On our return-to-Bali flight at the end of Spring Break 2013, we hadn’t been allotted the most amusing family seat configuration, which puts the 2, 3, or now 4-year old alone in a seat all by herself aisles away from her parents. When I first realized this actually happens, after some uptightness at the desk with airline workers shrugging their shoulders and letting me know it was the only possible seat assignment, I have learned to roll with it, plopping Zoe down in her assigned seat, then retreating to my aisle far away while mentioning to those sitting near Zoe that she might need some assistance with a few things during the flight. Amazingly, without fail, within a few seconds someone always volunteered to change seats with me!
This Spring Break, returning from our short trip from Jogjakarta, Java to Denpasar, Bali, I was winging it alone on the starboard side of the aircraft. Chad was the filling of the sandwich between the kids in the middle of the 3-row aisle directly across from me, happily rigging up a video to watch with Ethan and Zoe on the mini-travel player that has proved time and time again it is more than worth its weight in gold.
Two Indonesian women joined me in my row. I assumed they were rookie fliers for a few reasons – first they couldn’t find their seats then they struggled to figure out how to get to their seats with me already ensconced in my book in the aisle seat. I stood up quickly and scuttled toward the back of the plane, giving them free reign to find their way and settle their bags before I sat down again. I opted for the, “I’m more interested in my book than meeting you” approach to making friends on the airplane, so I smiled, nodded acknowledgement and settled into a 1-hour blissful solo-time quiet reading session.
Part of holding my book open entailed me firmly planning my elbow on both armrests – one aisle side and one shared with the elder of the two Indonesian women in my row. After a brief but subtle silent elbow war, I prevailed and took command of the armrest for the duration of the flight. I’m not sure if it was the loss of territory or some sort of cultural difference that I have, until now, been completely unaware of, but about 20 minutes into the flight my seatmate began freely repeatedly belching loudly. That’s right. Her burps were akin to a “just downed a cold brew after a long bike ride” burp on a hot summer day, but worse. There was nothing subtle about them. There was no mouth coverage, no attempt to mask the sound with a hand or arm movement. There was no verbal acknowledgment of the belch with a surprised, “Excuse me” in any language. There was simply a visceral explosive sharing of rotten gut air in our small semi-enclosed shared space. I wondered if the Mrs. from Indonesia had a different view of her airplane space. Her demeanor was sort of a Las Vegasesque “what happens in 21-E stays in 21-E mentality” as if she’s encased in an invisible bubble. I don’t know. What I do know is I was grossed out and I looked longingly over at Papa Chad with his ear buds firmly in place, giggling along with the kids at the silliest scenes of Madagascar III on their shared tiny screen.
Upon arriving in Bali, I asked Ketut if he knew if burping was considered polite or impolite in Java. He suggested across the archipelago of Indonesia it was considered impolite and if a burp slipped out a simple “Excuse me” would suffice. A quick Google search on the etiquette of belching in Java had me lost in cyberspace for long enough to realize the idea of a quick search on this topic was oxymoronic and one that needed to be aborted quickly. So, this minute life experience will have to be archived in the ‘unsolved mysteries’ folder for now, unless anyone out there has insight into what I perceived to be crude eructations from my fellow traveler.