China Map Airports

Yes, no, yes, damn it! Later they started on my aeroplane engine and gear, but even a worm will turn, and I refused to go on answering silly questions about the length of my aeroplane. All my equipment was fully described in my registration and airworthiness certificates, my flying licence, my engine, aircraft and journey log-books that they could study all night while I had some sleep. Then they asked me to open up my baggage in front of them all on the launch.

‘Look, I said, ‘as soon as we get ashore you can inspect my baggage to your hearts content and not before.’

On shore this was done while the cross-examination continued unflagging. There was a lull then when I was conducted to a large schoolroom where a long table was set up with plates of sandwiches. It was like a summer storm indoors, with continuous flashes as the table was photographed, then the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and all the officials one by one. At last a loud pop cheered me a little and we sat down to drink some sweet champagne. Every time we drank, a flashlight went off. I toasted the Japanese people, the country, the city, etc. until the champagne gave out. Perhaps it was just as well that it did, for a glass is as good as a bottle to a tired aviator.

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For a long time Hayashi had been noting down my answers by the flickering light of a lantern, but the day was far from ended. I was handed over to a police officer. He was affable, easy-going, smooth-mannered and pleasant and it was just incredible that any human being could be so polite. With Hayashi, we motored along interminable long narrow ways through a densely settled area. Each time I dozed off I would be jerked awake by another polite question. We arrived at a hotel in state. As we entered, a row of smiling girls knelt on the raised floor before us, bowed till their foreheads and palms touched the floor, then settled back on their heels repeating it all time after time. I had an impression of flowing kimonos, sleeves on the floor and voluminous coiffeurs of jet-black upswept hair. Hayashi and the policeman bowed profoundly in response; I did an Englishman’s best. My shoes were removed by dainty fingers, after which I felt clumsy and flatfooted in my stockings on the padded floors. They tried to fit me with a pair of slippers from a row of them on the ground, but the largest only just admitted the tip of my toes, with the heel biting into my instep. I heartily agreed with Hayashi’s suggestion of a bath, and a delicious little maiden led me into an empty room. I turned round to find the policeman behind me, and when I undressed it was the policeman who wound me into a kimono with a long wide sash, and led me into the bathroom. There was a square-tiled well about 3-foot deep in one corner full of water with bowls, basins and dippers lying about. I waited, but the policeman did not go. Ignorant of Japanese customs, I felt acutely self-conscious. In the end I slipped off the kimono, and sank into the tiled well up to my neck. The policeman immediately uttered a sharp cry, which brought in another Japanese, who seized me by the shoulder and began scrubbing my back with an instrument like a hedgehog on a stick. When I got out, the policeman seized my body, rubbed it furiously with a towel like a doormat, and wrapped up the remains in a kimono. Outside, I found the row of maidens waiting, and again bowing to the ground. I was now led to a stunted table, six-inches high, and sat crosslegged on a cushion before it. A beautiful and polite little Japanese girl with her charming smile and dazzling white teeth squatted on a cushion beside me, and with a small porcelain jar kept on filling a tiny bowl of sake, which needed delicate holding between finger and thumb. She showed me how to use chopsticks, and I was faced with a tray full of formidable dishes. Under the first cover was a bowl of rice that gave me a false sense of security, but the second held chunks of raw fish with a clammy taste. It made me hurriedly drain the cup of sake, which had a less bizarre taste – it was rather like tepid sherry mixed with methylated spirits. I prodded the contents of the next dish with a chopstick, but it baffled me.

‘Fish with many arm, Hayashi waved his arms about in the air. Octopus! I thought it was like tough rubber. The girl seemed delighted with all this, and even Hayashi’s look of a harassed father was occasionally lightened by a lukewarm smile. The last two dishes were eel and little cylinders of rice wrapped in seaweed, which were delicious.

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