Leg one of this trip took me literally months to plan. Now, you are probably wondering why did I decide to go to China in the first place and not go to Japan. Well, it is because I have met someone on the internet. Now, normally I am a rather strong believer that this is probably some joker, or pediphile, or bored hacker or some police agent or something like that. But our relationship has spanned a year now, so I felt it is time to get off my ass and figure out once and for all, whether or not she is really real or whether or not it is some big set up or practical joke. After all, my chances of meeting a real woman sitting behind ICQ or MSN is probably about the same as getting struck by lightning the day I win the lottery. So what does she look like? Well, have a look for yourself.
So on with today's story. So after a lot of consulting with friends, and even some professional help, I got my ass in gear and got the papers ready to get me there. The tickets cost me around $1500 Cdn return. There is also like $300 Cdn in fees/taxes/chargers, and I also bought insurance, so my total was just under $2000 Cdn.
Now there is a small amazing story with the travel place. When I went on my November trip to Prince George, I went to this hole in the wall location of the Flight Centre on Georgia Street downtown. My agent was this very helpful salesperson Peter Moors. Well, when I went back to buy my China ticket in Feburary, I walked in and went to him again. It totally shocked me that he actually remembered me as the guy that flew up to Prince George for a high school reunion. I mean this is like 3 months later through one of the busiest times of the year. He must have served 100's of customers after me and yet he remembered a little ol' customer like me.
I chose, (actually Peter chose it because there was a promotional sale) a flight with ANA (All Nippon Airlines). However, they don't fly out of Vancouver. I was going to need to take a connector plane to San Francisco to swap planes. Also ANA only flies 3 times a week to Shenyang, so I was going to need to stay overnight in Narita Japan. All right, a chance to look around in Japan!
Bright and early in the morning of Feb 18th, 2005 at 5:30am, I go to the Vancouver International Airport (strangely located in the city of Richmond). It was a flight with Alaskian Airlines. I checked in my cursed luggage (you will learn why) and boarded without any problems. Everything was cool until we ran into a problem with oil for the engine just as we were on the runway. The flight was delayed 30 minutes. For me, this was deadly because I needed to catch my connecting flight at 10:40am, thus being 30 minutes late only gives me 25 minutes to run through the airport. Well, sure enough, I landed in San Francisco at around 10:30am so I was getting pretty worried. Fortunately for me, just as I was getting off the loading platform, an ANA flight person was standing there asking for my name and holding up a sign with my name on it. She rushed me through the airport to a gate at the other side of the terminal.
We even zipped through US customs. There was a lineup exiting the US, but we were able to bud in right to the front of the line. We were rushing so much I had walked too fast through the x-ray machine and I had to go through again. They scan your carry on bags seperately, your computers separately, and now recently they now scan your shoes seperately. Also by running through the customs, I didn't need to spend too much time talking with the passport officer. He just looked at it, scanned the barcode thingie on it, and waved me through.
It was great with all this running I made and caught my plane. However, with all this delay stuff, my check in baggage didn't make the connection.
|This is not suppose to be a page where I get paid to do endorsements but for anyone who wants to fly to Japan and doesn't want to pay the extra for JAL, I would definitely recommend ANA. At first, I just thought they were another discount airline that flys cheap to Japan. But when they had sent a representative to get me at San Fransico, I was already impressed. Not only did the rep guide me all the way through the SF airport, she also helped me through customs and she also got me my free hotel stay coupon voucher that I was suppose to get that the ANA counter, and she also got me my boarding pass. This is truly impressive service. However, it didn't stop there. When I got on the plane, they had a really cool entertainment system all set up for me to pass my time away. The food was great. It certainly made it easy to pass 11 hours of sitting in the stupid plane.
This new digital flat LCD flat screen technology is great. First of all, there is a big projection screen in front of the cabin. It first shows a cockpit cam showing what is in front of the plane. Cool for watching take offs and landings. Secondly, they also have in front of each seat, a small LCD TV. The TV is controlled by a Super Famicom (SNES) joystick looking like remote (see picture to the right) and allows you to pick the program you want. They had a cool 80's music videos show which had "Photograph" - Def Leppard, "Loser" - Beck, "Heat Of The Night" - Bryan Adams, "Layla" - Eric Clapton and more. They also had a video track of Gackt but it wasn't available for economy class. On the games side, it lets you play SNES games like Shanghai II, Street Fighter II (yea the real old one), Mahjong, two types of Golf games and more. I burned a few hours playing MJ and Shanghai.
The in flight service was great. It was a pork rice, with a cold udon noodle for lunch with tea, and Sapporo Beer. The snack food was those mini rice cracker mix bags and of course more beer.
|So I arrive in Japan. A nice and functional airport. It was kinda low tech when I got off the plane, they shipped us by BUS to the main arrivals terminal. At which time, they ushered me through customs. It was interesting to see most of the staff wore masks over their faces to keep the diseases away (or inside).
Anyway, I was able to easy follow the icons for bus and go outside to find the free hotel shuttle buses to go to the Hotel. (see picture on the right) ANA has its own hotel called the ANA Hotel Narita, which they house all the overnights. Narita for all those slow people, it kinda reminds me of a real farmland remote hick town. More hick than Langley and more sparse then probably Mission. The shuttle stops are very well labelled just like the San Deigo Airport. My bus was the number 25 but there were others to other parts of the city, and to other hotels. After a short 5 or so minute ride through what looks like Richmond or Surrey farm land, I arrive a hotel literally in the middle of goon docks. Nice hotel inside.
The rooms inside were small but very functional. You have to pay for everything of course. Even the coffee machine with the coffee was 300 yen, and the cup of noodle was 250 yen. I used the phone to call up my friend Matt. I later will find out that the call was 122 yen.
Washroom was small, but it was enough. It had one of those funky toilets where you push a button and it sprays your butt with water. They also were nice enough to supply toilet paper for us foriegner types... The book for the TV guide was kinda good, however, the reference book they supply in the hotel is only in Japanese with some English at the back of the book. What little there was in English is probably enough but considering it was a 20 page book, and 4 of the pages were English... Hm... makes you think something is lost in the translation somewhere...
|Alright, Matt was busy with a wedding of a friend but he said he was free around 10:00pm. I made an arrangment with him to walk around Shinjuku at 10pm. I remembered that one of those shuttle buses will get me to Shinjuku Station. So since the airport was expensive as silly, I hopped on to the bus and went down to Shinjuku Station. The Narita Express JR train was 3500 yen but has lots of various stops which I might miss, so I played it safe and bought the shuttle bus for 3000 yen which only stops at Shinjuku Station and two hotels near Shinjuku. This would be safer for me to take.|
|The bus ride was not too bad. I caught the bus at 5:15pm and I got there around 7:00pm. I was going close to freeway speeds. The lanes were narrow and the turns are very narrow. So it would be like landing at the Abbotsford airport and taking a shuttle bus to Vancouver Downtown because around Narita, it is so sparse and full of nothing.|
|Shinjuku Station is a very popular shopping area. My major concern was to go and get some fast food. Now, you wonder why would I get fast food when I am in a foreign country like Japan? Well, number one, I hate Japanese food (ie. I don't like sushi, most of their noodles, and most of their frys); number two, I am not ajusted to their water or diet, so I don't want to have stomach complications for eating raw foods (and that includes uncooked vegatables and fruit) and number three, I will know what the hell I am ordering.
Now the first "Import" I saw, was our favourite "Starbuck's Coffee". (see picture at right) There are actually two locations right around Shinjuku station. But who in the hell wants to go there for something to eat...
Anyway, I wandered into a mall building called Terikensikisu. It is like 12 stories of shopping with smaller specially departments in it. Kinda like the Hudson's Bay on Granville Street Skytrain Station. The two speciality stores that caught my eye was HMV and some Electronics Store. So I had to use the escalator for 11 floors to get to the Electronics Store. It was nothing too interesting except that has all the various things like cameras, MP3 players, video games. Blank CDR and DVDR Media is a little more expensive than what we can get here. Video games were deathly expensive, same price as you would buy it in the US. Rumble Roses was 6800 yen (EB has it for $59 Cdn), Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball was 3800 yen (I bought mine at EB for $29 Cdn). Note: 100 Yen = $1.00 USD. (approximately)
HMV is pretty much the same as our HMVs we have here. I sifted through various categories in the store. I was dissappointed they had no DVD music videos to buy. They didn't have any Shizuka Kudo at all, they did have one live concert DVD of the Gogos priced at a retarded 3900 yen, they had a Bangles DVD but it was 1800yen and since the USA version is coming out soon. That didn't leave me with much left to get. However, in their super discount bin, I found Arnold Schwartznegger's "Kindergarden Cop" for 900yen and that classic movie "Porky's" for 999 yen. There is also a 5% discount on the DVD s too (big whoopie!!). I also looked at the box sets of TV shows. They had boxes for ER seasons 3-8 and even Greatest American Hero. However, the boxes looked like inkjet photocopies and they were still charging 5800 yen for a box of ER and 3800 yen for GAH. Lucky, I bought an official GAH box already for $33.00 CDN.
|Anyway, I went back outside to the street where I found a McDonalds. I went in and ordered a Big Mac Combo for 698yen. The burger was about the same if not bigger than our Macs. However, the meat lacked saltiness and the tomato was bigger. The fries was about the size of a regular size fries. The drink was small, maybe even a kid's size. I ordered Coke, which had about the same kinda acid punch, not as sweet as Canadian stuff. However, it had a really funny almost styrofoam after taste to it. The bottled coke didn't have this taste as I later found out.
The funniest thing about the McDonalds was that upstairs there were some high school kids playing games while eating their food. Two tables were heavily into playing Magic The Gathering. A table of girls were busy playing some kinda flip the coin game. The garbage is also interesting in Japan. Most garbage containers are divided up because they are really big on recycling. At McDonalds, you have to throw your ice cubes and drink in the sink, the cup, the lid and the straw goes into one compartment, and the other junk goes into the other. Hmm... maybe that is why my drink tastes like reprocessed fibres...
|I wandered around the area to kill time before I run into Matt. I found many video game stores, magazine stores, adult video and manga stores, personal electronics, even a Macintosh store.
Of these, I found a used video game store which had some cheap 100 yen CDs, which included a Dreamcast Street Fighter Vs Marvel and some weird random Karaoke DVD which has "Love Phantom" on it... I also found a used video game store that had cheap discontinued Mega CD, PC Engine Hu Card and PC Engine CD and Sega Saturn games for under 500 yen. Of couse, I had most of them but it was neat to shop.
Equipment is cheap. Playstation ones were 1500 yen, Dreamcasts were 3000 yen and there were lots to be found around here. Fat Playstation 2's were also quite available for 17800 yen, Slim Playstation 2's were 15800yen.
In the Macintosh store, I was thinking of buying the Aircard for my iBook G4 for 8800yen. However, it is about the same price in Vancouver anyway.
Of the restaurants I noticed around here, there were 2 Starbuck's Coffees around Shinjuku Station, the McDonalds of course, KFC (which 4 pieces of chicken was 900 yen), Wendy's (hot chicken sandwich was 590 yen), there was Stackers restaurant too.
The area had two arcades which were useful, one was the Sega arcade which had your usual 4 player Gundam and 4 player Z Gundam, Virtual Fighter, Sega driving games, etc... The other one had the drum game and guitar game. It was 200 yen to play, so it is a bit expensive. No Para Para or DDR machines around here.
|Ok, I ran into Matt at Shinjuku Station South Entrance. I spotted him despite I was starting to pass out while standing. He was still nicely dressed from the wedding he went to. He suggested to kill some time at the arcade. It is here he showed me the lastest craze of RPG coin slot games, the Hokuto No Ken Slot game, and some of the crane games, where he was able to win me a maid Ghost In The Shell figurine.
He was also able to show me where a good dojinshi and SMUT shop was but of course, this is the wrong time for me to buy it. Also I have no idea what I need right now.
Anyway, Matt took me to a nice techie A La Carte restaurant. It was a nice cozy booth style restaurant. The cool part was that each table had a flat LCD touch screen menu. You ordered things by pressing on the pictures. SQUIRREL, has nothing like this! So cool. I let Matt do the ordering. We ended ordering some green salad, and a few skewers of chicken and pork, and some beer. In the end it costed 5000 yen which is way too much but I would expect that from a place like this. But it was nice.
At this time, we were wandering around the "Red Light District". Oh yea, lots of guys and even some cute girls would come up to us with pictures of women. They would try to sell us "women services" for even as cheap as 4000 yen for an hour... Hm... Interesting... But I am already spoken for, and right now that would not be an efficent use of my yen but if you are visiting Japan, it is so hard to avoid/miss when you walk around this part of town at this time at night.
So since we had two hours to kill before catching the first train to Narita. For all those people who think Tokyo has a great night life. Well, I will dispell that myth now. Yes, there is lots of night things to do like music, movie, bars, girls and food. However, like Vancouver, the train and bus transit system shuts down around midnight and won't start up again until around 5:00am. So for all those people who think Vancouver lives in a curfew state HA!!! Anyway, we decided against karaoke and we decided on an Internet cafe for 2 hours. It was 800 yen per hour, but you get free drinks and manga to read. And for an extra 100 yen, you can get a cubical that has a "couch" like seat for the computer. So this is a great cheap place to pass out for the night in case you miss the last train.
Day 3 (Sunday 20/2005) : Entering The RED Zone
|So at 5:00am, Matt helps me buy a 1450 yen ticket to train me back to Narita Airport. The station is so big, becasue so many lines that connect here. We ended up going down several floors to get to the stop we needed. But it was good, Matt got me on the right train and I ended back at the Airport. The next problem I had was that the ANA shuttle from the airport to the hotel doesn't start until 7:45am. That would be too late since I am suppose to show up at the check in desk at 7:30am. So I ended up catching a cab for the ride, it costed me 1300 yen for the taxi.|
|So I got to the hotel, packed up my junk, shaved and checked out. It was here were I put in an inquiry about where my luggage was. She said she would look into it. Yea right... I was not going to hold my breath. Anyhow... I got back on the shuttle to go to the airport. I passed by bag checks and customs check pretty easy. While I was waiting at the gate, I had a little snack to eat. A small plate of chinese soy sauce noodles was 450 yen, a 500ml bottle of Coke was 150yen and a small box of 4 packs of Pocky was 200 yen, and by the way, a Pringles Can of Chips was 300 yen. During the boarding, I got a page over the PA microphone. It was the ANA attendant, who told me that I should see the agent on the China end to see about my luggage. Wow, I was now moving from very impressed with the service I got from ANA to extremely satsified. I got on the plane. It was going to be a short flight but we still used a plane that had the high tech entertainment seat. It didn't take long, and we were alright finished with lunch and it was time to land. I didn't even finish my game of Shanghai.|
|Landing in China is probably no different than most other countries. The one thing that is clearly different is the number of armed soldiers at the airport. This made me nervous yet safe. Of the many airport stops, they had a stop to collect up medical disease forms, then a second one line up to check your passport. The guy I got tried to ask me a question in Maderin, but I asked him to repeat in English. He didn't and waved me through. Ah.. lucky!! As soon as I got through the passport checks, a woman from ANA was in the baggage claim area holding a sign with my name on it. Well, of course, I walked up to her and said I am William Chow. She unfortunately, was only good at Maderin, and functional in Japanese and close to no English. She called another agent over to help me. Apparently, my guess was true about my luggage. The transfer from my Alaska Flight to the ANA flight failed so my luggage was left behind in San Fransico. Wow, does the song "I left my BAG in San Francisco" come to mind? The agent said, it was enroute to Japan now, and won't be arriving till Tuesday. She gave me a card for a hotel and contact information in Shenyang City of where my bag will be. Of course, by the time all this was done, I was the last one to leave the baggage claim area. I walked straight through the customs check and baggage check area. There were like five soldiers standing around waiting to do searches but since I was only one guy, they didn't want to be waste their time bothering me so I walked through. Hahahaa, if I knew that it was that easy I could have got the smut in Japan. (yea right...)|
|I entered the receving lobby and there was a thinned out crowd, but the crowd was not the attention stopper. It was the smiling face of Ami which caught my eyes. I was worried that it was going to be so busy that I would accidently miss her but because of my delay, that made my job much much easier. She had brought her daughter to see and the driver was her brother's friend. We would take a ride with his car to Ami's house.|