Thursday, June 11, 2009

Japan Airlines (JAL)

SHIRLEY'S JAPAN JOURNAL - 05/23/09, 05/24/09

We hadn't even taken off, and I already felt like I was in another world. I had never flown on JAL before, though the JAL brand (prevalent on napkins and silverware) was something that was actually near and dear to me; a part of my childhood one might say. My dad, having worked for catering for United Airlines when I was a child, would always bring home trinkets and treats from work. My sister and I were always treated to food (little smokies sausages were my favorite!), kitchen utensils, and other odd items that he occasionally found left in the airplane cabin. Growing up, my mother never went without kitchen utensils. Actually, it got to the point where there was a secret stash of chef knives, soup spoons, etc. that my mom had to saran wrap together and put away or even give away to my aunts and uncles. Most of our utensils had a UAL or JAL logo on them. I remember our teaspoons always had the JAL logo on them. I don't know why I remember this, I just do. So seeing it now on the plane, brought back those childhood days of eating the Little Smokies using a fork and little glass cup with JAL on them.

Right when I found my seat I noticed that the man I would sit next to was wearing a surgical face mask, no doubt due to increasing concerns over the global swine flu pandemic that has to-date caused more than 140 related deaths with a significant number (106) having occurred in Mexico. I didn't think I would see the repercussions of this so early in my trip, but there it - or should I say "he" - was starring straight at me.
Of course on my other side was Javier, and we settled into our seats for the long 10 hr flight to Tokyo, Japan. Take-off was another source of wonder and amusement for me. Again, because my dad worked for UAL, I am no stranger to plane trips. However, as the years have passed the emergency demonstration, often performed by the flight attendants, has slowly evolved into a pre-recorded video found on wonderful flat panel monitors found in the cabin and sometimes right at your seat. This airlines' demo video was especially curious. Would you believe me if I told you that the video seemed to have a Japanese twist to it? It was an animated video, and it seemed to have a lot of Japanese Anime influence. As I watched the video further, I decided that it was a cross between Anime & the SIMS computer game.
Then came take-off. Would you still believe me if I told you that there was some type of webcam outside on the nose of the plane that it transmitted the video footage of our takeoff as it was happening? Well, I for one found this a difficult pill to swallow. Imagine if I had a fear of flying. This would no doubt cause me to go into convulsions. Thankfully, my fear of flying is under control and I starred with wide-eyed amazement as the plane took off into the air! Even while having the windows available in the plane, everyone's head seemed to be focused directly in front of them witnessing the magic on the screen. We even passed through a cloud and the frame turned white. Then when we reached our target altitude, the camera changed angle and was now recording the bird's eye view. In about 20 minutes, the image was gone from screens, but if you wanted more, you could find the constant footage via your personal monitor at your seat.
I got even more settled into my seat and pulled out my book, as the Japanese flight attendants made their rounds. That's when my father (sitting with my mom in the row in front of me) started with his little jokes. He pointed to the flight attendants and commented that all I needed was my hair in a bun, and I would fit right in. He was alluding to the fact that I look Asian. I laughed, if anything is true, it's that I got my Asian looks from him. I knew there would be many more of my dad's jokes to come throughout this vacation.
I'm ashamed to admit, but it's been years since I've actually read a book, and I had no idea how quickly - slowly might be a better word - it would take me to finish one. Therefore at the bookstore, I had decided to buy just one. I bought Twilight, the popular teenie-bopper book about vampires & romance. Actually, popularity spread so fast like an infection; you might say it spread faster than the swine flu. I had recently watched the movie based on the book, and was so infatuated by the lead vampire that I had to read the book to get more. As the hours passed, I realized that I had underestimated my reading abilities as well as how good the book would be. At the rate I was going I would need another book for the flight back. I began regretting not having bought the second Twilight book while in that bookstore.
I started to feel like I had things in common with the main character, Bella. She grew up in a foggy town (a town that had the least sunshine days in the year, which is ideal for vampires). She moved away, and was now in a part of her life where she found herself moving back. That definitely mirrored my life. Although I live in California, the town I live it has more foggy days than sunshine days. To make things even more depressing, if you drive 10 mins. away from my town, there is sunshine. And the irony of it all is that my childhood home was on a street called "Sunshine Drive". One of the main reasons I moved away was because of the fog. But now because of the economic crisis, I somehow find myself back in my foggy town. At least the new street I live on doesn't taunt me about the weather.
Although I was so caught up in the reading, at some point almost near the end of the book, I fell asleep. I woke up to find that we were descending. Could it be that I was in Japan? The screens were now back on, recording our descent. All faces glued to the screens.
Needless to say, we arrived with no casualties. It was 4:30 pm Tokyo time which was around midnight back in California. We got on a shuttle to get to our hotel. The shuttle ride lasted for at least an hour but I'm not sure. All I can tell you is that it was apparent that there wasn't much sunlight left when we got to our hotel. We checked into our hotel and decided to walk around our hotel area in search of restaurants. Not many establishments were open. We found one that seemed to be a Japanese chain fast food restaurant called "Yoshinawa's". We decided to try there. Walking in, there were only a couple customers - japanese men in business suits. It was very quiet and respectful in the restaurant, and I felt like the mood was killed when we walked in. Leave it to Javier & my father - two men who are extremely verbose. We tried to talk to the staff, but no one knew a lick of English, and we didn't know a lick of Japanese. Somehow we found out that they didn't accept Visa nor did they accept American dollars.
That caused our next adventure to be finding a place to get Yen. I won't bore you with that. We came back to the restaurant and started the scene all over again. One thing you should know about me is that it stresses me out to inconvenience or bother people, and it also stresses me out to be the center of attention and stick out like a sore thumb. Therefore, you can probably deduce that I was undergoing a whole lot of stress at that moment. When I feel this way, I become reclusive (like I'm curling into a ball and don't want to talk to or see anyone), and I'm sure that I come across as a bitch at that point, but there's nothing I can do about my personality traits. I told myself that I'd get through this, and sure enough I did. We ate, we paid, and we got the heck out of that restaurant so that it could return to it's prior tranquil state.
I hated the idea of this being a daily stress that I would encounter, but loved the idea that I was finally in Japan!