August 19, 2005 – Planning an emergency trip home

Last night around 1:00am I got a call from my mother with an update on my sister, who had been in the hospital for a few weeks with a mysterious illness.

My sister had been in the hospital for a few weeks now because of difficulty breathing. Despite a battery of tests, doctors were unable to determine what exactly was wrong. Just hours before the phone call, doctors had tried to remove a lump from my sister’s lung to perform a biopsy. During the procedure, one of her lungs partially collapsed. This was a scary experience for everyone involved, and my mom was obviously upset on the phone.

Its a terrible feeling being away from family when they are sick. I felt useless over the past few weeks getting all the updates on her condition. I told my mom that I wanted to come home to see my sister. She called me back a few minutes later and said that she would help me with the cost of a plane ticket home. Fortunately I had been saving up money in hopes of moving out of my NOVA apartment, so I had enough money to pay for a plane ticket without having to wait for money transfers.

I got a few hours of sleep, and then called the NOVA head office to explain the situation. I occasionally complain about the actual job of teaching English, but the support that the head office provides to teachers is fantastic! The staff told me that they would take care of my schedule for the next few weeks, and that if I needed more time to simply call them from Canada. They cancelled my request to move out of my NOVA apartment, told me where I could get a re-entry stamp for my work visa, and offered to help with the plane ticket if I needed it. Thank you NOVA for being so cool.

After I got off the phone with NOVA, I headed out for the nearest immigration office, which is located in Shizuoka City. It took me nearly an hour on Tokaido line to get to Shizuoka from Numazu. I easily found the immigration office, bought my stamp, and was headed back to Numazu within 30 minutes of arriving.

The next order of business was to buy a plane ticket. I wasn’t terribly confident about buying an open return ticket online, so I planned to go to the HIS travel agent office near my school in Numazu. For the whole train ride back to Numazu I had my dictionary and phrasebook out, practicing how to buy a plane ticket in Japanese. The last time I went home, The Penpal bought my ticket for me in Japanese. I have lots of experience buying train tickets in Japanese, but have never attempted to buy a plane ticket on my own before.

I nervously walked into the HIS office and was greeted in Japanese as I approached the counter. I asked in Japanese if the clerk could speak English, and she responded “yes, a little”. This was code for “of course I can speak English nearly fluently, but I am Japanese and would never brag about my abilities”. This made me feel a lot better.

I asked for an open return ticket leaving for Winnipeg as soon as possible. The clerk had never head of Winnipeg before (no surprise), but fortunately I knew that the airport code was YWG. This saved a lot of time and spelling. Know your airport codes people!

When you need to buy a plane ticket the next day, you are going to pay for it. My ticket cost me almost $1000 more than it would have if I booked in advance. The total cost was nearly 240,000 yen (about $2400). For some reason, credit cards are still not very popular in Japan. Most Japanese people would pay for the ticket using a bank transfer to the travel agent. I had never done a bank transfer before, and wasn’t terribly excited about testing my Japanese at the bank. I asked the HIS clerk if I could pay cash. She looked surprised, but answered yes. I told her that I would be back in 5 minutes. I walked down the street to a nearby bank machine, withdrew 24 x 10,000 yen notes, and returned to the travel agent while nervously looking over my shoulder. I counted out the money on the desk. This got some fun reactions from the staff.

I left HIS with the ticket in hand feeling relieved. No matter what else happened, I would be able to fly home tomorrow. Having the most important thing done, I returned home and started laundry and packing. After getting mostly packed, I called home to give an update, and then went to Seiyu to buy souvenirs. The Penpal came over for a quick visit after I returned home, and wished me luck on my travel. It was really great to see a friendly face before I left.

It was a busy and stressful day, but thanks to the help and great service from NOVA, HIS, and the Immigration Office, things went very smoothly and I was able to get everything done.

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  1. March 25, 2006 part 1 – My parents return to Japan | Drinking in Japan
  2. April 30, 2006 – Ring shopping | Drinking in Japan

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