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    Loves Error

    On the day that Han Jae-yi was returning to Germany, I had a one-day layover in Hong Kong for my flight. The time we landed at Hong Kong International Airport was 4 PM. After resting for a full day, I would return to Incheon at 5 AM the next day. This schedule was practically an overnight flight.

    The co-pilot on the same route looked very young. I was more curious about how many times he had sat in the cockpit than the total flight time. He kept swallowing dry saliva and repeatedly checked the checklist. At this rate, we might not even be able to take off until morning.

    “All 121 passengers have boarded.”

    The cabin manager entered the cockpit and reported. Ground checks were already completed, and hydraulic devices were in operation. The co-pilot was still struggling. I took the checklist from him.

    “Let’s do this together.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry.”

    “APU Test.”

    “APU Fire Clear.”

    “Landing gear check.”

    “Landing gear down clear.”

    I recited each item on the checklist and pointed to each instrument panel for him to see clearly. Doing it alone would be faster, but I didn’t want to deprive him of a learning opportunity. Training co-pilots was important. Pilots who had met many good captains grew quickly.

    The checklist was complete. He looked a bit relieved and asked me.

    “Should I request engine start clearance now?”

    “Yes.”

    -Tower, Coreana 882 heavy, requested clearance to start the engines. 

    While he was communicating, I instructed the cabin manager to close the door. The bridge that had connected us was leaving, and the plane was ready to enter the taxiway. After receiving clearance from the control tower, we started the engines and slowly taxied out. Our assigned runway was 10R.

    I asked the Co-pilot how many times he had taken off from Incheon Airport.

    “This is the third time today.”

    “What is your ATPL and total number of flights?”

    “That’s…it’s also the third time.”

    I smiled and reached for the thrust lever. I had expected that. It reminded me of Captain Jeon Seong-wook guiding me at Incheon Airport during my first flight after switching jobs. It had been a month since then. I had become accustomed to taxiing successfully after a few flights. I parked the plane at the end of the runway.

    -Coreana 882 heavy, wind 300 at 10R runway cleared for takeoff.

    We received clearance from the control tower.

    -Cleared for takeoff 10R, Coreana 882 heavy.

    The Co-pilot’s call out continued in a steady stream until the plane took off and climbed to 20,000 feet. Only when the autopilot engaged did he take a deep breath.

    “Were you nervous?”

    “Huh? Oh, yes.”

    He adjusted his glasses and looked at me.

    “Besides, I thought you were a foreign captain today.”

    “Ah.”

    “I’ve been super nervous since yesterday and… because my English is a little weak. On my first flight, I was paired with a foreign captain and thought I was going to throw up for like seven hours.”

    “Because it was boring?”

    “No, because they asked too many questions. PM, answer this, answer that. I thought my head was going to explode.”

    His language has turned raw because he’s relaxed. Pilots try to use as clear a language as possible when communicating in the cockpit. This is because all conversations are recorded in the black box. After working for ten years, my speech and expressions had become stiff. So, hearing a lively language after a long time was fascinating and enjoyable.

    “Captain, can I go to the restroom?”

    “Of course.”

    He unbuckled his seatbelt and left the cockpit. He was so nervous his stomach hurt. Now that I was alone, I listened intently to the comm channel. The estimated flight time was three hours and ten minutes. It had been a long time since I’d been to Hong Kong.

    When working towards a captain promotion, I used to visit Hong Kong more often than Korea. Back when I was still a Co-pilot, I didn’t even realize how tired I was and preferred East Asia routes. There were many events due to the heavy air traffic, which gave me a lot of experiences I couldn’t easily learn.

    The Co-pilot returned quickly. There were droplets of water on his glasses. He must have washed his face. I suddenly wanted to tease him.

    “Mr. Co-pilot, did you bring a spare pair of glasses?”

    “Huh? Oh, yes!”

    He showed me the spare glasses he had prepared like a student preparing for homework.

    A pilot’s eyesight can mean the difference between life and death for passengers, so pilots who wear glasses should carry a spare pair just in case. By the time a pilot becomes experienced, they tend to ignore such trivial regulations because no one checks. I sneakily checked to see if he had taken care of these matters well.

    As we climbed above the clouds, sunlight began to pour into the cockpit. I took out sunglasses from the belongings container. I had more than ten pairs of the same type.

    “Wow, Captain, those Ray-Bans look amazing on you. It’s like they just fit perfectly! It’s like an image that pops up when you search ‘pilot’ on the internet.”

    He was fussing to himself. His office manager walked in to ask about the meal, and he was shouting the same thing at her.

    He was making a fuss by himself. Just then, the cabin manager came in to ask about inflight meals, and he made the same comment to her, shaking his head.

    “He’s really handsome, or is it charming? Anyway, isn’t he the epitome of a pilot? Right?”

    “Yes, everything you said is correct. Since he’s already famous, take your time to admire him and get on with the menu.”

    “You decide.”

    “Uh, then can I have Korean food?”

    I laughed and said yes. I ended up eating a Chinese beef bowl.

    Certainly, the Korean Co-pilots I was meeting in the field were now coming from younger aviation schools. This meant that there was a generational shift, and the gateway to becoming a pilot was widening.

    Germany is the opposite. One of my fellow Co-pilots quit his job at the age of forty and moved to the United States. He paid his way through flight school, got his airline license, and became a Pilot. I admired his courage, which is rare, but I also admired his ability to combine hard work with late-found passion.

    While I was lost in my thoughts, the Co-pilot was on high alert for any communications on the public frequency. I tried not to talk too much during the flight so he could concentrate. We landed at Hong Kong International Airport ten minutes ahead of schedule.

    * * * 

    At the airport, I parted ways with the crew and took a taxi. I considered stopping by the hotel to change into my uniform, but I might be late. Wong’s shop closes when the ingredients run out at 6 p.m.

    The taxi was stuck at the entrance to Tsim Sha Tsui. Pedestrians and vehicles mingled together, making it difficult to move forward. I paid the driver and got out of the cab. I decided walking wouldn’t be a bad idea.

    I had a sort of fantasy about Hong Kong. When I first flew there about seven or eight years ago, I took a local staycation and spent a week there. I hear a lot of Chinese now, but back then most people only spoke Cantonese. Most people still speak English, but it’s much harder to find someone who speaks it well now. Wong’s English was also hard to understand at first.

    He was running a snack bar on the streets of Soho, right out of the movie Chungking Express. The first time I went to see the mid-level escalator, where tourists go up and down countless times, I had my bag stolen right next to me without even realizing it. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t even realize that someone had walked by me. Wong, who was watching from behind, started chasing the culprit.

    It was a mad dash down an 800-meter escalator. He raced past people to catch the pickpocket. When I arrived at the top, he handed me the recovered bag while catching his breath and said: you always have to stay alert.

    “I appreciate it.”

    “Oh, no need.”

    He shook his thick forearms and said he didn’t want money. He just wanted me to come to his shop and eat his wonton noodles. At the shabby makeshift restaurant where I followed him that day, I answered his question more than ten times if the noodles were delicious. I wasn’t being polite. They tasted so good that I wanted to pay ten times the price.

    From then on, whenever I flew to Hong Kong, I would visit Wong’s restaurant, some days with colleagues, some days by myself. Each time I went, his shop expanded a little more, and now I can’t eat there without waiting in line.

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