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Quarantined (Shanghai) When the Dragon Air flight touched down, we were instructed to stay in our seats because a surgical team would be onboard to check everyone’s temperature onboard before we could depart. Some didn’t care and stood up as if they were going to make a hasty getaway. But after ten minutes of standing, people began giving up. Then the pilot came back on the overhead to tell us the surgical team was delayed and it would be a couple of minutes. So we sat there idling. I think sometime I dozed off. Suddenly I felt motion and woke up just in time to see a person in a hazmat uniform and surgical mask come racing by. Everyone in the aisles turned quickly to watch. Then again, there were two more on the other aisle racing to the back of the plane. Then there was a slow mover who had a gray plastic device that looked like a toy gun. The lady wearing the white hazmat uniform would point the gray plastic device and a laser sight would appear on someone’s forehead and apparently a read out showed up on the back display. Then they would move to the next person. Suddenly, I felt a tickle in my throat and wanted to cough but was afraid to bring attention to myself. And I saw as people all followed the hazmat teams as they pointed, lit the laser point, read the reading, and moved on. The people watching were witnessing in a accusing way – as if to be revealed the person who had snuck onboard to endanger everyone’s life. I swallowed hard and tried to use my mind over matter to ignore the tickle in my throat. Then I felt my forehead getting hot and sweaty and the hazmat lady was nearing me. What if the readout was faulty, or if my forehead sweat showed up as a bad sign. I could hear my heart race and I couldn’t catch my breath. But then I started thinking about how relaxing a seven day quarantine might be. Just when I secretly longed for a false positive, the lady in the white hazmat uniform had me in her sights. I saw the red being projected. She barely looked down on the display and went to the guy sitting beside me. And just like that she was gone.

Finally when we deplaned, we went through two more screenings. One was a thermal temperature check and the last one was a forty five minute wait in a long, snaking line through another temperature reading device that looked like a metal detector. Almost entering the device, I thought again – how rewarding a seven day holiday would be. But then just like that, the security guard wearing a surgical mask motioned for me to come through. And just like that, I was normal.

My cough had become worse – and the rain in Shanghai had not made it better. I was worried I would be caught in the quarantine leaving – but funny enough – there were no checks before or after immigration. When I boarded my flight, I was on a conference call – so sadly I was pushing down the aisle with a Blackberry on my ear. And I thought to myself how I hated others who did this when I was sitting there innocently and their luggage would smack my shoulder or worse my elbow. I ended my conference call when I arrived near Row 41. There was an older German man wearing golden rim glasses standing there leaning over two seats with a pair of Chinese business women. I stood there and waited for awhile for them to conclude their conversation. But the longer I stood there, I noticed there was no conversation. The German was simply blocking the aisle. “Excuse me,” I said meekly trying to slide behind him. The German man did not budge. So I pushed into him and threw my computer bag in my seat. Accidentally the strap as it fell off my shoulder fell over the armrest and touched my new seat neighbor. It was an older fat man with tan leathery skin. He gave me a glaring look. “Sorry about that,” I said. And then I felt a tickle and coughed. I pushed my bag under my seat and took off my coat jabbing my airplane ticket stub inside. Finally, the German guy blocking the aisle – a little perturbed that I had pushed in him – gave me an ugly look before taking his seat. And when we disappeared, a flight attendant appeared. I raised my hand and she offered to take my jacket. Finally when I was comfortable and my seat belt snapped, I felt another tickle. I coughed. And coughed one more time. I saw the fat guy beside me give me a horrible look and he squeezed toward the window. Then he pushed his flight attendant call button.

While wearing headphones with the music too loud, he yelled out to the flight attendant, “Can I have a surgical mask?” And he nodded his head in my direction. I instantly became enraged but I kept it inside. But it triggered something and I coughed back to back. The fat man had his eyes enlarged and with a scowl, “What is wrong with you?” he said and he faked a pleasant smile. I mimicked his pleasant smile and said with no emotion in my voice, “I have swine flu.” Then I paused and scowled myself. “Don’t be an asshole.” He was quiet for a second processing what I had said. Then he blurted out a little too loud because he continued wearing his headphones, “What is an asshole? What do you mean by asshole?” “Your ass has a hole in it. That’s what I am talking about,” I said. Then he struggled upward and began to stand over as if he was bowing back to fight. He towered over me, “Fuck off.” Then he said it louder, “Fuck off!” “So you going to stand up to try and scare me? Sit down fat man.” He said it again louder, “Fuck off.” “Watch your language,” I said. He stood there glaring at me. He put on his meanest, fattest face. I could see that everyone in our section of the plane was watching us. I looked at him and laughed. Then I pulled out my newspaper and started reading it. The German guy said something and he agreed to it and then he sat down. I continued reading my paper. I was furious. But I didn’t want to turn into my typical asshole self. So I kept quiet. And all around me I was more aware of those that burst out in coughs. Suddenly, I didn’t have the tickle in my throat anymore. But I also noticed that the people in the seats directly neck to me – all collectively donned surgical masks. I heard the fat man muttering under his breath, “They should make you move.” I reached into my bag and put in my earphones for my Ipod shuffle and feigned sleep. And without planning it, I had fallen asleep – hard – barely felt the plane take off.

I guess minutes had passed, the German and the fat man began to talk loudly back and forth between their seat – and they were discussing me. I didn’t listen. I even let out a cough just to let them know I was still there. Nor did I care. Then suddenly, I felt a slight touch on my knee. I woke up and found a flight attendant looking shy and a little awkward. “Excuse me sir. Do you have a cough?” I looked around – and the German guy was peering over the back of his seat looking at me and the fat man had his arms crossed – wearing his surgical mask that just made his face look bulbous. “Yes.” The stewardess cleared her throat and moved in a little, “These men have complained. I would like to move you to a more private area?” I blew out a breath and I was already reaching down to pick up my computer bag under the German man’s seat. “So you are quarantining me?” “About time,” the fat man said grinning. I stood up and the German man looked triumphant. “What are you so happy about?” I asked him. He pursed out his lips. “You Americans need to learn to travel abroad,” he said. “Entschuldigung,” I said in the best Steve Martin impression I could muster – because it was German that meant, “Excccusse meee!” And as I followed the stewardess, I turned to the German man. “I am not abroad. I am home. And where are you from?” And then I was gone. The stewardess was very apologetic. I told her not to worry. She found me a much nicer seat with no occupying the entire row. I got comfortable but my head wouldn’t stop creating insults for the pair of them. Or looking for ways I could have exploited their ignorance. But I quickly realized, I needed to let this go as soon as possible – or there would sadly be another encounter brewing when we left the plane. So I shrugged and let out a deep breath. And then I covered my mouth and coughed. Then I reached down and pushed the flight attendant call button. A little plump flight attendant showed up immediately. “Yes sir?”

‘Yes, I was sitting in another seat and I had the flight attendant check my jacket. I wanted to let you know that I moved.” She smiled and then she said, “You mean you were sitting over,” and then while reaching out her hand, the bathroom door slid open, and the flight attendant extended her finger just at the right moment to stab a Chinese passenger in the eye. The passenger screamed. The whole plane looked towards us. The stewardess became incredibly apologetic. And now the passenger was crying and hurtling towards her seat. The stewardess following close behind. “Sucks to be her,” I said. And I smiled.

Written by GS Jackson, © 2009 LOL Entertainment Group, LLC (USA) Limited (HKG)

Quarantined (Shanghai, China)  

A verbal fight on an airplane out of Shanghai alludes to my future.