How an airport became Tahir Square

How an airport became Tahir Square
Passengers line up at the security check at Narita Airport Terminal 2.

TOKYO - In what I consider to be my bad luck quotient filled for the year, I was trapped in Narita Airport last month as the worst snowstorm in two decades hit Tokyo.

After a massive struggle getting to the airport, I buckled into my seat thinking with relief of the balmy, snow-free clime awaiting me.

Three movies, six hours, and a series of increasingly despairing updates from the pilot about "de-icing equipment" and wind strength" later, we were told to get off the plane.

It was 2am, the curfew for planes at Narita to take off, and we had missed it.

We trudged off the plane and were met with sleeping bags, beef jerky and tinned corn and told to wait for further information.

The following 24 hours convinced me that these sort of limbo crises reveal national characteristics as surely as they do individual character.

Two flights, one to Singapore, the other to Taipei, had been cancelled.

Both were filled with two kinds of passengers, those who were departing from Tokyo, like me, and those in transit from the US. They had already been travelling for even longer.

As the hours ticked by and each new PA announcement only specified a time half an hour in the future when more information would be available, the tension in the departure area grew along with the body odour.

The snow swirled and the beef jerky packets littered the ground.

The Taiwanese were incensed and reacted as incensed Taiwanese do: They mounted a mass demonstration. Soon, I forgot my own irritation and just stood watching them, as if boarding gate 18A was Tahrir Square.

One guy, whose advantage was that he could speak English, was chosen as the leader, and his first rule to the group was that everyone stayed united. "As long as we stick together, they cannot ignore or defeat us," he said in Mandarin. His little son skipped around the group shouting "minzhu kangyi! minzhu kangyi!" (democratic protest!)

They chanted slogans, (I don't know how they came up with succinct slogans that meant something like "book us on the next flight or full refunds including hotel costs" but the Chinese language is a beautiful thing) but never became unruly or violent. They also graciously followed what I imagine to be the rules of the protest game.

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