Friday, August 29th
New City Hotel, Nishi-Shinjuku
Those words don't convey much on their own. But when "here" is understood to be "on the other side of the planet," damn the semantics. Japan is no longer "there," it's "here." That is awesome.
Yesterday I spent the day packing. I wanted to travel as light as possible, so there was a lot of saying goodbye to treasured possessions I had hoped to be able to bring. Lots of cleaning up so that I wouldn't leave behind too big of a mess. Lots of loose ends to tie up. With so much to do, it was convenient that time seemed to pass slower the more I anticipated the next day. I finished everything up at the reasonable hour of midnight, and went to bed.
Usually when I go to bed, I need to listen to some music or podcasts to get my eyes shut. Last night, I didn't bother. I laid down in my freshly turned bed, and looked out the window. I could see a single star shining through the smog, and tracked it as I thought about what lay ahead. Was I ready? Did I forget anything? How's the flight going to go? I marveled at how far I was going to travel, something on the order of 5000 miles. The starlight twinkled at me as if to brag, "miles? Try light-years!"
Moments of clarity like that do not come to me often, and I knew that I wouldn't get another one for a long time to come (for about a year, to be precise). I rolled over and went to sleep.
My alarm was set for 8:00 in the morning (I needed to leave the house at around 10:00), but someone apparently thought that wasn't early enough. I woke up at about 7:15 to the obnoxious ticking of the kitchen timer; it had been brought up to my room as some sort of parting gift, I presume. By about 7:30, I was getting ticked off enough to get up and chuck the thing out the window, but it seemed to sense my intentions and went off before I did. The funny thing about our kitchen timer is that the ticking is louder than the ringing... but I digress.
I couldn't go back to sleep, and I ended up getting up before my alarm anyways. Took a shower, took my bags downstairs, ate breakfast. Dad was kind enough to accompany me on bart to the airport (SFO). We arrived two hours before my scheduled flight, and it took about half an hour to check in. As dad and I were getting something to eat before splitting up, I noticed that the line to the security checkpoint was rapidly growing. I took a spot in line, and dad brought me a little seaweed salad to munch on. The line took about ten minutes to get within the roped area, when dad and I said goodbye.
At least half an hour to get through security (man, it was jammed), but no problems. I bought a little bottle of water and a pack of lifesavers for the plane, which ran me more than five bucks. I got on the plane.
My seat was a window seat on the left side of the plane, with a little monitor and a tethered remote. The plane taxied and took off.
Flying is nothing new to me, I do it all the time. I had prepared some movies on my iPod to watch, but once the monitor activated, it became apparent that Northwest had me covered. There was a selection of about 40 movies, a bunch of music, and even some simple video games. Throughout the flight, I watched "Kung Fu Panda," "Iron Man," and about half an hour of "The Wild." I listened to some J-pop music (HiHi Puffy AmiYumi had a song I really liked... don't remember the name, but I know it was on the album Honeycreeper), and played some Picross and Chrono Trigger. Great fun.
I hadn't registered a vegetarian meal plan. Oops. My neighbor was a nice old Philippine lady who decided that she didn't like any vegetarian item that was served to her, once she heard tell of my predicament. By the time the last meal of the flight came around, a few more people in the row were doing the same. I survived on charitable donations of fruit cups and rolls. People can be pretty cool sometimes. I helped her by getting her movies playing a few times and with her baggage.
As we descended into Narita, I whipped out my camera and took a few photos. A bunch of them through the window, the clouds were nice and fluffy. The captain said to turn off all electric items and stow baggage, so I obligingly put away the camera. As if on cue, one of the most blindingly vivid double rainbows you ever saw jumped out, dead center through my window, over Tokyo. It hung around for a few minutes, lots of people admiring it.
We landed in light showers, and got off the plane. I meandered through the terminal towards immigration and customs, taking a few pictures along the way. At immigration, I was faced with a stunningly huge line of people. Over on the other side of the room, there was a single open immigration window, with an officer hollering to get my attention. This, it became apparent, was the foreign passport area. They took my picture and fingerprints (a new addition since 2006), and checked my paperwork with impressive efficiency, and had me through to the other side within a matter of seconds. I got my bag and went through customs, and the officer looked at my passport, asked what I was doing in Japan, and waved me through even faster than immigration.
I walked into the lobby and met with Ariel (my coordinator), who took me over to the tired group of Emma, Kate, and Coral, my fellow North American interns. We shipped my bag and ate dinner at the airport, then (after some effort) retrieved Emma's bags, which the airline had previously lost. She had a nice big tear in one of her duffels, apparently a brand new one. :(
As we took the train to Shinjuku, the rain got harder. By the time we got through Shinjuku station (stopped by a photo booth on the way for our alien registration card photos), it was pouring. We got into taxis to get to the hotel, amid flashes of lighting and rumbling thunder. Checked into the hotel, I got my own room, where I am now typing this amid what sounds like an alien invasion just outside my window. I'm on battery power, because I'm not about to plug into these groundless outlets in a storm like this.
Now it's been about 24 hours since I got up, and I'm sleeping. Goodnight.
Friday, August 29th