Greetings, dear reader! I write to you from somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, just north of Japan. We’re guessing that we might be somewhere off the coast of Russia. Our flight took us north over Canada and Alaska. Why is this? Well, I brought along my pocket-sized globe (about the size of a golf ball, it doubles as a pencil sharpener) and we determined that it really was a shorter, more direct route to Japan this way. Heading due west across the continental US and over Hawaii would have added hours to our flight.
My computer is telling me that in Minnesota, the time is 11:00pm on Wednesday, January 12th, but outside the sunshine is still bright and beautiful; we’ve been chasing the sun around the world! Due to the cloud cover underneath us, we can’t see much below at the moment, but a few hours ago we passed over a gorgeous arctic mountain range, bathed pink and peach in the late afternoon sunshine. I took a few pictures and will try to upload the best one for you to enjoy! (*Edit: Internet connection is very slow. Pictures would take too long to upload. Perhaps later!*)
We all arrived at the airport and got checked in with plenty of time to grab coffee and sandwiches on our way to our terminal. We’re all seated in a little cluster (about 12 of us are in the group). Our plane is a 747, with 66 rows of 10 seats each; I am in seat J56. So far, we have been served dinner (a choice of chicken or beef, with a salad, bread, shrimp cocktail, dessert, and a selection of complimentary beverages including beer and wine) and a mid-flight snack (a vegetarian sandwich, an apple, and a package of Milano cookies). We are about to be served breakfast, just before beginning our descent into Tokyo (even though to us it feels like nearly midnight, and in Japan it will be lunchtime). We will be offered a choice of an omelette or vegetable fried rice and a selection of coffee, hot green tea, and orange juice. I’m eating better on this flight than I do on a normal day back home!
And now an anecdote for your entertainment:
As we were waiting to board the plane, I was recounting a time ten years ago when I was waiting to board a 13-hour flight to England with a group called People to People Student Ambassadors. I had purchased a cup of hot chocolate just before boarding and somehow spilled it in my lap—and then I had to sit on it the whole way to England. How self-conscious I was, arriving for the first time in a foreign country with a chocolate stained rump! Shout Wipes could only do so much.
I tell you about this ancient history, dear reader, because it has direct bearing on the present state of matters.
You see, I am seated in the middle seat off the right-most aisle of the plane. The flight attendant was coming through shortly after takeoff and offering us beverages. I asked for a cup of water with no ice (my general beverage of choice). He handed it to me, and I put it on the tray in front of me. I glanced away from it for a second.
I swear it was only a second. But that was long enough for the full cup of water to slide straight off the tray and into my lap.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in an absolute pool of cold water. And there was nothing I could do about it—I had no towels, no standing room, no exit. I could only sit there and stifle my yelp as I felt my erstwhile beverage soaking into my thighs, my seat, and even down my calves. My jeans were utterly saturated.
The flight attendant offered me a napkin. Then a stack of napkins. And then a stack of disposable towels. Alas, it was to no avail.
“You know,” said my seatmate Laura, “if you’d asked for ice, there would have been less water in the cup to get on your pants. I’m just saying.”
There was only one solution: I had to remove the pants.
Luckily for everybody involved, I had a change of clothes in my backpack. The result was that, amidst much laughter (including my own), I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt while the outside temperature plummeted to at least -64 degrees Fahrenheit. My jeans are still trying to dry nine hours after their dunking.
This reminds me of my roadtrip this past summer, when I accidentally left my only pair of pants in Phoenix. I seem to be sensing a trend. Obviously, the universe is telling me that I always need to pack an extra pair of pants (above and beyond what I think I’ll need).
Well, we’re beginning our decent into Tokyo (breakfast was very tasty, by the way), so I must needs pack up the computer. More later!
It’s finally dark outside—for the first time since I watched the sunrise yesterday morning at 7:45am. The sun was beginning to go down as we landed at Tokyo Narita airport (which, in Minnesota time, was at about 2am). We had been in direct sunlight for 18 hours in the northern hemisphere in January. Amazing!
This flight (also on a 747) I’m in seat 37K next to the window, directly over the giant wing of the plane. This meant that as we spiraled up into the sky over Tokyo on our way to Manila, I got a wonderful view of the city lights. I also discovered that when there is sporadic cloud cover over a large city and you look down on the clouds from above, the clouds are black. We’ll see if my pictures turn out! I’m enjoying looking out the window at a sky full of stars without light pollution. I haven’t been able to see anything clearly enough to identify any constellations, but I’m still hoping.
Some of my dear readers may know this already, but I have wanted to go to Japan for twenty years (ever since I saw “Big Bird in Japan,” which came out around 1989). It was the only country I have really had my heart set on visiting for the past eight years. I mentioned in an earlier entry that I was trying to spend a week in Japan during this trip. However, as matters turned out, it would have cost me over a thousand dollars to switch my flight, and I just don’t have that kind of pocket change.
Therefore, I decided to enjoy my one hour in the Tokyo airport to the max.
I braced myself to venture forth by ordering a Brown Sugar Green Tea Latte. Granted, I had to order it by pointing to the menu and then mutely handing over my credit card, but I thanked the lady in Japanese. “Arigatou.” My first word spoken to a real Japanese person in Japan—and it came out intelligibly enough that she understood it! Needless to say, I was thrilled. Also, I was oddly delighted that the receipt was printed in Japanese (why wouldn’t it be?), and I am keeping it.
Well, this preliminary experience encouraged me enough that I teamed up with two other ladies from our trip (Jessica and Elena), and together we ventured forth into the airport. We stopped in a few stores but didn’t buy anything this time—we were scoping out the premises with the intent of living it up during our five hour layover on our return trip.
And boy will we live it up! Inside the airport, we discovered a spa that offers massages and reflexology. Next door to the spa was an oxygen bar, where people apparently pay real money to sit and breathe flavored air. Nearby was an open area with beautiful glass panels and comfortable chairs and benches, just for passengers to sit and relax. We also discovered a store that sells yukata (summer weight robes), kimono silk scarves, and beautifully wrapped Japanese sweets. As I said, we didn’t buy anything this trip, but I can’t promise what will happen in two weeks.
And then we found an origami…museum, for lack of a better word. Large dioramas were on display, completely built from origami (paper folding) and kirigami (paper cutting). There were trees and people and animals and flowers, large and small. There was a display of paper cranes in descending size, starting at three inches across and going down to microscopic; the smallest one was adhered to the head of a pin and required a magnifying glass to determine that it was, in fact, a crane. Origami lessons were being offered, and supplies were for sale.
I wanted to take pictures, but I wasn’t sure I would be allowed to. So I braced myself once again and went over to one of the ladies who worked there.
“Sumimasen,” I began. Excuse me. “Foto wa ii desu ka?” Are photos good?
The lady appeared delighted. Whether this was due to my interest in the displays or my stumbling attempts to speak her language, I couldn’t quite tell. But her response included a few words I could understand: “Hai (something something) kudasai!” Yes [action verb] please! She gestured me to the displays with a smile and a nod, and I used my now-rehearsed “Arigatou!” Thus concluded my first dialogue with a native Japanese speaker in Japan!
So that was how I spent my precious hour in Japan, and now we’re on the final leg of our trip into Manila. As I write this, it is currently 6am in Minnesota; we have about two hours before we land in the Philippines, at which point it will be 10pm there. Then baggage claim, then customs, then travel to the hotel, and then bed! I know I ought to be looking forward to my first sleep in over 24 hours, but at the moment I’m so excited that my seat can hardly contain me! With luck, I will be able to access a WiFi connection at our hotel and post this before we hit the hay. Therefore, I will stop writing here and conserve the battery on my computer until we reach our hotel.
Success! We have all safely arrived at our hotel. More to follow tomorrow!
Much love to all my dear readers back home!