August 28 – 29th, 1992

It was a sweltering day in Hong Kong. It’s always a sweltering day in Hong Kong in the summer time. The kind of climate that makes a white shirt black and a black shirt just plain oppressive. My mum sat on leaning against the kitchen door, my dad was looking at the floor. I was calmly playing Abba’s “Fernando” on the electric piano for my folks one last time. They like Abba. I didn’t really have a say in that choice.

At least this time was better than the day before.

“Hi I’m checking into my flight to Toronto.”
“Passport please! … I’m sorry sir, we cannot let you on the flight”
“Why not?”
“You do not have a visa.”
“But I do, I have my student visa for Canada”
“Oh but sir, you are Sri Lankan Citizen, you need Transit Visa through the United States”
My flight went through Detroit. Northwestern Airlines. A 747.

And that precipitated a rather hasty passage to the US Embassy, a long line, a bemused visa official, a stamped passport, another MTR trip to the Jardines Travel Agency and a change of flight (for free) for the next day.

This time around, I really was going.

Boarding time in Kai Tak airport in 1992. Kai Tak’s rubbery black floor makes it a sparse experience and me with only a couple friends to say goodbye. I had already seen most of the others off in the previous weeks. The list of places that would see our footsteps was not a list of where, but a list of where not: Sydney, Australia, Providence RI, London UK, Vancouver BC, Delhi, France you name it.

My mum cries. My dad waves. I’m off.

Tokyo to Detroit, I explain to the poor woman sitting next to me, and then I’m going to Saint John. You know named after the Patron saint of fisherman. I’ll be doing Biochemistry at this university called Memorial. Oh I know, it’s not world famous, but I think it’s cool you know. It’s in a place called New Found Land. Oh and that’s because it was one of the first colonies of the British Empire you know. She ignores me from then on.

In Detroit, I have to navigate through International to Domestic terminals. It’s all a blur but it’s cool. I arrived an hour earlier than when I left. The same day. That’s freakin’ awesome!

In Toronto, my student visa is checked. I enter into the arrivals hall. There’s so many boards of people looking for people arriving to go to school. A woman from the University of Toronto international affairs office makes a beeline to me, she has this pin on her shirt that says welcome to Canada. I’m obviously an international student. I rather imperiously say, I’m off to Memorial… sorry you have the wrong person.

Next I’m in front of the Air Canada counter and waiting to get onto the flight to St. John’s. Oh dear, definitely didn’t get that right did I? The woman at the counter looks at the last sheaf of my long ticket. These are the days of printed tickets still.

“You’ve had a long day!”
“Yes Ma’am, I’m very tired” I replied. I think she gave me a very nice seat on the plane, but I slept.

Four hours later I arrived in St. John’s at almost midnight. Bewildered, I descended onto the tarmac and looked around at home. My first impression: It was very dark compared to Hong Kong.


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