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Seat 9A

Posted by on 7 March 2009

Flight KL809, Kuala Lumpur-Jakarta

She was already seated in my assigned seat, 9A, as was printed on my boarding pass, when I arrived, rushing, into the cabin, being one of the last three passengers to board. After I stowed away all my hand luggage in the overhead compartment, she got up and gestured that we exchange places. I smiled and said “No problem”, as I settled into 9B and fastened my seatbelt.

She was dressed comfortably but immaculately, her auburn hair tied up loosely in a ponytail. She was clutching an Indonesian phrasebook and the French version of Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (Mille Soleils Splendides) in her hand, so I automatically assumed that she’s French. I wanted to strike up a conversation with her, dying to practice whatever little French I remember, but she closed her eyes even before the plane took off.

When meals were served some 30 minutes into the flight, she opened her eyes briefly to nibble on her braised chicken and fried rice, sipping delicately on her red wine. She asked for tea from the stewardess after the trays were cleared away, but the tea remained untouched on her table as she dozed off again, leaving me alone with my thoughts on the pros and cons of led light bulbs.

At some point during the flight, turbulence threatened to spill her tea, so I touched her elbow gently and she awoke with a start. But her eyes smiled with her lips as she murmured a heavily accented “Thank you” after she realised how close she was to having her skirt drenched with hot tea. After hastily downing the contents of her paper cup, her delicate eyelids closed shut once more.

She only opened her eyes again as the plane slowly started its descent and the chief stewardess requested the passengers to turn off all electronic items and stow away the tables. That’s when I decided to take my chances and talk to her. I smiled and asked in English if she’s in Jakarta on holiday. She smiled back broadly and answered yes, she’s visiting her son.

Emboldened, I asked her, this time in French, “Vous etes Française?” (Are you French?). She laughed and answered to me in Bahasa Indonesia, “Saya dari Madrid.” (I am from Madrid.)

And so started the most interesting short conversation I ever had with a stranger on a plane. Apparently, she’s a native of Madrid who goes to Jakarta twice a year, staying for about a month each time. Her son, (Spanish) daughter-in-law and three cucu (Indonesian/Malay for ‘grandchildren’) have been living in Jakarta for nine years already and speak Indonesian like locals, hence encouraging her to learn the language, as well. And that’s exactly what made the conversation truly unforgettable — while I spoke to her with whatever Spanish I could muster, she was speaking to me in halting Indonesian, interspersed with some Spanish words that she asked me to translate into Indonesian!

Alas the flight was over too soon. As the plane touched down in Cengkareng Airport, I wished her a safe trip and invited her to stop over in KL next time. She smiled one last smile and promised to do so in her next trip.

It’s small moments like this that make a trip unforgettable and travel an experience like no other.

9 Responses to Seat 9A

  1. sheng

    That is so nice of you to try talking to her, i wonder she was not so eager to strike up a conversation with you, there are just some who prefer to be anti-socials no, sometimes ganyan ako eh, i’d rather read than talk to strangers, but if i find the seatmate intelligent looking naman, medyo may courage naman ako to do so.

  2. francescainfrance

    It happened to me too, meeting nice people on board.

    The two french couple do not speak english, took emirates airlines.
    To dubai.
    The couple will be boarding to another plane to Thailand.
    Mga retired people na sila, kaya holiday daw.

    It was a relief to them that I speak french and translate to the stewardess what they need. Also we located our next flight, in dubai airport sooo huge, they were happy to have me to locate their departure gates.
    A few little french I learned helps hehe.

  3. Mimi

    sheng: she said she’s been on the road for the past 40 hours, that’s why she kept falling asleep. she actually apologized to me for that!

    francescainfrance: i’m sure they’ll never forget you for your help! :)

  4. Josiet

    I am a native of Madrid too, although from (Surigao del Sur) Philippines! Hehehe! That seemed a really interesting conversation you had =)

  5. x

    time to re-learn spanish…

  6. avril

    Sometimes people have their moods too. I think for her it was one of those days:-) Mungkin.

    I chuckle reading the conversation between the 2 of you. Each one trying to practice and perfect a new learned language:-)

  7. kg

    I haven’t tried speaking to strangers on a plane. it’s an interesting experience. maybe i have to try it! :)

  8. Mimi

    josiet: lol! good one! :D

    x: yup, you never know when it might come in handy.

    avril: sometimes i don’t feel like talking to anyone, too. i was really amused at how the conversation turned out :)

    kg: it’s quite an experience. so far, i haven’t had any negative encounters yet.

  9. caryn

    sometimes, conversations with complete strangers are all the more interesting ;-) the last time juls and i travelled, an american couple seated next to us couldn’t rein in their curiousity; they wondered where we were from, because they could hear: english, japanese, spanish (probably bits and pieces from tagalog) and another unidentifiable language (tagalog).

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