Amusement for plane ol’ nerds
In case you didn’t know, I am, and am married to, an airplane nerd. Airplanes make me happy – their power, gracefulness, and ability to take us above the clouds. I spent my early childhood under the approach path for one of the world’s busiest airports. We even got engaged overlooking Atlanta’s north runway. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when most of an afternoon on a beautiful tropical island was spent plane watching.
On Phu Quoc, the runway is squeezed in between the beach and a big hill. There is a road that runs along one end of the runway, and it, ever so conveniently, has benches along it. We knew the Air Mekong plane would be coming in around 4:25pm, but worried that it might be early and we would miss it. So, we got there around four, and made our plan. Jonathan had the camera with the better video, so he would stand off to the side for the wide view. I found dead center of the runway and waited there with the other camera.
Then, baking in the warm sun, I did my other favorite kind of watching – people watching. As we sat there it seemed half the island went driving, pedaling, and walking past. We watched as barefoot boys erected two poles connected by string at either end of a dirt patch and started a soccer match. Watched the boats cruise along the coast. Everyone seems to be in high spirits with the holiday approaching. They smile and wave at us. Two little boys walk by holding hands (same-sex physical affection is very common) and chatting to each other. Couples pass on motorbikes arms laden with bright yellow Tet flowers, gift baskets, and food.
On the islands there are a lot more bicycles than motorbikes and it’s common to see two friends riding together, one sitting on a small seat over the back tire, one on the main seat, and all four feet sharing the job of pumping the pedals. Sometimes a third person even squeezes in between the driver and the handlebars.
I got my geography and aviation lessons for the day so I could know which direction the plane would be coming from and why. I also learned that all the airports have people who, as the plane comes within range, drive out on motorbikes, make circles at each end of the runway, and then take positions in four huts spaced along the runway. Jonathan suspects their job is to make sure the runway is clear of debris and animals (which led to a disturbing discussion about what size animal a plane could hit and still successfully take off,) but it could also be part of Vietnam’s ‘Everyone Must Have a Job’ plan.
Finally, all this waiting for those few seconds when the plane is roaring over our heads and we can nearly touch its belly. The sound is awesome and deafening. It goes by so quickly we hardly have time to admire, much less properly photograph it.
While I have you, I should clarify that I would not be out there waiting for just any plane to land. The only other planes that fly into Phu Quoc are turbo-props. Most, if not all, of them are ATRs – more commonly known to me as The Devil in Airplane Form. I would not submit myself to the sunburn from waiting for such a cumbersome looking plane that was going to drone me to death as it flew over. Just saying…
We decided to wait another thirty minutes for them to leave hoping against hope that we would be able to feel a little tiny blast of the jet engines as they took off. We did not feel it, but believed that we were at least entertaining to our pilot friends as they taxied down the runway toward us. Even if they weren’t entertained, I know the locals at least got a little amusement out of the two gringos standing on benches and frantically flailing their arms.