Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tales from the Field: A pig in a plane

Image of a painting of a rooster and a pig painted by James Shumate, Artist, 881 Elk Run Estates Dr., Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, USA, Tel: +1-304-535-2235, http://muralsandyou.com, this picture found at http://muralsandyou.com/_wsn/page10.html and used with the permission of the copyright holder
Dear Gentle Reader,

The last time I was flying in Vietnam was over 10 years ago. But, there were four surprising aspects of that flight that are worth repeating (at least, I think they are worth repeating).

First, I discovered that animals are well treated in Vietnam.  

There was no business class, and, apparently, I was flying livestock class.

A small pig boarded the plane in front me, as did a raucous rooster. 

A pig and rooster would be OK if we were on a boat.  

Neither pigs nor roosters, according to folk tradition, can swim, so Western sailors would tattoo a rooster onto their right leg and a pig onto their left leg. 

If the sailor fell overboard, these animals would want to get out of the water as quickly as possible, just like the sailor.  So, and I am hazy on the proposed mechanism here, they (the tattoos of the pig and the rooster) would help the sailor get back into the boat quickly and help keep the sailor from drowning.

So, a pig and a rooster would be understandable on a boat, maybe, but why on a plane? 

Thank goodness, I thought, that I am not flying cattle class.

The pig simply ran up and down the aisle. This, of course, made it very easy to get to your seat.

I discovered that pigs are a bit like dogs.  They try to sniff your crotch when you go by them. But they are much stronger than dogs, and harder to move.

Most unusual, most embarrassing, ...that was surprise number one.

Surprise number two would be the rooster, and its roost.  

The person sitting in front of me (I kid you not) was the person who came on with the rooster.

Roosters, it turns out, are noisier on planes than infants who don't understand that swallowing will ease the pain in their ears caused by the pressure differentials at takeoff and landing.  

Anyway, this person with the rooster, sitting in front of me, started shoving overhead bags out of the way (alternate reading, out of his way) to put his rooster in the overhead compartment. 

My overhead bags were being shoved around. Gentle remonstrations on my part failed to have this gentleman stop.

The rooster managed to get a spur tangled in some wires and as the rooster's owner was yanking luggage one way and another, and yanking the rooster as well, some brightly coloured electrical wires came loose (!) from some ad hoc connections in the back or top of the luggage compartment.

Ultimately, these loose electric cables were caught in the door when the overhead compartment was finally shut.

This would comprise surprise number two.

I went to find the steward and make gentle remonstrations at a higher level.

I thought that dislodged, electric airplane cables, hanging out from the overhead compartment, would be a spur to action, if not a call to arms.

I was correct.

The steward came, opened the compartment, reorganized people's baggage to more effectively pen in the rooster (?) and then he yanked out the "offending" wires. (!)

Voila, surprise number three had hit your scribe. 

Animals were treated to fine flying conditions, but the condition of the plane's cables was apparently of no great concern. OK.  

Well, not really OK.  

I was fretting. Hitherto unknown fears starting coming into my brain...

I had never worried about plane crashes before, but now I was.

I tried not to worry about what those wires might have been controlling. Ailerons? Flaps? Rudder? Spoilers? Elevators? Lights? Landing gear? What?

I ordered a drink, wishing the airline had three-toed lizard hooch, after the plane taxied off.

The window seat was empty, so I moved to it.  I did not have much a view, because the wing was beside me, but if that overhead compartment opened, the last thing I wanted was to have a rooster drop on my head.

My drink arrived and I watched the humid forest canopy sail by in front of the plane, to suddenly disappear underneath the wing.

I swirled my gin and tonic, and contemplated what I was charging my client for this trip.  

I was further trying to decide if I could expense a new jacket to replace the one that was assuredly going to be spoiled by the rooster, which I had forgotten up top but I dared not open the compartment to retrieve my jacket, even though I now knew I had an empty seat beside me.

Staring into my drink offered no solutions, so I returned to staring out the window.

Which is when surprise number four reared its ugly, aluminum head.

Now, you do not hammer nails into airplane wings.  The nails would not stay.

You don't screw things into them.  Some idiot would inevitably overtighten one screw and diminish the strength of the wing at that point, leading, again inevitably, to catastrophic sudden failure one day.

No, what you do is you take rivets and drop them into liquid nitrogen. 

Remember science labs?  Hot things expand or get bigger; cold things contract or get smaller...  

Well, at sea level in a hangar, liquid nitrogen stays liquid from about 63 to 77 Kelvin (which is the same as -210°C to -196°C or the same as      -346°F to -321°F).  

This stuff is cooler than your average slurpee (the coolest drink in the world, an ice/soda mixture popular in North America, for my European friends, but really, check out the link, but be warned, there is sound, although that is the point of the link...).   

So, an aircraft technician drops a rivet into liquid nitrogen.  The rivet gets cold, ergo it also contracts or becomes smaller.  

The aircraft technician plucks the rivet out of its liquid nitrogen bath and then pushes the rivet into a hole in the aircraft's fuselage that matches up (or mates with) other holes in other parts or sheets that are being attached.

Over time, not much, the rivet heats up (generally, earth is a lot hotter than -196°C or -321°F), the rivet expands and then locks everything into place.

Now, that might be a surprise, but it was not surprise number four.

Some movement on the wing caught my eye.  

Sort of like a visual pop.

Then again.  

Then another visual pop, with a dull, matte, reflective sheen.

It must be reflections from my watch or my glass, I thought.

I looked at the ice in my glass again, swirled my drink, took a sip/gulp, then sneezed it out my nose in surprise as I realize that cold riveted bolts had popped out along a wing seam.

Well, I landed safely, or I would not be blogging today.  

And I took a boat back, instead of the plane.

But, the popping out of the rivets of death was definitely surprise number four.

OK, until next time,

Chris, Regina, and Pommes


Steady-as-rain said...

Great story. Did the pig poop in the aisle-way? (You know, I reading about Wellington and Napoleon, and when they had 50,000 soldiers all in one place for a battle, with no mobile flush plumbing, why the battle-field and surrounding environs must have been quite ... well, gamey, even before they started killing each other and then dying of infected wounds, etc.)


Junosmom said...

I think this story has merit just for the unexpected weirdness for most Westerners that animals might be allowed on a commercial flight and the concern about this airline's safety. Unfortunately, I can tell you first hand why (the smell) roosters should not be allowed on planes.

Any hints as to where the hits are originating (which country?)

Paul H. said...

That's a pretty funny and weird story. I think flying in Viet Nam has come a long way in the past ten years. Viet Nam airlines may be overpriced monopoly, which everyone seems to dis, but its' a fairly comfortable way to travel these days.

I hope I'm not misreading some of the sarcasm in your post. Your line about animals being treated well in Viet Nam is kind of far out. I spent a year in Viet Nam and never had that impression. The typical chain length for a cat is about 3 feet.

Of course, your story deals with a rooster and a pig. Those animals definitely have a commercial value. No one wants to be responsible for harming either as they would have to compensate the owner.

Sure cats and dogs are still eaten in Viet Nam, but mine had to fly cargo class. Away from hungry eyes.

Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Paul H.,

I agree wholeheartedly with you, and you did not miss much.

This story dates back about a decade ago.

I actually just returned, today, from a week in Cambodia via Vietnam Airlines. I plan on commenting on Tuesday about that... Tomorrow I will take a look at cuisine...

If you liked this story, check out the subject lines "cockroaches" or "spiders"... You might like those...

Thank you very much for leaving your comment. I would visit your site to reply but cannot because it is blocked by your privacy levels.

All the best,

Sepiru Chris said...

Paul H.,

Did I read that correctly?

Did you take cats and dogs, plural of both, to Vietnam? We have (or rather, are owned by) one cat that accompanies us on jaunts around the world; that is headache enough when complying with various animal importation laws.

I applaud you for attempting multiple entries.


Paul H. said...

Oops. That wasn't very clear. I don't own a dog, but I do have 3 cats that follow me around Asia. They're not adventurous types but they do settle in quickly.

Sepiru Chris said...

Ahh! Paul H. equals Paul Hackett the writer/director...

I have you on my list of links; you write well.

I have even included you on a page of links I sent out to writers once, maybe you received extra traffic, maybe not.

An animal-carting, guitar-playing Canadian sinophile who travels around Asia and Europe and speaks at least some Chinese... we might be too alike to get along...

Where in Asia are you based now and how did that last screenplay go (you blogged about it a while ago)?

Should we be in the same town at the same time, a beer might be nice.

I trust that you did not need to buy nine feet of chain for your triumvirate; ours, unfortunately, is kept indoors for the first time in his life, but this is Hong Kong, and the buttons on the elevator are too far for him to reach.

Cheers, and thanks for visiting,

PS You can well imagine why I might have wanted to put an image of a downed plane into the post, although it would have been the visualisation of an aside...

Paul H. said...

I'm in Singapore for the next six months or so. I visit HK periodically so we should hook up for a beer whenever our paths cross.

I have to say the more I fly the less I like it. As the plane fills up I often find myself thinking "I've flown many times before and this isn't the way it's supposed to be."

This is a long time ago, but I once flew in China where they didn't assign seating. Everyone just got a blank boarding pass. You can imagine what happened when they opened the doors. Everyone started pushing the same way they do to get on a bus or train. You've got to figure everyone is going to get a seat. But I joined the pushing anyway because I wanted to sit next to the person I was traveling with.

Crazy. Things have come a long way since then. But sometimes I miss not-traveling.

Sepiru Chris said...


I remember those flights in China very well.

A gentleman I knew once took a chair with him onto the plane because the staff, rightly, told him there were no seats left. Yet he had to be at the destination. So he took a rattan chair onto the plane and set it up in the aisle and sat in it.

And those were the days when that worked.

Ahh. Cowboy time.

I miss those days.