Air travel is weird. About 24 hours ago I was sitting in a flying people-box which was hurling me towards Japan at 600kph. I was trusting my life to two people I’ve never met and will probably never hear of again. Because the can dropped back to earth safely, I’m now sitting writing this in a hotel room in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan.
It’s an incredibly well-stocked room which includes a ferociously complicated bathroom (5 different shower heads and a typically complicated toilet control panel), fridge, kettle, dressing gown, slippers, clothes brush, toothbrush, razor and (for some reason) a shoehorn. After the rather spartan airport hotel I was at last night, this feels like the lap of luxury. Well, it would do if it wasn’t a tiny room with barely space to lay down my suitcase, but I guess that’s what you get when 10% of the population of Japan are packed into 0.6% of its area (that’s 13 million people in 2000 square kilometers).
The travel itself went quite smoothly — the only hairy moment was at the Gold Coast airport where I transferred to the flight to Japan. I didn’t realise I would have to go through security again there, despite having been through at Auckland airport. I also forgot that I was carrying a water bottle which I bought after going through security at Auckland. After having that confiscated and my bag searched I was let through so it was only a minor drama, but it was still annoying at the time. Apparently Australians don’t trust New Zealanders to do security checks …
I always think people don’t talk enough on planes — it’s a good opportunity to meet someone with a story or two (and who has been forced to sit next to you for several hours). Having said that, I rarely do start conversations because being antisocial and watching movies is an easy way out.
The reason I’m mentioning this is that out of the three flights I’ve been on over the past two days I’ve had two conversational neighbours and therefore two interesting and useful conversations.
While flying to Auckland I was surprised to find myself sitting next to a 70-year old who had been a computer programmer in the days of punched cards. I’m fascinated by the history of computing so we had a fascinating (if you’re not a programmer read: boring) discussion about algorithms, memory and US elections. In return, since he grew up in a small town in the North Island, I told him about the current New Zealand education system. He started the conversation by getting a combo meal and offering me the drink, so I’ve filed that under “conversation starters to use when I’m no longer a poor student”.
On the way from Auckland to the Gold Coast I was next to a couple who spent the flight in each others’ arms, but on the flight from the Gold Coast to Narita I was next to two Japanese girls, both of which were very happy to try and understand my broken Japanese. Aiko, to whom I will be eternally grateful, ended up showing me to my hotel and taking me around Tokyo. She’d been on exchange in Sydney so her English was considerably better than my Japanese, and with the help of her explanations and ‘charenji’ (getting me to ask random strangers about stuff) I’ve gained a little more confidence in my ability to navigate the city.
Now for some weird things — I’ll probably finish off each post in this series with a few things I found strange or funny. If I haven’t found anything strange or funny, it probably means I’m back in New Zealand.
- Despite being a technologically advanced society, the Japanese rarely use credit cards and prefer to buy things with cash
- There are convenience stores everywhere — you get a sense of deja vu when you walk past a “Family Mart” or 7Eleven for the fifth time in as many minutes
- You can’t just buy drinks and snacks from vending machines. Coffee, ice cream, burgers and soup are also readily available
You may notice there aren’t many photos in this post. I didn’t bother taking many at the airports, but rest assured that actual photos of Tokyo and of me are coming in subsequent articles!