Japan Part 1: The Journey Begins

To all my faithful readers, both of bythepathlesstraveled and of penguinpoweredpiano, I apologize for my absence. Internet access in Japan was spotty at best, but now that I’m back on a reliable connection, fear not! My chronicle of the Japan trip begins now.

The first thing I needed to do was to make it back to Calvin in order to meet up with my traveling buddies. Of course, having made the 7-hour drive only 4 days before, I wasn’t too keen on making the whole trip again. The drive was long and hot, but somehow I managed to make it from Pennsylvanian to Michigan on a single 10-gallon tank of gas — yet another reason I love my Fordzilla, even though she’s 20 years and holding.

When I arrived on Calvin’s campus, I whipped my car into a shady parking space under a tree, grabbed my luggage, and booked it as fast as I could to Bolt-Heins-Timmer for transitional housing. I could have cared less about having a place to rest right then, but BHT has got to have a water fountain. Right?

Had I known that the front desk opened at 4PM, I wouldn’t have left home so early. So, I sat in the lobby and waited, getting a drink every few minutes to replenish everything I’d sweated out in an air-conditionless car in 80 degree weather for the last 7 hours. I flopped my suitcase and backpack around, trying to reposition things (as if finding a better fit for them would somehow make the luggage lighter). After I realized I was about as well-packed as possible, I gave up and reclined sideways across the lobby chair, watching some kids laugh at each other as they kept wrecking their bikes outside.

After checking in, things went smoothly – I unpacked my laptop, had a snack, and decided to try to go to sleep at about 7:30, hoping that I’d get some rest before meeting Schau-sensei at 4AM. Before I closed my laptop, I logged onto facebook to check on fellow traveler, Taylor, as she said that she’d been having stomach pain and vomiting for the last few days. Not only because she’s a good friend but also because we’re supposed to be roommates in Japan, I really wanted her to be healthy and herself. I noticed a message from her that just about crushed me:

“Ugh. Just threw up again e__e worst case scenario: I decide to not go to Japan. Second worst case scenario: I go to Japan and get worse and end up in the hospital, ruining the trip for you guys  idk what I should do. Would you be super mad if I dropped out last minute? :X”

Part of me immediately wanted to tell her to tough it out and come on the trip, but I knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. She could be seriously sick, and the last thing I’d want is for her appendix to burst on an 11 hour flight or some such thing. Having had my own series of abdominal issues over the last few years, at least I felt somewhat qualified in trying to talk her through what it could be. We chit-chatted for a bit before she decided to head off to Urgent Care for the second time, and I seconded that decision, telling her to get them to give her a distinct yes/no answer for travel. I curled up under the bed pad (having brought no blankets or pillows of my own since I have no place to store them), alternating between dozing whenever possible and checking facebook to see if Taylor would be joining me for Japan or not. After three hours, I gave up on her answering.

I lay curled in the bed pad, listening to the horrendous shrieking of the other transitional housing students and regretting every moment of my decision to stay in BHT for the night instead of a nice, quiet (but more expensive) place like the Prince Conference Center. Obviously there were no quiet hours in effect, because I swear these college kids were playing some version of tag that required as much screaming, howling, and yelping as humanly possible. All night. All night. At about 2AM, I gave up on trying to sleep, packed my things, and waited around until 3:45 to head off to Prince and drop off my car to wait for Schau-sensei.

The airport in Grand Rapids was nice, as usual, but with one negative: the news that Taylor wouldn’t be coming. However, just as I was wrapping my mind around doing the trip without my good friend, she surprised us all and appeared with a suitcase and a backpack and a slight (and sickly) smile. I guess the temptation of returning to Japan, a place that she loved, was too great.

The flight from Grand Rapids was simple and quick, only about 45 minutes and much more cheerful now that I knew that Taylor would be coming along. The flight departed at 6 and arrived at 7. In Chicago, we hovered around waiting for the next flight, and the time change made it 6AM once again. While waiting for our flight, so far as I can tell our plane developed some issues and had to be replaced, so we tacked on an extra hour and a half of waiting. When the flight finally got underway, I entertained myself with the in-flight movie Oz, the Great and Powerful while others dozed. When we arrived in LAX, after the time changes, it was 8AM.

It seemed like it had been morning for days as the time kept changing, and this was no different on the flight to Narita, Japan, when we arrived after 11 hours at 3PM.

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However, it wasn’t the time change so much that colored my flight from LAX to Japan as much as the blood, pain, and all the misery I suffered on the first six hours of that flight.

I kept a close eye on Taylor, praying that she wouldn’t get sick because then I’d have to blame myself for encouraging her to come. I don’t want to see any of my friends miserable! However, as I sat on the flight scanning through the (horrendous) selection of movies, I started to realize that maybe she wasn’t the only one I needed to be paying attention to. I could feel pain welling up in my abdomen, coming in waves that got progressively stronger. At first, I chalked it up to the continuous changes in altitude over the last few flights and the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything for a while. After we were served a lunch and I didn’t improve, however, I started to loathe what I knew must be happening – my prescription medicine, for whatever reason, decided to completely stop working.

This medicine has served me semi-faithfully for many years to prevent the intense pain that I was feeling, but I suppose that the altitude changes and jitters of traveling set something off that just made it not work. As the hours progressed, the pain went from dull to stabbing to full-blown gasping, fiery-hot muscle contortions that had me squirming and dizzy. I asked a flight attendant if he had any pain medication, but he didn’t. I looked at the clock. With another 5-and-then-some hours in flight, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to make it the rest of the way while dealing with the pain. At that point, I was just hoping to pass out so that the flight would go faster. Thankfully, Taylor’s sickness came in handy for the both of us – she was packing a wad of prescription medicines for her own sickness, and one of them happened to be painkillers.

Taylor, you are my hero.

It was an excruciating wait for the medicine to kick in, but as the pain began to subside, I was finally able to fall asleep, exhausted from the struggle. The dull ache remaining was nothing compared to what had come before it, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the flight in relative peace and excitement. I also sliced the back of my foot open on an airplane chair, but I shouldn’t have expected any less. It just wasn’t my day.

Thankfully, Taylor’s always good at cheering people up, whether she realizes it or not. While under the influence of some of her medicine, we discovered her uncanny ability to talk in her sleep. After a sudden exclamation of “Guys! I did it!” came out of nowhere and every passenger in a 20-seat radius turned to look at her, I couldn’t help but smile. When she found out about it later, she grinned as well.

Once we arrived at Narita, it was a simple matter of various check-ins to get our passports stamped, our luggage, recovered, and our JR passes approved. We headed out to the tracks to wait for the Narita Express and then loaded our luggage behind the seats.

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Right before the train started moving, sensei reached under our row of seats on the train and somehow flipped the whole row of seats so that we were sitting face to face with the people behind us, which was a nice change from staring at a wall.

Most (if not all) of us struggled to stay awake on the nearly 2-hour train ride, as we’d been up for more than 24 hours. The train was smooth and quiet, which didn’t help. At about 12:10AM, our group of bedraggled and exhausted travelers dragged our luggage into the Chisun Inn in Nagoya and gratefully hit the sheets. Though I didn’t sleep well because my body was still telling me it was 1PM, I was kept company in my awakeness by Taylor, who was once again talking in her sleep. With a vehement huff, she tossed her head and shouted, “No! There is a distinct difference between adults and children! They are not the same people!”

Things I wonder: Considering how often Japanese business people need to sleep in hotels and the price of the business hotel we stayed in, it doesn’t really seem fair that these businesspeople would have to pay for the hotel each time the wanted to stay. Do Japanese companies help to cover the cost of overnight stays in hotels for their employees?

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