Sunday, April 15, 2012

International Travel: When the journey is most certainly not the reward

At 10:30 am I had everything packed and ready to go. Suitcases zipped, boots on, and I’m out the door on the way to the airport. I like to leave early when I have an international flight to catch. Being ready to go at 10:30 for a 1:00 pm flight is the perfect example of my sage wisdom in traveling, my seasoned maturation built up after years of flying. If only my flight was actually at 1:00 pm, instead of 11:00 am. If only I had realized that detail the night before instead of in the car on the way to the airport at 10:45 am.

Coincidentally, I had been having reoccurring nightmares about missing my flight to Tokyo. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, relived that it was just a dream. Until it happened.
I was shocked. This was not my first international flight by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a seasoned traveler. I know the routine. But don’t get me wrong, this is not the first time number dyslexia has got the best of me, I’ve totally mixed 11:00 and 1:00 appointments for example...

The car screeched to a halt in front of the passenger drop off lane. I grab my suitcases in both hands and run into the airport like I'm evading the law. The first United Airlines flight attendant I see is my target. She is helping some other customer, but I’ve got no time to wait politely.  I get straight to business with, “I’m going to Tokyo and my PLANE IS BOARDING NOW!!!!”

Poor old woman. I bet her blood pressure skyrocketed when she tried as fast as she could to check my bags. Literally a minute later I’m holding my boarding pass in one hand, shoes in the other, and cradling my laptop under my arm as I zip through the security checkpoint. I step into the "photo booth" to get x-rayed (or rather, photographed nude) in the controversial new screening machine they have. To pose in the screening machine you raise your hands above your head and stand with your legs apart. All that's missing is a belly dancing costume. So after my photograph I run down the hall to my gate barefoot, and of course not only is it the gate at the very end of the hall, but its also down a staircase and through a small corridor.

As I approach the gate the airline hostess is on the intercom with this lovely announcement,
“Ladies and gentleman, we are overbooked for flight…to Tokyo. We ask that any passengers who are not making connecting flights, please give up your seat to allow those passengers with connecting flights to board. Unfortunately all other flights to Tokyo are also overbooked today, so you will be on standby until tomorrow. UA will compensate you starting at $400 for your inconvenience.”

Bitch keep yo’ money. I’m going to Tokyo.

So some poor chaps gets booted from the flight, and I park my tired, numerically dyslexic ass right down on the seat. I’m still panting like I have an asthma attack. Tired and panting, but going to Tokyo.

While becoming violently nauseated on the plane, I got to thinking about the ole’ Chinese proverb: “the journey is the reward”. You’ll see the it now on a lot of the motivational posters that hang in office lobbies. The phrase is usually positioned right below some photograph of a man standing in front of a waterfall, or hiking in a crevice between two glaciers. At least that’s my image. What you won’t see is him waiting in line at the airport security checkpoint, or vomiting in a airplane restroom. That wouldn’t motivate anyone.

But that’s the reality of it, at least when it comes to international travel. Sure, the proverb still makes sense when you think of a “life journey” or “coming-of-age” episode or even a mid-life crisis. But on an actual, physical journey somewhere, the “somewhere” part is really the reward, and the “journey” part is usually unpleasant.

For me, my “somewhere” is Tokyo. By the time I arrived I had thrown up twice in the airport bathroom, and once on the train into the city. Having arrived in such poor condition, one may think that I would not be up to an all nighter polished off with a kaisendon ( 海鮮丼) - or just "don" as I affectionately call it -  in Shinjuku, but oh how wrong that would be. So despite my terrible terrible journey, I rewarded myself with a bowl of fresh raw fish over rice, which was made even better by sharing it with my best friend.

It makes me realize how meaningful it always is to come to Tokyo. Even though I have motion sickness and flight anxiety and am subjected to the horrors of the American security screening process, my life just wouldn’t be complete without Japan.

So in the end, here's my proverb:

Almost missing your international flight (because of your apparent number dyslexia) =  Bad

Inside of the new-ish NEXpress train from Narita to Tokyo

TSA screening procedures (being photographed nude without getting paid) =  Worse

The "don" place in Shinjuku posts its entire menu on the outside wall...
Throwing up on the plane (without having had on alcoholic drink) = The Absolute Worst

The "Don": salmon, ground tuna, salmon eggs, and sea urchin

Bowl of fish with the best friend you haven’t seen in a year = Totally. Worth. It.
The "don", about to be eaten by who else but me

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