I’m drinking a glass of apple juice now, and it is the bomb. (The good kind, not the “somebody set up us the” kind.) It’s actually… apples. It’s awesome. But I think it’s like $2 a litre.
3. Tokyo to Osaka
Tokyo Narita was exhilarating and fun and weird and surreal. It had all that “holy crap I’m in Japan” stuff mixed with all the airport logistics – I was flying in on AA, but flying out on ANA (OneWorld and Star respectively, yet mysteriously on the same booking – yet I’m booked to fly back on the OneWorld JAL – both the domestic and trans-Atlantic flights), so I had to switch terminals. More on that in a bit.
Getting in and getting through passport control and customs was no sweat, though we had to wait a few minutes here and there. All the while, I was wondering how (and if!) I would be able to meet our old friend Masae. I only had two hours, and I didn’t know for sure about the terminal switch but I expected it since major air alliances don’t tend to share terminals with other major alliances at multi-terminal airports. And since Masae knew my incoming flight number but not my outgoing, things could get tricky.
F. and I said our goodbyes in the Terminal Two arrivals area after we finished with customs (she needed to be rebooked for visa reasons, and that meant rebooking her domestic flight to go the next day from Tokyo Haneda to Osaka Kansai (I was still going straight from Narita to Osaka Itami)). Then I started trying to find out where the ANA check-in was. I was kind of excited too, since I’d be getting Aeroplan miles for showing my card when checking-in on this segment, but I was also nervously watching the clock. I decided I’d better get everything checked in and have everything done but clear security and board. I also had no clue as to how I was going to phone her, nor from where, but I did have her cellular number.
Sure enough, ANA was at Terminal One. So that means taking the free shuttle bus along with my gargantuan pile of stuff.
After about five minutes waiting at the bus stop, the bus arrived. I was hoping for a special widebody jobbie like the kind at some airports that you can drive your baggage carts right onto, but instead it was a regular low-floor bus sort of like a Nova LFS. Thankfully, the driver waited patiently as I hurriedly unloaded my 53 and 58 pound suitcases, laptop bag, duffel bag, and backpack off the cart and into basically the doorway of the bus. Then we started moving; that was hard. There were even goshdarn traffic lights, if you can imagine. And all the while I’m swaying back and forth, trying to keep my balance and also that of my stuff. Soon one of my cases tipped over at a stop or corner, and so after that I used my right hand that was holding me upright to right the case and keep it upright instead. Then to keep me upright, I hooked my head around the grabpole with my neck and held on in that fashion until we finally reached Terminal One.
Okay, now we’re at Terminal One, and it’s time to load the cart again! I force the worries about how the heck I’m supposed to contact Masae to the back of my mind, load the cart, then search for ANA check in. It was pretty simple.
I have nothing but rave reviews for ANA, and starting with this check-in they were about the friendliest and nicest folks you’d ever want to deal with. The AA experiences in Halifax the previous day were a world away. Three bags? They saw they were all duly tagged and didn’t bat an eyelid. A man even unloaded my cases onto the conveyor for me! (Don’t even ask how much Halifax was do-it-yourself and borderline rude (“You should have thought of that before!...” etc..), though a lot of that was probably due to US regulations.)
The very nice ANA lady handed me my boarding pass and sweetly said that I should be at the gate at 5:30, about half an hour from then. Now I was free to contact Masae, but first I had to find a phone. One trip to an information desk and a short walk later, and I’m at the “Meeting Place” with a bank of phones and some adorable kids playing Mario Kart against each other on DS with their doting grandfather looking on.
I make this sound so serene, but in reality I was in a near panic; time was getting excruciatingly short. I was going to use my MasterCard in the pay phone even if it was going to be a $20 call; at that point I was beyond caring. But it required a PIN, and I don’t have one on any of my credit cards (you need one if you need to do desperate things like make cash withdrawals; don’t, because there is a fee, and you start paying interest on the transaction right away).
Fortunately, next to the phones there was a phone card machine. So I found a 1000¥ bill (about $10) in my backpack envelope, and used that to get the cheapest phone card. Ta-da! And then I rushed to the phones, tore open the case of the card, and frantically picked up the receiver and hurriedly followed the instructions. Two attempts with the pin and luckily only one with the number, and I heard the sound of a phone ringing:
“Hai, Masae des.”
“It’s William Matheson calling…”
She was relieved, but she and her husband had been waiting already at, you guessed it, back at Terminal Two. But they would come over to Terminal One. [I hoped that they didn’t have to go back to their car or anything outrageous; I’ll have to ask them about that next time.]
So I stood in the waiting area for five minutes, ten minutes, and now it’s 5:15 and I’m starting to panic. I finally sit down, and assuage my hopes. They won’t even recognize me, and I won’t recognize her – it’s been twenty years!
I beheld the small painting that Mom had given to me to give to her, wrapped in red paper and tagged, simply, “Masae”; I had wrapped it and the homage gifts the night / morning that I left, and it felt like years had passed since I wrapped that gift, yet it was mere hours before I left my house.
As my hopes wither further and further, I see a lost-looking couple walk right past me carrying a folded sign, with letters that caught my eye:
It was a very exciting reunion. Masae had heard my birthday was coming up and gave me some chocolates; I gave her the painting. With a very short amount of time, Masae sat with me and showed me her little photo albums from her time in PEI, circa 1989. Wow, what a flashback it was! I saw a few schoolmates from my school, and some pictures of my family (back when I had a normal one) and pictures of sand beaches, wagon rides, the old house, and Green Gables to boot.
We covered a lot of ground in ten minutes, but soon it was time for me to head towards pre-board screening. We walked together to the point of no return. On the way she asked me why I was going to Tokushima (“So small!”); she had thought I was going to Osaka based on what my mom had told her. (Well, I was flying there.)
“Why do you come to Japan?” she asked.
I replied, “There’s not much in Halifax for folks of my education (or lack thereof*), except for call centres: ‘Thank you for calling Sprint, together with Nextel, my name is William, how may I assist you today?’”
* - In terms of specific certified skills. In general terms, I think I have just enough basic education to get into trouble.
Too soon, we had to say goodbye. Masae invited me to visit them while I’m in Japan, and she gave me a card with her contact information. [Typing note: I’ll try and e-mail her on Monday, but I’ll make no mention of a visit yet; it’s far too soon to go. I know from my experience in Ukraine that taking a mini-holiday can screw everything up, and even sour the portion of time left afterwards.]
She also said that if I got into trouble, I could call on her. [It almost looks like it could come to that, but I sincerely hope it does not!]
Goodbyes said, I go through security. The man asked me if I had anything metallic. So I emptied my pockets into the bin, including my wallet.
He stared at my wallet, almost stunned. “So many cards,” he murmured.
Okay, to be honest I didn’t really need to still have Esso Extra and Shoppers Optimum cards, Université Sainte-Anne ID (a souvenir now, really), Halifax Public Libraries, Petro Points, and HBC Rewards (formerly Club Z) cards, a bunch of very old business cards, an expired International Youth Travel Card, a bunch of expired transit junk from New York and Toronto (but also a valid Toronto token, because you never know when you might end up in Toronto), HBC Credit Card, Sears Club Card, Radio Shack Power Card (that doesn’t work anymore, I should have thrown it out), MBNA and Canadian Tire Options MasterCards (I rarely use them, but the MBNA was my first credit card), Kent Card (you never know when you might use it for the first time and get that $10 off the purchase – I signed up for it because they were giving away free books), Blockbuster, Nova Scotia Health, and Canadian Blood Services cards, two Chapters / Indigo gift cards, a Dalhousie visitor’s card (to use the Killam photocopiers back when I was doing microfilm work as part of my T.A. work at SMU two years ago), a TeleTech card with an “Attendance Reporting” hotline number (YUCK!!), some Metro Transit tickets, and, finally, a PEI Express Shuttle free-ride punch card (and a spare) in my wallet.
So the wallet was a little thick, I gather. As I write this now, all I have in my wallet is some Yen and ten important cards like my driver’s licence, go-to MasterCard, Aeroplan card, and things like that. And it’s so thin now; I love it! None of the stores whose loyalty programs I use have a presence in Japan that I know of, so I don’t need to haul the cards around everywhere. (I hate missing out on points.)
Okay, moving on… the ANA flight to Osaka was short and sweet; my favourite kind. It was really interesting to see the procession of nighttime city lights, although F. got to fly down in the daytime and see all the mountains and cities and fields. Outside Osaka it looked like there was a huge traffic jam on the expressway, with brake lights in one direction as far as the eye could see. I fortunately missed it when I bussed out later from Osaka Itami.
Osaka Itami wasn’t bad; when I got down to the arrivals level there were several prefectures waiting at the baggage carousels. But they had Ethernet cords sticking out of the wall, so you could plug in and get internet, which I did for a few minutes. Then I got my bags, and when I went to leave the area, the ANA people were actually asking people for the baggage check stickers! We’d been getting those for years now, but no one’s ever checked mine before. It’s nice to know that this theft and loss prevention measure is now being implemented on the other end, at least with one airline at one airport.
Then it was time to get a bus ticket to Kobe. This wasn’t hard – you just use a machine – but I wasn’t paying attention; when I was getting into the line at my platform, an airport staff lady ran up to me and gave me my change; I had collected the coins but forgot to wait for the bills! It was reasonably serious money – 3000¥, or about $30. The scary part is that in all the excitement to follow, I wouldn’t have missed it. But thank you, kind stranger. Thank you.
So it was about then I was beginning to think that things were pretty near hopeless, but yet I was somehow getting by on dumb luck.
And then I rode on the Expressway bus (wow), and then there was Kobe…
But they’re going to have to wait until tomorrow. ;-)