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OT: Airport Anxiety

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  • johnji_nz
    I was in Japan recently, the realisation of a long-cherished dream, and wrote this story while waiting to fly home again from Narita airport. Apologies in
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 27, 2006
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      I was in Japan recently, the realisation of a long-cherished dream,
      and wrote this story while waiting to fly home again from Narita
      airport. Apologies in advance for its' length, but if you hang in
      there you may find a small saucer of inspiration at the very end. And
      to put it all in context, I gave up the devil's brew (coffee) recently.

      Incidentally, Japanese people really do speak English as I have
      phonetically spelt it out in the article. They will look at you
      blankly if you say "New Zealand", but nod enthusiastically to
      "Ne-ew-Zealand-a."

      Airport Anxiety

      Almost home. Not that I don't regret to be leaving Japan—in fact
      completely the opposite. This country has just made the top of my "All
      time favourite-places that I have visited and would like to be born in
      next lifetime" list. Not a long list to be honest, but a list probably
      in need of a shorter title.

      There is always an end to everything in life, and responsibilities'
      voice tells me that I have a job and numerous commitments to return
      to. And besides, I am fast running out of money.

      I get off the free hotel bus at Terminal 2 of Tokyo's Narita Airport.
      Or should I say "de-bus", for I am at an international airport, and
      here only Japanese and American English are understood. Call me a
      crank, but one of these days I will refuse to leave my seat when I am
      asked to "de-plane"...

      But returning to the topic of poverty's pinch. I have just spent three
      nights at the Narita Hilton, and am now seriously out of pocket. At
      this point you may question the wisdom of staying in a four star hotel
      when one is on a budget. While I do occasionally suffer from delusions
      of aristocratic grandeur, delusions that I have yet to precisely
      place, in my defence I got a very good price via the internet, after
      failing to secure a reservation at six cheaper locations.

      Also in my defence, neither the website, nor the barely comprehensible
      American call-centre operator named Chuck, who processed my credit
      card, said a thing about the fact that breakfast, gym use and internet
      would be additional. Thank goodness for hotel room push-ups.

      I have timed poverty's approach to approximately the door of airplane.
      Once on board I will no longer need coin or currency, and I am almost
      there. A quick check of the entrance-way terminal map, and I head
      straight for the Air New Zealand check-in desk.

      And then back again to the map.

      "Yes, Air New Zealand, Aisle D" I confirm mentally—it says so right
      here in English. Again I traverse the Great Wall-like queue at the Air
      China desk in vain.

      "Um, excuse me, this is Aisle D, but there is no Air New Zealand
      counter in sight" my internal monologue continues unbidden, and
      completely rhetorically. And then out loud to a semi-articulate but
      genuinely helpful lady at the information counter near-by.

      "Air New Zealand-da, Flight-ta 90-a, check-in-na at-ta 4.45pm", is her
      answer, but not the solution to my problem. And no I can't enter my
      frequent flyer airline lounge without checking in, and besides that
      particular lounge is in Terminal 1—this is Terminal 2.

      "American-Express-a lounge-a 2nd-da floor. Pay at door to enter-a?"
      she offers helpfully.

      It is only 11.30am and I am near broke in the airport of the most
      expensive city in the world. Too broke to even eat the wax food
      effigies that double as menus in the restaurant windows.

      With a full five hours to kill my first thought is getting rid of my
      bag, seeing as it doubles as a portable film studio and is
      ridiculously heavy. After all I've already had my hotel-room work-out
      this morning.

      Conveniently placed behind the check-in counter where I can't yet
      check-in is a bag storage service, slightly more expensive than the
      lockers, but the only option when one is travelling jumbo size. I
      hand, or rather bodily lift my bag to the attendant, and fill in the
      proffered baggage check form, noting the charge of ¥500 per day (about
      US$5) with the practised nonchalance that only having a well-paying
      job can bring.

      "Do you take credit cards?" I ask blithely, for only in hindsight will
      I remember that this is Japan, possibly the most technologically
      advanced nation in the world in all regards except it's banking
      system—the use of foreign issued credit cards is everywhere a lottery.

      "Yen only" he replies. "Pay-a on pick-up-u."

      I mumble near incoherently something resembling "thank-you" and "I'll
      find some cash"—not that clarity is a top priority when people don't
      speak more than 10 words of your language—for it has just occurred to
      me that I spent my last ¥-flavoured coinage of note on an iced-coffee
      from the hotel lobby store. The attendant smiles politely, as everyone
      in Japan does.

      It's not that Japan doesn't have ATMs, for it has almost as many as
      the ubiquitous roadside coffee and softdrink vending machines, but
      ATMs that work with foreign cards are another matter. As are foreign
      issued cards that are over their limit and then some.

      I am wander around the terminal in a financially motivated
      panic-induced daze, clarity of thought deserted, wondering how on
      earth I am going to retrieve my bags with neither coin nor
      linguistics. Call me hopelessly attached, but I am quite keen to leave
      the country with everything with which I came.

      The world changes when you are poor—mentally if not substantially.
      Suddenly, to my eyes, everyone I see possesses a security which having
      money brings, a security which I now lack. It may be only a
      perception, and the wiser part of me knows that perceptions are just
      that—changeable, relative and often mistaken, and on these terms easy
      to dismiss—but this perception is gripping me tight, like the sense of
      fear gripping my throat. Childhood memories of losing a parent in a
      public place are revisited, and a similar almost uncontrollable fear
      and sense of helplessness is pressing strongly against the poise and
      detachment that I normally practise if not embody.

      Then an event happens which is hardly conducive to my slightly shaken
      and stirred state of mind—I am stopped by two policemen and asked for
      my passport. Polite and friendly in a very sincere way you will almost
      never find in other countries, none the less I still have to swallow a
      new feeling: slowly rising, angry indignation.

      The officer who asked for my passport begins examining the finer
      details of my nationality, copying them to a piece of paper which
      already contains several names, while the other asks my occupation.
      "Designer" I say quickly, making a mental calculation as to which of
      my various job descriptions will most easily be understood. He looks
      slightly confused, so I move to what is the universally understood
      occupation of our time: "website developer" ("film star" wouldn't have
      been true).

      "Ohhhh, website-u designer-ah" he nods approvingly, repeating
      phonetically the same in Japanese to his colleague, whom to my relief
      has so far politely avoided making any comment upon my more than
      unflattering passport photo. "This is YOU?" or "Sir, are you on
      medication?" the unspoken commentary that springs to mind.

      So it seems that I do not pose a high enough risk to airport security
      to warrant further action, action which, although it may have helped
      pass the remaining time in hand is, I suspect, best avoided. Perhaps
      they were after another "handsome, European male of average height and
      powerful physique." Or completely short-sighted.

      I walk past people in café windows laughing and drinking coffees.
      Something which, financially thirsty, I cannot do. Laughter may still
      be affordable, but I am not in the mood.

      In the process of simultaneously looking for a working ATM and
      considering ever more fantastic outcomes to what common sense tells me
      is really a minor predicament, a brief moment of clarity intrudes, and
      I remember to check the change pocket of my wallet, currently heavy
      enough to be a bodily appendage in it's own right.

      In one of those fortuitous moments of cosmic synchronicity which can
      never be planned, yet occur daily in even the smallest details of a
      seeker's life, I have precisely ¥500 in change—not a "go-en" less or
      more. My deposited bag is secured; so is my poise.

      The story behind the story

      This story takes it's events from a trip I made to Japan in July, and
      I had initially intended for it to be my very first web diary post.
      However, my normal predeliction for both perfection and incessant
      polishing saw it languor for over two months before seeing the light
      of publication, here today. Hopefully it is as enjoyable to read as it
      was to write...

      Jolted from the self-sustaining feedback loop of fear and worry, worry
      and fear, confidence re-emerges like the sun from behind a cloud, and
      in its' secure warmth I find my way to a more than tiny Post Office in
      the shadows of the Terminal basement—the one dependable place in Japan
      for securing currency with international cards. With ¥500 already in
      my pocket, and like a gambler drunk on sudden success, I am going for
      broke—I may yet strike a coffee and cake jackpot with which to pass
      the time.

      In the end I was a winner—¥2000 yen remaining on an assortment of
      magnetically stripped plastic cards whose balances I dared not read.
      Enough to buy, against my waistline's better judgement, a white
      chocolate latte and cinnamon danish from "Starbucku", and to my
      further delight, access to a wireless internet connection in same.
      Glazed with minor fortune and fuelled with caffeine, the first draft
      of this post was the result, a giddy stream of infectiously confident
      prose written in a single take in a Narita coffee shop.

      It was all a minor predicament of course, made larger than lifelike
      through my thoroughly fanciful imagination, but in final judgement,
      another valuable lesson in the meditative prerequisites of calm and
      poise—core subjects in a life-long course I intend to master.

      Note: to those of you who disapprove, I have recently given up my
      sweet invocation of the "Dark Lord"...
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