For some people, 11 weeks in an airport sounds like punishment (or a Tom Hanks movie). For Jaeger Mah, a videographer from Vancouver Island, it was a prize. He won the 80-day stint—complete with hotel room, food vouchers, and $15,000 stipend—in a celebration of the 80th anniversary of Vancouver’s YVR airport.
From August 17 to November 4, Mah slept at a Fairmont hotel (it’s in the airport, so it counts), shadowed airport workers, made lots of friends, and produced videos about the facility’s behind-the-scenes activity. Ooh, baggage conveyor belts!
Mah arrived with three Hawaiian shirts (his idea of looking like a tourist) and built a veritable online guidebook to the airport at [email protected] Now lugging home more than 30 bright Hawaiian shirts sent by fans, he spoke to us about the experience.
Which airport would you want to live in next?
I’ve thought about this a lot. JFK would be wicked, but I’ve kind of done the big North American airport. It would it be cool to go to an airport almost no one goes to, with dirt airstrips and amazing cargo coming through. Maybe somewhere in Peru, somewhere in northern China.
What is the coolest thing about YVR?
The architecture and design. Aesthetically, for the visitor, it’s one of the most beautiful airports. The international terminal is the wickedest thing in the world. They have a river that runs through the terminal, like a mini salmon-spawning stream.
Did you go play in the stream late at night?
I thought about it, but I looked at the water and I didn’t know if I wanted to put my feet in the water. But at the end of the creek is this 100,000-liter salt water tank. It contains over 1,000 species of marine life. There’s sea anemones, there’s salmon, rockfish, a wolf eel mating pair. To have a tank that big is no easy feat—there are three levels of pumps and levers and backup water. It takes millions of dollars.
What’s the best time of day at the Vancouver airport?
There’s always a little bit of a buzz first thing in the morning. You see people going to unique places, and most of the time they’re happy.
I’m not sure that the "happy" thing applies in American airports.
[Laughs] Maybe! But also you get this 3am rush; the VIP lounges become full from when the Asian carriers come in. There’s this awesome buzz.
What’s next for you? Avoiding the airport at all costs?
I’m going to Hawaii. My girlfriend planned it—I’m actually excited to go to Hawaii to check out their airport.