Posts Tagged international travel

November 15, 2006 part 3 – Hello Canada

After 3 years of living and working in Japan, flying home was pretty sad. Having said that, I would much rather be sad than airsick for 10 hours like the poor woman who sat next to me on my flight to Vancouver. It’s not really fair to say that she sat next to me: she spent most of the flight running to the bathroom. I felt bad for her, and thankful that I have never had serious problems on a flight.

A few hours away from Vancouver we flew into a huge storm that kept the plane bouncing. We were delayed on our landing as the storm was so bad that only one of the runways was open. I’m happy that we weren’t redirected to a different airport.

Unlike the flight to Vancouver, my flight to Winnipeg was quick and uneventful. Thanks to the wonders of international time zones, I arrived in Winnipeg about 15 minute before I left Japan. My parents and sister were waiting for me in the arrival area carrying a huge Canadian flag. It was good to be home!

My mom and sister had found an apartment for me before I came home, but since there was almost no furniture in it yet, I went back to my parents house for the evening. My parents live in the “city” of Portage la Prairie, about 70km west of Winnipeg. On the drive I got my first taste of reverse culture shock, fascinated by people driving on the right and the huge open spaces between cities. It’s going to take me a while to adjust!

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September 3, 2005 – Farewell party 9085km away

My coworker Angie had her farewell party tonight. She was finished teaching in Japan, and ready to return to Scotland. Everyone loved Angie; she was a lot of fun to work with and to spend time with outside the office. When I left Japan suddenly to visit my sick sister in Canada, I wasn’t sure that I was going to make it back in time for Angie’s farewell party. I am proud to report that despite starting my day off in Canada, I managed to make it to the party!

I started my day in Winnipeg at 5:30am on September 2 (7:30pm Japan time). My flight left Winnipeg at 7:00am (9:00pm Japan time) and arrived in Vancouver at 8:10am (just after midnight September 3 in Japan). After a few hours of waiting in Vancouver airport, I was back in the air and bound for Tokyo Narita airport.

My flight was smooth and uneventful, unlike the flight to Vancouver a few weeks ago. I landed at 3:30pm Japan time and proceeded to the lines for immigration and customs. My magical gaijin card allowed me to pass through the resident line, which is always much shorter than the foreigner line.

From Narita airport, I took the Narita express to Tokyo station, the shinkansen to Mishima, and Tokaido line to Numazu. With memories of pulling my giant suitcase fresh in my mind, I decided to treat myself to a taxi from the station to my apartment.

For those who are unfamiliar with Japan, addresses are really only meaningful to mail carriers. If you are going to take a taxi, be prepared to give landmark directions. I told my taxi driver to drive towards Seiyu, turn left at the lights, and my apartment was across from 7-11 in a yellow building. The taxi driver complimented me on my Japanese and tried to engage me in a conversation, which was a bit beyond my skill level. At least I got home quickly.

Once I got home, I started to get a second wind. I had a quick shower to wash off the now 24+ hours of travel, pounded back an energy drink, and then rode my bicycle to Numazu station. For the second time today I boarded Tokaido line, this time towards Mishima. From the station it was a short walk to the izakaya where Angie’s party was already in full swing.

I arrived at the party, 9085km from where I started my day, and received a hero’s welcome. Angie was particularly happy to see me, and Koalako had saved a seat and made sure that my drink order was attended to quickly.


Fun fact: I was wearing a new t-shirt that said “kiss me I’m loaded” across it. This both started a fun debate on whether loaded meant “drunk” or “rich”, and also got me several kisses, mostly from women.

Like most farewell parties, the second party was at a nearby karaoke room with more drinks. Karaoke lasted until the last train came around, and I got a big hug from Angie before we left. I was exhausted by the end of the evening, but happy that I was able to make it to the party. I am going to miss Angie!

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August 20, 2005 part 1 – Getting there is not half the fun

This morning instead of getting ready for work, I finished packing my suitcase to fly home to visit my sick sister. My suitcase is the maximum size for Air Canada, and was completely loaded with clothes and last minute souvenirs. In addition, I also had my trusty Canada flag backpack loaded up to keep me entertained on my 3 train rides and two flights. To save time, I skipped breakfast and instead picked up a sandwich at 7-11 across from my apartment to eat on the train.

Japan in August is hot and humid. Unbelievably humid. I have been in less humid saunas. Usually I take my bike to the train station, but there was no safe way to bring my giant suitcase with me on the bike. I did consider trying, but thought that wiping out on a narrow road filled with traffic would probably not help my chances of getting to the airport on time.

The walk to the station with my large wheeled suitcase and fully loaded backpack took me about 20 minutes. By the end of the walk I had sweated through the back of my shirt. I loaded my giant bag onto the train for the short ride to Mishima, ignoring any dirty looks from other passengers. At Mishima station I rolled my giant bag from the main platform through the station towards the shinkansen platform. Fortunately this walk was completely inside and air conditioned. From Mishima to Tokyo I had the giant suitcase jammed between my legs and the seat in front of me. Usually I regret that I am not a very tall person. This was not one of those times.

Once I arrived at Tokyo station, I had to once again drag my mammoth suitcase through crazy crowds of people, past all the souvenir stands, and then down to the lowest level in order to catch the Narita Express. Fortunately the Narita Express is designed for travelers, and has ample storage space at the ends of the cars for luggage.

Train travel in Japan is quick, efficient, and convenient, unless you are bringing a large suitcase. When I came to Japan, NOVA was smart enough to get all of the teacher’s suitcases delivered to their new residences. The last time I went back to Canada, I did bring my suitcase, however it was not a horrible humid day like today.

By the time I got to Narita Airport I was sweaty, cranky, and exhausted. I was much happier and lighter when I was finally able to check my bag. Getting through security and immigration was quick and easy, and my flight left on time.

The first 2-3 hours of the flight was TERRIBLE. Our flight experienced non stop turbulence which got so bad that it occasionally shut down the in flight entertainment system. I rarely get motion sickness, but several people on the flight were not so lucky. The only thing worse than choppy air is the sounds and smells of other passengers barfing in a crowded, enclosed space.

The pilot did come on the PA several times to apologize and explain that the skies were quite busy, which prevented our flight from adjusting altitude. After about 3 hours of bouncing around, the air finally gave us a break and we enjoyed the remaining 7 hours in relative calm.

I was very happy to finally get on the ground in Vancouver. Whoever says getting there is half the fun is an idiot.

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July 8, 2004 – The family leaves

Today I took my family to Narita Airport and sent them back to Canada. It was sad to see them go. I have been lucky to host two different groups of visitors in the past few months, and now I will have to return to my regular life of teaching English.

A big thank you to my family for taking the time and expense to come and see me!

(2014 Update) Before visiting me in Japan, my parents idea of international travel was driving to the USA. In the 10 years since they flew around the world to visit me in Japan, they have been to Bosnia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Israel, and Jamaica with plans for more travel in the future. They also returned to Japan in 2006, but that’s a story for a later date. I’m not taking all the credit for their jet setting ways, but I think I helped.

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September 23, 2003 – Departure

On departure day I woke up early, enjoyed my last free shower for the next year (more to come on this), and waited for my parents to pick me up and take me to the airport. My parents live outside of Winnipeg, so they spent the night in a hotel in order to take me to the airport. We didn’t want to take any chances on missing an international flight, so we got to the airport around 6:00 for my 7:30 flight to Vancouver. I didn’t expect anyone else to be there, but my friend Junk (not his real name) surprisingly showed up to see me off. My parents, Junk and I sat around enjoying my last Tim Hortons coffee for a very long time. For any non Canadians reading this – Tim Hortons is a hugely popular and succesful coffee chain in Canada. There are more Tim Hortons locations than McDonalds.

My parents were both excited for me, but also nervous at seeing their son travel to the other side of the planet for a year. When the time finally came I hugged them both and made my way through security. Looking back I could see them waving good-bye until I was out of sight.

Having never traveled by myself before, I was more than a little nervous. The first flight was easy enough – Winnipeg to Vancouver with a brief stop in Saskatoon to pick up more passengers. In Vancouver I had a 4 hour wait until my flight to Tokyo. Since Vancouver airport was huge, I was worried about getting lost and went almost directly to the international departure area. As soon as I entered, I started feeling like I had already left the country. My gate was between two other flights to Asian destinations, and I was one of the few white faces in the crowd. As I waited, I listened to bits and pieces of conversations in several different languages, trying hard to focus on any Japanese I could recognize.

When the flight finally boarded, I found myself sitting next to two young Japanese ladies, likely students. (To this day I can’t accurately guess Japanese people’s ages). I learned something valuable that day – Japanese people have the ability to fall asleep in any moving vehicle at any time. They were both soundly sleeping before take off. Being an excited Canadian guy who had never traveled solo before, I found myself unable to sleep for the entire flight.

The flight was about 10 hours long, but felt much, MUCH longer. By the end of a 10 hour flight the air is stale, the seats are uncomfortable, and you just want to get off the damn plane. I spent the last 30 minutes glued to the window, watching the land getting closer. My first impression of Japan from the air was that everything was really crowded and all the cars were driving on the wrong side of the road. What I thought was crowded was nothing compared to what I was about to experience once we landed.

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