"We spoke in Irish, not knowing that the Japanese man across the table did as well..."

JMcMahon.jpgSeptember 1, 2009
Frequent Flier

That's Why It's Called the International Date Line

  of the New York Times

EVER since I was a kid in Ireland watching jet trails disappear over the Atlantic, I dreamed of becoming part of commercial aviation. As a result of my chosen career, that wish has come true. And as a result, I have had the privilege of flying all over the world.

I love all airplanes, but I have to admit to a soft spot for planes that capture the imagination and the spirit of the future. Aircraft like the supersonic Concorde (now sadly retired), which allowed you to land in New York an hour before you left London, or the original "jumbo jet," the Boeing 747, with its ability to carry 400 people in spacious comfort from continent to continent, or the new Airbus 380, where those lucky enough to travel in first class can take a shower before retiring to a big double bed.

Though I didn't take my first flight until I was 17 years old, I have made up for lost time.

In the early '90s, I spent two years commuting to Japan for work. The outward leg was straightforward: I would leave from Shannon on Monday mornings for London and then on to Tokyo. Because Tokyo is nine hours ahead in terms of time, I would arrive in Tokyo on a Tuesday morning.

The return leg became very complex. I blame that complexity on love.

The flights from Tokyo to London left in the mornings. So returning meant that I would have to leave Tokyo on Saturday morning, and because of a nine-hour time difference, I would arrive in Ireland late on a Saturday night. That left me little time for my girlfriend.

So in order to get a two-day weekend with her, I left Tokyo on Friday evening, and flew to New York City. Since I crossed the international date line, I would arrive in New York at just about the same time that I left Tokyo. In other words, it was still Friday in the United States. Then I would take a quick hop across the Atlantic, back to Shannon. That gave me two full weekend days with my girlfriend.

Fortunately all the flying paid off. We got married and in due course moved to Tokyo. This avoided the long-distance commuting and also gave us the opportunity to explore exotic Asia.

Because I'm generally in such a good mood when I fly, I often engage in conversation with my seatmates. It's always amazing to me that when I say "I'm from Ireland," chances are good that my seatmate is going to ask if I know someone from there. I realize it is a small country in comparison with America and other countries, yet I am always amazed that often there is indeed some Irish connection, whether that's a favorite haunt or some link to some person.

Perhaps one of the strangest experiences I've had recently was on a business trip to Japan. I am proud of my Irishness and I do speak Irish Gaelic, as does my business colleague.

During our meeting we were with several Japanese businessmen, who employed an English translator to help with negotiations. During a quick break, one of the Japanese businessmen overheard my colleague and me speaking to each other in Irish Gaelic. This man's English was not that good. But I was amazed to find that he was very fluent in, of all things, Irish Gaelic. He was absolutely thrilled that he found some native speakers of the language, and we had such fun talking to each other in Gaelic.

And that just goes to show that an Irish connection can be found just about anywhere. Even among Japanese businessmen.

By John McMahon, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: joan.raymond@nytimes.com.

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