At The Cost Of Borneo
I used to like airline meals. What changed my mind, I think, was a free upgrade to business class just when I happened to have a bad case of gut rot. I had only managed a few mouthfuls of champagne and nibbles before feeling the urge to pollute the posh passengers' porcelain with projectile poo, and then spent the rest of the flight turning various shades of green. I now heave at the sickly, oily smell of microwaved airline food. But that's another story.
Back when I still looked forward to my tray of little plastic cartons, I found myself on a Brunei Airlines flight -- about 18 hours from England to Hong Kong. It was cheap. As I boarded a small, crumbling Boeing and listened to the prayers for safety (Brunei is officially Muslim), I wondered briefly if a cheap airline was a Bad Idea. Still, several hours into the flight, nothing had fallen off or caught fire, and lunch was served. I can still remember this as being one of best airline meals I've ever had; something meaty, a couple of grain-based thingies, and a selection of vegetables, all nicely prepared with a Middle-Eastern/Asian fusion of flavours. You wouldn't have complained about it in a good restaurant. The only thing that bothered me was a generous pile of a tough, stringy vegetable that looked like Chinese broccoli, only it wasn't. It was almost impossible to chew, but I was enjoying myself, so I finished it all. Three days later - could have been less, hard to tell - we landed in Bandar Seri Begawan.
There was a four-hour wait until the onward flight. The airport is in the middle of the city, but knowing nothing about Brunei, I figured that wasn't enough time to get out, look around, deal with any hitches, and get back in again. The airport was Soviet-inspired: small, ugly, depressing, and very slightly grimy. I had a little nap. I looked around the depressing little shops. I had some snacks in the depressing little café. I had another nap. With a hour to go, I figured it was time to leave a little gift for the Sultan to express my gratitude for his hospitality.
The toilets were also depressing, but clean. Crimping off a length, however, proved difficult. A brief inspection confirmed that said length was still... attached. I wrapped my hand with toilet paper (yes, there was toilet paper), grasped firmly, and pulled. Something soft and tubular had been holding it in place. For a moment, I panicked -- WTF was this? A tapeworm? Some important internal component? Nope, it was a perfectly undigested length of broccoli-thing. I spent the next fifteen minutes pulling silage out of my ringpiece. I used a lot of toilet paper. When you're stuck in the world's most tedious airport, I found this to be a curiously relaxing way of killing time. Zen and the Art of Bunghole Maintenance. After using a lot more toilet paper to clean up, it was pretty much time to get on the plane.
I couldn't help wondering why anybody would choose to incorporate something with no obvious food value into their cuisine. It later occurred to me that much less than 24 hours had elapsed between meal and poo, and I now have no doubt that Bruneians are the most regular and prolific poopers on the planet. They probably also have a vibrant toilet paper industry, which might explain the rampant deforestation of Borneo. For the sake of the planet, somebody needs to sell them some bidets.