July 16, 2006
Sunday 2006-07-16 (Trip to Australia)
Part 1: To the airportToday has been a long day. It started out as a Saturday morning, in a relaxed enough manner, at 9:30am. The previous evening I had gone with some friends from work to the Mitama (Soul) Festival at Yasukuni Temple, near work. Since the evening was late, I decided to leave my computer and conference announcements in the office and pick them up before going to the airport on Saturday. Since I have a commuter pass to work, it doesn't cost me anything but time to get to work and back, so I didn't see much of a downside to running out there to fetch stuff again in the morning. I left home at about 10:30am, and returned home by about 1:30pm, bags in tow. I made a bacon omelet, re-checked the time of my flight, and realized it was an hour earlier than I planned. That meant trouble, since I thought I would leave at 4:30pm to get there at 6:30pm for a 9:30pm flight. I packed up in a rush, left home, and figured if I took the Narita express instead of the Keisei local line I could make it in time, although I would have to pay a bit more to get there. About three times more... On the way out I took the Oiimachi line to Oiimachi. A nice young woman sat down next to me and asked if I was on vacation. We chatted a bit, and it turns out that she was born and raised in Oyamadai -- I was really bummed that I didn't have a card of some sort because I don't know anyone locally, and it would be great to have a friend nearby. She didn't have a card either, but was hopeful that we could meet up again by chance after I return. I doubt it will happen though. She got off two stops later, in fashionable Jiyuugaoka. I was going to the end of the line, so our brief encounter lasted no more than 10 minutes, but I like thinking that I now have a friend, although unknowable to me, in Oyamadai. After she left, I realized that not only did I have a pen in my bag, with plenty of scrap paper, I have a whole bunch of cards in my bag as well. Worse, I think I left my air conditioner on. This trip is getting off to a bad start. (HTML does not seem to have a sarcasm tag. A few stops after convincing myself that I probably didn't leave my air conditioner on -- I at least turned out the light in the room with the air conditioner, why would I not turn off the air conditioner as well? -- I realized that the books I had ordered two weeks before to read on the airplane were still sitting on my bookcase back at home.
Part 2: At the airportI arrived at Narita at 4:30pm, with plenty of time to spare for my 8:10pm boarding. It's a good thing too: there was a very long line to get through security inspections. After getting through the security line, during which I read an e-book off of my ipod, I had another line to wait in to get my ticket exchanged. The ipod e-book was a nice find; I had forgotten that long ago I saw something about putting e-books on ipods and put a few on mine. I started "Monster Nation" (todo: look reference to this up later) and realized that the ipod is not really the best device for e-book reading. It was less awkward than the Treo 600, which I have used to read extensively on, but the batteries are eaten up at an insane pace. It has to spin up the hard drive for each file, and the note limit seems to be quite small in the bundled "Notes" application. The backlight for the ipod (Video iPod, first generation) is either on at full brightness, or off. When it is off it is hardly legible, unless in very strong light, and when it is on, it is very bright. An application that could stream-line text loading (who doesn't read linearly anyway?) and dim the backlight would do a lot to save the iPod battery. When I got up to exchange my ticket, I ran into a problem. Apparently, I need a Visa to go to Australia. I really should have looked this up myself, but I just assumed that the travel agent would have mentioned something if I needed a Visa. He did not, and it never occurred to me to check on that. After about a twenty minute wait, the JAL staff was somehow able to get me an e-visa, whatever that is, and proceeded to book me on the flight. See, this is why I like to come to flights very early. The same thing can be said of movies, classes (teaching or taking) and dates. I can't tell you how many times I've had to fill out a last minute e-visa to take a girl on a hot date. After getting my ticket, I headed to passport control. When my turn came to show my passport and supporting documents, I ran into another problem. Apparently I need a re-entry permit to re-enter Japan. I did ask my travel agent about this, showing him my passport and visa (Research type "multiple") and asking if that was ok for the trip. It was. It turns out that the Visa itself is valid, but since I didn't have re-entry permit permission, I would have to surrender my foreigner registration card upon re-entry (necessitating, of course, re-application for a new foreigner registration card, which isn't an easy or quick process. It took three weeks for the first one to come through!) For the mere sum of 3,000 yen and another thirty minutes of my time, I was able to get a rush form processed, and received the permit permission. I was warned that this would not be allowed a second time. Since I'm going to America in August, I'll have to find the correct office (somewhere in Tokyo) and fill out the proper forms in advance. Another disaster averted! I will repeat again that this is why I like to arrive places early. You never know when you might have to fill out an emergency permission form to be allowed re-entry. I can't tell you how many times I've had to fill out an emergency re-entry form while on a hot date... I had a little over an hour until the flight, so I found a convenient electrical outlet, and watched a (Law and Order:) "Conviction" episode on my laptop, while re-charging my rapidly dying iPod. Directly in my line of sight was a young lady who smiled at me a few times, so I happily returned the smiles to a fellow early-arriver. I hoped I didn't have to fill out any emergency smile-permit paperwork.
Part 3: In AustraliaI couldn't get a bit of sleep on the plane, as I forgot my inflatable travel pillow. I'm glad that I had a book to read on my iPod. Between the movie "Glory Road" and the iPod, I just about consumed the nine hour flight from Tokyo to Sydney. I finished the book just as the iPod's battery ran out. It was funny because watching the battery indicator drain as I read, moving from a leisurely to a hurried pace as it went from green to red, I felt like I was in a race to finish the story (regardless of the literary merits, which were not overly high) before the battery died. In the end, I just made it, and was rewarded with a nice ending to an interesting, but not entirely intellectual Zombie novel. Glory Road was an interesting movie, but I think heavily adapted to fit our modern times. The language was certainly changed to fit in with our more modern era, and I'm pretty sure that the basketball moves were as well. I can't really say because I haven't seen the games that the movie was based on, but I think they threw in a lot more modern-day style showboating than was likely being used back then. Still, it was an interesting, if predictable, movie. My major complaint was that the cinematographer and editor were clearly not basketball fans. I think I would have enjoyed just watching the games more myself. On the way out of the plane, by complete coincidence, as I descended the stairs from my upper-level seat, I found myself right next to my smile-buddy from the Narita terminal! It turns out that Carol, a Sydney native, was on her way back from a vacation in China, and had only changed planes in Tokyo. That explains why she was there early, compared to the rest of our flight (which boarded at 8:45pm instead of 8:10pm as was posted.) This is why I like to go to the airport early. You never know when you might run into a smile-buddy. This time I did remember my cards and pen in my bag, and we exchanged email addresses. We chatted for a while, then parted ways after Carol found her luggage, and I continued to wait for mine. The cabbie didn't know how to get to West End St., but called into the home office and got directions. I didn't have enough change to call Stephen once I got there, but found a shopping complex nearby, and bought some coffee and donuts. I've plenty of change now, and am just waiting until I can get Stephen on the phone. After writing all of this up, I'm pretty sure that I can give him a call now, at about 10:15am, since I think I woke him up with my earlier calls at 9:00am. Interestingly enough, if you put in 40 cents, which is not enough to complete a call, it will ring, let someone answer, and then the pay phone will cut you off.
Disaster strikes againAfter returning to the phones to call Stephen again, I realized that I have now lost the piece of paper with his phone number and Carol, my smile-buddy's, email address on it. Where could it have gone? I should have put it back in my bag where I've been keeping it, but it wasn't there. It wasn't at my table where I enjoyed my two small donuts, nor was it in the bathroom where I brushed my teeth (after buying a tooth brush and tooth paste) or near the phones where I've been making my calls. It was gone. Luckily, I still remember Stephen's mobile number, and Carol's email. A quick check of my email on the laptop, and I even remembered his number correctly. No real loss then, unless I have mis-remembered Carol's email address. I headed upstairs in the mall that I'm at, and found an electronics store that had a travel power converter. So I've bought a converter and am all set in that department. I just need to get in touch with Stephen and pay up for the room that I'm renting at his sister's place. I'll probably also have to find out if my Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ bank card will work in the ATMs here since things have been much more expensive than I anticipated. If it doesn't work, I'm sure my US bank card will work. While waiting in a more comfortable chair outside of the Go-Lo shop, I've struck up a conversation with the cashier there. He's a really congenial guy. Just when I sat down he was talking with a female customer who must be Japanese. He asked her how to say "You're beautiful" in Japanese. She first told him "Kirei desu ne", but after a few iterations and pronunciations she switched to "kawaii". Jayne (the cashier) is a really nice guy, and when he doesn't have customers we've chatted a bit more, and I confirmed that indeed, "Kawaii" means cute. I hope he got her digits. I'll see if he wants some outside help with fun Japanese phrases.
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