Actually I had already planned in my head and had taken notes, so that I would be able to tell the story “Another Journey” (I had written “A Journey” recounting my trip at Tết of the year Đinh Hợi) in a coherent fashion. Unfortunately, they all fizzled out because of one incidence. The incidence happened at the end of the trip, after I had left Việt Nam and had stopped in Korea. After a whole 12 hrs back in the USA, I am still bothered by it. Please allow me to use this end incidence to open Another Journey. Here it is, the first story:
Flight VN 938 took off at 11:20pm, taking me, my dad, and more than 200 other passengers from Việt Nam. After days of seriously lacking sleep, I slept like a log, did not even wake up to eat. The jolt of the wheels meeting the tarmac woke me up, I thought we had landed at Incheon and would have 4 hours to leisurely eat and shop before boarding flight KE 035 of Korean Airline for Atlanta. Atlas, it was not so.
-We’re there already? I asked my dad, yawning.
-No, he answered. They landed somewhere else. I didn’t quite catch the name of the airport, but it’s not Incheon.
My dad got up to get the bags, saying:
-We’ll probably have to take the bus to Incheon.
-No uncle, they said we’ll have to wait here at Busan airport because it is too foggy at Incheon airport for planes to land so we have to wait till the fog disperses. A lady sitting next to us interjected. She is married to a Korean, she was taking her baby home to celebrate Tet.
-Thank you, do you know how long they plan to stay here? I asked her, worried about missing the flight back to the USA.
-I don’t know, but probably not too long because in Seoul, the fog clears by 8am.
I added in my head, if we left at 8:00am, the flight would take about 30 min, then another 30 min or maximal 1 hour to get transferred to the next flight. It was OK, we would still make the 10:05 am flight. I went back to sleep.
Again, the sounds of the wheels touching down on the tarmac woke me up. I opened my eyes and looked at my watch: 5minutes before 10am. Oh God! I was worried, hoping I did not miss my connection. The calming voice of the head attendant came through the loudspeaker:
-For the passengers going to America, there will be Vietnamese employees of the Vietnam Airline as well as Korean employees of Korean Airline to meet you and assist you for a rapid transfer process, you will not have to worry about missing the flight.
It was reassuring. “At least!”, I thought, they had improved, no misinformation like before. I was full of approval inside and, and as if she could hear it, the announcer came to where we were sitting to tell my dad:
-I already got in touch with Korean Airlines, they will have somebody to guide you to the other plane. There will also be a Vietnamese agent to help and translate for you, so you can relax.
I don’t know what my dad was thinking, but me, I was very pleased. After flying on Vietnam Airlines for many years, it was the first time I met a flight attendant team leader who showed she really valued customers. I only regret I did not look at her name before she left to compliment the correct person.
If all was well like that, it would not have bothered me. The flight attendant took our group (consisting of 6 passengers) and turned us over to a team of 2 Korean agents, one male, one female, and a Vietnamese male agent. With a pleasant smile, she apologized again for the delay and wished us well. And then, things changed.
There were an elderly couple who looked confused and worried. The Korean agents were worried too, they could not communicate with the couple. The Vietnamese agent was standing right there but did not bother do anything to help. Seeing their difficulty, I walked up and translated for them. After a quick conversation, the Korean agents continued with other passengers. I found out the couple were heading to Atlanta just like me, so I reassured them: “Don’t worry, I’ll help you.”
Now the agent from Viet Nam seemed annoyed, maybe because I “stole” his work, and asked me curtly:
-What do they need?
-The lady needs a wheelchair, her legs hurt and she cannot walk far.
He looked at her papers and quickly announced
-If she wanted a wheelchair, she should have requested when she bought her ticket. She didn’t request, so there is no wheelchair for her. Her ticket only says “help needed”.
I really do not know the difference between “help needed” and “wheel chair needed” in the airlines’ language, but I know the airlines were supposed to provide wheelchairs when the passengers need them, so I told him:
-Even if she did not request it at the time she bought her ticket, but now she needs it, you are supposed to provide her with one, that is international law for airlines. Don’t be applying Vietnamese laws here.
I said that because I remember a case of a handicapped passenger who did not know that he needed to request a wheelchair in advance, so he was not given one. He later took Vietnam Airline to court (I do not know the outcome; anyone who knows, please comment on it). Back to the story, the man was probably annoyed that he ran onto someone who knew about the law, and he was not in Việt Nam either, so he just walked away.
I waited until the Korean agents were done checking other passengers in for the flight to the USA, I asked them in English if they could get a wheelchair for the lady because she had leg problem and had a hard time walking a long distance. They turned to the Vietnamese agent and asked him:
-Would you please check if there is wheelchair outside the door? Because she didn’t request, we did not have one ready. It will take 15-20 minutes to have one brought here, and it’s already 10:15. (which means the flight for the USA had been waiting for us for 10 minutes already).
-She can walk! He said rudely in English without checking to see if she could really walk or not, then quickly turned and left.
I was really upset by now. I wanted to give him a few choice remarks but we were very late and he had disappeared immediately anyway. In the meantime, the Korean agent grabbed her suitcase to pull it for her.
Our beautiful proverb,“ Like the silk cover protects the mirror, We people of the same country must care for each other”, seemed to apply more to the Korean man. It is truly shameful. It reminded me that not too long ago, Bishop Ngô Quang Kiệt had made some comments using the word shameful, Vietnamese newspapers dissected and edited his words to criticize him. I don’t know how somebody else would feel in this situation, but I was so ashamed. Atlas, my own people! An agent of the Vietnam National Airlines! What an embarrassment.
Again, I became the unplanned assistant. The Korean agent pulled the lady’s suitcase while guiding the group as I helped her along. It was a long enough a walk, which took almost 20minutes. She walked slowly, obviously in pain. She had pain in her legs, and I also felt pain inside my soul. My pain was difficult to describe, the pain of one of the “people of the same country”. My homeland! My country! My people!
A few thoughts:
My dear friends, I have much to share with you after my month of wandering, I did not expect to start with this story. I don’t mean to write it as an accusation or even a complaint, only to point out that in our world today, especially in our beloved country Việt Nam, there are still a lot of issues, which I call “disease”, with the hope that once we recognize the diseases, we can quickly find a cure.
In the Gospel according to St Mark on the 6th Sunday of the ordinary year, we saw that the leper was healed after he recognized that he was sick and had the gut to cry out “Lord, if You will it, please heal me”
“Oh Lord, the world today is full of diseases! There are those affecting only individuals, but there are those that destroy whole countries, whole people, and even your Church. Please give the leaders the grace to recognize those dangerous diseases and the courage to speak up and ask for Your healing instead of avoiding or covering them up! And please inspire us to join them to light the candles in the dark night and not smothering those little lights.
Peace and Blessings,
Saint Anne - Columbus, GA February, 13 2009
Translated by K.N. The original version in Vietnamese entitled "Lại... Một Chuyến Đi - Chuyện Thứ Nhất: Người Trong Một Nước Phải Thương Nhau Cùng"