Friday, February 13, 2009

Best feeding

Every year or two I fly back to North America for a family reunion and this year, as my summer vacation approaches, I've started to fret about which airline to use. For the past 5 or 6 years we have flown with Korean Air (direct flights, smiling service, good food and, well, also because the air miles sort of sucked* us in**). So we fly Korean Air even though the incongruity is not lost on me - the fact that I, a card-carrying aviophobe, fly with an airline that former president Kim Dae Jung once referred to a "national disgrace" (after 11 airline accidents in a single decade) and which the United States Federal Aviation Administration (in 2001) decided to downgrade because of safety standards. Perhaps I'm a masochist? Secretly a thrill seeker? No. But I am a fan of people and organisations bettering themselves and KAL seems to have really improved standards. No more crashes, no more nasty runway incidents and, truly, I admire any team of flight attendants who can deal with tired travellers and secret smokers for 13 hours without faltering or breaking their pouring stride. Smile, smile, smile. Pour, pour, pour. They deserve my money.

But I'm starting to worry as summer approaches. My last trip home was on a crowded, noisy flight - direct to Toronto - and I was seated next to a middle aged gentleman who took a instant dislike to me and my offspring, constantly referred to me as "the foreigner", demanded a new meal (as in: different from mine), demanded a new seat, called the flight attendant a "18 yun" when she would not/could not find him a new seat - and finally stormed off to the washroom in a flurry of blustery cursing when I dared to BREASTFEED MY BABY. It was the breastfeeding that finally did him in, I think. He just sort of ... snapped and ranted and raved and ranted and raved. When we finally de-planed there were Serious Looking Officials detaining him at the exit gate, and as I scuttled past with my baby, I could hear him still freaking out about the indignities he was subjected to.

To the credit of the KAL staff, they were unfailingly polite to me, they apologised for the lack of extra seats, they remained firm but courteous to the ajjossi and did not get him a new meal. I find the fact that they did not give him a different meal most satisfying! But still. There's a part of me that wonders if that man would have been as openly rude to a Korean woman, or if breastfeeding would have been such a big deal on Air Scandinavia or something. I wonder if I should try a new airline this time. But not, you know, Delta Air.

Because this time - this time my baby is older - and can actually ask for milk. I'm not sure what will transpire if I'm seated next to an emotionally unstable man with a pronounced dislike of foreigners when my toddler says "Mama, can I have some 'latte'?". I'm not sure how sympathetic my flight attendants will be either. Breastfeeding is one of those grey areas that people don't really know how to categorize. Most people won't openly say that breastfeeding is wrong, or embarrassing or dirty - but it's still not considered table conversation; it's still spoken of in somewhat hushed tones, and we still use words like "nursing", politely and primly. Motherhood Uncensored has a great post up about a woman breastfeeding in Denny's and she rightly (I think) notes that "people are actually offended by the act of feeding a baby from the breast and just use the boob as an excuse. We're only annoyed with boobs when they're not doing what they've been told to do for way too many years - sit nicely in a push-up bra or pleasure our husband in the privacy of our own bedrooms".

Toddler nursing is even trickier and after my last trip home I'm starting to wonder if now mightn't be a good time to wean, or to switch airlines. Or - maybe I should just teach my child how to say "Gosh, this is really #@$% delicious! You should try some!" and see where that gets us. Perhaps, on a less crowded flight, we could get upgraded to Business Class.

The White Russians are on me!

** Because you never know when you might want a free hotel room in Waikiki.


White Rice said...

Welcome back. Excellent post.
I think Motherhood Uncensored nailed it: people who have a problem with public breastfeeding are worried their boob fantasy is somehow being cheapened. Odd. Personally I would rather sit next to a mom and kid than next to the guy who can't keep his bunghole closed befouling the air every 2 minutes on a 12-hour flight. But I do have kids and have to travel with them so I am more sensitive.
But rest assured (or unrest actually...) there is the same ajoshi on every flight on every airline. Next time you won't have to sit next to him.

Roboseyo said...

nice to see this blog posting again. Keep it up, and thanks for the stories.


Jennifer said...

What an asshole! It's funny, I nursed my older kid for 2.5 years and the younger for over 4 years, and the whole time I was just WAITING for someone to say something so that I could tell him off. And nobody ever did. (And I flew a lot too.) I hope the upcoming flights go better. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you get better neighbors...

On flying: the only problems I've had with people while flying have always been with bitchy flight attendants. Mostly on Northwest, though also United, Continental, and American. I've never ever had a bad experience with a flight attendant on KAL, Asiana, JAL, or Singapore, and I've also felt so grateful to those attendants for helping me out when I was traveling by myself with the kids. They held the baby for me so I could go to the bathroom, gave me meals out of turn, and in general have always shown great kindness and consideration. I know the safety record isn't as good, but those attendants made my life so much easier during all those trips so I can't say enough good things about them.

Crystal said...

I am a mother who thinks it is inappropriate to expose your breasts in public, unless you have no other choice. I think it is best to cover up or go to a lounge/restroom.

There is a time and a place for everything. Exposing one's private parts in a public setting isn't right. I know breastfeeding is natural and normal, but so our man other bodily functions. Discretion is important. Besides, you wuld not expose your breast to this ajosshi if you weren't breastsfeeding, in fact it could get you put in jail. Yet, as long as a baby is attached, all of a sudden it is ok for male strangers to see your breasts?

I think many mothers use this as an excuse for attention. Especially some of the plainer looking mothers.