Reflections at 30,000 feet

First published

The man sitting next to me, on the Singapore–Tokyo leg of my return trip to the United States, has been fast-forwarding through the movie on his personal entertainment screen for the past few minutes now. At first, I thought he was just trying to skip all of the studio credits and other boring pre-content affairs, but it looks like he’s gone well into the actual film itself now. I have no idea what he’s doing. It’d make sense if he’s already seen the first… I’d guess quarter of the movie somehow, maybe. To be fair, I really shouldn’t be paying attention to his screen, anyway, even if the scenes flashing by on the display are a bit too distracting for me to completely ignore.

I have Charles Stross’ Accelerando loaded up here on my iPod, on the recommendation of a friend from a few days ago. I’ve been poking through it ever since, though I can’t help but feel like it’s already left me in the dust from its opening pages. Maybe it’s the style of the prose, which packs in references and specialized terminology densely enough to make me feel like I need remedial English lessons. It might be the subject matter — the arrival of the so-called Singularity, where the graph of technological advancement over time, already exponential, essentially goes vertical, and human existence as we know it changes irrevocably. Or it could be that the entire thing is just going straight over my head. As someone whose deepest excursions into science fiction are best represented by titles like Ghost in the Shell and a handful of William Gibson novels, I might just be comprehending the whole thing much like a grade school kid might understand a doctoral thesis.

Speaking of which, I probably ought to start thinking about what I want to do after I finish my undergraduate program, but I suppose that can wait for sometime when I’m not in the middle of developing what I’m sure will be horrible jet lag.

The view out of my window is finally lifting from the pitch black that it’s been for most of the past eight hours. We departed Narita at about three in the sunny afternoon local time, but I don’t recall having been able to see anything outside of the plane since we took off. Now, though, I can see the first orange tints of sunrise creep out over the horizon as the synthesized string refrain from The KLF’s Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard plays through my airline-issued earphones. I would be using my own pair, which is capable of actual bass output instead of the tinny treble-heavy stuff I’m getting now, but the right channel on those is shot, and it’s hard to immerse oneself in ambient music when listening through only one ear.

In any case, it’s comforting to have visual confirmation that I am in fact not hurtling into the vacuum of space inside a long, narrow metal tube whose interior lighting is not doing nearly enough to make up for the lack of external illumination. Normally, I wouldn’t need this kind of reassurance, but reading about a gang of teenagers throwing their virtualized consciousnesses at an almost-star three light-years away does things to one’s psyche.

I’ve only been in transit for a little more than seventeen hours now, but the vagaries of human memory make that short interval enough to push the four and a half months of my time in Singapore back into the recesses of my mind. Even though my hike through the Southern Ridges in the incredible tropical heat was just two days ago, it already seems like an eternity has gone by. At the moment, I feel like I’ve spent my entire life on a plane, staring outside from the leftmost window seat. In another two hours and change, I’m going to be landing in Minneapolis, where the weather forecast has indicated that I should expect it to be minus ten Celsius1 at best. Even the whole idea of weather prediction is a reminder of how I’m no longer in Singapore; after all, the conditions there never change from mid-twenties, humid, and possibly raining.

I can’t really predict what parts of Singapore I’ll miss back on American soil; I’ve never been all that good at reading my own feelings, and it’s always the little things that trigger nostalgia. Though, with that disclaimed, I can safely say that I’ll probably long for cheap food, and a proper mass transit system, and meeting so many people from all over the world. The absence of these and other things won’t be debilitating — I’ll just randomly fondly recall bits and pieces of my experience as time goes on, and, if other people are present, turn them into humorous anecdotes.

If I were a more eloquent person, I’d write here about what I’ve learned and how my time abroad has changed me, but I can’t think of the words to describe those things. Perhaps this is all premature anyway: I’ve still got Japan to tackle.

  1. Post-update: It actually ended up being seven below. ↩︎