Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Laying it on thick

There are many worse things in this world, for sure. However, that knowledge by itself doesn't make a sixteen hour plane journey any the more enjoyable. On my latest such trip day before yesterday, the in-flight magazine contained some raving information about the new model Boeing, due out in 2008. Apparently this machine will herald a new frontier in air travel comfort. All passengers will have access to 8% more oxygen than they currently do.

I read that line and wondered what exactly it meant. Do we now get less oxygen than we're supposed to? Is this somewhat like putting air travelers in suspended animation, putting their brain cells on hibernate while they're dragged through the Arctic skies? Is this why flying has such an adverse physical effect on me?

Or is it just my plain old bugbear, dehydration? It was about six years ago, on a late night trans-Atlantic shipment, that I found one of my prime desi characteristics stripped from me. It was the night after Christmas, and the temperature had dropped to 17 F in New York. Our plane was one of the last to be able to take off from JFK before a snowstorm closed the airport off for a couple of days. Small wonder that once aboard, I climbed into the alcohol. Well, not quite. One glass of wine, and a cognac after dinner, I think. That was enough to do it -- I spent the next six hours in agony, and when the morning came I realised that the combination of alcohol and the interior of an airplane were more dehydrating than my body could bear.

That realization brought with it two changes in my behavior. One, I stopped consuming alcohol on board. It hurt a little at first, but then the omniscient American airlines started asking you to pay for your drink, and then all was well. And two, I started hoarding those little tubes of moisturizer that you get at hotels. And carried them on board. In my cargo pants. In my laptop bag. In my carry-on strolley. Everywhere. Just in case.

And I used them too. Every few hours. Drink water. Apply moisturizer. Suspend-animate. Repeat.

It worked.

And then they banned moisturizers on board. It defies me completely. Someone's going to hijack a plane with Vaseline? Attack a flight attendant with Nivea? Watch out lady, or I tar you with this vanishing cream and then where will you be? How does one synthesize, on board, in full view of a few hundred people, an explosive out of cosmetics?

But more on that in a second. The announced ban was on "liquids, creams and gels". Solid moisturizers, such as lip balm, were allowed. My task was obvious. I needed to locate me some solid moisturizer. So I roped in a lady friend (you think I was going to try this alone?) and made paths for the cosmetics shops.

Unfortunately, as I have had occasion to comment before, Hong Kong is not the best place in the world to try and communicate in English. "Excuse me, do you have any solid moisturizers?" we said.

"Soh-lid-ah?" they said.

They looked at each other. They looked around. They had never heard of this brand before.

They offered us the closest tube. "No, no, not liquid," we said, "Liquid. Not. Not liquid." "Ahh, gel-aah?" "No, no! Not gel. Not cream. Solid."
Blank stares. Next shop.

We tried Sasa. We tried Shue Uemura. Crabtree & Evelyn. The Body Shop. A hundred other places I'd never, ever, ever be dragged into under normal circumstances. No one had heard of "Solid", the brand or the state of matter. They looked at us, wondrously. What childs of creation were these? What crazy gweilos.

We came home defeated, two days in a row. That second evening, however, someone suggested the brand known as Burt's Bees. I recalled having seen a counter in a particular mall. The third - and last possible before flying - day, we went there. The usual mixture of noxious chemicals greeted us, arranged to trap all passing insecurities. "We don't sell lipstick," had said Charles Revson, "We sell hope." And so it was - hope it is we were after, after all.

Ignoring the English-sounding overtures of the sales rep, we rifled through the stocks, opening up the cans labeled "Tester". Sure enough, Burt's Bees was it. Two little jars, side by side, contained what could arguably be said to be a solid substance. One was labeled "Day Creme", the other, "Night Creme". Day Creme was the larger of the two, but only marginally more expensive. Night Creme was more solid.

What's the difference, we asked the rep. "Oh, Day Creme is for day, sir, Night Creme is for night," we were told.

Of course. Silly %^&#ing me.

I bought the Night Creme. After all, solidity was the attribute of choice, and I could always argue that I'd plan to be asleep on the plane, right?

Back home, I was even smarter. My friend and I divvied the little jar-ful up into three. One she kept, as commission. One I shoved into my suitcase. The third, in the original casing, went into my carry-on. And I, with hope, went to the airport.

I cleared the first round of security with flying colors. Nothing explosive about me. It was at the second round, in the face of an impassive security agent, that it all came undone. My bag was on his table. His hand was in my bag. He felt around. I'm guessing he ignored the laptop, the camera, the i-poodle, the various power cords, the cereal bars, the book, the papers. Purely on touch, he pulled out the jar. His grunt signaled that he wanted me to open it. I complied, safe in the knowledge that I was standing in front of a sign that said solid moisturizers were allowed.

Mr. Hong Kong grunted: "Cream".

My delicate ear winced. Not only was it "Creme", it was not. It was solid. I said as much. "Not cream. Solid." "No," he said, "Cream." "Solid!" I said. "Soh-lid-aah!" I pointed at the sign. "Solid! Solid! Not cream!"

Nothing doing. He wanted the jar for his collection.

In dismay, I plunged a finger in and scooped out half the remaining contents. Dashed them against my forearm - an angry welt of white. Dammit, if this was explosive, then I'm a suicide bomber.

Funnily enough, he didn't object to my walking away with the gunk on my arm. He just wanted the bottle. Figure that.

I spent the flight feeling like a piece of wood, whorls of dryness lining my insides like the rings of a tree.

And I got off the plane to read that the rules changed while I was up their. The authorities (the words infinite and wisdom come to mind) have now decided that hijackers will not be able to synthesize explosives from small quantities of liquids and gels and creams. Overnight, technology has retarded so fast that terrorists will henceforth be unable to mix four-ounce portions of Jergens to create a box cutter. Or maybe someone wanted papaya infusion for the "steak" they got served on board.

PS. Just in case you were wondering why KY jelly was never on the forbidden list, it's because them jehadists ain't into sex bombs.


Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

I gave up ordering wine in-flight when I realized that the quality of the wine is very poor compensation for the attack of dehydration it brings on.

Beer though is great for me. It gives me a nice buzz and doesn't dehydrate.

I think an excellent solution to the dryness problem is to keep one of those spray mists. Those are very refreshing, and do not go on as thick as moisturizers.

9/28/2006 7:53 AM  
Blogger Salil said...

I usually only go with in-flight vino on Qantas or Singapore Airlines. And the latter often has German Riesling on board, which I find doesn't dehydrate me too much.

As for the plane journeys, I can sympathise. I rely quite frequently on moisturisers and such, and was most unhappy (to put it mildly) when informed I couldn't keep body lotion or a bottle of water with me on an 18 hr flight from Singapore to Newark. Thankfully the airline took care of it - I asked an air hostess right after boarding for water, and was given a 1.5L bottle of Evian (another reason why I have an eternal soft spot for SIA). And the bathrooms were equipped with fairly decent creams and lotions too! (Hey, what about those terrorists and their Jergens-into-C4 technology?)

As for the HK security - aargh. Can't say more than that. They certainly don't miss much over there though.

9/28/2006 8:06 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

Since whe have moisturizers been banned? Just wondering because the I flew to Switzerland in May and was carryin some in my hand bag.
Your post also reminded me i have to fly to heathrow in december and while I am lookin forward to my trip am dreading the time spent at the airport =(

T_M:spray mists are great but am pretty sure anything with a nozzle is banned from hand baggage.

9/28/2006 9:48 AM  
Blogger kundalini said...

i was flying back from the uk last month, and as i emptied my lens solution, lip balm, and baby's petroleum jelly (wayy more essential) into a bin at heathrow, a friend of mine who was there with me suggested scooping out a large helping of gel and putting it between a tissue or on 'some part of your body' (to be retrieved later). neither appealed to me, but thought i'd pass on the ideas. :)

try getting shea butter if you like the thought of storing between tissues. it is seriously saw-lid, and wont get squishy. but it needs to be warmed between the palms before it can be applied, and am not sure how innocuous that will look!!

9/28/2006 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mind flying, what I hate is the airports. And, funnily, I don't object to the Indian ones so much, but Frankfurt, Heathrow, JFK are horrors... especially when you're transiting.

It's not so much the flight itself, as the three-hour wait at airports, when I need the alcohol. But I've never had a problem with dehydration (and I don't even drink extra water, beyond what they serve at meals).

9/28/2006 4:44 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

totally agree about the wine. i toyed with the thought of beer but realised that it'll just be the same canned heineken that makes my stomach turn under normal circumstances.

szerelem is right -- spray mists, beig liquid, are banned.

i agree - the in-loo creams are a big reason to choose sia / cathay over any of the others. not so sure about hk security, though. the guy didn't look into any of the crevasses in the bag, or even into the pill-bottles. you don't have to have read day of the jackal to know how to substitute contents of a container.

this new ban kicked in last month after the circus at heathrow. which is where they have the highest paranoia right now. enjoy.

sympathies on the baby moisturizer. that would have hurt. the tissue idea did occur to me, and i'm guessing it would work half the time. shea butter should also have worked, except try finding some in hong kong.

lucky you. yes, transit waits are awful -- which is why the advent of some of these non-stop long haul flights is a huge blessing. doesn't improve the flight experience, however. but my original point becomes even stronger -- you have three hours to kill at an airport, and they took away your moisturizer at another airport sixteen hours ago, *and* you have another flight to go - probably delayed. need i say more?

9/28/2006 5:36 PM  
Blogger km said...


I've stopped drinking on flights too. Seriously f**ks me up. It's *high* time they got on with the on-board hallucinogen service.

Yay for K-Y Jelly! The Jihadis and the Mile High clubbers can rub shoulders - and other parts - together.

9/28/2006 11:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

tr -
the advent of some of these non-stop long haul flights is a huge blessing.

Actually I don't like those either -- I'd rather have a stopover and stretch my legs...

I've only done a longhaul once, when moving back from the US to India. The plane stopped in London, but no disembarking. Totally I think it was 20 hours in one plane. I'm not in a hurry to do that again.

I only spent 2 years in the US, thankfully, so did only one round-trip from there to India; I took a break in Paris, both ways.

Have you actually tried carrying KY Jelly? It may ease the entry.

9/29/2006 1:14 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

That's the funniest thing I've read in a while. Absolutely delightful! My husband had refused to fly if he wasn't allowed to carry his miniature bottle of Jergens on board. Now he is happy.
And now that you mention about the lack of O2 I think they put the O2 at an all time low just before take off. Because try as I might I cannot keep my eyes open right before the plane takes off. So do the pilots get enough O2? Because i don't want them to malfuntion because of hypoxia.

9/29/2006 2:20 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

FYI....from yesterdays guardian...the ban ends in november =D.
Well, at heathrow atleast.

9/29/2006 10:25 AM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Didn't I read somewhere that casinos intentionally pump extra O2 through the gambling floors so that folks are always a little euphoric and disoriented? So conversely the lack of O2 in flights should keep you sharp as a tack once your adrenalin kicks in. Everyone will be in 'survival mode'.
Ignore me, its been a long day and I'm rambling...

9/29/2006 10:37 AM  
Anonymous arun said...

lol-aaah! I know a few HK guys, so i know how that feels on the eardrums. Strangely, I feel an urge to say aii-yoowh on hearing them screech like that, myself being a south indian, but I curb it! Maybe if you had said something ending with aaah's, they might have let u in with the creame-aah!

9/29/2006 5:53 PM  
Blogger Salil said...

tr: Hmm, maybe they let you off nicely. They used to go through *everything* when we lived there (although part of our time there was during the SARS scare, and the year after when they were fairly anal retentive on anything and everything).

mt: Very sure that's an urban legend. Considering the number of casinos where people smoke, pumping extra oxygen would create major fire hazards given the flammability/explosive potential.

[BTW, did you by any chance read it in Mario Puzo's "Fools Die"? Remember him touching on that a few times throughout the novel (fun read, btw).]

9/30/2006 5:31 AM  
Blogger Prerona said...

where are you now? u get around, dont you :)

happy pujo's to you
shubho bijoya

9/30/2006 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Ph said...

LOL. And people laughed at me, when I slathered myself with lotion seconds before I surrendered it to the people-with-big-plastic-bags. And no drinking on a flight. I am an entertaining drunk but do not want to catch myself entertaining the bozos who are always seated next to me.

10/02/2006 12:29 AM  
Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

I was nodding in sympathy till that last line about KY and sex bombs.
You DESERVE to die, you dirty dawg!

10/02/2006 7:46 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

you said it!

they don't allow rear access on most planes any more.

good point. tell me something - i always try to keep my eyes closed during take off and landing, as i don't want to stress them by reading during the intense acceleration / deceleration. does that make sense?


there has to be an optimum, i'm guessing...

10/02/2006 8:25 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

i tried, guess it wasn't authentic enough.

must have been my god looks-aah?

just arrived in boston after three round the clock days at a conference in orlando. i do get around and sometimes it gets a bit much. am pooped. i did remember to say shubho bijoya to a few of the bongs i met there. so, thank you, and shubho bijoya to you as well!

i agree - the thought is a disturbing one :-D

10/02/2006 8:30 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

you think it's how the 72 stay virginal?

10/02/2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

shubho bijoya to you!

10/03/2006 12:46 AM  

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