Monday, January 14
My clock tells me it’s 4:30am Nihon (Japan) time, on Monday morning – but my head tells me it’s 1:30pm on Sunday.
Throughout my seventeen hours of travel (both flying and waiting included), my head carefully controlled a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. I arrived at YVR just after 5am, and soon had to say goodbye to my parents before entering the ‘Passengers Only’ area. I’ll be honest – as I said goodbye to my parents, my only thoughts were those of blind panic. I have flown on my own before, and I have travelled to a different country before. But I have never flown on my own to a different country, where I will live for 7 months, on my own! Fortunately, I had a decent handle on my panic and focused on getting through the customs & security checkpoints and checking my baggage.
Once I hit the terminal, I still had two hours to wait – my flight was delayed by half an hour. I took a nap, got some breakfast, and purchased some ‘Canadian’ chocolates for my Japanese supervisor & coworkers. Once my flight finally boarded, we had to wait another half hour. Due to bad weather at San Francisco, my first destination, they were requesting that all flights delay takeoff. I had my own personal TV which provided me with a variety of music, movie, and TV options, so I listened to some country and watched some Grey’s Anatomy and Without a Trace. According to my itinerary, I had an hour and a half in the San Francisco airport, but due to the flight delay, I knew it would be tight to get to my connecting flight. The thought of having to deal with finding the next flight to Osaka (which I think was the next day, at the same time), did not thrill me. Fortunately, once we got close to San Fran, they announced that an agent would escort the five people who were heading to Osaka to their flight. This ended up being myself, one other guy, and a family with two small children, running through the airport, following an agent through back doors and onto shuttles. We did arrive in time; there was even still a lineup to board when we arrived. Even though it wasn’t my doing that I got there on time, I felt a sort of accomplishment, having got this far on my trip by myself.
The flight to Osaka was also delayed while they cleared some debris off of the runway. We left almost 45 minutes late. I was sitting in the middle seat. To my right was an Asian guy who slept the entire flight (and I do mean almost the entire flight – I don’t know how he did it!). To my left was a guy named Scott who I chatted with a bit. For this 11 hour flight (as opposed to the 2.5 hour flight to San Fran), I did not have a personal TV. I was also starving, since I hadn’t had a chance to pick up some lunch in San Francisco as I planned. An hour into the flight, they served a meal. Between the meal, cat naps, magazines, and a book, I wasn’t too bored for the first half of the flight. At one point, Scott opened the window and tapped my leg and pointed outside. It was beautiful! You could see the ocean below with some small islands or perhaps just collections of dirt created by waves, and a quilt of clouds that never ended. I remember thinking that it reminded me of Saskatchewan, because it just went on and on until the earth dropped off. It made me want to jump out of the plane and go bounce from one to another. It was an amazing sight. The second half of the flight, I alternated between being nervous about my new experience, very excited about my new experience, and wondering if I was going to go insane from sitting so long. If you know me at all, you probably know that I don’t do well with that. I watched a movie, read some more, dropped my boxes of chocolates on some poor man in front of me when I opened the overhead bin (oops! Scott thought that was pretty funny). Finally, we reached Osaka – an hour late, which isn’t too bad, I suppose. I collected my things and deplaned into the Great Unknown…
When I finally got through Immigration, Security, Customs, and picked up my baggage, Takemori-san found me immediately. He helped me carry my suitcase (which, by the way, was very heavy), and said we would be taking the train to my dormitory. Once we boarded the first train, there were several awkward conversations where he tried to say something in Nihongo (Japanese), and I replied with ‘Wakarimasen’, which means, “I don’t understand”. So he would go through it word by word, some of which I did understand. I was carrying my laptop case, purse, and hiking backpack. He was dragging my suitcase and smaller carryon suitcase. We went from that train, to another, to another, and then to a fourth train. I found myself wondering how I could possibly need enough stuff to make my bags as heavy as they were. I got to purchase a train ticket, and received my first Nihon change. Someone (I can’t remember who) asked if it had holes in it – yes it does. Takemori-san and I continued to have random awkward conversations. When we finally got off the last train (about an hour and a half after leaving the airport), he showed me where I would meet him on Tuesday morning. Then we left the building (me hoping that I could remember how to get to where I had to meet him)….he had said something earlier about a 5-6 minute walk from the dorm, so I figured this was it. Lo and behold, no, it wasn’t. We walked a bit longer, and I thought I was going to die. It was about 2am my time, I had been up since 3:30am my time, I hadn’t eaten as much as I wanted, and what I was carrying was heavy. Finally we stopped at a taxi stand and got in. I tried to pay attention the where we were going, as I thought I would have to walk from our destination back to the train station. I soon figured out that couldn’t be true, it would have been a long walk! Takemori-san told me a little bit about the dorm. There is a woman’s only section, which houses 4 other women, and a men’s section which houses 95 men. One of the women was an exchange student at UBC for a year, and speaks English. I didn’t realize until later how happy that made me.
We arrived at the dorm and a lady came to meet us. We removed our shoes and put on slippers that she gave us. Then the dorm manager came out as well. Me, Takemori-san, and the dorm manager (Yoshida-san), lugged my luggage up a flight and a half of stairs to my room. My room is larger than I expected, and has lots of closet space. Then I got the tour…the bathroom at the end of the hall, and then down a flight to a kitchen area with tatami mats and a low table, another kitchen area with two North-American style tables, another kitchen area with no tables, an area with a TV and couches, a laundry room (all in Japanese…I may ruin my clothes trying to use it! ), and a bath area, which was very pretty with a pink curtain and big tub. All the areas were common areas that I share with the other women. Then we went downstairs and I was shown the cafeteria that is shared by the men and the women. If I won’t be eating here, I stamp a card and leave it in the cafeteria. The tour was winding up, and I met a guy who works in R&D at Osaka Gas (where I will be working). I didn’t catch his name (he said it too fast. But I think it started with an M.). I bowed and he bowed and we both kind of laughed. We were standing near the entrance (me, Takemori-san, Yoshida-san, the woman, and M). They were having a conversation, I was doing the ‘smile-and-nod’. Takemori-san threw bits of information my way, but mostly, I was just completely lost as to what was going on. I realized how little Japanese I understand, and how out of place a person feels when they don’t understand what the conversation around them is, especially when you think it’s about you! Takemori-san asked if I was tired (yes!!), or hungry (no). Takemori-san left after some awkward bowing (I do know how to say thank you – “arigato” – and I said it a lot and bowed a lot). Then I stood for a minute with the lady Yoshida-san, and M before bowing and saying ‘arigato’ and motioning back towards the women’s dorm to indicate that I was going to go to bed. None of the three spoke English, and I had no idea what they were talking about, or if it was rude for me to leave. I got back up to my room, pulled out my sleeping bag, put the sheets and blankets on the floor, unrolled the sleeping bag, and climbed into bed, thrilled to rest my head on the nice, puffy, soft…beanbag pillow. Not so soft, not so puffy. Literally a nice, pretty hard beanbag pillow. But I didn’t care, and once I managed to quell the infinite thoughts running through my tired mind, I was out. Until now, 4:30am, when I am wide awake. However, the best antidote for jet lag is keeping the new schedule, so I am going to head back to my beanbag pillow and sleeping bag, and try to sleep for at least another four hours or so. I need to be well-rested for my party tomorrow. I forgot to mention that – they’re throwing me a welcome party tomorrow. Very nice, kind of exciting, but I’ll definitely have to learn as much Nihongo tomorrow before the party as I can. So goodnight, and arigato!
-Picture: This is the welcome sign the posted in the lobby for me...I have no idea what it says except I know that the first line of blue writing is my name. :)