Monday, May 10, 2010

School Feild Trip and My Crazy Journey Back to America!

Wow, what a whirwind! In the past two weeks I`ve been on a school field trip, attended a conference, visited two zoos, traveled over 20,000 miles, and that`s just for starters! Where to begin?

Let`s start with the school trip to Universal Studios Japan on April 21st. I was along as a “cultural ambassador” to explain about all the American culture, since the theme park is based on American movies. But apart from playing English word games on the bus, nobody really wanted to listen, of course. They just wanted to have fun! So I found myself alone, which I was thankful for because I wasn`t feeling so great. I mostly just wandered and watched the shows. The most interesting one was the statue dance. I didn`t get any good videos, but here`s a picture. Can you tell she`s alive?

Here`s a close up; I bet you can tell now.

Basically a “living statue show” presents men and women dressed and painted to look like metal or plaster sculptures. Sometimes they just stand there and wait for innocent passerby to play tricks on. Other times there`s a story that they follow. In this show, the woman was supposed to be the statue attached to the ship. At noon every day, she comes alive and dances with one of the sailors, but he has to get her back to the front of the boat before the ship sets sail or the magic disappears. Something like that. It`s all pantomime. Pretty interesting.

I spent Saturday being sick, and Sunday went to church with Li to check out the Catholic church he likes. It seems like a good place, which he was relieved to hear. Christian cults and strange doctrines are really common in Asia, and he wanted to make sure this wasn`t one of those churches.

The following Thursday the real craziness began! I didn`t have to catch my flight until noon, so I was planning on not leaving my apartment until 8:30, but I couldn`t sleep past 6:00am, and something told me I better leave early. Boy am I glad I did! Because I had the Osaka Kansai 3-day pass that only works with private railways, I decided to use that instead of my standard Japan railways and bus to get to the airport. And stupid me, I looked up the directions for Osaka airport instead of Osaka Kansai airport! So while I was getting lost on the private trains, I happened to run into another American and asked him for directions to the Osaka airport.

“Oh, my friends and I are just headed there ourselves,” he said. “Where are you going? Tokyo?”

“Well, eventually Oklahoma,” I replied. And then it clicked. Osaka airport is for domestic flights only. I had to go to Osaka Kansai, KIX. How could I be so dumb! I nearly burst into tears but the man pointed in the right direction. I took the Nankai airport express train and got there in another hour.

It was 11:00, exactly one hour before my flight would leave, and I was in a panic. Since I had an international destination, I thought my check in would be closing. I went to my airline, ANA, on the second floor and they told me to go to the fourth floor. I went to the fourth floor and they told me to go back down to the second because my first destination was to Tokyo.

“Oh, but there is no flight going to Tokyo Narita today at noon,” said the check in lady.

I could feel the blood rushing from my face. “What?”

“There`s no such flight.”

That`s when I actually did burst into tears. I had bought my tickets online, and they were unusually expensive. Most likely “I had been had.”

The poor Japanese woman bowed several times. “Don`t panic! I`ll go get help!”

So I stood there waiting, trying to control my emotions for the next ten minutes until she finally ran back. She tried to explain some things in rapid Japanese, but I barely understood a word. Finally she said in English, “OK, go back down to the second floor and they will check you in.”

“Please come with me!” I begged. “I don`t understand what`s going on and I can`t afford for this mix up to go on any longer or I`ll miss my flight!”

She finally agreed and took me back where she explained the situation in Japanese to the attendant. She nodded and almost made me get in back of the line, but I simply pointed to my watch and she let me go in front. They checked in my bag and I headed for the gate number they gave me. It had the right departure time listed, but I noticed the destination sign read “Tokyo Haneda.” My connecting flight to the U.S. was from Tokyo Narita.

Wait, does Tokyo have two airports like Osaka? I wondered. Not this mix-up again!

I went up to the flight attendant waiting in front of the gate and asked her, in Japanese, where is this flight going?

“Tokyo,” she said.

“Tokyo Narita?”

“Tokyo Haneda.”

Don`t panic, I told myself. Just breathe.

I struggled to tell her I needed to go to Tokyo Narita. In my panic I forgot the construction for“need to go” (just add "nakedebanaranain desu" to the end of the conjugated verb "to go") so I simply cried, “Tokyo Narita hosindes. Watashiwa Tokyo Narita o idimas!” (Want Tokyo Narita; I need Tokyo Narita! probably with totally wrong grammar) and showed her my connecting flight information. Her eyes widened and she looked very worried. She got on the phone and there was more rapid fire Japanese, more running flight attendance, more panic and worry until she finally turned back to me and said I would have to take a bus from Hanata to Narita.

“How long does it take?” I asked.

“About one and a half hours, maybe more.”

My only hope for seeing my family and not loosing $2,145 was to catch the 2:10 bus. But by this time the plane was already running half an hour late (not because of me, but a delay in it`s previous departure). Even if by some miracle I caught that bus, it would give me less than an hour before my plane left. And that was if things ran smooth as silk and I didn`t get lost trying to find the bus station in downtown Tokyo or in the airport or anywhere else. In my experience, this was a 0 to 100 bet. International flight check ins close one hour before departure.

Still, what could I do, turn back? Furious with cheapo air (yes, that`s the name of the company I bought the tickets from, and they were anything but cheap), I boarded the plane. No where on my ticket information did it say I had to change airports like that. The whole way to the Haneda, I panicked, praying constantly that God would somehow make this work. And as soon as those plane doors opened, I shot outside to the bus that would take us to the international terminal. I almost missed the Japanese flight attendant, and would have if she hadn`t grabbed my arm.

“Are you the girl bound for Narita?” she asked in perfect text-book English.


“I am here to guide you.”

What comforting words! I breathed such a sigh of relief I probably lost a pound of air. She led me through baggage claim to the bus station, which was luckily inside the airport itself, and then to the bus. The bus had been delayed by ten minutes, and I caught it at 2:20. With little traffic, we arrived at 3:30, exactly one hour before my flight. And by another miracle, the woman I sat beside happened to also be going on a United airlines flight to the U.S. We spent a pleasant hour on the bus conversing in Japanese, and then she led me where I needed to go.

But when I ran inside the terminal, I nearly despaired again. A colossal line half a kilometer long stretched from the United Airlines check in to the doors of the terminal. And it was moving slowly. Very slowly.

I rushed to the front and tried to petition the attendant. She waved me away. “Must get in back, okaksama (honorable costumer). Must wait turn.”

I have a theory. As we grow up, we don`t shed our past ages. The elderly still have their middle years inside them and one could easily blame mid-life crises on a resurgence of the teenage years. At that moment, as I so embarrassingly and often do under stress, I reverted to my three-year-old self and once more burst into another rather pathetic sobbing spell.

A note to stressed and delayed travelers: the Japanese can`t handle tears. If you want something bad, really bad, just turn on the leaky faucet. Works every time.

“Ok, Ok, go, go!” the woman practically pushed me through the roped barricade. And it`s a good thing too, because at that moment I heard the United attendant shout,

“Last call for United flight to Chicago.”

“That`s meeeee!” I screamed, and sprinted to the counter. I can`t imagine what the calm, patient Japanese people waiting in line must have thought. Crazy gaijin. Always running late. Why can`t they just get a good dose of zen like the rest of us? Of course, they`re one to talk. The Japanese run everywhere they go. Before I came to Japan I thought that was just something people did in video games and anime. Nope. Most of what you see on Japanese TV is true. Minus the gigantic humanoid robots.

So I got to the gate just as they were closing the doors. By yet one more stroke of God`s grace, the plane was late. I thought my panic time was over, only to realize that due to all the delays, I only had a one hour layover time at the Chicago airport where I would have to uncheck and recheck my baggage. And the line at customs was almost as long as the previous check in. But can you believe it? I ran into another American couple in line and they drew me a map exactly where I needed to go. All I had to do was throw my bag on the conveyor belt and run. Once more the flight was delayed, and I made it just in time.

And so it was that after many prayers, tears, and ounces of sweat, I made it to my home in Tulsa, Oklahoma in one piece. You`ll find out what I did when I got there in my next, hopefully “coming soon,” post.

1 comment:

Mistress of the Manse said...

Wow, Laura! What a grueling journey! Sometime, I must hear all about it.

What's funniest about this is that in the past year you have been quite the international traveler - all over Asia, different destinations and different kinds of vehicles. And the trip that you would expect to be simple - just going back home - turned into a nightmare. Amazing.