"Something pink, something new" I thought. I couldn't remember the rest of the saying, or even if it was the right saying, but right now it seemed to fit the moment. I needed to answer his question, but I was still unsure about making a decision. It did look odd. "Cotton candy," I thought, "It does look like cotton candy." But I was reasonably sure it wouldn't taste like it though. In fact if you ate it, you'd probably get real sick.
"So, do you want some or not" asked the airman? He was holding a ball of pink fluff. It looked like a ball of cotton candy with strings of pink lying on the surface; except this mass of pink was perfectly round and it wasn't held with a stick, instead it sat on his palm. A few tufts string hung exposed from the pink planet, scars of customers past. Looking to my left, I could see the small chunk of pink was given to servicemen sitting next to me. The serviceman made two smaller balls of pink and proceeded to stick those things into his ear. The concept seemed slightly grotesque, but any solution to the constant humming sounded reasonable. The loud humming resonated in the belly of the machine that we were in, the vehicle's heartbeat could be felt by all. I wondered if Jonah felt the same. Though the sound was too loud for most, I was sure I could handle it until we reached our destination a few hours from now. This time however, my bravado seemed a bit silly. If this was the standard procedure, I'd better join the fair. At least my ear plug choice was better than what I would get on Seti Alpha Five.
"Ok, I'll take the ear plugs." I replied, as I accepted my pink ball of fuzziness with gratitude. The dealer of pink moved onto his next addict.
I rolled the pink fuzz in my hand to form the little balls. The two came out rather nicely. Spheres; both actually look like pink ball bearings. Hmm...now I just need a pink Pachinko machine to match. I smirked and proceeded to deaden the humming that surrounded us all.
Traveling on this aircraft felt very odd. Typically when you fly, rows of seats are lined up one after the other. However in this vehicle, only four columns of seats were used. Two columns had backs to the walls of the aircraft's fuselage and the other two columns were back to back in the center. Wherever you sat you would be facing someone. Sitting here in my red mesh seat, I felt like a WII paratrooper just waiting to cross the English channel. Though unusual in arrangement, the seats were comfortable; if anything, sitting in one felt kind of cool.
Outside the port hole, I could see the clouds run by; I followed the flow and I could see families and airmen sitting in the cabin. To the left and to right of the window sat families similar to mine; looking just as eager to reach their destination. I wondered what made them want to travel. Was it the same thing that drove my family on this pilgrimage? Possibly I thought, because most travelled to this strange land for one reason. And that reason was good enough to send millions traveling afar each day to evangelize the consumer driven faith that we all knew quite well, discount shopping. Korea was heralded as the cheapest shopping Mecca closest to Okinawa and when most of us went there, we went to pay homage.
"This plane is cool. I've never ridden in a C-130 before" I said.
"Yeah I know. We've been on all those other planes and this one is coolest." responded Tony. "I wonder what Korea will be like."
"Cold and white; it's getting cold in Okinawa these days, so it must be freezing in Korea. I heard there might be snow as well. I wonder if it will look like scenes from M.A.S.H."
I was done eating my C-130 provided sandwich. And as expected from military prepared food, it wasn't great. But a combination of turkey and bacon on any sandwich made it good enough. I swallowed the last bit of my tasty morsel and I drank the last of my drink as well. Ah tsu-bu-tsu-bu, it tasted great. Nothing quite like an orange pulp drink to finish off a sandwich. With nothing left to consume and not liking the grease the had built up on my hands, I turned to my brother and asked, "Tony, do you see a bathroom around here?"
"I think it towards the back." he said and pointed towards the rear of the aircraft.
I stood up and began my trek. Though muffled, the constant rattling of the propellers could be felt throughout my body. The magnitude of the vibrations seems to ebb and flow every time I took a new step. The loud hum was resonant everywhere and it seemed to move up a few decibels as I began to wander. As I sifted past the last group of passengers and reached a set of empty red mesh seats, I spotted something that I thought I would never see while traveling on an airplane. Startled, I was too shocked to say a word. Perplexed, my mind went searching for an anecdote to capture the moment. Suddenly a rush of laughter ran throughout my body, and when it reached my lips, I could do nothing but smile. Hmm, I mused. So this is why military travel was cheap. We were nothing more than cargo. Sitting there was a collection of families; not made of real people, but the symbols of the families that traveled on this aircraft. Bounded to the floor with a large green cargo net was the traveling gear of the passengers. Below the mesh was a mound of luggage, boxes, bags, and strollers that created a collage of color that gave life to the otherwise bleak world of dark steel blue-green walls that encompassed us. I could see my family’s suitcase, it was blue, and it was a Samsonite. I could feel it laughing at me; overjoyed too remind me that not everything could travel comfortably during flight. Like our suitcases, we travel in luggage class. And what made me smile the most, was the fact that one word came to mind, "cool." I liked the fact that we traveling like cargo in a C-130 heading to Korea; it felt awesome.
I regained my thoughts and looked around. I noticed that there was no restroom in sight. It must be at the front of the aircraft, I thought. I turned and began to walk towards the cockpit. But before I went out of sight of the mound, I stopped and took a last look. Once again I grinned and thought of silly things, "OK luggage you win this time. "
"It's freezing out there!" Tony yelled. "Are you sure you want to go look for that game?"
"Yeah, I'm almost ready. I know we can buy cheap copies of computer games in Korea for a buck, so that's what I'm ready to do." I replied. "We already spent the last two days buying clothes with Mom and Dad, and now I need time to buy my stuff. Plus we got new shoes and new jackets already."
I just got out of the shower and with the toothbrush in my mouth I proceeded to get dressed. After donning some old jeans, a t-shirt, sox, and a sweater, I went looking for my new jacket. There it was lying on the chair next to my brothers new jacket, shining in all it's glory was my brand new light blue Members Only jacket. It was an imitation, but it looked great. I didn't care that it was fake; I just wanted a new jacket.
"Do you know that jacket cost $80 at the BX?" said Tony.
"Well not this jacket, you mean the real ones. Not the Korean specials." I had a big smile.
Tony was smiling too, "Our jackets cost $15 each. What a great deal! Too bad we can't wear them until we get outside."
"Yeah, that's one thing about Korea that I'll never understand. Why is it so freak'n hot in the hotel and freezing cold outside? Oh well at least the shopping is cheap."
"Alright, let's go." said Tony. We grabbed our jackets and left the room.
We journyed through the sweltering heat of the hotel lobby and stepped outside into the cold. Though we puffed warm mists of air with every breath we took, the sun was out and the shine from our freshly made blue and black jackets was all we really noticed. "New jackets and cheap games, here I come Korea," I said to my brother. He smiled too, and off we went.
A few hours later, I found the games and my brother found more clothes. Now, we were ready to go home.
Space-A travel was what they call it. Learning how to spend the entire day at the MAC terminal waiting is what I called it.
Korean food was ok, but 4 days straight is too much for me. I couldn't wait to get back home. I wanted to eat a sa-ba bento, a bowl of tempura udon, and the ya-ki-to-ri from the cart guy just outside Gate Two. But first, I'll ask mom for some ka-re ra-i-su. Nothing in the world beats that on a cold winter day.
A familiar chatting was in the air. Tagalog, I could hear it, and the voices sounded familiar. It was my dad, he always seem to find another Filipino where ever we were. It must be some kind of Pinoy powered instinct; two Filipinos in any relative vicinity independent of traveling direction would automatically gravitate towards each other and make contact. Luckily Filipinos and heavily bodies don't run the same physics; otherwise Kepler Law’s would be in trouble.
"Michael and Tony, this is Mr. and Mrs. Marino. They are here shopping as well."
"Hi, nice to meet you," I said.
"I have two boys around your age. Armand and ..."
"Bert," I guessed?
"You know them? Wow that's great. My boys are good boys. I'm glad you guys get along," said Mr. Marino. “You know, Pinoys need to stick together.”
"Armand, sure, but Bert, well, it wouldn't call it getting along," I said in silence.
Thus, we entered a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Marino about the Marino boys, our high school, and life at Kadena AFB. By the end of it, I really wanted to get the heck out of Korea.
Luckily for everyone, we managed to find a C-141 back to Kadena, but the dreary thoughts of being stranded in Korea for one more day felt all too real. Grinning from ear to ear I couldn't wait to get back to home.
Space-A travel is common to military brats around the world. However, running into your friends parents in a distant air force base while on a shopping trip, is pretty rare. Maybe fate was telling me something, that no matter how far away I go, I'll always find a way to run into my life-long friends. These days whenever I speak to the Armand's dad, I always remember running into him and his wife at the MAC terminal in Korea.