Double day

The old 747 had some troubles leaving Detroit. We returned to the gate to get something fixed. Better on the ground than in the air I thought. I used the time to fill in the empty spaces on Sita’s cross-stitch sampler, long overdue for the first wedding anniversary and now also overdue for her birthday. It will be finished and framed next week. When I ordered the frame I discovered the empty spots.

Maybe it was to make up for lost time that we flew in the direction of the North Pole rather than going west. We never quite lost daylight, first heading north until we went over the top and then heading south. It took out the confusion of crossing the international dateline. Still we skipped a day and my morning and evening pills are all messed up now.

As we made our way up north, after Michigan and then Canada, I watched land turn into water turn into ice and frozen tundras, then high mountains in a vast expanse of white with only the sun’s shadows providing contrast. We were too high to spot any sign of life but I kept looking, wondering if anyone or anything lived down there. For six hours we flew over white.

The plane was only half full in economy, dashing my hopes of an upgrade. The first row comfort seat has fixed armrests. Even without someone sitting next to me I couldn’t annex the seat except to use it as a storage place. But the ‘comfort’ seat was indeed comfortable and I managed to sleep the first few hours of the trip, before total whiteness came into view. After that I followed the changing textures of white with awe.

The movies screen was so positioned that I got the negative view making it impossible to make out who was who. This was an old plane with no personal screens so the option to kill the 12 hours by watching movies was lost. I finished knitting the first of many baby sweaters I expect to be knitting this winter.

The food reminded me of the days when airlines didn’t bother to please their customers. I thought the really bad stuff had been thrown out but I guess I was wrong and they kept it in coolers in Detroit.
It was practically thrown on our tray tables by a hurried flight attendant who had very few people to serve. The quality of the food, announced on a printed menu with choices (we are special in the Comfort class after all), was also thrown together with little eye for aesthetics, in tiny quantities that left me hungry throughout the flight. It was also different from what the menu had promised. I stilled the hunger pangs with chewing gum – holding out for something spectacular once I arrived at my destination.

Tokyo airport, I had forgotten after two years of Kabul, felt like a hospital, all spic and span and aseptic. It was practically empty.

When I last went to Japan I had studied Japanese – completed the 10 half hours on the Pimsleur CD. It didn’t help that much but at least I could say hi and bye and thank you. Now I am completely lost. So far only the foreigners appear to speak English – airport personnel admitting they only speak a little.

I did manage to find the skyline train that takes me to Ueno station. Everything is organized according to one Big Plan. My ticket settled me in car 6 seat 11D – it would be too naughty to sit anywhere else.

A robot trying to sound like a man spoke to the passengers in Japanese from time to time and a more friendly human voice (female but canned as well) reminded everyone repeatedly of the two next stops. A large digital powerpoint slide show provided some diversion from the otherwise not so interesting ride through miles of suburbs. It told us what I already knew, that all seats are reserved and where the bathroom and vending machines where and that one should get a visa card to enjoy the luxuries this country has to offer.

I followed the last of the three options the hotel had provided me for getting from Narita to my room. This required switching from the fast airport line to the local metro in a Union Square kind of station (again not so busy because November 3 is a holiday).

If you look carefully you can find some signs in English but I was too tired to look carefully and approached people in uniform with key words (rather than asking them if they spoke English because I already learned the standard answer is ‘no.’). instead I pronounced the name of the metro line and the station. It work, I got there.

The hotel room was, as I had suspected, tiny – it made me think of those drawers where tired passengers slide into at airports for an hourly fee. My room is only slightly bigger. The toilet is worth a separate blog entry but suffice to say it does much more than being a receptacle.

After depositing my suitcase I returned to the metro where I had spotted a lively tapas place underground – livelier than any of the places I passed by above ground. I had a beer and a plate with a selection of tapas, a reasonable alternative to sushi (all sushi places I spotted were closed). I ate fast, pining for my bed. It was a very long double day and it is time to collapse them back into one very good night.

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November 2011
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