Archive for August, 2009

Summer Travels: Grand Something

Awhile back, my mom booked our family on a trip to China through UVa’s alumni tour program Cavalier Travels . She knew all of the details about where we were going, hotels, phone numbers, etc. I was going along for the ride; my only responsibility was to meet the family in Tokyo, and we would travel together to Beijing.

Well, I’m not very good with responsibility. Arriving at the Beijing terminal in Narita airport, I make a loop around the waiting area, a big smile on my face. No family. I re-check the terminal, do a second loop, and the smile fades a little. Still no family. Not a problem, I’m sure their flight from LA hasn’t arrived yet. I take a seat, become absorbed in two Japanese kids having a vicious thumb war, and patiently wait for the joyful reunion with my family…

At the final boarding call, I’m fairly certain joyful reuniting is not going to happen. I board the plane, still not too concerned, thinking my family missed their flight or the plane was delayed in LA or Godzilla intercepted it somewhere over the Pacific, but all is well because somehow everyone will eventually make it to China.

It wasn’t until I had found my seat and fastened my seat belt and made sure my tray table was in its upright and locked position and the plane had taxied out of the gate and onto the runway and had lifted off that it hit me: I have no idea where to go once I land. Like I said, my mom had planned everything; I was banking on meeting the family in Tokyo and them taking care of the rest. It’s okay, I thought, I’ll call them when I land. Wait, I don’t know my mom’s or step-dad’s or Elizabeth’s cell phone numbers (as a side note, I think it’s a bit ridiculous my 12 year old sister has a cell phone). And even if I knew where I was going, I have no Chinese yuan to pay a taxi, and the plane is scheduled to land late enough at night that any currency exchange places are sure to be closed. So I am sitting in a middle seat on a plane bound for Beijing, with no useful money, and the only clue as to where to go once I land being a memory of an email my mom sent that I had skimmed over before deleting that had the name of the Beijing hotel in it, and a vague recollection that one of the words in the hotel name might be “Grand.”

Well, that’s a start. Maybe if I just say “Grand Hotel Beijing” to the taxi driver and show him a crisp Abraham Lincoln, he’ll know exactly what to do. Meanwhile, on the plane, I heard the woman seated next to me speaking Japanese and then what I assumed was Chinese to the flight attendant. I complimented her on her multilingual abilities. She was momentarily shocked by a white giant speaking Japanese to her, but then eagerly complimented me on my own language skills. And so our conversation began. I told her about my time as an English teacher in Aomori, and she described how she was born in Japan but had lived in and still frequently visited Beijing. Hearing this, I immediately told her about my predicament and asked if she had heard of a Hotel Grand Something. She hadn’t. But the Japanese man on the other side of me who was listening in on our conversation had, and he whipped out his Book of Beijing Hotels. Flipped to G, and there it was: Grand Hotel Beijing, as I had guessed in my Abraham Lincoln taxi scenario. He passed the book to the woman and she wrote the name and address of the hotel in Chinese for the taxi driver . She also wrote her own address and phone number in Beijing in case I got lost. And she gave me a chocolate bar.

When we landed, I profusely thanked the two kindest people I have ever sat between on an airplane and headed for baggage claim. Spotted a kiosk at the far end of the hallway and, when I saw there was a woman inside surrounded by all sorts of currency, thanked the heavens a money exchange place was still open (it was around 11pm). I grabbed my bag and walked towards the taxis, directions in hand, yuan in pocket, confident that I at last had all of the components needed to direct and pay a taxi to get to my hotel.

Then I saw a man with the sign:

Cavalier Travels Airport Transfer Service: Cline/Haile Family

.

What I learned:

I am damn good at guessing hotel names.

I should get my little sister’s number.

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Talking to a person seated|    /
next to you on a plane…….|  /
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……………………………………………Receiving a bar of chocolate

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I’m back!

Back, and what better way to usher in my 2nd year in Japan than to have passed my Japanese license driving test! Having failed two times before I left for summer, and considering my International Driver’s Permit expired August 1st, it was a good thing 3rd time was the charm – I’d rather not be biking to school in blizzards. I also give myself an additional pat on the back for taking the test two days after I returned, freshly jet-lagged and unsure on which side of the road I was supposed to be driving.

Taking a friend’s suggestion, I’ve roughly determined that my summer travels traversed just over 20,000 miles, coming in a mere 5,000 miles short of the circumference of the Earth. I plan to blog it all in due time, as fast as procrastination permits. I’ll leave you with a glimpse of what’s to come.

Rooftops in a Hazy Afternoon