November 13th, 2003


small wonders

My plane into Narita (成田) was late, so I was quite a bit worried about getting to Haneda (羽田) in time to catch my connecting flight. I had counted on spending 2 hours (by rail) to switch airports, so when I exited customs at 4:45pm, I thought there was no way I'd make my 7:05pm flight. But the friendly people at the information directed me to a bus which was leaving at 4:50pm and would take "almost 80 minutes." Seeing that the buses arrived precisely on time, I wasn't very worried anymore, and got to soak in the feeling of being in Japan, with the overly friendly service staff, ubiquitous pixel boards, and pre-recorded messages. After we got on the bus, the ground agent wished us a good trip, bowed, and we were on our way. I got to watch the drivers on the wrong side of the road, try to remember some kanji (I recognized the sign for "build" (工) which would appear next to all the construction signs, marked by what looked like Christmas lights), and relax.

In Haneda, the level of English proficiency dropped significantly. The check-in clerk asked me if I understood Japanese, but then was able to tell me everything she needed in English anyway. The flight attendant's English was more broken as she tried to accomodate my oversize carry-on (it seems the Japanese don't have the same habits of carrying on a small suitcase as Americans do. Perhaps they lose luggage less). I felt really bad as she offered to put the bag inside her own closet, but eventually just strapped it into the empty seat next to me (against regulations!), all the time being wonderfully polite about it.

The cab driver in Miyazaki (宮崎) spoke no English at all, but tried to make conversation nonetheless, until I told him I couldn't understand him either. I couldn't remember my etiquette rules and tried to give him a tip, but he very adamantly refused. And then I had arrived at the Sheraton Grande, the best hotel ever. Apparently it had been built when there was a G8 Summit in Miyazaki. The elevators were fast and smooth, with a little jingle telling you they're arriving, the rooms were nice and spacious, with at least two light switches controlling every light, and even a motion sensor in the closet. I spent a while looking for a three-prong outlet to charge my laptop and finally found one in the bathroom. Then I set my alarm for 6am and collapsed into bed...