consumer is treated like a potential criminal. Do I really look like I’m sneaking for Allah, or PETA, or whatever? Does my Korean girlfriend?

Ah well. Perhaps this made me appreciate my friends all the more. Sane, generous, thoughtful, questioning minds, and open hearts. They are oases in what is at times, for me, an unpleasant land in which to travel. Meanwhile, Lime keeps saying, “Live here!” as in, “Why don’t we live here?” But she’s starting to see why I don’t want to, anyway… at least not right now.

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