Thursday, September 2, 2010

September 1, 2010: Tokyo to Victoria Via Air Canada

Today we started the day with Bill feeling sick and April continuing to feel the effects of the food poisoning and/or Cipro antibiotics. It is time to go home. We had breakfast at the hotel in their buffet format. We are not going to miss all the buffets. We feel ready to come home. We packed and reserved our seats on the “Friendly Airport Limousine” which is actually the bus we caught into Tokyo from Narita Airport. You can reserve and purchase the tickets at our hotel’s front desk and the bus will come right there. They have baggage tags and everything , very convenient. On the buses that go longer distances in Japan they are equipped with seat belts. Why don’t we have this in Canada? It would not take much money to install them and it would most certainly cut down on injuries and liability claims…

As a result of a police check on the way to the airport, traffic was backed up and it took us two hours to get to Narita rather than one hour and twenty minutes. Thankfully, we booked in a bunch of leeway time in case we were delayed (we went with the be at the airport three hours before for international travel which we have always thought is an excessive estimate, but read on).

When we arrived at the airport we tried to get in line for Air Canada check-in. However we were told we had to do the kiosk with self-printing our own boarding passes first. Then we waited in a line for one hour. We were told that one of our two checked in bags, was three kilograms over the per bag limit (even though the aggregate weight of them together was within the range). They must have really weak baggage handlers in Japan, because it was all right in Canada and all they did was put a “heavy” tag on the handle.

Our choice was to pay $100 CDN or we could re-jig our bags. We opted to rejig our bags, open our suitcases on the floor, and be asked to move while our underwear is hanging out, rather than any human sympathy or assistance granted. It is odd how airlines apply rules and regulations differently in different situations. There is no consistency. A new friend Bill met at the conference calls this the influence of the “petty sovereign.” There’s a lot of pettiness going on in the world of officious airline officials. One more reason not to fly ANA (all the check in clerks were wearing ANA uniforms). ANA is an awful airline that does not focus on customer service and extorts money out of passengers at every opportunity. I expect that from RyanAir, but not a national-level carrier. We especially thought that they would not be idiots with baggage weight when we were travelling internationally and had been gone from Canada for one month or five and half weeks as we had (and were so close to the weight! Sticklers!). We then waited for the clerk to be free again and gave her back the bags and she accepted them this time. Sheesh.

We were finally able to go to the bathroom. Then, as we were heading towards security before we made it to the entry, we were subjected to a “random” police security check (we know it was “random” because they said “don’t worry this is a random security check”). They took down our passport and phone numbers. It really sucks to be a minority and constantly harassed by the state and other officials. They had some other Gaijin held up on the other end of the corridor. When I was trying to put our passports back into my bag before we moved on they kept harassing us to move like we were too stupid to get the concept that the “random check” was over. We were just trying to make sure we didn’t lose our passports so we’d be able to enjoy future security checks.!

After checking our bags and going through security, we thought we were done with line-ups, but in Japan they have you stand in an immigration line-up before you leave, in addition to surrendering customs forms for our tax-exempt purchases to a separate customs booth before the immigration line up (which took about 30 minutes). The Japanese sure like their line-ups. I think it’s a chicken or the egg thing because they like overstaffing as well. It makes for a very inefficient way of going about life. Red tape seems to be the sinew that binds Japanese society together.

When we passed security, we had our last sushi lunch, filled up our water bottles, and grabbed a couple of soft ice cream cones. To our delight, they did not have cornflakes stuffed into the bottom of the cone—what is with the Japanese obsession with tainting ice-creamy treats into a dry cereal breakfast surprise?

Then the odyssey of the flight from Tokyo to Vancouver began. We were only at the gate just before boarding started but were able to enjoy a leisurely ice cream while the Japanese enjoyed the line-up for boarding instead.  The flight was pretty smooth but also mostly sleepless for April (Bill got quite a few hours of sleep). Then we arrived in Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. PST on September 1, 2010 (after travelling back in time 17 hours and repeating September the 1st). We had to go to a kiosk to hand over our customs declaration. The machine spat out a sheet. Then we had to go to a cashier to pay some duty. Then we had to get into a customs line up with our bags. Then we had to pass off our bags to the next leg of the journey to Victoria. Then we had to go through security again. Airport security regulations make travelling an unpleasant experience. Then we had to wait three hours for our flight to Victoria.

We were picked up by Julia when we arrived in Victoria. It was so nice to see a familiar face. After we deposited our bags at home we did a quick grocery shop and picked up the cat. We then did our best to stay awake until bedtime by unpacking and watching television. We both had periods of time where we were wide away in the middle of the night, but we both managed to eventually get back to sleep. It is harder travelling West to East than East to West. 

At Narita International Airport: Tired, but happy to be on our way home. 

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