For a few minutes on Tuesday afternoon, we thought there’d be no one in the third seat in our row on the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Toronto (yeah, leg room!) but that was not to be. A frazzled looking middle-aged Asian dude boarded late with a clutch of hand luggage – anyone who’s done any travel knows that if you’re not fast boarding, there will be NO space left in the overhead bin by your seat, which makes for a teeth-grinding hassle in the chaos called  disembarking.

He was the seatmate from hell. He rolled his faux-sheepskin trimmed brown pleather jacket into a hard tube and jammed it into the space under our shared armrest, meaning that it poked into my right thigh and overlapped what little neutral space there was. He unrolled his blanket and found a way to wrap it around the armrest so I had even less room. But to make it worse, he was a wriggler. Just as I was dropping into a doze, he’d shake himself like a wet dog and manage to bump into my shoulder enough so that I’d wake up, muttering evil things under my breath. He was totally oblivious. He tried to sneak his foot into my space under the seat in front, but I wasn’t having any of that, so I built a bunker with my handbag and the airline blanket. Sounds childish, I know, but when you’re facing 15 hours in a big metal tube, surrounded by several hundred people coughing/snoring/sneezing/moaning/complaining, passing gas, you have to be prepared to defend your turf! And then there’s the requisite howling infant or whiny toddler with the glass-shattering vocals.  On the outbound flight from Toronto to Hong Kong, I was seated beside an elderly lady who spoke no English and couldn’t get her seatbelt either buckled or unbuckled. She woke me up out of a sound sleep, pointing vigourously at her belt buckle, motioning for me to undo it so she could get up to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t get her tv console to the channel she wanted so she finally summoned a Chinese-speaking flight attendant who set up with a game-show program of hysterically laughing young Asians doing odd stunts involving heights and gangplanks, helium-filled bats, anime makeup, weird cartoon-character costumes and pits filled with mud. She had a distuubing habit of whinnying periodically – a brief, high-pitched whooping sort of noise – whether she was awake or asleep. Additional in-flight entertainment, I guess.

I swear by melatonin tablets, taken after ingesting lots of carbs and a glass of red wine with dinner, as a means of getting some quality rest. I mean, I watched four movies outbound (thank goodness for the preview feature – some were so bad that I switched to something else after 5 minutes. No wonder Hollywood is in trouble, cranking out such drek.) I shudder to think how the planned glitzy adaptations and big-star treatment will ruin the Stieg Larsson books. The Blind Side was what my girlfriend calls ‘sweet’ – a movie I’d watch again. Certainly renews your faith in human nature, after watching the start of The Expendables, which was an incomprehensible weapons-filled crash-fest of badly-aging used-to-be action-stars. I mean, a cameo of the Governator? Why?

Arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto in -7 degree weather was a shock to a body system warmed for who weeks by 30+ degree weather in Thailand.  Due to the snow storm (didn’t look that bad in Toronto) there was a dearth of limos and taxis and shivering passengers had to wait for up to an hour for rides. Not a good welcome to Canada, especially for visitors who still have to pay (outrageous) to use the luggage carts. So where are they to get the coins needed to release those tippy buggies from cart prison when they’ve just arrived in the country and there are few money-changing kiosks around? Wouldn’t it be neighbourly and less churlish to have free carts? In every other country we’ve been to, there is no charge for carts, they are plentiful and easy to maneuver. And in Hong Kong and Thailand, there are bank-sponsored currency exchanges everywhere – including at aircraft and train arrivals and departures levels, in the subways, on the streets – that exchange at fixed rates that are clearly posted and, they don’t charge a usurious rate for exchanges, either. Before we left for Hong Kong, we had to trek down to a mall at Highway 7 and Leslie Street in Markham to get a decent rate on Hong Kong dollars. Sheesh.