Twelve years ago last week, Hong Kong’s legendary Kai Tak Aiport closed. The infamous runway 13 ran jutted into the harbor, and to help navigate tricky landings, pilots used a red and white checkerboard etched into a nearby mountain as their cue to turn 47 degrees in the final approach.
No wonder pilots flying into Kai Tak needed 20 years of international flight experience.
To many in Hong Kong, even those who never stepped foot on a plane, Kai Tak also played an important role. Because Hong Kong is so crowded and housing so cramped–and loud–students used to gather in the aiport to study at night.
My best friend lived near Kai Tak, so when I had early flights, I stayed with her and walked to the airport. We were often the welcoming committee for friends and acquaintances flying through or moving to Hong Kong to look for a job.
My mom and her family traveled through Kai Tai in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but I suspect little had changed there by the time I first flew into the airport in 1990. There was nothing 21st century about Kai Tak, but that was part of its charm.
I flew out of Kai Tak for the last time in late February 1998. Four months later, it closed for good.